Tag Archives: Hiking

WATCH: Teaser for Doc on Decolonizing Travel Media

Directed by Bruno Brothers Media wth the help of Queens Nation Films, this teaser for a mini-doc about my work as a diasporic writer, photographer and activist exploring the decolonization of travel culture is being released in conjunction with my crowdfunding campaign. With your donations and shares, I’ll be able to do produce more exciting projects that really delve into the issues I bring up here, because struggling with meeting my survival needs complicates that. The full doc will be released soon! Donate here and thanks for your support!

The Revolution Will Go Viral: Kwame Rose, Freddie Gray and the Baltimore Uprising

Hey people, so I injured my knee either swimming, hiking or running alongside vehicles hoping to jump on them in Ecuador last month – on acid – and now I’m watching Fall go by from my bed in Queens, New York, unable to walk. Getting better is the most important thing for me right now, which means working less and earning less when I need it the most. If you wanna support me in any way (besides donating, obvs, which you can do by clicking on the Donate button on the left column or sending cash money to heyitsbani@gmail.com via Paypal) you can share my work with folks you know, collaborate with me, come over with bottles of liquor (a popular option with my friends), lend me books, or send gushing statements of solidarity.

Click on image for full article
Click on image for full article

Anyway, before the fit really hit the shan I was able to profile Black Lives Matter activist Kwame Rose whose confrontation with Geraldo Rivera on Fox News went viral during the Baltimore Uprising earlier this year. If you like it, share it (and credit me!) and follow up with the organizing going on in Baltimore right now, where just last week 16 activists were arrested for demanding a meeting with police commissioner Kevin Davis.

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Next week, my #Dispatch interview with writer Pooja Makhijani on what words like expat, migrant, refugee, exile and immigrant really mean will be up. In the meantimes, you can follow me on the facebook, the twitter, the instagram.

The Grand Canyon on Acid and What’s What in Quito

hey people, thanks to everyone who participated in Outbounding’s discussion on race and travel writing last week, even the ones who were annoying as hell. faithful readers of this site will probably recognize my old piece The Grand Canyon on Acid (about drugs, birthdays and backpacking) which was finally published on Paste Travel the other day. on the front page today is my destination article on Quito, Weekend Layover. most of you know that service writing is def not my style, but talking about where to eat and what to do in Quito is so easy for me that i said what the hell, lemme sell out. mama’s got bills to pay. click on the images to read the articles in full and share them if ya like.

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Remembering A Forgotten Language #Dispatch: Latino Outdoors

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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José G. González a.k.a the “Green Chicano” is an educator, environmentalist, artist and the founder of Latino Outdoors, an organization which serves as a storytelling platform for defining the ambicultural identity connecting Latino communities and the outdoors, among many other functions. Latino Outdoors exists to connect cultura with the outdoors.

Bani Amor:  Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

José G. González:  I would say I’m Mexican by birth, Chicano by identity, Latino by culture and Hispanic by census count. An educator by training, illustrator by interest, and conservationist by pursuit. I’m very much a mestizo and ambicultural in many ways.

What that looks like now with the Green Chicano identity and Latino Outdoors is to work on the storytelling of what these identities mean/look like and what they say about carrying these identities in relation to outdoor spaces, nature, and conservation.

So when I’m admiring the beauty of Grand Tetons National Park, I’m also thinking about the history and culture of the space in relation to who’s there, who’s not, and why that may be. I look at natural spaces with the eyes of a naturalist, artist, and historian.

Bani:  Amazing. How did Latino Outdoors come about?

José:  Latino Outdoors came about with several threads. During college I was an instructor for an outdoor program specifically for migrant students in CA, mostly Latino and English Language Learners. As a teaching team we traveled throughout the state and saw all these amazing outdoors spaces, from the desert to the redwoods, and I noticed how rare this “work” was in terms of the instructors, the students, and the places we were working. I thought, “Why aren’t there more programs like this?!” Basically, where are all the Latino outdoor professionals in this field and how they connect? How do they know about each other? Because I wasn’t finding them.

