Episode 8

Ep. 08 | Summiting Mt. Everest with Sibusiso Vilane

In this episode, I get to talk with a South African mountain climber named Sibusiso Vilane. He became the first black person to summit Mt. Everest on May 26, 2003. He went on to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, as well as several others including the Matterhorn. He runs marathons to stay fit in between his mountain climbing adventures and has accomplished several other feats, including trekking to both poles.

Sibusiso didn’t get his start as the child of a great mountain climber. In fact, he grew up very poor and never dreamed of the adventures he would embark on during his lifetime. During our conversation Sibusiso shares stories of his humble beginnings, how an act of kindness connected him with a man who would change his life forever, and how he overcame so many obstacles in order to climb Mt. Everest. His story is one of humility, kindness, and persistence in the face of insurmountable odds which he now uses to inspire others to conquer their personal Mt. Everests.

Learn more about Sibusiso at his website: www.sibusisovilane.co.za


Seth: Sibusiso, thank you so much for coming on the curiosity Shire podcast. I'm super excited to talk to you and. Just before we started recording, we were talking about the fact that I'm so thankful that you even were able to have this recording because you just finished some crazy adventures.

Seth: I was looking at your Instagram and I think your Twitter feed and you were talking about what you just finished. So yeah. Tell me again, it was a 73 kilometer race that you did

Sibusiso: Yeah. Well, quite recently, yes, the, they does address was 207.3 kilometers, which was, which had deed on the weekend off the 17th finishing on, on, on Saturday the 20th. Or February then uh, I came back from that. I didn't even spend much time at home because I had a four day hike in one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, then coming back from that, I think I got home lost that's Wednesday.

Sibusiso: And on Thursday I was just pecking on Friday. I just drove to this place where I ran all three distances in one day. So I started in the morning. 42 kilometers of the marathon and then lack. Well, unfortunately I was slow this time, so I only had three hours to rest before the twins, the half marathon at 1:00 PM.

Sibusiso: And then I only had about an hour to rest before the 10 K at 5:00 PM. So I've just got back from there and a way as we speak. So it's been a very hectic. All exciting. It's just, just to keep the momentum going and just some positivity in, in, in, in will during these very challenging times anyway, we're still in them anyway.

Seth: Yeah, absolutely. And I was reading on your Instagram, apparently you were preparing for the desert race in October of this year and then found out, I think it was in December that it was actually in February. So you didn't have any time to prepare.

Sibusiso: Yeah.

Sibusiso: Well, you see, you see, it's one of those moments where you casually chat about an event and then you don't fully grasp every detail about it, but you get so excited about it, that you just ignore some of the finite details. Dan that to myself, because the guy who had invited me to do this mentioned that it was going to this year and a SIM remembering.

Sibusiso: I remember very well getting a WhatsApp message from me saying, oh, October 20, 22. Anyway, then I went to an event in, in one of the services in Cape town, eh, In, in the guy that I was that has invited me to speak was also going to take part of this event. So when they asked me, what is your next big thing?

Sibusiso: I said, well, these are desert raise that I'm running next year sometime. And he said, I'm in that race too. Was it said to him, do you know exactly what the data? And then he said, Fabian, And then my heart just sank because I almost fainted. I'm like, no, you can't tell me a favor wary when everything has been training.

Sibusiso: And by the time I walk up, I didn't have any time at all. So unfortunately I had to make, do with what I've got, which was only about a month, which was January. So the month of January, it's just. Put my body in this amazing stress, because I realized that there was no way I could run 207 kilometers within 50 hours, because there was the challenge it's desert conditions, but to have a cutoff time or 50 hours, I couldn't do that possibly to that.

Sibusiso: Mileage and my body and mileage in distance and in time and everything was just out the window. So I had to pile up all of that within a very short space of time. And I worked at RDS today that are only trained nonstop for 23 days. So in between having a rest day or two by 23 days, as all are here to do others.

