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Denali expedition stresses diversity

Denali expedition stresses diversity

Mar 27, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The NOLS-led ascent aims to place nine black climbers atop North America's tallest mountain.

Eight members of the Expedition Denali team spoke to dozens of National Outdoor Leadership School employees gathered at the school's headquarters March 1. If the overwhelmingly white crowd was representative of the school's staff, the scene did a good job illustrating the lack of diversity in the outdoor recreation world the climbers, and through them NOLS, hope to address.

Expedition Denali is a team of nine African Americans who will try to summit Mt. McKinley, also called Denali, in June. Four NOLS instructors will lead the effort.

Rising 20,320 feet in central Alaska, Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America.

NOLS director of admissions and marketing Bruce Palmer introduced the team.

"There historically has been no African American team so this would be an historic event," Palmer said.

He added 2013 is the 100-year anniversary of the first ascent of Denali.

The nine team-members are not NOLS staff but several said they had taken NOLS courses. They are from across the United States.

"The goal is to provide a platform for some incredible role models to go into their communities and tell about the incredible opportunities the outdoors holds," Palmer said.

The members of the team introduced themselves after Palmer spoke.

The first was Ryan Mitchell, a science professor at a Philadelphia University. He said he had climbed Denali last year and has ascended several other high peaks.

Rosemary Saal was the second. She lives in Seattle.

About taking up outdoors sports she said, "I wouldn't have been able to do it without the people ... who inspired me. I'm excited to be one of those people."

Adina Scott lives in Seattle and builds scientific equipment. Next was Erica Wynn, a junior in college and a graduate of a NOLS course.

"I just want to reach out to more black women and hopefully inspire them to lead healthy lifestyles," she said.

Stephen Shobe spoke fifth and said he has been climbing for 26 years. He is part of another all African American team that is trying to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents. So far, he said. they have climbed Aconcagua in Argentina, Elbrus in Russia and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The sixth to speak was Billy Long, an engineering student living in New York City.

Seventh was Scott Briscoe. A San Francisco native, he said he was grateful and excited for the opportunity.

Last to speak was Tyrhee Moore, one of the youngest team members at 18 years old. Moore also took NOLS courses and is now a freshman in college.R32;"I know a lot of people who want to do stuff like this but don't have the opportunity," he said. "I want to reach out and grab them and show they can do this."

The ninth team member was arriving in Lander later that night.

NOLS executive director John Gans asked if the team thought the mountain they would climb should be called Denali or Mt. McKinley.

"Denali is the native Alaskan name, so I kind of feel it should stay as Denali myself," Mitchell said.

Another person asked what each team member's biggest fear was.

Shobe said he was most worried about being apart from his family.

Moore said, "How cold it might get, I'm not really sure."

Briscoe added his concern was the number of other climbers who will be on Denali.

"It will be an additional safety concern," he said.

After the team answered questions from the audience, Saal in an interview described how she is training. She said for the past year, she has been combining cardio workouts with strength training. She runs three to four times a week, rock climbs and trains for strength with squats and push ups.

The NOLS instructors leading the climb are Jaime Musnicki, Robby Rechord, James "KG" Kagambi and Madhu Chikkaraju.

Musnicki said in an interview she had climbed Denali four times and reached the summit twice. She said about 50 percent of expeditions reach the peak that try, largely because of weather issues.

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