Climbing Mountains for Juneteenth – 10 Names in Black Adventure & Outdoors

Climbing mountains is a fair analogy for the lives of many people in America, including a dispropotionate number of her Black folks.

Even still.

As we celebrate another passing of Juneteenth in America, it is fair to say, that many of us are living our ancestor’s wildest dreams.

For example.

I don’t think that Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Herstun could just up and walk to the North Pole. Bam.

Would she have wanted to walk to the North Pole though? Highly doubtable. 😂


Barbara Hillary did just that at the age of 79.

You might ask, why?


Why not?

Let me introduce you to some black folks doing dope things.

Like, climbing mountains, hiking or skiing to the ends of the Earth, preparing for the summit of a lifetime, or fighting to lead the country in the Olympics.

And they should be.

We are free after all.

And I do believe that we inherited some wildnerness to be explored.

When basketball ends, let the outdoors begin! #HerstunAdventure

Happy Juneteenth 2019 America!

And big shout out to the ancestors.
[Wouldn’t be climbing mountains without them]
A few things to know.

The Explorer’s Grand Slam

Loosely defined as a combination of three feats –

  1. Climbing the Seven Summits on Seven Continents
  2. Reaching the North Pole
  3. And reaching the South Pole

Fair Warning

  • My list definitely features American explorers discriminately. 
  • This is by no means an exhaustive list.
America is home. 

But, I wanted to start off with two exciting South African Explorers that are attempting to change the way that Black Africans interact with the mountaintops. 

Africa is the motherland.

So, without further ado, meet the men and women blasting away the dreams of those that lived before you and me.

Climb Mountains Sibusiso Vilane

Sibusiso Vilane

  • Born December 5, 1970, in Shongwe Mission in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
  • Married and father to four children.
  • Motivational and Inspirational Speaker when not adventuring.
  • Has climbed all seven summits and a number of other known peaks around the world.
  • 23 years of experience mountaineering.
  • He keeps fit running marathons and ultramarathons.
  • May 26, 2003 – Became the first know Black Person in the World to summit Mt. Everest.
  • The only Black South African to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam.

Climb Mountains - Saray Khumalo

Saray Khumalo

  • Libraries ambassador.
  • Social entrepreneur.
  • Mother of two boys.
  • An executive in a distinguished financial institution in South Africa.
  • Six years of experience mountaineering.
  • May 16, 2019 – Became the first known African Black woman to summit Mt. Everest.
  • 7 Summits with a purpose is an initiative she started in 2012 after climbing Kilimanjaro that raises money climbing to build more libraries for underprivileged schools in South Africa.
Pause for how amazing she is. Climbing for books. Lit. Ok. But.
Meet the other hero in this group – James Edward Mills. He’s the one writing about it all.
Climbing Mountains - James Edward Mills

James Edward Mills

  • Freelance journalist and an independent media producer.
  • The Joy Trip Project is his ongoing search to find the answers and discover how to lead a harmonious life in balance with the natural world and the rest of humanity.
  • 20 plus year career in outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, and sustainable living.
  • He has been a part of a variety of expeditions ranging from mountaineering to backcountry skiing and kayaking.
  • Also co-wrote/co-produced a really dope film about the first African American team to summit Denali (or Mt. McKinley located in Washington State) – An American Ascent.
  • James in an interview with the Alpinist.

Reading articles and snippets from James Edward Mills made me think… Why is the image of adventure so… Uhhh… Non-inclusive?

THINK AGAIN. Meet Barbara & Stephen!
Climb Mountains - Barabara Hillary

Barbara Hillary

  • Born June 12, 1931 in Manhattan.
  • Two-time cancer survivor.
  • Reached the North Pole in 2007 at the age of 75.
  • Reached the South Pole in 2011 at the age of 79.
  • Could possibly be the oldest human being to ever reach both the North and South Poles.
  • (Definitely, the first recorded African American woman to make it to both poles.)
  • She is now focused on using her platform to draw attention to the effects of climate change on the frozen landscapes of Mongolia.

