Despite nearly a decade of experience, Eddie Taylor still gets mistaken for a novice rock climber—and it’s got nothing to do with his skill.
“People are just not used to seeing Black people out climbing,” stated Taylor, a resident of the Boulder area for thirteen years. If you’ve ever visited the granite domes of Boulder Canyon or the immense Flatiron slabs, you know he’s right. Watching him effortlessly float across a tapestry of vertical terrain in the early morning light spilling into Eldorado Canyon, it’s plain to see that Taylor is no beginner. It’s also no surprise that Taylor has his sights set much higher than the imposing sandstone cliffs of Eldo. He wants to show that climbing and experiencing the outdoors in general, is as much a space for the Black community as it is for anyone else.
In the spring of 2022, Taylor will travel to the Himalayas as part of the Full Circle Everest Expedition (FCEE) with an all-Black cohort of climbers. Their goal is to make history by becoming the first all-Black team to summit the highest mountain on the planet.
Led by Phil Henderson, an experienced mountaineer and 30-year veteran of the outdoor industry, the team has built its expedition around far more than attaining a summit. It’s an effort to steer the narrative of mountaineering, climbing, and simply enjoying the outdoors to one that is more inclusive for future generations. It’s about showing that the outdoors is a space for everyone. It’s about elevating and inviting new faces into the mix. For Taylor, what has been a highly rewarding but purely personal pursuit for the last nine years has turned into another avenue for him to influence and inspire alongside a diverse, but unified team of expedition members.
As of April 2020, Mount Everest had been summited more than 10,000 times by some 5,788 individuals. The number of Black summiteers is no more than 10, a staggering disparity in representation. Unfortunately, a quick image search of the words “rock climbing” or “mountaineering” online reinforces a similar discrepancy. In its efforts, the Full Circle team will fill that gap, because it’s a lot easier to inspire a new and diverse generation of dreamers and outdoor enthusiasts when the images they see in print and on a screen have people that look like them.
Telling Black stories is key to promoting diversity in the outdoors
When he’s not linking pitches around Boulder, Taylor teaches high school science in Lafayette, where he’s also head coach of the track and field team. He derives fulfillment from having a direct impact in the classroom, but finds equal joy in helping students succeed out on the track, even if that same triumph has eluded them in the classroom.
Taylor grew up participating in organized sports such as track and field, football and basketball. When he came to Boulder in 2008 to attend CU, he walked onto the track team and competed in the decathlon. Climbing wasn’t even on his radar. It wasn’t until after graduating from CU that he tried it. Goal oriented and having found a new outdoor venue to apply himself, it didn’t take long for Taylor to get hooked. With visits to the summit of Denali (20,310 feet) and Aconcagua (22,867 feet), the highest peaks in the Americas, as well as the second highest in Africa, Mount Kenya (17,057 feet), Taylor has developed a knack for getting the job done in ski boots, crampons and rock shoes.
Out on the patio of a Lafayette coffeehouse, Taylor chuckled as he recalled his original impression of climbing was “like, when you hike up Mount Everest or something.” Ironic, considering that’s exactly where it’s taking him next spring.
The legacy of Taylor’s expedition with Full Circle will tell its own narrative, but it also carries the weight of stories about Black explorers and mountaineers who have gone unknown for generations. With such underrepresentation in the outdoors, especially in mountaineering, accomplishments by Black individuals are poorly documented and extremely difficult to research. James Beckwourth, Matthew Henson, Charles Crenchaw and Sophia Danenberg are few names of historic Black adventurers you probably haven’t heard of.
Beckwourth was a freed slave and pioneer of the American West. He discovered a low mountain pass on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada which settlers used to on their way to California during the Gold Rush and that now bears his name.
Henson participated in the 1909 Arctic Expedition led by Commander Robert Edwin Peary and is credited as the first person to set foot on the North Pole.
Crenchaw was the first African-American to summit Denali, North America’s highest peak, on July 9, 1964. An exhibit dedicated to Crenchaw is displayed in the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.
Danenberg is the first African-American and also first Black woman to stand on the summit of Mount Everest. Known as Sagarmatha on the Nepali side and Chomolungma on the Tibetan side, the first confirmed ascent of the highest mountain on Earth occurred in 1953. It took 53 more years, until May 19, 2006, for Danenberg to make history and reach the top.
Community work is a foundational focus of this expedition
Another central focus of the Full Circle Everest Expedition is community building and connection. The Sherpa people are ancestral stewards of the Khumbu region at the foot of Everest on the Nepal side of the mountain. Henderson, the lead on the Full Circle Everest Expedition, has a long history with the region. He’s dedicated significant time contributing to the local communities, training Sherpa climbers and hiring local outfitters. The team operates on the belief that in visiting the Khumbu region and attempting to climb the mountain that is central to the Sherpa way of life and religion, it’s important to reciprocate and build a relationship.
The Full Circle Everest Expedition is asking the Boulder community for help in this relationship building through a GoFundMe to support the immense financial demands of such a massive trip. Aside from the physical and mental challenge of summit day, Taylor states that gathering financial backing is the other hardest part of the endeavor. The first two weeks of the campaign raised over $50,000 from more than 200 individual donors. They are steadily climbing toward a fundraising goal of $75,000 by October 1.
With their sights set on making history on the world’s tallest peak, the Full Circle Everest Expedition also takes aim at an even bigger objective.
“This expedition will showcase the tenacity and strength of these climbers,” the FCEE website reads, “and highlight the barriers that continue to exist for Black communities in accessing the outdoors.”
Through storytelling and community building, Taylor and the FCEE team are set to remind the world that the outdoors is space for everyone. Their open invitation to participate aims to “inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, educators, leaders, and mountaineers of color to continue chasing their personal summits.”
More Information: To donate, follow along or learn more about the Full Circle Everest Expedition: fullcircleeverest.com