The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
Sophia Danenberg reached the top of Mount Everest on May 19, 2006, at 7 AM. She was the first African-American—and the first black woman— to make the summit. And she’d grown up in Homewood, though as an adult she lived in Connecticut. But it was a stealth operation—or as much of a stealth operation as climbing the world’s tallest mountain can get. She didn’t bother to alert the press, and neither did her sister, her husband, or a work colleague, the only three people she kept in contact with during her trek.
Jeffrey Felshman finally wrote a short profile of Danenberg in July. She’d begun mountaineering in 1999, she told him, and had met her husband, David, while climbing a cliff. She hadn’t intended to become the first black woman to scale Everest. She was just looking for a challenge.
Danenberg, whose father is black and mother Japanese, says most people are surprised to hear she was the first African-American to scale Everest, but not other climbers. “There aren’t a lot of African-Americans—or black people from anywhere, American or otherwise—in high-altitude mountaineering,” she says. She’s never met another black person on any big mountain in the world, and when the subject comes up with other climbers, most of them white males, they usually haven’t either.
The Sherpas, however, didn’t pay much attention to her race. “Danenberg remembers one saying, ‘Hey, this woman is really strong.’ They also said she looked a little like them, because at five-foot-two she’s short and she has dark skin. One Sherpa told her, ‘You look Nepalese, only with better hair.'”