It was a chance meeting at a dog park in southwestern Colorado that led Eddie Taylor, a science teacher, to set his sights on Mount Everest.
That’s how he got to know Phil Henderson, who was putting together the first team of Black climbers to attempt a summit of the tallest mountain on Earth.
“I think we were both walking our dogs and he’s like, ‘Oh hey, how’s it going?’” Taylor recalled.
Taylor was in Ouray, a picturesque mountain town often called the Switzerland of America, to go ice climbing that January weekend in 2021.
The encounter led to a conversation, a ski outing, and then an invitation to join the team, Full Circle Everest Expedition. Taylor, who teaches chemistry and coaches track at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, will travel with the team to Nepal in early April. By early May, he and seven teammates will be ready to embark on their historic ascent to the top of the world.
Taylor, who began climbing after college, hasn’t had much time to be nervous or excited about the expedition because he’s so busy teaching, coaching, and getting everything in order for his extended absence this spring.
On a recent afternoon, as he talked with a visitor in an empty science classroom, his assistant track coach popped in and they had a quick exchange about fixing a student’s event entry.
“My focus right now is just trying to make sure that these kids have the best experience here,” he said.
Taylor hopes the expedition and the publicity around it will serve as a welcome mat for people of color interested in outdoor sports. Right now, climbing, and the media imagery surrounding it, is dominated by white participants, he said.
“If you’re a black person or a Latino person and you Google ‘climbing,’ you’re going to still see lots of people who don’t look like you,” Taylor said. “That, I think, makes those sports … seem a little bit more unapproachable.”
There is lots going on to help change that, Taylor said. That includes groups like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors, or organizations that provide specialized gear for those who don’t have easy access.
The Full Circle expedition is one more piece of that equation, he said, showcasing elite Black climbers, who “also want to give back and say, ‘OK, you can do this, too.’”
The journey to education
Taylor found teaching much the same way he found the Everest expedition — through serendipity.
After double majoring in math and biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, he landed a job he liked at an analytical chemistry lab. When his college track coach called and asked if he would help coach pole vault at a local high school, Taylor declined. But the high school’s track coach coaxed Taylor into coming by for just one preseason practice.
That visit sealed the deal.
Taylor realized he missed his college track days and that he enjoyed working with kids. He ended up coaching pole vault and high jump at Broomfield High School that season and for several more afterward — keeping his chemistry job all the while. He connected with many student athletes and enjoyed watching their progress through track season.
“In the spring, I’d wake up every morning excited to go coach,” he said. “And then work became something that I was just doing to make money.”
Taylor eventually decided to make the switch to teaching, enrolling in night classes at Regis University to earn his master’s degree. Two years later, he got his first teaching job at Fairview High School in Boulder.
Taylor, who moved around a lot as a child and attended high school in Minnesota, sees lots of parallels between teaching and climbing, including the lack of diversity. Growing up, he recalled having a single non-white teacher — in second grade when he attended school on a Navajo reservation.
Nationwide, the teaching profession is largely white while a majority of the nation’s students are not. Nationally, only about 2% of teachers are Black men, and in Colorado, the share is even smaller — 0.5%.
Taylor believes it makes a difference when students of color see someone who looks like them at the front of the class — at least some of the time during their 13 years of K-12 education.
“Sometimes that kid’s just going to connect with that person a little better,” he said.
Taylor is down-to-earth, not the type to make a big classroom pronouncement about his plans to climb the tallest peak in the world. In fact, most of his students didn’t learn about the expedition directly from Taylor. They saw television clips or news articles about the trip, which has been featured in dozens of media outlets from the Washington Post to CNN to People magazine.
Some students were full of questions: “What’s it like going to Nepal? What’s it like going to Asia? That mountain’s crazy!”
Others have offered advice, he said. “Some of my track kids are like, ‘What’s your training looking like? You should be doing more sprints.’”
Outside of one-on-one conversations, one of the few presentations Taylor’s made about his trip was the result of a bribe. He promised his students a pizza party if they behaved well during a television crew’s visit to film one of his classes.
“They all came in exactly on time. They were all raising their hands, asking questions,” Taylor said, chuckling. “Not that they don’t do that normally, but it was over the top.” During the pizza party, he talked about the expedition.
Other local students will also learn about the Full Circle expedition in the coming weeks. Taylor’s wife, an elementary teacher in the Boulder Valley district, is incorporating the expedition into lessons on documenting events and creating time capsules — resources that may be shared more widely through Microsoft, one of the expedition’s sponsors.
She also created a program for local students called the Everest Kids Challenge, which encourages students to run, walk, hike, or bike 5.5 miles, the mountain’s above-sea-level height. Participants will be entered into drawings to win prizes such as mountain biking or climbing experiences.
Taylor said part of the goal is to impact the broader community: “It’s not just a climb I’m going on,” he said.
Like his ascents of other famous peaks, including Denali in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina, he sees Mount Everest less as an endpoint and more as a step in a longer journey. He wants to get to the top, but coming back down is just as important.
“None of these are successes if you don’t get home safely,” he said.
Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.