Thomas Moore, a young entrepreneur from Georgia, was well-traveled by 2017, having visited more than 40 countries.
But when he was invited to join an expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro that year, Moore found himself unaware of the mountain or any of the other six highest summits across the continents.
To the invite, “I was like, ‘Well, I don’t even know where that mountain is,’” Moore recalls. “But that sounds interesting.”
It was more than interesting on the top of Africa.
“It was a confidence builder,” Moore says.
It was the beginning of a mountaineering passion.
“On the way back from that trip, I remember Googling at the airport in Amsterdam: ‘Black mountaineers,’” Moore says. “And there was nothing that came up. And my friend had mentioned the seven summits, and I didn’t know what that was.”
Why? he wondered. Moore heard it best answered in a conversation later with Philip Henderson, a fellow Black climber with three decades in the outdoor industry:
“It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”
A mission to the highest mountain of all is meant to change that.
Moore, now living in Denver, is one member of an Everest-bound, all-Black team that is believed to be the first of its kind to attempt the world’s 29,000-foot ceiling.
Henderson, who lives in the southwest Colorado town of Cortez, has organized the expedition, slated for April. With a background in the Himalayas and ties to history keepers, Henderson has found only 10 of the 10,000-plus people to record Everest ascents have been Black.
If all are successful, his team would add 10 more. The team is being called Full Circle.
“It’s about all of us doing something for someone else,” Henderson says.
It’s a mission that “will resonate long after its completion,” according to Full Circle’s GoFundMe page, which has garnered more than $115,000.
“Everest is not the end goal, but just the beginning,” the page goes on. “Our expedition will reshape the narrative of the outdoors to one that is inclusive and where everyone belongs.”
The team is composed of friends and strangers from around the country, all highly accomplished in the alpine and many connected by Henderson. Among high-achieving outdoor athletes and guides, Henderson is respected as a pioneer and trailblazer.
Rosemary Saal, an Arizonan on the Full Circle team, is one who has benefited from his mentorship.
“In so many ways, he actively provides that mentorship just by existing,” she says. “The fact he is a dark-skinned Black man having worked in this industry before diversity and equity and inclusion were buzzwords, having to swim upstream in so many ways to do what he loves to do.”
The two have worked as educators in the National Outdoor Leadership School. In 2013, they crossed paths on Denali; Henderson became one of few Black men to record an ascent of North America’s highest point. Saal and Henderson teamed up in 2018, when Henderson led an all-African-American ascent of Kilimanjaro.
Henderson has always had a greater aim than summiting. In 2012, he was close to 24,000 feet on Everest before turning around.
“I had always told myself I’d go back for the right reasons,” he says.
The Full Circle idea came to him. But “that wasn’t even possible in my mind,” he says, “because, frankly, I didn’t think there were enough climbers who were people of color to go to Everest.”
He met more by chance. Last winter, while ice climbing in Ouray, he met Eddie Taylor. The school teacher from Lafayette is the third Coloradan on the Full Circle team.
“I felt I couldn’t not be a part of it,” Taylor says.
He felt inspired by what he’d been through in the outdoors. He likes to think of a day when he looks around a ski resort and sees other Black people. A day when Black rock climbers don’t feel like white counterparts are offering tips and suggestions for false perceptions — “like I’m probably not skilled or don’t know what I’m doing,” Taylor says.
Saal knows those false assumptions. “Beta sprays,” she calls the occasions. And then, sometimes, there are perceptions people harbor of themselves, she says.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, ‘Black people don’t ski, Black people don’t climb,’” she says. “It’s said as a joke. But really, it becomes this self-perpetuating limitation.”
So Moore was told from his family in Georgia.
“Being in the mountains wasn’t something Black people did. ‘We don’t do that.’ That was told to me,” he says. “That’s obviously not true, but that’s just the narrative you have to work out of.”
Maybe, he thinks, young people will see the Full Circle team and work out of it easier.
“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” Moore says. “And so for other people of color to see something like this, that’s huge.”