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Closing the ‘Adventure Gap’: Bringing Diversity to Mountain Climbing

Despite an enduring legacy of environmental stewardship and exploration throughout the history of the United States, African-Americans comprise only a small percentage of people who routinely spend time in nature. Low rates of participation among people of color in adventure sports such as backpacking, rock climbing, downhill skiing, and mountaineering suggest troubling prospects for the future. Very few blacks join environmental protection groups such as the Sierra Club or the Wilderness Society. And an even smaller number can be counted among the corps of professionals in careers dedicated to the preservation and conservation of nature, including national park rangers, foresters, or environmental scientists.

It’s estimated that by 2042, the majority of U.S. citizens will be non-white. Which begs the question: What happens when a majority of the population has neither an affinity for, nor a relationship with the natural world? At the very least, it becomes less likely that future generations will support legislation or advocate for federal funding to protect wild places, or seek out job prospects that aim to protect it.

The purpose of Expedition Denali—and by extension this film, An American Ascent—is to demonstrate real life examples of people of color, who venture into the natural world for the sole purpose of adventure. Because everyone—regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status—should have the opportunity to experience and thrill in nature if they are so inclined.

The historic climb that took place in the summer of 2013 stands not as a grand gesture of personal achievement, but rather a sincere expression of welcome to those who dare follow. This team of black climbers made their ascent of Denali to extend an invitation, particularly to minority youth, to experience true freedom, to get outside and explore the divide between mediocrity and excellence. That boundary between the many who play it safe and the few who push beyond their limitations to achieve great things in the natural world is the adventure gap that people must cross to fulfill their dreams.