That experience further connected me to the outdoors and after teaching for a few years I went to get a Masters in Natural Resources & Environment. And the question was, where are the Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations in the environment and the outdoors? Especially those that are not framed solely around environmental justice. It was then that an instructor from the same migrant outdoor program asked, “José, I want to pursue this as a career, who do I talk to? Who do I connect with?” And I didn’t have a great answer for him, I didn’t have a community to connect with. And it made me think of visiting all these state parks and national parks and remembering how awesome they were but how much of a privileged opportunity they were in many ways/cases.

Lastly, I was asking people to tell me where to find this unicorn of an organization and they would tell me, “Great idea, tell us too!” So I thought, well, let’s do it!. Because there are a lot of stories, travelers, and programs that I know are doing great work, but we don’t really exist in a community or are connecting with a shared identity.

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Bani:  What do y’all do?

José:  We center around 4 things. First, the professional community. We want to identify, connect, and amplify the leadership infrastructure of individuals that exist with this identity. They bring their culture on the trailhead and they use it in positive ways to connect their work as conservationists/outdoorspeople with the community. I’ve found many that say, “I’m the only one doing this work…” and I want to say “You’re not, let’s exist and collaborate in community. Let me share with others the awesome stuff you do.” 

This community is a precious resource that allows us to get to the other three things. 2) The youth. Beyond just getting youth outdoors, we want to show them that there are role models and possible mentors in this field for them so that they can follow in this work knowing that their culture is an asset and that it’s valued in this field. We’re also finding that youth in their 20’s are the ones that naturally want to connect with Latino Outdoors, that they are looking for ways to have their culture be positively represented in the outdoor experiences they already enjoy. 

3) Family. We want to showcase the value of family and community-oriented outdoor experiences because it connects parents with their kids and it naturally taps into how many other communities like to enjoy the outdoors beyond the solitary backpacker. We do this through day hikes, outings, and other events partnering with parks and conservation orgs.

4) Storytelling – we wrap this all together by finding ways to say, “Yo cuento” – to show what the story looks like as a Latino/a in relation to the outdoors – and how diverse that is in terms of identity and experiences. We have “Xicano in the Wilderness,” “Chicano in the Cascadias,” “Chasquimom,” and so forth – people identifying in many ways but highlighting their culture in the outdoors. We’re doing this through interviews, narratives, social media, and just starting with video.

Bani:  Awesome. What are some strategies you’ve found effective in inspiring urban-dwelling Latinos to care about conservation issues and to also get out into the outdoors?

José:  Good question. The “urban Latino millennial” is one demographic that is high on many lists for parks and open spaces. Which is no surprise, since they like to be out in a group with a social experience. It can be shared through social media or at least documented with a smart phone. But we know that it’s also a matter of how the outdoors in your community is viewed and supported. How your local park is a connection to outdoors farther way.

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People can identify with a well-known national park farther away and not know they have a fantastic national wildlife refuge nearby. So one thing is to just go, let the place speak for itself and show each other how accessible all these places are. Then once we’re there, we have the programming be flexible so that we learn as much from the community as we want to share. So it’s a not a lecture about the outdoors or a class in conservation.

I may say it’s like learning English if you only know Spanish. We don’t want you to not know or use Spanish and have it be replaced by English. Same with the outdoors. What is the language you already know about these experiences? Tell us! and we’ll share “new words” to add to that. It makes it challenging, exciting, fun, and so rewarding.

Bani:  That’s amazing. Using that analogy of language-learning, I think that it’s more like remembering a language that we were taught to forget. For me, communities of color being separated from nature is a part of the process of colonialism.

José:  Exactamente! That can be hard for many people and there is a lot of anger and hurt that sometimes comes out, but I keep my hand out to people to say, I understand. Especially if you are “Latino” and you have a history of colonizer and colonized. Many public lands in the Southwest used to be land grants that were taken away from Hispanos and Chicanos. But those lands themselves were carved up from indigenous communities.

