An African American hiker known as “The Black Sherpa“ recently summited all of Colorado’s 14ers in an effort to increase diversity and raise awareness about inclusivity in the outdoors.
Veteran Evan Gill moved to Denver from Baltimore three years ago, which is when he says he fell in love with nature. Coming from sea level to Mile High City, he became intrigued with the idea of summiting all 58 of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000ft, but said he wanted to do so responsibly. This year alone, 11 hikers have died on Colorado’s 14ers, which range in difficulty from class 1 walks to class 5 technical climbing routes and attract outdoor enthusiasts in hiking boots in droves of hundreds of thousands per year – the vast majority of them white.
“Fourteeners are not for everybody but for people who want to push themselves, want to experiment and see what kind of conditioning your body is in. A lot of this was not just physical, there was a lot of mental gains,” said Gill in a video produced for Rocky Mountain PBS.
In 2019, Gill climbed his first 14er, Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak and when lockdown hit the following year and racial injustice was making headlines across the country, he continued with his high altitude project. With little education and training, however, he said he initially made some mistakes that could have been life threatening.
“I did literally everything wrong. I had jeans on. I had a cotton hoodie, non-waterproof shoes. I don’t even think we had a first aid kit,” recalled Gill.
With the support of Vibe Tribe Adventures, a Denver-based non-profit that provides outdoor recreation and adventure sports opportunities for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and Allies, Gill received backcountry and avalanche safety training as well as gear and mentorship which allowed him to accomplish his impressive goal successfully, ultimately summiting 48 of the peaks solo and culminating with Capitol Peak near Aspen.
“It was my last 14er for the very specific reason in that it was the most dangerous,” Gill explained.
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Gill’s said he hoped to reverse trends and stereotypes around People of Color in the outdoors. Black people are by far the most underrepresented group making up National Park visitation each year and in 2018, a white hiker in Colorado even called the sheriff’s office to report a large group of Black hikers that was on an excursion in Beaver Ranch Park as part of Black Girls Hike – read more about the group in our article on diversity in the outdoors.
According to Gill, in order to get more People of Color outdoors, what is most needed is education and access to gear: “You acquire gear over time but to make that initial investment is a big ordeal...It takes money.”
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He said he rarely saw other Black hikers on the trails during the week, or Black hikers in groups: “I would say the general sense is that we hike by ourselves usually, that’s the stereotype and I’m trying to get us away from that stereotype.”
Also making news on Colorado’s 14ers lately is climber Phil Henderson who is training to lead the first all-Black team to the summit of Mount Everest next year.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.