Seth: Oh, my goodness. That's, that's incredible. But I F I feel like that motivation determination is what has enabled you to do some of the incredible things that you've done in your life. And I'd like to kind of transition, transition into that. So what, what is some of your claim to fames? What are some of the things you've.

Sibusiso: Yeah.

and summited Mount Everest in:

Sibusiso: And I came back from that climb and spent about two years thinking about what next would I do? And again, my whole. Took me back to Everest, to which when I did it by the north side, I became the first black person to have climbed it successfully reaching the top on both sides and becoming the first African to do it as well because no other black Africans had been able to venture into such space.

Sibusiso: So with that, those two achievements, I thought, well, you can't just sit and live it like this. What do you do? So I went on because. Of reading. And now hearing about these adventures, like the seven summits, which were not in my, in my radar, I never thought above them. I never knew much about them, but when I was climbing, ever someone was in the team, he said to us climbing the seven summits.

f two years to do it. So from:

But when I was on Everest in:

Sibusiso: But two years later I decided to embark on this journey with um, another fellow south African climb by adventure. We wanted to put together. So Africa's first unsupported and unassisted walk across from the edge of Antarctica to the south port, which is why we're dead. And when we, when we finished that expedition, I became the first black person and African to have done that.

Sibusiso: Amazing. After all those years of exploration, that's the thing I'm now. Been to those places. So every place I go to becomes a first, which it has never been my sort of drive or motivation, but it just being able to say, you know what this planet is for all of us to explore and travel to when see, and I am the one person that is going to lead the way and show what we with.

Seth: Yeah, that's an incredible, those are incredible achievements and especially being, you know, the first black man to summit Everest, and then not only just do it once, but do it twice. That's incredible.

Seth: And then the seven summits and then, uh, do the polls Almost as incredible as your achievements is kind of your life story that I was reading about. And I'd really like to go back to your childhood. Where did, where did this sense of adventure come from?

Seth: What was your childhood like?

Sibusiso: Yeah.

Sibusiso: it's, it's a very, it's a very profound and fascinating and particularly very humbling story. If I share that because I was, I was born in South Africa and in the Mosul sort of north Eastern part of South Africa near the Southern. Part of the Kruger national park for people who might relate that because that's one of the only recognizable landmarks east of Johannesburg or the city.

Sibusiso: And I was about two and a half years old when my parents separated which compelled my mother, who was a born Swazi to take me and my sister to Swaziland. And she was one person. Believed in education and wanted to see my sister and I go to school, but because she didn't have any job qualifications, she struggled to meet those requirements.

Sibusiso: And as such, all her efforts and energies were channeled towards providing food and buying us clothes if she called. But I was never at school until the age of 10, but when I was about six years old People came to ask for my services, which was to work and helping them looking after livestock. I started with heading goats and then to kettle.

Sibusiso: But when I was a nine years old, my mother had met a wonderful man who became my stepdad. And he looked at me and my sister and said, I want to give them an opportunity to go to school. And so I only started school at the age of 10, but. I didn't see that as a disadvantage, I think, or so it as an opportunity and I grabbed that opportunity to earn with both hands and make it ma made it count really for me, because I realized from that early childhood.

Sibusiso: If an opportunity presents itself to you, if it is presented to you by an individual or by a person, it is not for you to do it, just to thank them. It just, just to appreciate it for yourself and therefore make it worth for you because that's why they're giving you the opportunity in the first place. So I took that and I worked very hard at school, but then.

Sibusiso: Because my stepdad could not afford to pay for college education. I never went to college. I just finished all level of education and that was enough to take my life to what I wanted to be because I had this basic education. And that is what I still value today. I think for children, every child needs proper basic education because it Can be a startup.

Sibusiso: It was for me, I was able to. Take it on and live a life that I wanted to leave or try and make ends meet with the sort of basic education I, got. So, so that is from the edge of probably three years old, up until about 21 years old. That's what I've been, I've been trying to do, but straight from high school, I went into a working environment because I realized that my mother and I were living in their little.

