Saray Khumalo: The unintended mountaineer


Saray Khumalo is the primary black African lady to summit the world’s highest peak. Now she’s obtained her sights set on the Explorer’s Grand Slam, essentially the most coveted adventurer aim there may be: to summit the best peaks on each continent and attain the North and South Pole. When she does it, she’ll be the primary African lady, black or white, to carry the title.

I’m a mountaineer. I’m a mom. I’m now an entrepreneur. I just lately took early retirement from company and I’m an govt coach. I wrote a e book, so I’m an creator, too. It’s referred to as My Journey to the Prime of the Phrase…And the Classes I Learnt Alongside the Means. It’s a memoir about who I’m: one in every of seven ladies raised by a single mom; any individual who grew up believing I’m simply an strange particular person. Even after I began climbing, I used to be simply an strange African lady attempting to succeed in extraordinary heights.

I began climbing initially as a bucket checklist factor, that’s why I say I’m an unintended mountaineer. I climbed to boost cash for a house that appears after avenue youngsters. Within the course of, one in every of them jogged my memory of how I additionally grew up with limiting beliefs. I believed folks like us didn’t do issues like this, didn’t summit mountains. And I needed to alter that for that little woman, for my youngsters, for anybody who appears to be like like me. The one distinction between myself and that woman is that any individual invested in my schooling.

The primary time I tried Everest in 2014, 16 Sherpas died in an avalanche. I had had such imposter syndrome going into the climb, and I attempted to show I belonged up there. However when these Sherpas died, I realised they have been simply as scared as I used to be. We’re all born and we’re all going to die in some unspecified time in the future. And whether or not we’re sitting at house or not, we’re going to die the place we’re at. The purpose is in the event you lived.

I went again in 2015, simply in time for the earthquake – 22 folks died at Base Camp. Nepal misplaced 9 000 folks. We have been caught at camp two for 2 nights, and I’ve by no means identified chilly like that.

In 2016, I couldn’t afford it. I in all probability wrote greater than 200 proposals asking for funding. Some folks had the audacity to ask which man can be accompanying me. I confronted a lot negativity, nobody gave me the identical good thing about the doubt {that a} white male would get. So it turned about extra than simply schooling, it turned about illustration. Then I had a mountain bike accident within the August, and I ended up in a coma for 3 weeks. 

I’d cracked my head fairly badly. I began strolling in September. In October I began operating. I had a Soweto Marathon entry for the primary week of November, and I believed I’d simply do  21km. However everybody doing the 42km regarded like they have been having a lot enjoyable. So I ran, and I completed the race. It was on a Sunday, and on the Monday I used to be at Milpark Hospital and I stated: ‘Physician, I completed a 42km run. Certainly I can nonetheless climb.’

In 2017, I obtained all the way in which to the South Summit. I used to be 99m from the highest. However the climate obtained so unhealthy at that time, we determined to return to camp 4 and look forward to the climate to subside. However I didn’t really feel any higher, after which I misplaced consciousness within the dying zone. The Sherpa I used to be mountain climbing with wasn’t effectively both, however he left me to get assist. Extra Sherpas got here to get me, however after we obtained again to camp, our tent had been blown away within the wind. They put me in a makeshift tent, and I used to be out and in of consciousness, hooked up to an oxygen tank. Virtually 30 hours later I wakened, and so they had a stretcher prepared to choose up my physique.  I bear in mind wanting up at Everest and pondering, ‘so shut, however to date’. And for the primary time I puzzled if these individuals who stated I couldn’t do it have been proper. 

I got here house, frostbitten and having given up. I nonetheless educated; it had turn into a behavior, however I ended writing letters.

Saray Khumalo

In 2019, I made a decision to return after a particular good friend of mine died. He had actually believed in me. It simply introduced the purpose house; tomorrow is just not assured. Noel Hanna referred to as me and stated he was heading to Nepal. I made a decision to go together with him. I summited on 16 Might 2019. My mom used to say the sky’s the restrict, however there I used to be standing above the clouds.

It didn’t matter that I needed to attempt 4 occasions. The subsequent one that appears to be like like me will do it faster, quicker, as a result of I didn’t quit. And that for me is satisfying. 

I took it upon myself to make use of climbing to boost cash for schooling, which is why I began Summits with Objective. Why simply climb and take a selfie when you’ll be able to climb and make a distinction?  I’ve raised greater than R2.6 million; I’ve constructed 5 libraries, and now I construct digital libraries.

Now I’m on a journey to climb the seven highest peaks internationally, one on every continent, and ski to the North and South Pole. I’ve achieved Kilimanjaro. After Everest, I did the South Pole simply earlier than Covid occurred. I’ve achieved Aconcagua and Mount Elbrus, and I’ve simply come again from Denali. I’m about to do Mount Vinson, I’m nonetheless ready for the chance to do Carstensz Pyramid, and I’m off to the North Pole in April. Solely 71 folks on this planet have achieved it, however no black or white African lady is amongst them.

All of us have our mountains. However that’s what’s attention-grabbing about mountains; they’re stage taking part in fields. Mountains are colourblind. Agenda blind. They deal with us the identical. They humble us. It won’t be Everest and it won’t be a bodily mountain. It is likely to be within the boardroom or on a bicycle. No matter it’s, once you get there, bear in mind to be grateful. And attain down and pull another person up with you.

5 issues in Saray’s backpack


It’s my mascot. It simply jogs my memory why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s stuffed with little sayings or quotes that my household gave me, and it jogs my memory to be robust and brave.


I believe each hiker ought to carry one. If something occurs, I need to have the ability to whistle if I can’t scream.


An apparent one however extraordinarily needed. So is biltong! However that all the time runs out fairly quick.

Garmin inReach

To have the ability to talk with my youngsters as a result of cellphones don’t work up there.

My Bible 

I carry it with me on a regular basis. 


This text initially appeared within the February 2023 print subject of Getaway

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Additionally learn: Walking on the moon: Climbing the Rwenzoris

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