Eight Member Summit Team Hikes the Trail Blazed by Buffalo Soldiers and Inspires Black People Around the Country to Practice Self Love in the Outdoors
Written by Outdoor Afro Leader and Mount Whitney Summit Team Leader Viva Yeboah
On August 15, 2015, Outdoor Afro raised our banner on the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States. This moment marked the culmination of an adventure that drew upon values embedded in African American culture, including stewardship, teamwork, and history.
The Outdoor Afro Mount Whitney Summit Team included all five of the founding members of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team. Outdoor Afro Chicago Leader and Mount Whitney Summit Team Leader Viva Yeboah shares more about their experience below.
Why climb Mount Whitney? Why do such a challenging hike?
“Outdoor Afro’s mission is to reconnect African Americans with natural spaces and each other. We do that by hosting recreational activities and honoring our history. A backpacking trip up Mount Whitney fits right in with what Outdoor Afro leaders do everyday because the trip entails adventure (highest peak in the lower 48 states!), stewardship (leave no trace principles are a must), teamwork (only 30% of hikers reach the summit), and a unique, untold aspect of African American history (the Buffalo Soldiers constructed the first trail up Mount Whitney).”
What is backpacking?
“Backpacking is using a backpack (external or internal frame) to carry all gear, equipment and personal items needed for a multi-day, weekend or extended trip. For our Mt. Whitney trip we practiced wilderness backpacking. Essentially taking everything we need to complete our summit and to camp at the Inyo National Forest campgrounds. Usually I over pack for trips. I am always like what if I need this item or this dress or this book. Just thinking of the possibilities without thinking of actually what I need or what time is available. In preparing for this 3 day trip, managing your weight and selecting proper gear and equipment that are essential for the team to succeed is very important. We had general gear and equipment list, from that list items needed for this particular trip was selected. Every trip is different and will require you to adjust your list based on the weather, items with multi use, type of trip and group size. To physically prepare, the group trained for several months and conditioned ourselves to carry our pack for a extended time. Our local REI staff were very helpful in helping us choose the right packs and gear. And we followed the general rule of carrying no more than 20% of your body weight.”
How did you interact with nature on the trip?
“You know I felt like my interaction or awareness definitely increase. Our trip was 3 days/ 2 nights and no cellphone coverage. The Mt Whitney trail is 22 miles round trip, 6100 elevation gain and is part of two national parks, Inyo National Park and Sequoia National Park. During our trek we viewed and embraced the diverse beauty of both parks. We hiked through four vegetation zone from Montane, Subalpine, Alpine to Barren. With each zone providing the opportunity to see the diverse wildlife and plant species of both national parks.
We spotted all kinds of wildlife including deer, grouse, marmots, quails, squirrels, etc. We also appreciated the plant species along the trail such as lodgepole and foxtail pine trees, sky pilot, cut-leaf and alpine gold daisy and granite draba. The colors purple and yellow from the sky pilot and alpine gold daisy gave me such inspiration as we summited Mt Whitney.
How did the group practice LEAVE NO TRACE principles?
“At all Outdoor Afro events the seven principles of Leave No Trace are practiced and applied when applicable. For this trip we incorporated all of them as follows:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare. We educated ourselves on all rules and regulation such as the requirements for WAG bags and bear canisters. Stayed current on weather conditions that could dramatically impact our trip such as severe thunderstorm. Studied the Mt Whitney map and became familiar with water sources. Providing family and friends with emergency numbers.
- Leave What you Find. It is important to leave the trail how you find it. So the next individual or group enjoys it just as much as you did. For example, we enjoyed the wonderful smell from pine cones, but also made a conscious decision to leave the pine cones were we found them.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts. Campfires are banned at Inyo National Park campsites. Our team used lightweight stoves.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. We selected designated campsites. Made sure to set up our sites 200 feet away from the water source.
- Respect Wildlife. Our team observed wildlife from a distance and did not feed any animals. We also made sure to store our food properly in our packs and in bear canisters.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors. We respected all hikers on the trail and at our campsite. Our breaks were off the trail and while descending the team made sure to yield to oncoming hikers.”
Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack it in, pack it out. All waste (food packages, left over food and human waste) are all packed out.
What did it feel like to know people all over the country were joining you in solidarity hikes?
“The first two words that come to mind is motivating and inspiring. You realize that this trip is greater than you, greater than your team, but for our community. Our circle reaches throughout the US and beyond. It is one of the best feelings.”
Why did you take your summit photo with the Ghanaian flag?
“I had to represent part of my culture. I am first generation Ghanaian American. Both my parents are Ghanaian. I also told my mom when we make it to the top, I’d rep for her!”
How do you hope hikers will respond when they see the Outdoor Afro sticker at the summit register?
“I hope people will see our sticker and know that Mount Whitney is our success just like it is theirs. I hope it disrupts the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with Mount Whitney and other natural spaces, and shifts the visual representation of who connects with these spaces. I also hope people it will inspire fellow hikers to learn more about Outdoor Afro and the thousands of African Americans who join us in nature every day.”
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet.