At the top of the world, Evan Green stood in rare company. Only a few thousand people have been able to conquer the 29,032-foot-tall Mount Everest, and fewer than 10 were Black climbers. The first Black climber reached the summit in 2003, 50 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay completed the first recorded ascent.
This past May, the 34-year-old freelance photographer from Albuquerque, N.M., added his name to the list of Black climbers to climb Everest, along with the rest of his crew. The Full Circle Everest Expedition made history by becoming the first Black climbing team to complete the task.
“I hope it’s the opening of the floodgates,” Green says. “Hopefully, it becomes the norm.”
While he hopes his crew’s journey inspires others to explore the outdoors, Green knows that love for adventure and the environment can also begin in Scouting.
Green joined Cub Scouts as a Webelos Scout and crossed over into Troop 288 in Plano, Texas. His troop went to Sea Base, the BSA’s aquatic high-adventure base in Florida. He loved it so much, he went back to work there as an island mate, helping guide Scouts on kayaking adventures. He also worked as a waterskiing instructor at Camp Constantin, a Circle Ten Council camp in Texas.
“It’s a great way to get outside,” he says of Scouting. “It’s great to get out of town with your friends and play and hang out.”
Green earned the Eagle Scout rank, and then went to college at Kent State University to study geology. That desire in the geological field began at Sea Base, where Green worked with a geologist. After school, Green moved to Colorado to work as an environmental consultant.
“I got more into mountaineering doing that,” he says. “It really built on what I learned in Scouts.”
During many of his treks up the state’s fourteeners, Green developed his talent for photography. While in Colorado, he met Phil Henderson, an explorer who had climbed multiple peaks and who was putting together the Full Circle Everest Expedition.
Going full circle
The goal for the expedition was two-fold: make history and demonstrate that Black people can be in the world of mountaineering. When people see those who look like them, especially in fields, sports or hobbies traditionally underrepresented, they’re more inclined to pursue those interests and activities.
“It’s super important,” Green says. “It seems like recognition that you belong there. It makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
Henderson asked Green to be a part of the team, primarily serving as the photographer. It would be a major commitment. You don’t fly into Nepal and immediately start climbing the mountain. The crew did an initial trip there to train and check out the route. And then, before the attempt in May, the group arrived two months early to train more and prepare.
“The Scout motto is the best advice you could have,” Green says.
The preparation served to acclimate the crew to the drastic change in elevation.
“We played board games and music. It’s mostly eating and sleeping,” Green says. “It’s a patience-waiting game.”
When everyone was ready, they made the trek to the Everest base camp, which sits at more than 17,500 feet in elevation, where the group acclimated some more.
Up the mountain
Although the preparation was slow-going, once the ascent begins, the trek moves fast. The weather can turn deadly in an instant on the mountain, so the crew was constantly monitoring the signs of when to advance.
The estimate was the group had about three days of good conditions to reach the summit. A lot of other climbers saw the same window.
“It was pretty crowded,” Green says. “It did thin out as the climb went on.”
As the crew reached higher and higher camps, exhaustion began to set in. The last leg to the summit would be a long one, starting at 8 p.m. and getting back the following day.
“It was 24 hours of being on my feet,” Green says.
Of those 24 hours, only 30 minutes were devoted to standing at the top. The air is so thin, the climbers needed oxygen bottles to help them to breathe.
“Just realizing it was going to happen was surreal,” Green says. “The timing was perfect. We got to see the sun come out and light up all the peaks and see Everest’s shadow.”
When they reached the summit, the team unfurled a “Full Circle” flag and Green grabbed an ice sample. With his geology background, he noticed some interesting elements about Everest, especially considering the peak was once part of the sea floor 470 million years ago.
“There’s fossils up there,” he says. “The last 1,000 feet, the limestone transitions to more shale. Most everything else is metamorphic rock.”
The successful expedition made headlines, and the team received many congratulatory comments.
“It’s really cool,” Green says. “We almost doubled the number of Black climbers. It doesn’t seem real sometimes.”
Green credits Scouting to helping him prepare, not just with the love for the outdoors, but with working with a team. As a Scout, he served as a patrol leader.
“The group dynamics of camping with 10 to 20 people was useful,” he says. “And the Scout motto helps with your gear and mental state – it was the biggest help I thought.”