Sibusiso: Township and a small my stick and MyChart, which I didn't like. I just wanted us to have a proper house, but I knew that the only way I could possibly achieve that was if I worked and then through savings, I should be able to build ourselves a house that we will like to live at. And so that was what I sort of had in my head whenever.

Sibusiso: to do any other big dreams or anything was like, get focused, get a job. You save some money, find a place to build a house for my, then your sister, a place where your children can one day look at and say, we have a home because I didn't feel like I had one since my dad really never bought that to look after.

Sibusiso: So my childhood is you asked the question. How was that? If a summit army was very tough, it was very desperate. I think if people would have seen me and my sister. Between the ages of five until the age of 10, they will relive all the felt pity for us thinking poor children will really amount to nothing because we were such, we were poor.

Sibusiso: We didn't have three meals a day. I mean, we were lucky if my grandmother would go out and come back in the afternoon with something to give us as food. So it was very desperate, but it was one of those things desperate as those conditions where they are, the ones that made. I feel very encouraged and inspired to, to grow up, to be a person that has full responsibility for the children and provide for children.

Sibusiso: So I had, I had vulnerable low sentence from my experience. May shape the way I lived my life from, from there on when I took it right into my hands. And did that. So going to these adventure quest, where does it come from? So straight from high school, I get into a working environment. I get a job in a nature reserve.

Sibusiso: I'm not, I've not hiked. I've not climbed a mountain. I am athletic. I, run a social. As a marathon runner, but nothing competitive, really? So I'm thinking about mountains, wasn't it? Wasn't my thing. And luckily working in this game reserve it was a place where people could go on a hike and did some overnight hikes as well.

Sibusiso: Beautiful place to be at.

Seth: Can I, can I, can I interrupt you real quick before we get into that story? You mentioned that you, that you are a social runner, you run marathons for fun. You still do that. You still run like two miles, two marathons a year, just to, just to stay in shape. Where,

Sibusiso: Yeah.

Seth: started that? What made you say, Hey, I want to, I want to just run a marathon.

Sibusiso: Oh yeah. Well, it's, it's interesting because I, you, you come from a very rural area where you don't really know about this road running.

Seth: yeah. People pay to go in these races. I run as a goat herd.

Sibusiso: Exactly. So, so I, I go to high school and in the city, in, in bourbon. And I then hear that these athletics and one of the things that we activities we need to do as school.

the long distances, like the:

Sibusiso: I think you can do well in it. So I'm like, oh yeah, sure. You know, a half marathon. No problem. It's 21 kilometers. And I'm currently talking to myself. And into it. I don't really know that it will be one of the sort of hardest or toughest thing to do, but in a way I had committed to doing it. And every, this guy was very kind.

Sibusiso: He would ask me every now and then civil, see, so he had the data getting closer. Are you training? And like yeah, sure. I'm training. And what I'm talking about is going to kick a soccer ball in the soccer field. And that was my training. Come race day. I go to this place at two, we traveled by bus to the starting to start, and then I lie now I've got my soccer boots, long socks and nice soccer Jersey.

Sibusiso: And I look around me. Everyone is wearing those very tiny. Shorts and they're wearing vests and running, running shoes, and they're running around, warming up. I'm looking at like, no one else is dressed up. Like I am. So that's a little clown on the start line. Anyway, the gun goes, everybody goes it was on the, I was, I was young at that time in thinking that I will never be bitten by.

Sibusiso: Ladies in, in, in, in, in, in running anyway. So, but five minute, five kilometers into the run. Everyone went one by one passing me in. By the time I looked behind me, all the ladies have run past me and I was the one just plodding along on my soccer, boots and everything, but I'm not giving up top of it guy.

Sibusiso: So I enjoy it. This agonizing pain of a half marathon, one. Got me going back again is we're not finished at marathon. Our God given a carry of pack of Coca-Cola when I go six cans and then a t-shirt a t-shirt and a Murdoch. So these three things, a Coca Cola and a shirt and, and. Got me back into wanting to run that race again.

