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Why I Climb: Thought-Provoking Answers from Stephen DeBerry of 'Expedition Denali'

Today’s guest blogger Stephen DeBerry is a member of Expedition Denali, the first all African American team of climbers attempting to summit Denali (Mount McKinley). He is a father, investor and outdoor enthusiast from the San Francisco Bay Area. He was recently selected for Ebony magazine’s Power 100 list of most influential African-Americans in the United States. Follow him on Twitter @stephendeberry.

This June my teammates and I will attempt to become the first all-African-American mountaineering expedition to summit the highest peak in North America, Alaska’s Denali (20,320’).  Given that climbing “The High One” will take an entire month of enduring some of the most inhospitable wind and cold on the planet I’m often asked, “Why do you climb?” This blog post is an attempt to answer that question.

stephen-deberry-exp-denali

Climber Stephen Deberry of Expedition Denali.

It’s personal and inexplicable.

O.K., first a confession: So it’s one Saturday morning at, like 4:30 a.m., and I’m watching this mountaineering film by myself while my wife and kids are sleeping downstairs. I imagine myself on this epic journey that I’m watching, and I just start crying. What? Not sad crying, but some weird kind of yearning crying.

I’ve known this yearning for a long time, maybe forever. It is the province of the heart and not of the mind, and as such doesn’t lend itself to words. This is why I’m stumped when asked why I climb. On the other hand, when I connect with other climbers or adventurers of any type there’s a certain knowing; a certain love for The Great Journey that we share without saying it. I’ve never been able to wrap a sentence around it, but it’s very real.

We can make history.

Let’s put this in perspective. My dad had to drink from the colored faucet and white boys threw rocks at my mom and her sister on the way home from school. To move from that to having black climbers celebrated broadly in such a homogenous community as the outdoor industry is a big deal.

I think it’s no coincidence that in the last and most prophetic speech he ever gave, Martin Luther King Jr. chose the mountaintop as his defining metaphor. Summit or not, this expedition will move the mountaintop from metaphor to reality, planting a flag for progress in America in a way we can all be proud of.

exp-denali-with-conrad-anker

Famed climber Conrad Anker hangs out with Expedition Denali mountaineers.

This effort defines a legacy.

When I think of the legacy of this project, I think less about a first African-American ascent and more about my 2 young daughters, Clio and Ella. They’ve taken this on as seriously as I have. Both traded their cribs for sleeping bags on the floor, and Clio extinguished her nightlight to confront her fear of the dark so she’d be ready to camp outside in the dark. What bravery!

The process of getting comfortable doing what’s hard is important, partly because doing the right thing is often hard. I want my girls, my community and our society to be comfortable doing the right thing, even and especially when it’s hard. What better way to practice than challenging oneself in the outdoors?

Photos courtesy of Brian Fabel/Kyle Duba/NOLS.

 

Posted on at 10:04 AM

Tagged: Climbing, Expedition Denali and mountaineering

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Vwatson313 Staff Member

How cool are you and your daughters. They are great for supporting you, even though at their young age it may be "child's play" to sleep in sleeping bags, when they are older you will all look back at your Denali Expedition with amazement and wonder. Did you really climb that Daddy? Yes I did and you can too. You guys are lucky to have had this adventure opportunity. Come see us here in Washington State to climb Mt. Rainier, 14,410 ft.

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Huskychemist

Inspiring on many levels. Thanks for sharing.

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