Monday, November 26, 2012

Sibusiso: First Black Man to Climb Mt. Everest







Climbing Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is the ultimate test of physical, psychological, mental and emotional endurance. What is more, it is one of the most expensive expeditions in the world.
These impediments, however, counted for nothing when Sibusiso Vilane, a simple game ranger, became the first black African to reach the world’s highest mountain in 2003.
Getting to the peak of the world’s tallest mountain only whetted Sibusiso’s hunger for heights. After Everest, he made another first by becoming the first black African to reach the peaks of the seven highest mountains on the seven continents.
They are Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in South America, Elbrus in Europe, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, Vinson in Antarctica and Denali in North America.
Sibusiso has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro a record 13 times.
“My advice to everybody who wants to embark on such a journey is that one should not underestimate Mt Everest,” Sibusiso said. “Permits are the most expensive; you also need other equipment,” Sibusiso told The EastAfrican in Nairobi, where he had been invited by the Kenya Everest Expedition to help recruit a Kenyan who will join the team in climbing the mountain in 2013 for charity.
“You have to hire guides and porters who work for you for about three months… it is not cheap,” he said.
Expenses aside, the climber risks not making it back alive: One can fall from the steep ridges, freeze from extreme cold or succumb to one of the numerous high attitude illnesses.
According to Himalayan Database, a compilation of all expeditions to the 300 peaks in the Himalayas since the 1920s, more than 250 people have died trying to conquer Mt Everest.

Sibusiso, who encountered the body of a dead climber on his way up in 2005, describes Mt Everest as “the man-eating monster mountain.”
“The sight really brought home the danger of what we were doing,” he recounts in his book To the Top from Nowhere. “I was five metres away when I saw him, clipped to the same rope as myself, face up; he appeared well preserved.”
A burning desire to set a benchmark for fellow Africans and a quest to achieve the Everest dream, Sibusiso said, kept him going.
“To be honest, we black Africans generally don’t have a sudden urge to climb the mountains in our backyards,” he noted. “We don’t see it as something to be done unless it’s an absolute necessity, or as a job. Mountaineering is simply not a black man’s sport.”
He made the second climb in 2005 in the company of fellow South African Alex Harris and world-renowned explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
The news that Sibusiso would be making history as the first black man to reach the top of Mt Everest made him a household name in South Africa, with British Broadcasting Corporation crew filming his departure from Mbabane by bus to Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
“Friends had organised a surprise for me. At the airport, I was called to the VIP lounge,” he remembers. “Waiting for me there was the then South African minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Valli Moosa.”
The minister handed him the national flag, which he requested Sibusiso to put on top of Mt Everest.
Despite his determination and many months of preparation, the more than 29,000-foot climb nearly cost him his very life when he found himself alone and without water at the top of Everest.
“Slowly the mountain became desert-still. And then the wind started howling,” Sibusiso writes in To the Top from Nowhere. “Like a tension spring that suddenly loses power, my energy dropped to zero. The pack felt 10 times heavier.”
The climber was saved by a young Nepali guide who found him clinging to the edges of consciousness. But his troubles were rewarded upon his arrival at the foot of the mountain, where he received a message of congratulations from none other than the then South African president Thabo Mbeki.
“In this, you have shown the heights we can all scale in life if we put our shoulder to the wheel and work without flagging,” President Mbeki said. “Sibusiso, you have done us proud.”
In 2006, Sibusiso was decorated with the Order of Ikhamanga, an award bestowed on distinguished achievers, by the head of state.
He says that Nelson Mandela, whom he met after reaching the peak of Mt Everest in 2003, is one of the most inspiring figures in his life. As a tribute to the elderly statesman, Sibusiso carried Madiba’s Long Walk to Freedom on his second climb to the roof of the world in 2005 and while holding the famous autobiography aloft, he sang the South African national anthem.
“It’s almost impossible to sing when up there, since there is no air to breathe. I had to take off my oxygen mask, and soon I was gasping”.
After the national anthem, Sibusiso paraphrased Mandela’s famous words during his inauguration as the first black South African president in 1994: “Never, never, never again shall Everest stand as an impossible odd to all Africans.”
Since then, two black Africans have reached the peak of Mt Everest, the latest being Tanzania’s Wilfred Moshi, who did it in May this year.

Sibusiso was formally introduced to the Queen of England in 2011 at a reception in Buckingham Palace.
Besides starting a running club called Born to Win and being a patron of many charitable organisations, Sibusiso hosts a radio talk show “My Climb, Your Climb” on 1485 Radio Today, where he interviews black achievers about the challenges they face and overcome in their careers and lives.
He will be in Kyrgyzstan at the end of this month where, in the company of a friend, he will attempt to reach the peak of three mountains in a row.

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