Monday, October 15, 2012

'Expedition Denali' Seeks to Demolish Mountaineering Stereotypes

The REI Blog is following the progress of Expedition Denali as the all African American crew readies for their June 2013 summit attempt. Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, field instructor and Diversity and Inclusion Manager from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and cofounder of Expedition Denali, provides this update:
Picture a mountaineer. OK, what does your picture look like? I bet it is a rugged, leathery-faced white male in his late 30s to early 40s with wind-burnt cheeks and chiseled features. I bet you don’t picture the all African American members on Expedition Denali.
So why is it that so many of us picture white men when we think about mountaineering, or even outdoor adventuring in general?
Is it Hollywood characters such as Scott Glenn playing K2 specialist Montgomery Wick in Vertical Limit or Sylvester Stallone free soloing a cliff during a blizzard inCliffhanger? Is it our history books, which tout about the heroic deeds of Sir Edmund Hillary? Is it just how the sport began, as mainly the pastime of the privileged few who wanted to make their mark on history?
Or is it the media, which has largely failed to make reference to pioneers such as Alaska Native Walter Harper who made the first ascent of Denali in 1913, or the countless Sherpas who have ushered mountaineers to the highest points on earth?
Face it, it will take a major paradigm shift for us to see alpine mountaineering as more than rich white dudes gallivanting across the world to climb granitic monoliths in the Himalayas. But with Expedition Denali, I hope that maybe—just maybe—that highlighting the inspiring feats of a set of African American outdoor role models can get us part way there.
With Expedition Denali, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) will lead the first African American expedition to summit Denali—the highest peak (20,320') in North America—in June 2013, the centennial of its first ascent.
Through this expedition, our school aspires to develop role models who will inspire young people of color to get outside, stay active and fall in love with nature. A greater goal of the expedition is to engage a broader constituency in a public dialogue about diversity in the outdoors.
Expedition Denali roped up on Baker
But more important than the actual expedition will be what is happening on the ground.
During the mountaineering team’s ascent, organizations nationwide such as Sierra Club and the YMCAwill lead youth and families on their own “10,000 Steps to Denali” (the approximately 5-mile round trip distance between High Camp and the Denali summit) in outdoor spaces near their homes in solidarity with the team and to commemorate this historic event. After the expedition, team members will visit with schools, organizations and church groups nationwide to directly connect with people of color.
The team’s journey began with rigorous training in Alaska’s Chugach Range, British Columbia’s Waddington Range, Washington’s Mount Baker and the Patagonian Andes. Now the team will continue to train and stay fit as we all eagerly anticipate June 8, when their Denali expedition begins.
Team member Adina Scott recently blogged about her Expedition Denali training for The REI Blog. Stay tuned for future posts from team members as they reflect upon the past months of preparing for Denali and the journey ahead.
Photos courtesy of Fabel/Duba/NOLS.

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