Sibusiso: But the second time I went, I was fully prepared, dressed like a Reiner shoes, running shoes on and a vest on. And from there on, I took running as my social way or fix their sizing and it works well for me. That's what I love. I can't go to the gym because. Too much for me prefer outdoors. The only time I feel excited is when I put on my running shoes go hit the streets.

Sibusiso: Then I am games. I've been doing it throughout my lifetime. It's my social hobby. And I love it and enjoy it.

Seth: That's really cool. And I think it's, it's important that people find something that works for them because not all exercise works for. Yeah, I personally prefer like squash or racquetball. Absolutely love that. And you know, it's a good way to go get a workout, but that is that's awesome. So now you're at the game reserve working.

Seth: Now we know where your, where your love of races come from as Coca-Cola shirt and a metal. And you've been hooked since, but yeah, so you're at the, at the game reserve.

Sibusiso: So I made the game reserve. I'm a tourist officer, meaning that I would spend about a week or so at the main entrance gate, signing people in and out and letting them go and then see them go out as well. We used to alternate on that one particular Saturday, I started in at 6:00 AM and I was to finish.

Sibusiso: 3:00 PM. And then the other guy who had taken from study joined me at 9:00 PM. 9:00 AM, will finish at 6:00 PM. So we used to do like that on this particular one. I was the one who started quite early. So I was going to finish uh, finish quite early as well, about 3:00 PM. But just before I clocked off Gentleman walked in to say, now you checked in with me, but we never spoke much.

Sibusiso: Just went and did this hike. He said he was going to drive through and do a shorter one. And I said goodbye. After about a couple of hours, he walks into the reception and. Stepped off of your giving my work colleague to take all vain and speak to him. And I hear this conversation between him and the guy who was serving, saying this gentleman says my friend, oh, what a wonderful place you have?

Sibusiso: It's a beautiful game reserve. I didn't feel comfortable in walking alone because you know, it's so fast, it's so big. You can easily get lost or even trip and fall or break an ankle or something. And it will be very difficult for one to be found in such a very big place. All I want to know is at any groups of hikers in the game reserve, which I can join on a weekend.

Sibusiso: And my work colleagues said, I'm sorry. There are groups of hikers, but we can't specifically 0.2 to one because they all come at different times and with their own groups of friends and I'm standing there listening, and my heart says no use, talk to him, tell him that he would be happy to take him on, on a walk on a weekend when you're off duty.

Sibusiso: So I sort of listened to my instinct and I went to him in a greeter to him. I told him my name. He taught me his name, John . Appreciate commissioner serving in Swaziland after four years in South Africa has just recently arrived in the country and wanted to place where it could go and spend a Saturday morning walking.

Sibusiso: And I said to him, Yeah, you're at the right place. And I'm one of the game Rangers here. If you really are serious about it, I'd be happy to take you on a walk when I'm off duty. And he said, oh, that will be conduct with very kind of view. And let me know when you Oh, we can off days. And as I said, I will tell you about that.

Sibusiso: And we exchanged names and telephone numbers. So when, when I was nearing my next weekend, well, we'll be off-duty. I just told him if you really want to do that walk, this is the opportunity and I, that. Day that obviously is a very, is a very important person. I need to look after him very well. I need to take him to the most beautiful part of the name of the reserve.

Sibusiso: And I was, I was leading or guiding him on that day. And he was watching me as we were, were rock scrambling, not serious climbing. We had to cross a river many times, so I'd be in front and leading him and telling him, be careful here, you place your foot here and you hold here. And then he thought, oh, this fellow is, got this amazing climbing ability and it didn't keep quiet about it.

Sibusiso: He said to me, I've been watching you, helping me today. You climb with such ease and you show no fear at all and rugs, scrambling. And I think it is a talent. And he says to me, This makes me wonder why there are not that many Africans who climb mountains because I see you. I think there are many others where we have say we have the same abilities you are, but not that many of them climb mountains.

