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Full Circle Everest team summits: first Black expedition to the top of the world

The Full Circle Everest expedition. Expedition leader Phil Henderson is third from left in the back row. [Photo] James Edward Mills

The Full Circle Everest expedition. Expedition leader Phil Henderson is third from left in the back row. [Photo] James Edward Mills

Full Circle Everest–the first all-Black expedition team (with with Sherpa and other Nepali support) to attempt Chomolungma (Everest, 8849m*)–attained success when several members stood on the highest point of the world before sunrise on May 12. (*In 2020 the mountain was found to be slightly higher than 8848 meters, at 8848.86 meters; Alpinist will use a rounded measurement of 8849m going forward.)

On May 13, a post on the group’s Facebook page congratulated the summit team of Manoah Ainuu, James “KG” Kagambi, Evan Green, Thomas Moore, Demond “Dom” Mullins, Rosemary Saal and Eddie Taylor:

The Full Circles Everest Expedition was a success. Every member who attempted to summit made it to the top….

Our Sherpa climbers and support team that also reached the summit included: Pasang Nima Sherpa, Lhakpa Sonam Sherpa, Phurtemba Sherpa, Dawa Chhiri Sherpa, Sonam Gyalje Sherpa, Nima Nuru Sherpa, Chopal Sherpa, Chawang Lhendup Sherpa, Tasha Gyalje Sherpa, Amrit Ale

Camera crew: Pemba Sherpa, Nawang Tenji Sherpa

And special thanks to the Expedition Leader Philip Henderson, basecamp tech Adina Scott and additional team members Abby Dione and Fred Campbell.

Lastly this wouldn’t be possible without the support of our amazing Sherpa team and basecamp staff.

In Alpinist 75 (Autumn 2021), an issue dedicated to the theme of “The Future of Alpinism,” James Edward Mills wrote an article titled, “Climbers of Color Come Full Circle: The Future of Expanded Representation,” in which he wrote:

Through our personal initiative, skills and agency, people of color are affirming their roles as leaders in the climbing world. Henderson is now organizing the first all-Black American team to attempt the world’s highest mountain in 2022. He calls it the Full Circle Everest Expedition…. Each member of this team aims to share their experience to inspire others to follow in their example…. The emerging generation is on course to shift the representation of the alpine community to encompass a much broader cross-section of the American public.

(Mills is listed on the Full Circle team’s website as one of the working journalists.)

Henderson first attempted Chomolungma in 2012, climbed Denali (20,310′) in 2013 and led an all-Black expedition to Kilimanjaro in 2018. The Kilimanjaro trip included Saal, who in 2013 had also joined the first all-Black team to attempt Denali with Scott, Kagambi and others–an expedition that became the focus of the film An American Ascent and was featured in Mills’ book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. (Kagambi has summited Denali on other expeditions.)

“I just want to make sure that Black folks know that there’s a place for them, for us, in mountaineering,” Henderson says in the Alpinist 75 article.

Hours after the Full Circle Everest teammates stood on top of the world, an Outside Online story by Ben Ayers quoted Henderson: “We’re climbers–we’re people who like to be outside, and we just happen to be Black. We also know that we represent our communities…. When I started working at NOLS in 1994, I was the first Black American person to work there. In my job now, I’m the only Black person that works there, 30 years later–that’s the type of burden that I carry.”

A May 16 Instagram post by Full Circle Everest reads:

Thank you! Thank you!

Our success was directly related to your support, well wishes and financial contributions. We are so thankful to the 1000+ people who donated directly, through the gofundme, and our holiday auction.

This was at heart a community project!

An Instagram post by Mills on May 13 reads in part:

The team’s success nearly doubles the number of Black climbers who have summited Mount Everest.

The Full Circle Everest leader, Philip Henderson, shares that: “I am deeply honored to report that seven members of the Full Circle Everest team reached the summit on May 12. While a few members, including myself, did not summit, all members of the climb and Sherpa teams have safely returned to Base Camp where we will celebrate this historic moment!”