Saray Khumalo has made history by becoming the first black African woman to summit Mount Everest.
The Zambia-born Johannesburg resident ascended nearly 9 000 meters above sea level. It was her fourth try to climb the mountain – after previous attempts failed due to external factors.
Fellow Mountaineer, Deshun Deysel, says there’s a huge buzz around Khumalo’s achievement.
“One of the realities of climbing high altitudes is you come across people who have tried it 3; 4; 5 times. It’s lucky if someone gets to the summit on the first time. There is a huge amount of physical and mental prep that goes into it and also an endeavour that requires an amount of financial support.”
Education of African children
In 2012, Saray summitted Mt Kilimanjaro and in the process raised funds for the Lunchbox Fund. The mountaineering passion took hold and she embarked on a journey to climb the highest peak on each continent, not for herself but the education of African children.
She summitted Mt Elbrus in 2014 and Mt Aconcagua in 2015.
She became a Nelson Mandela Libraries ambassador and raised nearly R1m for school libraries.
After being on Everest during both the Serac fall in 2014 and the earthquake in 2015, she reached the south summit in 2017.
Through pure perseverance, grit and courage she decided to return to Mt Everest in 2019. During this expedition, she supports the Dr Thandi Ndlovu Foundation.
Khumalo, 47, reached the top of the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) mountain after three previous bids were thwarted by bad weather, injury and tragedy.
Khumalo’s Summits with a Purpose expedition organiser said she was the first black African woman to reach the top of Everest.
Nepal’s Tourism Department confirmed that Khumalo had made the summit but had no record on whether she was the first black African woman.
In 2017, strong winds and frostbite forced Khumalo to give up on Everest, just metres from the summit. In 2015, her expedition was cancelled after an earthquake hit Nepal.
All Everest climbs were halted during her first attempt in 2014 when an avalanche killed 16 guides on the mountain.
Khumalo is on a quest to conquer the highest peaks on each continent.
She has already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Elbrus in Russia.
In 2003, South African park ranger Sibusiso Vilane became the first black person to summit Mount Everest.
Khumalo uses her expeditions to raise funds for libraries and support children’s educational activities.
“My dream is to go higher and go further for as long as I breathe. To pave a way for my children and other ordinary people, so we may realise and accept that ordinary people like us can achieve extraordinary heights,” Khumalo says on her website.
Many Himalayan mountains — including Everest, the world’s highest — are at peak climbing season with the window of good weather between late April and the end of May.
The death toll is already mounting, however.
Two Indian climbers have died and a Chilean is missing on Mount Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, expedition organisers said.
Biplab Baidya, 48, and Kuntal Karar, 46, were on the 8,586-metre (28,169-foot) mountain on the Nepal-India border with a five-member team from India’s West Bengal state. An operation was started to retrieve their bodies.
Last week, Peruvian climber Richard Hidalgo died on Mount Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest mountain, while a Malaysian died in April after being rescued from Mount Annapurna, where he spent two nights in the open near the summit.
Hundreds of climbers flock each year to Nepal — home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks — creating a lucrative mountain industry for the impoverished country. Additional reporting by AFP