Although the film Everest, the fictionalized version of the 1996 Everest season that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, features leading men Jake Glyllenhal and Josh Brolin, Hollywood producers should consider putting Sophia Danenberg’s story on the big screen. Danenberg is the first Black woman to climb atop Mount Everest and just the second person of African descent to conquer the world’s tallest mountain.
Danenberg was born Sophia Marie Scott in 1972 and raised in Chicago’s suburb of Homewood to a Black father and Japanese mother. Although she was a track athlete while attending Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Danenberg didn’t discover mountain climbing until she was a student at Harvard University. After scaling mountains in the states, Danenberg began to take the sport seriously and tackled several summits across the globe.
Danenberg set her sights on Everest in the spring of 2006 at the age of 34. With just a week to prepare for the dangerous two-month journey, Danneberg and eight others took what is known as an “unguided” climb up the Nepalese mountain. Danneberg carried her own gear and pitched her own tent with the help of two Sherpas. Without a guide, Danneberg relied mostly on her own wits and experience climbing smaller but still formidable mountains.
On May 19, 2006, Danenberg completed the 29,000 foot climb.
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Other mountains Danenberg bested include McKinley in Alaska, Mount Tasman in New Zealand, Mount Baker in Washington State, and Kilimanjaro alongside her husband, David Danenberg, who joined her on some of the climbs.
But it isn’t all about mountains for the Seattle resident. After leaving Harvard with a degree in environmental science and public policy, Danenberg became a Fulbright Fellow and attended Keio University in Tokyo. Danenberg then worked for United Technologies in Japan. She now lives in Seattle and works at Boeing.
Black South African Sibusiso Vilane was the first person of African descent to summit Everest in 2003. He did so again in 2005 and has since climbed all the Seven Summits, the seven highest mountains in the world. In 2019, Saray N’kusi Khumalo, a 47-year-old South African woman, became the first Black African woman to reach Everest’s peak.
(Photo: Sophia Danenberg)