Bani:  I wonder how Latinos in the U.S. can connect to the outdoors while also confronting our place as both settlers on indigenous land and displaced mestizos from our own lands across Latin America.

José:  It’s both a complex and simple process but it takes time and understanding. I find that people, and especially young people love to connect to their culture. Especially in college when they take a Chicano studies class or the like and they say, “Wait, how come nobody told me about this?!” I use that frame to share how there are many reasons to be proud of our history, and especially with our traditions and heritage of conservation and the outdoors.

We have it, but often need to rediscover it, and much of it comes from our indigenous roots. So we elevate that as much as it was torn from us or as it has been forgotten. But a reality is that so many of us are mestizo and that has been a process too. Indigenismo did not just happen. People looked into their history and said, wait, there is a lot to culture and tradition here that we tried to get away from thinking that just European values were the way to civilization. 

Bani:  Yup, it goes back to education. We’re kind of forced in this country to adhere to the popular immigrant narrative – we came here for a better life, etc. – instead of learning how we were really, a lot of the times, displaced politically and ecologically. 

José:  So I say, are you proud to be Mexica? Did you know they strived to be a zero-waste society? Yeah.

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Bani:  You came up with this word, “culturaleza.”

José:  Yeah, that’s another example of mestizaje. Connecting cultura and naturaleza to show that the separation of people and environment is one frame and often one that alienates many of the communities that many conservation organizations want to reach. One perfect example is food. Food is a cultural trait that is with us all the time from when mom and grandma made tamales and nopales at home and when we’re looking for the right taqueria.

So if we’re having an outing in the outdoors, instead of me just saying “I’ll bring the sandwiches, or let me run to Trader Joe’s” (which I do anyways, jaja) we try to ask people to make it a potluck and they love bringing something they like and want to share. Some favorite memories of mine are having nopales, tostadas, and mole in the sequoias with moms that love to cook that at home.

Bani:  That’s what’s up. 

José:  People have asked, why “Latino Outdoors”? Isn’t that exclusive? Or, isn’t that giving in to a colonized identity? I say that I intend for it to be an INCLUSIVE starting connective point. It’s to bring in communities and people that maybe we haven’t reached out to let alone just expect them to join in and be valued in this space. And we are open to all “shades” of Latino including those that stress nationality, or being Chicano, Hispano, and so forth. Because one thing that can connect us besides often having shared Spanish/Spanglish language is that we also have a connection to land and space in our roots, and that is important.

Bani:  Word. 

José:  Ah, and to make sure we are kind to each other, because in some of these beautiful spaces are ugly human experiences. Very short: while visiting Grand Tetons National Park, we once stopped at a small town for ice cream and I was given one of the worst looks of “You’re not welcome here” that sticks to me to this day. So yeah. 

Bani:  I know that look very well. Our presence in natural spaces is radical. 

José:  Bien dicho.

Closing The Adventure Gap #Dispatch: James Mills

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Enter a captionJames Edward Mills is a freelance journalist, independent media producer and founder or The Joy Trip Project. Working in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer and photographer, his experience includes a broad range of expeditions that include mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing and kayaking. He is currently a contributor to several outdoor-focused print and online publications that include National Geographic Adventure, Rock & Ice and Alpinist. His first book, The Adventure Gap (Mountaineers Press) is available here.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

James Mills:  I’m a freelance journalist specializ[ing] in creating stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living. I also have a direct interest in issues of diversity and environmental justice.

I recently decided that I’m not a travel writer. I’m a writer who happens to travel. I don’t think they are the same things. Travel writing is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t often include the things that I write about. The same goes for adventure writer but to a lesser extent. I definitely write about adventure, but not for adventure’s sake. My focus is primarily on individuals whose work includes a higher purpose in adventure or exploration that has a humanitarian focus or an interest in environmental protection.

