A BRITISH soldier is in training to achieve his life goal and become England’s first black climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Deon Barrett from Surbiton, South West London, has spent the last few months heading to Wales during every spare moment of leave in order to scale as many mountains as possible as he works towards conquering the iconic 8,850m peak.
The 31-year-old, who has been with the Royal Logistical Corps for seven years, spent much of April tackling the ‘Welsh 3,000s’ on a route where the elevation of a dozen peaks amount to the height of Everest from sea level.
“It’s quite difficult with money etc, but I try to pencil in once a month to make it to Wales, Scotland or the Peak District to train for this,” Deon says.
“I get about three of the peaks in six hours. In October this will condense into a four-day window to complete the 12.
“I’m pretty confident on the physical side of things. I’m probably going to do another three or four similar challenges to keep myself on track for Nepal.”
That dream of making it to Nepal, and the daunting basecamps where adventurous souls impatiently linger in anticipation of the moment they head towards the world’s most infamous ascent, is steadily moving towards becoming a reality.
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Deon is targeting 2025 as the year he becomes England’s first black climber to reach Everest’s summit.
However, his dream has always been mainly about scaling the mountain, rather than categorising it as an achievement based on the colour of his skin – that aspect only recently raised its head.
“It wasn’t something that really ever occurred to me in any significant kind of way,” he mused, with a gentle shake of the head.
“For me, as a black person, not seeing many people of colour on the mountains, it never really sunk in until a white friend of mine said ‘you’re the only black person here’… that was the first time I really paid attention to it.”
He adds that, when you’re out in the countryside, walking or climbing, these so-called boundaries rarely exist. Everyone is out and about for their own reasons, but all with one common purpose of being outdoors.
“It’s quite funny. In most of my circumstances I do feel isolated. At work and everyday walks of life, I feel isolated, but getting outside in nature it almost doesn’t discriminate. Those trains of thought don’t cross your mind.
“You give a nod or a ‘hello’ when you’re outdoors. There’s a camaraderie there.
“No matter where you come from, congregating in masses, it shouldn’t just be classified as black or white.”
Deon believes that companionship – the way in which walkers will, more-often-than-not, greet someone going the opposite direction with a cheery smile and warm ‘hello’, creates a fellowship that bypasses prejudices.
But, still, since the issue was raised, he has found himself offering more thought as to why the faces you see on mountains are seldom representative of the communities closer to sea level.
“From experiences, and also engaging with other black people, it seems to be something which is about going the extra mile to put yourself at risk,” he suggests.
“It leads towards that aspect of leaving the city and doing something that isn’t normal within your community.”
His endeavours to achieve something beyond the ordinary, he hopes, will lead him to match the efforts of one of his greatest heroes – Sibusiso Vilane.
South African Vilane made history on May 26 2003 when he became the first black climber to reach the top of the world’s highest mountain. It was an astonishing achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact people had been summiting Everest for 50 years, yet it would be half a century before a black climber set foot on the peak.
“There are probably hundreds of theories and a million reasons that may never explain why, and in time I’m sure we’ll see more and more black climbers,” ponders Deon.
“For now, though, I think the focus should be on mental health, and how mental health among black people needs to switch towards using the outdoors for well-being.
“Being able to step out of your own everyday life and being able to press the reset button is crucial. You need that time, that safe haven – a place where you can have a tranquil state of mind.
“The outdoors is definitely the key.”
Deon has set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise money for his history-making expedition… Fundraiser by Deon Barrett : True north project (gofundme.com)