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Inspiring "Expedition Denali" Kicks Off with Rigorous Training Sessions

To inspire youth of color—and particularly African American youth—to get outside, get active and become stewards of nature, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) will lead an expedition of all African American participants who will attempt to summit Denali (Mt. McKinley), the highest peak in North America. The climb in June 2013 coincides with the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the peak.

Expedition Denali will involve a group of role models in the African American outdoor community who will learn and use valuable leadership skills, including expedition behavior, communication and tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, to work together toward achieving a common goal. The following is an account from team member Adina Scott (shown at right).


When I first heard about Expedition Denali, I don’t know which prospect was more exciting to me—summiting the highest mountain in North America or getting to hang out with a whole roomful of mountaineers of color.

This summer, the expedition started getting real when the team started training in earnest. Some team members trained for 2 weeks in Alaska’s Chugach Range on an Alaska Mountaineering Course. I signed up for a monthlong NOLS Waddington Mountaineering course in British Columbia. When my dad was in grad school at the University of Washington, he used to dream about mountaineering in the Waddington Range, often joking about transferring to “Waddington University.”

He has not yet made it there, but I got quite the education at Wad U. Twenty-eight days, 90 kilometers, 21,000 vertical feet of travel, 12 glaciers, 4 peak attempts, 3 summits and 14 new friends later, I have 0 regrets. Hopefully next time my dad and I can go together.

Coming off my mountaineering course, I was really excited to go into the field with the Expedition Denali team. It is one thing to sit in a comfy cabin and talk about big dreams; it is another thing for a group of STRONG personalities to realize those dreams in a tiny tent on a huge pile of snow-covered rock.


This time, it was in the Pacific Northwest. After gearing up at NOLS Pacific Northwest, 7 Expedition Denali members, 2 NOLS instructors and a 4-person media team were dropped off on the south side of Washington’s Mt. Baker. During the approach the sweet smell of greenery baking in the sun gave the journey a decidedly un-Alaska feel.

After reaching the snow, we spent some time working on skills. I taught a class on moving in the late-summer Cascade snow. We put this lesson to work cruising up a steep slope and sliding down to practice our self-arrest skills. The next day, we moved up on glacier to work on our rope-team techniques and practice our perimeter camping skills.

We tried to turn in early on summit eve, unsuccessfully. We might get stuck for an eternity in Denali’s infamous weather but team member Steve Shobe has more than an eternity worth of stories to pass the time. I only hope the laughter from our tent didn’t keep everybody else up too late.

Three a.m. arrived at just the right time. The International Space Station shone bright under the crescent moon, and we saw a few shooting stars—the tail-end of the Perseid meteor shower.


I was on the end of the final rope. The long string of headlights moving over the ghostly contours of the barely visible mountain was awe-inspiring. We navigated smoothly over the glacier, pausing only to test the integrity of a late-season snow bridge.

We stopped to peek at the sulfurous steam vents in Baker’s crater before ascending up the headwall. There was a small traffic jam at the top. Once the summit was free, we proceeded the last 100 feet over late-season rock and ice. We endured the cold wind for a few triumphant photos before retreating off the exposed summit.


But as with any mountain, the summit is only halfway there. Now we just needed to descend safely. The trip down was delightfully uneventful. Back at camp, some of us practiced in a local crevasse while others indulged in a much-deserved post-summit nap. The next day we hiked back to the road.

But our work is not yet done. We have training in store between now and summer 2013, including a rigorous fitness regimen crafted by Climb Strong, winter NOLS courses for some team members and more fun with the Expedition Denali mountaineering team.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the Expedition Denali journey…


Alll Mount Baker trip photos courtesy of Brian Fabel; Waddington Range trip photo courtesy of Mariah Weigel.

Posted on at 7:00 AM

Tagged: Denali, Expedition Denali and mountaineering

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Great job. It's always nice to see diversity in the mountains and on the trails.

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Thank you for sharing this expedition with the rest of the world. My social community has always been made up of progressive, artsy and activist-oriented people of color. It's where I feel most at home, which is why my outdoorsy-self has always had some sadness whenever I've hit the rock climbing walls or hiked the trails or ventured into any outdoor recreation environment. The outdoor recreation world is full of amazingly wonderful people with fantastic hearts and open minds. That said, it's a community that has yet to realize true diversity. Though this expedition is supported by NOLS, I've never been able to encourage any mentored youth of color to go to school there because it's way out of their financial reach. It was always out of my reach, too.

I'm thrilled to read about this expedition and look forward to keeping up with it. And, I'm hopeful that the outdoor community will not just glance at this story, but realize that it needs to step up and work harder to make outdoor activities more accessible (and welcoming) to youth of color and communities of color.


Tatiana, I agree that we have a lot of work to do in the realm of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor community. In my job at NOLS I work specifically to make the life-changing experience of a NOLS course possible for people who cannot otherwise afford it. It should not be out of reach for anybody. I'd love to continue the discussion of other ways you think our school can make these types of opportunities more accessible to you and youth you mentor.


Excellent! Sounds exciting and inspirational. From a life-long Alaskan, good luck and have fun, Mark H.


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