In 1913, four men reached the South Summit of Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley.
A century later, on June 13th, 2013, a team of seven men and three women will make news when they do the same: These new explorers of America's heights are predominately African-American.
An unfortunately small percentage of African-Americans take part in outdoor activities. By 2042, the majority of the U.S. population will be made up of people of color. The math isn't difficult; experts fear that in less than 30 years, most of our nation will be spending their lives indoors. When we are fighting a growing obesity epidemic, it is more important than ever to inspire youth to do something that all Americans are doing less of these days - getting outside and moving.
The team includes Stephen Shobe, who has climbed three of the Seven Summits; 18-year-old Tyrhee Moore, who completed two NOLS courses after being introduced to the program through the Gateway Partner Program, which provides scholarships. Also on the team is Erica Wynn, a junior at American University who volunteers with GirlTrek, an organization that promotes healthy lifestyles for African American youth.
Shobe, Moore and Wynn make up only a small portion of the team that aims to achieve what most never will, climbing the highest peak in North America.
Rosemary Saal is one of the youngest members of the team. She recently spent 28 days training in the backcountry of British Columbia. She was the only female on the course. "Things you normally don't think twice about can become an issue when you're strapped to the side of a glacier," she laughs. "I'd usually just say, 'Hey guys, turn around for a sec."
Rosemary continues, "It's been a great learning experience but what I'm really looking forward to encouraging youth afterwards. It's great to have younger faces on the team. If I were a kid trying to get inspired to get into the outdoors, I'd want to see someone I can relate to."
Billy Long, 29, is proof that anyone can become an outdoorsman. By age 24, he had been camping all of two times. A voracious non-fiction reader, he enjoyed adventure and war stories. "After awhile," he says, "war stories became depressing." Then he picked up John Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Inspired by a true story of an assault on Mt. Everest, Billy began climbing. Just a few years later, he faces his biggest challenge yet.
"A lot of people of color don't do this type of stuff because it's just not on their radar. This isn't the first time African-Americans have climbed mountains but it's not often publicized. When you do see something, it becomes normalized. That's our goal here."
It's not just an event; it's a movement: NOLS is asking youth everywhere to hike their own 10,000 steps, roughly the amount of steps the expedition will take on summit day, to commemorate the occasion.
After the Expedition, participants will celebrate their achievements by touring schools and working with outreach organizations to inspire others to get outdoors.
After 100 years, these young explorers may climb higher than the summit of Mt. McKinley. Their inspirational ascent may take sedentary Americans to the summit of better health.
For more information and to support Expedition Denali, click here.