For example I’ve written a lot about Shannon Galpin who has done quite a bit of work in Afghanistan on behalf of the empowerment of women and girls through the creation of the first national female cycling team. Travel, adventure definitely, but in the pursuit of a much higher cause.

Bani:  So what was the spark that got you in the outdoors in the first place?

James: When I was 9 years old my brother and I joined a Boy Scout Troop in Los Angeles that was heavily into backpacking and mountaineering. From then on through high school I spent at least one weekend every month camping somewhere, primarily in Southern California. When I graduated from college I took up rock climbing and then got a job doing outdoor retail at REI in Berkeley. From there I worked for the North Face in sales and started my own agency in the midwest in 1992. I’ve been here ever since.

Bani:  Awesome. Was there a particular instance that inspired you to start writing with a “higher purpose” in mind?

James:  It was right after 9/11 when I decided I wanted to make a career change from sales into journalism. At the time I felt like no one was really doing much to tell the stories of people trying to save the world while there seemed to be plenty of those trying to destroy it or capitalize off of the suffering of others. Since I started writing professionally those are the topics that I’ve felt most drawn to and passionate about.

Bani:  Which leads us to your first book, The Adventure Gap. Could you tell us more about how the project came about?

James:  I’d been writing about diversity in outdoor recreation for a while. I produced a documentary for an NPR program on the Buffalo Soldiers as well as several magazine stories. I was working on a piece about diversity in the National Park Service when I became acquainted with the newly appointed director of diversity and inclusion at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin. I was originally interviewing her on her role in making the most prominent outdoor education institution more relevant to people of color.AG-Cover003

That conversation led to a much deeper discussion on what practical steps one could take toward achieving the goal of great inclusivity. A few weeks later I got an email from her asking me what I thought about putting an all African-American team on the summit of Denali.  I naturally thought it was a great idea and asked what I could do to be a part of it. I knew right away that it would make for a great story and of course a book.

Bani:  Expedition Denali was a game-changer! What are your hopes in how the book is received?

James:  Well I hope that it will sell a million copies! But the reality is I’m concerned that it will fall on deaf ears. Our modern world is too full of people today who simply won’t understand why this was such a landmark event. Even though the team didn’t summit, it set in motion a conversation about a critical issue that each of us, regardless of race, will have to face at some point in the future – a profound lack of support for environmental protection among the majority of the US population. But because there are so many people prepared to deny that diversity in outdoor recreation is important, we’re going to face an uphill fight to create a movement toward greater inclusion. I can only hope that I succeeded in writing a compelling enough adventure story that will captivate readers’ attention long enough to make them think about the book’s primary message and overall theme.

Bani:  Addressing the whitewashing of adventure media is one thing, but how do we effectively continue a conversation around environmental and conservation issues within our own communities of color? You’re challenged with getting white outdoorsy people and urban-dwelling people of color to agree on something.

James:  As a person of color by definition if I continue to travel, adventure and write my way through life I’m contributing to the diversity of outdoor recreation. I can also try to tell the story of people of color out there pushing the boundaries of the field and illustrate their efforts to defy notions that suggest that these are things the black and brown folks don’t do.

I’m pretty cynical to the belief that I’ll ever convince anyone to think differently about these issues. As a writer and a journalist all I can really do is tell the truth as I see it. As an athlete, now that both my legs work properly again, all I can do is push the boundaries of my abilities and do it with style.

Bani: Why do you think that lie – that black and brown folks just don’t care about nature – is so pervasive? Do you think that’s just the fault of poor representation in media or an intentional notion of white supremacist thinking?

James:  Unfortunately it’s a lie that we perpetuate among ourselves. Young people are given a very clear message that unambiguously says, “black people don’t…” There are stereotypes that we impose upon ourselves and people in our community that are so thoroughly entrenched that to do anything contrary to this common belief is to be “less black” or trying to “act white”.

