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Ain't no, mountain high enough: African American team attempts to climb the world's tallest peaks. (Personal Passions).

It's 2 a.m. and high above the clouds, three climbers have left base camp for an adventure-filled ascent up a snow-packed mountain face. "We started to trip out," explains mountaineer Stephen Shobe.

Breathing thin, oxygen-depleted air, which causes blood to become energy-starved and thicken, the climbers face the very real dangers of frostbite, falling, or being blown away by an avalanche. But they also anticipate the moment of exhilaration as they reach one of the highest points on Earth. All this in a history-making attempt to conquer the world's highest peaks by climbing the Seven Summits: Mounts Everest in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina, Denali or McKinley in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Elbrus in Russia, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and Kosciusko in Australia. (There is a debate among mountaineering enthusiasts that Carstensz in Indonesia is the seventh.) The mountains peak at heights ranging from 7,310 feet to over 29,000 feet.

And Elliott Boston III, 33, Dr. Jean Ellis (not pictured above), 56, and Shobe, 46, known collectively as the Pioneer Climbers, are on a crusade to conquer each one. Boston, a stockbroker from Newport Beach, California, persuaded companies to sponsor the group's expeditions and nationwide seminars in an attempt to encourage more African Americans to mountain climb.

"Whenever you see us in sport ads, we're only seen playing basketball or football," says Boston (standing on top). He got hooked on mountaineering 11 years ago after he saw the mountain movie K2. His team has visited more than 20 schools and colleges to recruit those interested.

That means sharing the excitement--and the danger. During a climb to Aconcagua last February, Shobe, who met Boston in October 2001, was left to climb the last 1,800 feet alone when Boston had to rescue a fellow climber suffering from cerebral edema. The condition, which causes the brain to fill with fluid at extreme altitudes, can cause delirium and death.

"I could see him deteriorating quickly, and the only help is to immediately decrease altitude. It was long and arduous [on the way down], but we made it."

Shobe made it, too. "I got frostbite during that trip," recalls the Pacific Bell technician who was introduced to climbing when his wife gave him a lesson as a gift. Shobe is more adept at warm-weather rock climbing. Nonetheless, once at the top, he took self-portraits and cried.

"It's nerve-wrecking," says Shobe. "Your heart rate gets rapid. Lie down and a you can hear it beating through your chest. It doesn't take a fall or a conk on the head to cause death up there. One guy we met died overnight from a heart attack."

But getting to the summit is only half the trip, says Shobe. "The other half is getting home." He explains that some climbers are so intent on reaching the top, they expend all their energy and end up having greater physical challenges descending a mountain.

Ellis, an emergency medical physician and former Olympic marathon contender living in Billings, Montana, is perhaps the most experienced of the group. He turned to climbing when the U.S. boycotted me 1980 Moscow Olympics. Ellis beard through the grapevine that two other black climbers were looking for a third, equally passionate party for the project, which has been seven months in planning.

Companies such as Volvo, Pepsi, and Hewlett-Packard have donated cars and money to the Pioneer Climbers for the expensive expeditions. (At this writing, the team expects to have completed Mount Elbrus in Russia.)

Basic equipment--outerwear, crampons (climbing irons), and boots--can cost upwind of $1,000, while travel for the year can run close to $40,000. A trip up Mount Everest can cost $65,000.

There's also the cost of time spent away from families. Shobe and Ellis are both married; Ellis also has a daughter. When he's climbing, Boston leaves behind a Siamese cat. Each trip can take three weeks to several months.

The journey up is hard but it's filled with rewards. Recalling his first trip to Aconcagua, Boston says: "I was suffering from dysentery. I was alone. But when I finally reached the summit, I cried like a baby."

You can visit these gentlemen at the Pioneer Climbers Expedition Website www .pioneerclimbing.com.

RELATED ARTICLE: Getting Started.

* GET IN SHAPE "The skills are not difficult to says Dr. Jean Ellis. "Just be fastidious. It' like climbing an unlimited number of stairs. You do have to be in good physical condition."

* TAKE A CLASS: You can learn the basics on maneuvering terrain and balance by taking rock-climbing classes at a gym. Check out www.indoorclimbing.com for information on climbing gyms. The guys work out at Rock City Climbing Center www.rockcityclimbing .com in Anaheim Hills, California.

* DO RESEARCH: The Pioneer Climbers recommend Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (Alfred A. Knopf; $13); Tales from the Steep by John Long (Globe Pequot Press; $14.95); and Climbing Adventures: A Climber's Passion by Jim Bridwell (Globe Pequot Press; $16.50).

* VISIT www.thesevensummits.com for information and pictures on the world's tallest mountains.
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Title Annotation:Pioneer Climbers
Author:Jacobs, Patricia
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:851
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