Sibusiso: W well known. And then I say to him, well, look, I don't understand why people go out. In the wilderness and how much more climbing mountains. It won't really make sense to me. Why do you want to do it? And they said, we don't feel excited about getting up in the morning on a Saturday morning, go up this mountain behind your house and have a look of how your house will look from the vantage point on a mountain.

Sibusiso: So, no, we don't understand why people do it. And I've been watching people. Like you come into this game reserve. They always come excited. They go out with big bags, they call themselves backpackers. We send them out anyway. We always watch them when they come back after three or four days of hiking and overnight camping.

Sibusiso: I look at the faces. I never see. Cheerfulness that I saw when they were signing in and we were signing in, and some of them are limping along with blisters and, and, and injuries. I'm like, why, why, why did you even dare deer out there in the first place? So, so that, it's not one thing that we, Africans wants to sort of connect with.

d Tenzing summited Everest in:

Sibusiso: So I said, well, are we talking about a mountain that is overseas? He says, yes. Everest is in the Himalayas. And in this Himalayan range of mountains and in the continent, Asia, between Tibet and China, and I had no clue what he was talking about. And then when, when you mentioned that it is indeed overseas, I said to him, well, you realize that there's no African who can afford.

Sibusiso: To buy a plane ticket to go overseas, to climb a mountain. He won't make sense to my mother or my grandmother. Who's striving every day to bring food on the table. Why do you want to buy a traveling ticket to go overseas to only climb a mountain? It won't, it won't, it won't make sense at all. And that didn't even know.

Sibusiso: It's not just about you're traveling there. You also need to have a climbing permit and you still have to have other resources. And the clothing is specialized in all of that. So when end It is. So we're near the end. I said to him, bye bye. It is a matter of interest. How much would it cost? One to go just to one to know, and John didn't really know for sure, but he gave me an estimate, which almost got me falling over because I couldn't.

Sibusiso: Comprehend that amount of money that you can pay to go and climb a mountain. And it was in the regional $40,000, which in my currency, that's a lot of money to pay. I think in everyone is status relates is quite a big chunk of money, but it's money that we can never. Comprehending African understanding that it's money, you can pay to go and socialize on a mountain.

Sibusiso: Anyway, if I put it that way. So I said to him, all you realize, then that that's the only reason probably Africans have not had the interest to do it. And then John said at that moment, and I say, you hit the resources. So now, versus the turning point, if you had the resources, the money and everything, would you climb Everest eight?

Sibusiso: And at that stage, I do want to say this beforehand, that if for me immediately, it wasn't like I was looking at him or thinking that, oh, maybe he will probably be able to help me do it. I just didn't think about the money at that moment. Clever enough. I just thought about the reason why I would want to do it.

Sibusiso: And, and there was a very important lesson there over the year that I've been trying to share my story with audiences. I think it was a very key. Question to ask myself, why would you do it if given the resources? Because I think in most cases or many of us tends to hide between, oh, I don't have the money or I don't have the resources has intermediary resources, but for me, I don't think and believe that is the.

Sibusiso: The biggest it's that can never be the reason why you decide to two things. It can never be influenced by the money. And this is what I believe is influential in you making a decision doesn't matter where you are. It is. Do you have that desire, the wheel to do it? And then the minor will just follow. So immediately our thought, why would you want to do it?

Sibusiso: I said, well, for me, that desire would be to go and show the world that anybody who has the determination wants to do it and is willing to. Face the mountain head on can do it and much more tell Africans themselves that they can do it too. So, so that was very critical. So immediately I said to him, oh, of course, if given the opportunity, I would do it.

Sibusiso: And when I say that, I had no clue how high Mount Everest twice, because I'd never seen a picture. I'd never read a book about Everest, but all of that didn't really matter. I hit a very strong desire to go and do it, given the opportunity and resources.

Seth: That's incredible. So at this point, like you were saying, is it overseas? You're asking him if it was overseas, what was kind of your perception of like, did you know much about Nepal? Did you know much about the Himalayas? Like did you know much about outside of Africa?