The consequence of going against the accepted definition of what it means to be black in America today is to be ostracized by one’s peers or even one’s own family. Who wants that? So we perpetuate the lie in order to fit in, but we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience something that is not only wonderful but part of our birthright as human beings, spending time outdoors in pursuit of something extraordinary, an ecstatic experience in the natural world.

Bani:  What are your plans for after the book release?

James:  Sell, sell, sell! I’m coming full circle on my career, but now I’m pushing a product of my own creation. I want to write popular fiction and hopefully create compelling characters – people of color – who exemplify the best qualities of stewards dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural world.

Bani:  Sounds like a plan!

Check out the #Dispatch tag on Twitter for more. If you enjoyed this interview, please consider showing your love in the form of a donation to keep this project going. The Paypal link on the right-hand column of this page makes it super easy. 

Everywhere All The Time #2 Now Available on Etsy!

Everywhere All The Time #2: Bright Sunny Days, Dark Sacred Nights is the second issue of my travel media zine featuring stories from a year spent traveling and living in Ecuador. From hiking in the northern highlands to a shack on the Pacific coast, the zine spans terrain, time and mood through text and black and white photos. The writing is influenced by my identities – queer, mestiza, POC, feminist, writer, weirdo – and is cut by quotes from Junot Díaz, Gloria Anzaldúa and James Baldwin. 36 pages, typewritten/handwritten and some computer writing, black and white with color cover. Order here!

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Mountains Beyond Mountains: On Expedition Denali, Race & Adventure in America

Happy New Year people! I wanted to kick things off with a story that went unpublished in 2013. Remember the time I interviewed Rosemary Saal, member of the first African-American team to try and climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska? A lot of people were excited, and I was asked to report on Expedition Denali as part of a corporate social media campaign about travel stories last summer. But once the time-sensitive article was sent, it took over three months for them to finally reject the piece, claiming it was “too risky for their brand”. Well fuck them and their brand. Yes, stories get killed all the time, but aren’t you tired of reading the same shit from the same people? Offensive, cheap and – worst of all – boring “content” permeates travel media nowadays; a little diversity wouldn’t hurt anyone.

So here’s the story and why it’s too important not to be told.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: On Expedition Denali, Race & Adventure in America

Summer 2013. From where I stand abroad, it looks as if folks in the States would prefer to talk about anything other than race and yet are being challenged to do just that on the daily. Fifty years after the I Have A Dream speech shook up our national dialogue on racism, it still remains an enormously tense topic, the negative aspects of which our social media-saturated culture feeds off of. But in between incessant Tweets on Zimmerman walking and Miley twerking, a moment of extraordinary progress was able make this summer memorable for all the right reasons.

Mountaineering project Expedition Denali made history last June as the first all-black team to attempt North America’s highest summit, Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) in Alaska. Sponsored by brands like REI and The North Face, the National Outdoor Leadership School organized 11 African-American climbers from across the diaspora – women and men, young and old, red state/blue state – on a month-long trek to the heights of America. They are now on a country-wide speaking tour trying to engage youth of color to get active in the outdoors and promote equality in the adventure industry as a whole.

“Think about the story that mountaineering has been,” says 21 year-old climber Erica Wynn in the project’s campaign video. “It’s been mainly white male, and if a little black girl were to look into mountaineering and hear that single story, she would probably say I don’t have much of a place there, or The odds are against me. I hope that Expedition Denali helps to change that story.” Teammate Rosemary Saal echoed this when interviewed her before the climb, saying, “I feel that many people of color have the mentality that we do not belong in the outdoors. When the sport was first being developed and explored, the traditional participant was a white male. For some reason, this image has stuck in the minds of many and in actuality has not changed significantly.” Her own friends point out just how stuck this image of the American Outdoorsman is in our minds, joking that ‘people of color don’t do that.'”

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Rosemary Saal

Growing up working class and Latina in the city meant my first glimpse of mountains were caught from the glow of the TV or even from the glossy pages of travel mags, but rarely would those graphics reflect anyone who looked remotely like me. Not much has changed.

