In the almost 70 years since Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary first summited Mt. Everest, more than 5,000 others have followed their leads to the top of Earth’s highest peak. Only eight of those, however, were Black. This April, an all-Black expedition dubbed Team Full Circle—which includes three Coloradans—hopes to double that number, while also challenging the perception of what a climber looks like.
“If you hop on Google and type in ‘climbing’ or ‘skiing’ and you’re a white person, you’re going to see someone that looks like you,” says Eddie Taylor, a science teacher in Lafayette and member of the group. “If you’re a person of color, you’re going to see people that don’t look like you. That’s led a lot of people to the implicit conclusion that this stuff isn’t for them.”
In December 2020, a North Carolina State University study found people of color are far less likely to participate in nature-based activities due, in large part, to historical discrimination. George Floyd’s murder earlier that year forced many within the outdoor recreation industry to confront that fact, and dozens of outdoor companies responded by posting messages that supported the Black community and condemned systemic racism. Nevertheless, while a few smaller outdoor brands, such as footwear company Scarpa, were early supporters of Full Circle, the team struggled to find adequate funding. Team leader and Colorado resident Philip Henderson began assembling the squad in 2018, but as recently as this past summer, the team’s bank account stood at zero.
Full Circle finally began to attract attention in August 2021, when it announced its historic attempt at Denver’s Outdoor Retailer, the industry’s largest trade show. A slew of grassroots donations flooded the team’s GoFundMe page over the next few months. “There is definitely a push to have more representation and highlight folks who are doing these things,” Taylor says. Through January, Full Circle had raised around $150,000 through crowdfunding—a nice sum, but far short of the roughly $60,000 per person the team needed to reach Everest, Henderson says.
The ensuing media coverage fortunately attracted backers with big budgets. The North Face became the expedition’s title sponsor, and Hestra, MSR, Therm-a-Rest, and Microsoft, along with Scarpa, are also supporting the project. Funding secured, Full Circle plans to depart for Nepal in early April. “It’s already bigger than any of us thought it would be,” Taylor says. “People are really excited about this, and they want to see us succeed.” Being seen at all, Taylor adds, already makes the expedition a success.
The Home Team
Three Full Circle members reside in Colorado.
Philip Henderson – Cortez
An Outdoor Afro Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2020, Henderson led an all–African American team to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2018. Henderson was also a member of an Everest expedition in 2012 but was unable to summit after becoming ill at Camp II.
Thomas Moore – Denver
Moore’s first major summit? Kilimanjaro. The novice discovered he had a knack for suffering through arduous conditions and has since added Antarctica’s rigorous Mt. Vinson to his trophy case.
Eddie Taylor – Boulder
The former University of Colorado Boulder decathlete has a diverse set of feats on his resumé—such as skiing from the summit of Denali in Alaska and climbing El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.