Climb Mountains - Stephen K. Shobe

Stephen K. Shobe

SPEAK CORRECTLY. Meet Matthew and Charles.
Climb Mountains - Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson

  • August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955
  • Accompanied Robert Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic over a period of nearly 23 years, spending 18 years total with Peary in the wild.
  • Best known for an expedition that claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole in April 1909 (later findings challenged the results).
  • Henson served as a navigator and craftsman. He studied Inuit survival techniques.
  • Published a memoir in 1912 entitled – A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.
  • Historic Photos to Celebrate Henson on Nat Geo.
Climb Mountains - Charles Madison Crenchaw

Charles Madison Crenchaw

  • Tuskegee Airman that served during World War II
  • In 1964 he became the first African-American to stand on the highest point in the Americas – Mount McKinley (also known as Denali).
  • Moved to Washington State and developed a love for the outdoors, joining the Seattle Mountaineers in 1961.
  • Inspired Expedition Denali – A Black climbing team attempting to climb the same range as he did.
  • James Edward Mills on Crenchaw’s legacy.
Well OK. Support the Americans breaking barriers. Meet Kai and Sophia!
Climbing Mountains - Kai Lightner

Kai Lightner

  • Discovered rock climbing at 6 years old in Fayetteville, NC.
  • Won Gold in 2014 for his age (14-15) – First Lead American Youth World Champion since 1995.
  • Overall he has earned 12 National Championship titles and is a 5-time youth world championship medalist.
  • When he isn’t climbing – Full-time student at Babson College studying entrepreneurship.
  • Learn more about Kai in this article by co-op journal REI.

Climbing Mountains - Sophia Danenburg

Sophia Danenburg

  • Born in 1972 to a Black father and Japanese mother in America.
  • May 19, 2006 – Reached the top of Mt. Everest while enduring bronchitis, a stuffed nose, frostbite on her cheeks, and a clogged oxygen mask.
  • She is the second known Black person to climb Everest, after Sibu Vilane in 2003.
  • Very first Black American to climb Mt. Everest, ever. Woman or not.
  • Enjoys working in the community with organizations that promote active lifestyles.
Last and never least.
Meet my #MaineMan and Summit 413.

Maine Man Middleton

  • On a mission to become America’s first Black man to climb Mount Everest.
  • Founded Summit 413, a climbing foundation centered on Christian faith in perseverance and charity.
  • A complete and total daredevil when not climbing mountains –
  • Maine man has run with the bulls in Spain.
  • Explored the depths of the oceans with lemon sharks.
  • Traversed frigid Alaskan glaciers.
  • And conquered dirt-filled racetracks in countries around the world, from the seat of his motorbike.
  • His lifelong goal? – the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
  • 2019 goals? – The highest point on Earth – Everest.

#LetsGrow #LoveAlways

Climbing mountains is dedicated to the effort behind being extraordinary.
curated by w.d. herstun

Credits & Wildenotes

All imagery sourced FROM the ADVENTURER’s Social Media. Please take time to support them!

Written & Edited By W.D. Herstun

Listen. I know that technically I live in North America. And that my list actually discriminately features Black people from the United States. But man that just ain’t catchy guys. I like Murica. Sometimes catchy is good. Ha.
This is the beginning of a long summer in art and adventure. I plan on catching up with all that Jermaine Middleton has a done in pursuit of the first Black American’s Adventurer’s Grand Slam, and we are going to be as close as we possibly can to Summit 413.

The one clear obstacle to adventure I did not cover is money.

That’s because for most of us, we can get some outdoor time at National Parks.
Climbing Mountains - Summit 413
Summit 413 is Maine Man’s fund to send him to the top of Everest. Climbing Everest is incredibly expensive. And obviously, most folks are challenged enough to climb Stone Mountain. (It requires time off, access to transportation, fuel, the right shoes, the list could go on.)
Imagine taking all that to the highest point on Earth? Maine needs to pay sherpas, or guides that will help him find his way, and he needs supplies and gear.

So, it will be a collective effort to get ATL’s own #MaineMan up the mountain, but I’m hoping that this article may help a little.

Because, at least now you know a little a bit about Black adventure.

Happy Juneteenth ya’ll.

[Can’t wait for July 4th.]

Thats right. I celebrate both.

Confusing ain’t it?

Ha. Murica.

Climbing Mountains – More Resources

Support Shobe and PCE by hosting a screening of the film about the first African-American team to summit Denali!An American Ascent.

There must be something about seeing the world from that high up that makes you believe that you can change it. #Wild

Can’t get enough of climbing mountains? Check out the Seven Summits on Seven Continents Feat Six IG Adventurers!

Published by W.D. Herstun

Editor-in-Chief. Curator. Dreamer. I want to bring people together, one story at a time. Sometimes, we all just need a little perspective. The arts & humanities can help us regain humanity and change the world. Believe that. Achieve that. #LetsGrow

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