Sibusiso: No. Eh, nothing. Zero. I had no orientation. I had never been overseas. I had never gone outside of my own country. In fact that time I'd never even been to Johannesburg, the, the city, I just always been a, we call it the rural or Bousfield boy. That's why's that? So that was the world that I knew.

Sibusiso: So overseas was out of the picture. Couldn't. Picture the Himalayas themselves. So a Nepal was even out of the picture. It wasn't, it was a contradict that I didn't know it existed. So I was totally blank. There was nothing within me that I could use as reference if I can put it.

Seth: Yeah. Wow. So then you had this opportunity and I think that is so important what you mentioned, because so often when we're looking at an opportunity or a turning step turning moment or something Yeah, decision that we have to make. So often we look at the excuses. Oh. But I couldn't find the money. Oh, I couldn't find the support.

Seth: Oh, nobody else would really be interested in something like this. But I think what you, what you did without even knowing it was so important, you were just like, do I want to do this? And then everything else will follow that is

Seth: I love that.

Sibusiso: Yes. For me that that's, that's very critical. It's very important. And you're very correct that.

Sibusiso: in most cases, some of us find these little excuses, but the biggest question is, do you really want to do it? That's the biggest.

Seth: Yeah. And you said yes.

Sibusiso: I said, yes. And the thing there was the turning point, because I always think, imagine if you'd say no I told you we are not interested, so I don't think he would have pursued or forced me to do it, but because he realized that I wanted in a way. I believe that I could do it. I didn't even say no. I don't know.

Sibusiso: I don't have the experience or anything. I just opened up the potential and the opportunity by saying, yes, you given the chance I would do it. And the rest is history, as they say, you know, because I just decided to, to open out about it.

Seth: So, yeah, I'd like to, I'd like to kind of go into that story because as somebody, you know, like you said, a Bush how did you say it? Just a Bush

Sibusiso: Bush felt was felt if Bousfield boy. Yeah.

Seth: Bushveld boy. Yeah. As somebody as a Bushveld boy who all of a sudden have this opportunity to go and climb Everest, that must have been an incredible experience.

Seth: How did, how did John help you raise the money to go? How did, how did all the how did it all fall into place?

Sibusiso: Yeah, well, I was very lucky and I'm so privileged to have met him and, and, and having him believe in. First because I think there was the biggest thing he believed I could do it when I said yes, then he tried to, to make the efforts for us to get involved. He used the one, in fact, he's the one that got me there because I didn't really know where to start.

Sibusiso: But John went on writing letters to people, telephoning people, and he was a well-networked person. So he contacted all his friends. How does one get involved? And. Try it to write sponsorship proposals and nobody wanted to sponsor, but because of his connections, he met someone who believed in what we're trying to achieve.

Sibusiso: And he say, well, if all fails, come back to me. I think I can do something about these. And when, when. Done all the logistics and getting main to the team. And in fact, even went on to sponsor me, to go, to See the Himalayas themselves because it, the, the, the, the company that was putting the expedition together would wouldn't let me go without any type or form of experience of some things.

Sibusiso: So they put it as a condition.

e understandable. So October,:

Sibusiso: And in all the conditions were ideal for me is to experiment. And the think the, the other reason they said almost go there, thought I will look at the mountains and freak out and say, now I know for me, and then there would be fine. They would, it would, it wouldn't be them saying, no, we can't take you from Africa.

Sibusiso: They're not mountains, but I looked at the different way. Wanted to learn as much as I possibly could learn within the short space of time. I think I still stand to be proven wrong because I think I'm right to say I'm probably one person in the, in the world who can stand up And say in less than 30 days.

Sibusiso: I trained for Mount Everest because that's all I had. I only had 24 days. We climbed these two mountains and I walked away with that feeling confident that if I get the chance to be in the team, I would do it. And Jordan assisted with that. And the, also our sister in meeting the person that was to eventually sponsor the expedition.