“I grew up with people telling me what I couldn’t do,” says 56 year-old mountaineer Steve Shobe. “There’s a certain percentage of people who look like me who have also been told you can’t because of your color or, you live in the city and this is not for you.” When sports or travel media do feature black athletes it’s usually in the context of competitive sports or as the ‘exotic’ subjects of some travel narrative or other. “It is stereotypes and labels such as those that perpetuate the notion the POC do not have a place in the outdoors or the means to embrace nature,” adds Rosemary. “We seek to shift that view, or at least begin to.”

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The ED Team

It’s funny how American media (the indie stuff is pretty bad, too) keeps this narrow image of The Backpacker going, when many have beards, tattoos, afros, debt. Some are gay, many are women. But it seems like every time I step foot on National Park land I’m surrounded by middle-aged Europeans with an aptness for staring at my brown skin. Similarly, folks have a hard time believing I’m American on trips abroad, because a lot of people associate travel with privilege, and American with white. The fact that people of color will make up the majority of American youth by 2018 but account for less than 20% of citizens engaged in outdoor activities is what’s known as The Adventure Gap, and it’s relatively new.

When the abolition of slavery gave way to the Great Migrations of the 20th century, over 10 million African-Americans were exiled from Southern farm towns to industrial cities in the North, severing the agrarian roots of black culture and confining the poor majority to urban ghettos. Systematic violence and discrimination in this country has created a schism between an ancestral knowledge of nature and the lived experience of being black in today’s America. Here, access to wild spaces is largely limited to those who have the funds for their own transportation, training, gear, permits or simply the time to not work and take a trip instead. Though many people of color can – and do – manage all that, it’s generally not encouraged in our communities. How could it be? People who are used to having their contributions to mainstream culture go unacknowledged tend to internalize that distortion until it becomes a reality.

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Erica Wynn

“Everyone deserves to have opportunities like this,” asserts Erica in ED’s YouTube video. “It’s not fair for [it] to be an exclusive activity.” As simple and uncontroversial as she may sound, it wasn’t long after Expedition Denali was announced that haters started to beat the post-racial drums, the way privilege tends to subvert the thinking of ordinarily reasonable people. Rosemary comments on the backlash, saying that “there are a few skeptics out there who do not see the necessity or significance of this expedition.”

“We have come a long ways,” continues Erica, “but we still are lacking a black presence in a lot of really positive opportunities, and I think that’s why Expedition Denali is still necessary – even though we’re in 2013 and we’ve got a black president – it’s still necessary, there’s still work that needs to be done.”

For those of us who’ve pushed through the stigma and successfully carved out a space for ourselves in different aspects of the adventure industry, it’s our responsibility to shake up any mainstream narrative that doesn’t embrace the diversity of our stories. Not doing so would only fuel a future where our last vestiges of natural freedom are abandoned because none of us gives a damn. “I wish to be that person,” says Rosemary, “inspiring and encouraging the next generation the way I was inspired and encouraged.” Long-time alpinist Billy Long is one of the expedition members on tour now, adding that “it’s all about personal stories delivered in a way and by a person that they can relate to, someone that can take the activity from an obscure thing you see “white people do” on TV and make it relatable, understandable and achievable.” This is how inspiration goes down, and it’s infectious.

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Billy Long

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Distill Productions were able to send a documentary film crew along on the journey and a book is in the works, too. The story of Expedition Denali’s historic climb will not go untold, and youth will have real faces to put to real voices that often go unheard. If it isn’t clear enough – McKinley was a metaphor. A living one with a powdery spine that leads to America’s apex, a place that can end you in a very non-metaphorical way. But for this project it also represents the rocky precipice on which we balance our dreams as a nation. The real challenge – whether we can build a community as inclusive as it is intrepid – is a reality waiting for us to wake up to. A summit the black climbers of Expedition Denali have carried us ever closer to.