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Ascending into history: Centaurus track coach preparing to leave for first all-Black Everest expedition

Eddie Taylor to be part of Full Circle Everest Expedition

Centaurus High School teacher and track coach Eddie Taylor visits the Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal in January of 2022 in preparation for Full Circle's April expedition.
Centaurus High School teacher and track coach Eddie Taylor visits the Khumbu Climbing Center in Nepal in January of 2022 in preparation for Full Circle’s April expedition.

When Centaurus High School chemistry teacher and prep track coach Eddie Taylor first began researching the statistics for his upcoming Everest expedition, he didn’t find many pictures of climbers who looked like him.

In fact, very few Black mountaineers out of about 6,000 individuals have completed the trek up the world’s tallest mountain since the first summit of the Himalayan peak in 1953.

“We knew one or two people have done it, but we knew that it was just not a common thing for Black people to climb Mount Everest,” Taylor said. “When you see 10,000 (total summit attempts), most pictures you see are a picture of a white person or a Sherpa. We just knew it was very uncommon and then when I started looking it up, I found four (Black) people pretty quickly and then couldn’t really find any more. By word of mouth and then just talking to people, that number is now 10, maybe 11.”

Starting next week, Taylor will join the Full Circle Everest Expedition, a team of 11 people of African descent, with the hopes of beginning to change that statistic and to inspire other people of color to embrace the outdoors and mountaineering. They will be the first all-Black team to make the trip up the 29,032-foot beast.

Eight of them, including the 31-year-old Taylor, plan to summit the mountain during the second week of May, as long as everything goes according to plan.

“A group of Black people going to Everest — how can we not talk about representation and talk about inequalities and talk about how important something like this is?” Taylor said. “Because little did I know, this is important to a lot of people outside of me and outside of the people in the group. People are excited about it. Kids are excited about it. Adults are excited about it.”

Taylor, originally from Minnesota, couldn’t say no when team leader Phil Henderson — who first attempted to summit Everest in 2012 — approached him about the project after meeting him in Ouray in early 2021. The teacher and coach in him couldn’t pass up the opportunity to not only make history but to show kids and adults everywhere that they can achieve anything if they have the passion and the drive to do so.

In the months leading up to the expedition, Taylor and his team have worked exhaustively to win over sponsors and create as much visibility for the project as possible. The North Face clothing company will be funding nearly half of the team’s costs, and Italian climbing shoe company Scarpa, as well as Microsoft, will cover much of the rest.

Even though Taylor won’t be in the classroom for the next two months, he’ll still be teaching students near and far on a topic much more exciting than equations and reactions. Langston League LLC, a consulting firm that designs culturally relevant teaching material, is helping Full Circle develop a curriculum that circulates around the project for any teachers who may want to incorporate a lesson on Nepalese people, traveling to Asia, mountaineering, the history of Everest expeditions, goal-setting and relevant vocabulary.

“A lot of schools are interested everywhere: Memphis, Tennessee, Florida, New York, Centaurus,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of everywhere. It’s kind of crazy.”

Microsoft has even helped the team set up a communication channel through Flipgrid to allow teachers and their students to submit questions via email or video to the members of the team. Full Circle plans to hold a 30-minute live event on April 21 meant to interact with the kids in real-time.

The Full Circle Everest Expedition team poses for a photo with their Sherpa team ahead of their April expedition.

Taylor’s wife Anna, who teaches first grade at Meadowlark School in Erie, has loved seeing her young students get inspired before Taylor has even boarded his flight to Kathmandu. Taylor even stopped by to speak in front of a packed house of students and staff at Meadowlark on Thursday morning.

“What I think is going to be really cool is I’ve been working with schools in the area to develop some interactive ways that students in our district and St. Vrain and Adams 12 can follow along in the journey too,” Anna said. “Between the work I’m doing and the work that Microsoft is doing with Flipgrid, it’s going to be awesome to see our students across a couple of districts follow along and get inspired by this trip.”

The full scope of that inspiration has far exceeded the bounds of the Boulder Valley School District, and Taylor hopes it will continue to grow as the team begins their journey from Kathmandu to South Base Camp and beyond. The team will be providing updates from their expedition through @fullcircleeverest on Instagram and under the “follow” tab of their website.

Preparing for the journey

Taylor first began mountain climbing in 2013. He found the new adventure that he craved after completing his stint as a decathlete with the University of Colorado’s track and field team. It combined his passion for athletics and the outdoors and eventually led him to trips up Aconcagua and Denali, two of the Seven Summits — the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents — located in Argentina and Alaska, respectively.

But even after conquering those two, with elevations of 22,841 feet and 20,310 feet, he never had the individual aspiration to take on the biggest behemoth of them all — not, at least, until Henderson first approached him about the endeavor last spring.

The historical and social aspects of the expedition appealed to Taylor more than the climb itself, but he nonetheless bought all the way in to ensure its success and visibility.

He began to train his body for what he could expect in the most Colorado way possible, as he tried to hike as many 14ers as his busy schedule would allow. He became acquainted with his team of 11 through twice-weekly Zoom meetings, as well as through team trips to Bozeman, Montana and Mount Rainier in Washington.

Taylor will take the first step of his 29,000-foot journey when he leaves for Nepal on Saturday and lands in Kathmandu on Monday. From there, Full Circle will begin the 10-day trek up to South Base Camp, which sits at 17,598 feet, and will spend the next two months repeatedly ascending and descending the mountain to properly acclimatize their bodies as the elevations grow steeper and as the air continues to thin out.

If everything goes according to plan, and if the notoriously fickle weather at the summit cooperates, the team plans to reach the top of the world during the second week of May. If unforeseen challenges prevent them from meeting that deadline, they’ll have until the end of that month to attempt the summit.

Taylor’s nerves and excitement haven’t quite settled in yet, even as the expedition fast approaches. After months of preparation and media attention, all while continuing to teach and coach at Centaurus, he’s relieved that the day has finally come and that all of the work he and his team have put into making the dream a reality is about to come to fruition.

He’s hoping that through Flipgrid, Instagram and the film crew that will be following Full Circle’s journey, he’ll help instill a dream or two in the kids and the adults who hope to one day achieve a similar, momentous feat.

He already is.

“What’s been really amazing to see is as awareness of this expedition grows and its purpose, it’s been amazing to see the outpouring of support from the community near and far and the messages that the team is receiving,” Anna said. “People are saying like, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m ready to go on a hike now because I’m seeing that you’re doing this.’ Just that representation has been incredible to see, its impact on the community before they even go.”