Last summer, nine intrepid souls celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of Alaska’s snow-capped Denali — at 20,237 feet the tallest peak in North America — by becoming the first entirely African-American group to attempt the climb. Organized by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the team raised $111,125 on Kickstarter and filmed the journey in an effort to inspire people of color to defy the typical face of American mountaineering, which is very, very white.
The feature documentary, An American Ascent, just launched its screening circuit, starting with a sold-out show in Washington, D.C. and continuing on to half a dozen other cities across the country this fall.
Last year’s climb got other diversity-in-the-wilderness groups like Outdoor Afro and GirlTrek organizing their own events. And through screenings and outreach efforts like NOLS’ 10,000 Steps to Denali (which challenges kids and families to trek the roundtrip distance from High Camp to the summit in their own backyards), the hope is to get more people outside, bolster environmental stewardship in general, and basically implode that whole black-people-don’t-hike thing.
Since the expedition the mountaineers have continued to engage young people during a yearlong national speaking tour to Outdoor Nation Summits, historically black colleges, ethnically diverse universities, churches, schools, nonprofits, and outdoor outreach organizations in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, the D.C. metro area, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle. By 2015, Expedition Denali will have directly engaged 10,000 people across the nation.
Now for the next hurdle: reaching a day when the face of American mountaineering is so colorful that this kind of thing won’t make headlines at all.