Such Great Heights
Words Charlie Human
There is not much South Africa’s Sibusiso Vilane hasn't done. He's summitted Everest, gone to the North and South Poles, written a book, and still had time to meet Nelson Mandela and the Queen of England.
Despite all these achievements, the 46-year-old is not taking it easy. His latest adventure is the world-first 7 Summits Africa Challenge , an ambitious trip to summit seven African mountains for seven causes in seven weeks, starting 4 November 2017.
We caught up with him ahead of his epic journey to chat motivation, mountaineering and everything in between.
CHARLIE HUMAN: You started climbing in the Drakensberg and haven't stopped since – becoming part of the 7 Summits Club (the group of mountaineers who have summited each of the seven continents’ highest peaks) and completing the Explorers Grand Slam. What got you into mountaineering and what keeps you motivated to achieve new things?
SIBUSISO VILANE: I was never keen or interested in mountaineering as a child because of my desperate upbringing in rural South Africa and Swaziland, but luckily I got a job in a nature reserve.
One day I offered to take John Doble for a short hike in the game reserve, and he thought I could climb mountains. He got me interested when he told me that Mount Everest had yet to be climbed by an African after its first summit by Edmund Hillary in 1953. That was the start of my climbing career! My motivation to keep on trying to achieve new things comes from having discovered that there is so much do to.
You've achieved a lot of firsts: you were the first black African to summit Everest, the first to do it twice by two different routes, the first to complete the Three Poles Challenge. Which achievement has been the most significant to you?
Mount Everest will always be number one, simply because it changed the way I look at life, myself and all that is around me. Everest had influences on all the decisions I have taken since then.
You've made a career of traversing inhospitable terrain. What's the toughest challenge you've faced?
Not an easy one to say because I approach every adventure with respect… but if pressed, it has to be Everest and walking across Antarctica. Those two are the ones for sure!
You're not only a mountaineer, you're also a motivational speaker. What insights from mountaineering do you have for people going through “rough terrain” in their own lives?
That we all have our own Everest to climb, and for us to climb them we have to grow ourselves to be bigger than them. No Everest is an easy Everest. If we persevere with hope then we stand a chance to conquer.
You've travelled with many great mountaineers. Is there anybody in particular who has inspired you?
There are two people I hold in high esteem in this regard: Nigel Vardy and Sir Ranulph Fiennes. I have climbed with both men and they are dear friends.
You're about to set off on the first-ever 7 Summits Africa Challenge. Can you tell us about this trip and what it means to you?
I am privileged to have been invited by Carel Verhoef and Sally Grierson (expedition leaders from title sponsor Great Migration Camps). It’s of course an adventure trip, but there’s more to it: we’re climbing each mountain for a cause affecting the people, nature and wildlife surrounding that mountain, from endangered gorillas to climate change. The overarching goal is to show people the beauty and diversity of East Africa, which we hope will promote sustainable tourism to the region. This is needed to conserve the nature and wildlife here, and ultimately save some of our African heritage that is on the brink of disappearing..
On a more personal level, it means so much for me as a proud African to be able to explore and promote parts of my continent. We have a continent that is rich in nature, wildlife and people. It is our duty and responsibility to experience and tell the world about our African pride and heritage.
Many mountaineers are drawn to humanitarian and environmental causes. Do you think there's something inherent in the pursuit that allows you transcend your own perspective and think about the bigger picture?
When we embark on our adventure quests we come face to face with the realities of environmental and conservation challenges, and in turn we feel that we owe it to nature to play a part in raising awareness, whether it is on the visible effects of global warming or the devastating effects of human encroachment to natural habitats.
What advice do you have for young Africans who are interested in the art of mountaineering; where do they start to follow in your footsteps?
Desire and the love for adventure is the start. Young Africans should be proud of their continent, their heritage and all that this continent has to offer. Explore it and protect it.
Where to start? Africa is the place to start, then after you can venture into other parts of the world, but start at home!
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Source: First published in Weg online