“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Chinese philosopher Laozi (c 604 bc – c 531 bc)
Our journey to the highest peak in North America technically began months ago. During the past several
weeks a flurry of emails and text messages across the Internet pulled together a cadre of disassociated adventurers to share a common dream. And over a weekend in May we took the first actual steps toward our goal. In a remote lodge on a ridge above Lake Tahoe our team of African-American climbers met to forge the bonds of friendship in preparation for Expedition Denali.
Typically aspiring climbers who take part in one of the many wonderful courses offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School meet for the first time mere days before heading off to base camp. But a full year in advance of our summit attempt set for 2013 the members of our team gathered to build relationships and set goals for the future.
“We want to assure our best opportunity for success,” said expedition organizer Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin.
As our host for the weekend Aparna graciously offered the hospitality of her family’s vacation home. In her job as director of diversity and inclusion at NOLS Aparna is tasked with making her organization just as welcoming and inviting. And as a team it’s our hope that we can demonstrate to communities around the country that the world of outdoor recreation and environmental conservation are equally open and free to all people willing to explore it.
Though many of us met for the first time we were instantly united in our resolve to begin this incredible journey. We ranged in age from 19 to 56. And our levels of mountaineering experience varied from those who had never climbed before to the first African-American, Sophia Danenberg, to summit Mount Everest. But with the help of NOLS over the next several mouths each will receive the training and experience necessary to qualify for a bid on Denali. And though our initial workout together was limited to a rigorous session of calisthenics we engaged in serious discussions on the meaning of trust, our common goals as a team and the collective purpose our mission.
“It really isn’t about getting to summit,” said Minnesota nature photographer and writer Dudley Edmondson. “It’s about what we do when we get back and tell our stories.”
We were very fortunate to have a film crew from CNN with us through the weekend. Our story will hopefully be shared through the program series “Black In America” with Soledad O’Brian. Whether we are successful in our attempt to climb Denali or not what truly matters is that we have a rare opportunity to share our love and passion for the outdoors. Our stories will help to illustrate the struggle that many Americans, regardless of race, endure in order spend time in nature. And as audiences both online and on television follow along hopefully they will realize as we do that destination, the summit of Denali, is far less important than the journey itself.