Sibusiso: So he played a pivotal role. If right from the start up until the end, he may not have climbed with me, but what he did, I felt that he climbed the mountain himself.

Sibusiso: Very grateful.

Seth: And do you, do you have any idea what his motivation was? Why was he helping you so much?

Sibusiso: he w yes, he w he will say this it starts from me. Have a hearing this conversation where he wanted to join a group of hikers in the reserve. But instead of me or him being pointed to a group, I offered my time to take him. And that is what he values. Even today that he has a person who didn't even know me.

Sibusiso: It just wanted to go and help. Total stranger and without asking for pay, because I didn't say to him, oh my weekend, my way, my weekend will cost you so much?

Sibusiso: I said, well, we'll just go and do it. And that's that. I'm just giving you my time for that. So when, when then I had this interest, so he thought maybe the only way probably can repay me for that time that I gave him would be for him to have.

Sibusiso: Try and attempt Mount Everest, which in a way or the other, it sort of got beyond just being Everest because all the other things, there is a Jordan in the seven summits. There's a chore near the south pole. There's a Jones where he's everywhere, but it all started with that greeting. And me saying to him, I'd be happy to take you on that.

Seth: Oh, I love that. And I, I just kind of want to highlight that because it's so important to. Get yourself out there just offer to be helpful. And like you said, don't ask for payment, you know, do it because you actually want to help people. And though you will connect with the right people. You just will. And then if you're looking, you know, to invest, if you're looking to adventure, if you're looking whatever you're wanting to do, everything will just line up.

Seth: If you're just genuinely nice to people and offer to help them. I think that's so important. And I love that. I love that. That's part of your.

Sibusiso: Absolutely it is. It is. I think, I think we are living in a, in a society or community where the biggest question comes to be what's in it for me. And I think that is how we're amazed opportunities. And that's how we miss people though. Probably come into our lives and in impact them in a positive manner.

Sibusiso: But if you w if you give yourself to the person, it's amazing what the universe does. And it has just done that to me. When I first took that step walking twice. Didn't even think of any other future opportunities B later on being friends almost for life. Anyway, I never thought about those for me. It was, you will give him this time and then you'll go.

Sibusiso: And then, and then you'll, you will go. Maybe we'll never come back again. I didn't even mind or think that he'll probably call it back. And then when he started. Made another call to say, I'd be happy to come and walk with you again. I was surprised because I was never expecting it, but it is very important for us to just help where we can with what we have.

Sibusiso: And again, you know, as I say, the universe just does amazing.

Seth: Yeah. So there you were, you climb two mountains over 19,000 feet just to practice and see if this was something you wanted to do. What was that like for you as a while? South African and Swazi Swazi land. It's not Swazi land anymore. Is it

Sibusiso: Well, yeah, well, it is not Swaziland. Yeah, it is not so Agilent anymore. In in as much as every now and then I still find myself calling it Swaziland. But, but it is interesting because when the world was, it was shocked, like, oh, the king has changed the name to

Seth: teeny.

Sibusiso: was like, no, but, but that's correct because in salt we sizes because I S I speak Swazi as into, into the language, my mother being.

Sibusiso: So, as in, as we, we always, if, if I was in another country where if I spoke society and people said, where are you where you're from? I will, in my language, I would say I'm from Swaziland. I was. I am from . So it, that was the original, the native name. This was, is called it SYT anyway, because that is what it is.

Sibusiso: So as he learned to means, so Soat in it. So, so I wasn't shocked. When the world started to thought, well, what's going on with the king is changing the, know it didn't it just put it back to its native language. Anyway, so, so, so Yeah.

Sibusiso: the here. Being a grownup in ruler, South Africa and Swaziland. And I've never seen a mountain That's covered in snow.

Sibusiso: I'd never even seen walked on snow for that matter. And then I find myself on the slopes of Everest, which wherever you look, it's all covered in snow. And that experience for me was overwhelming, but it was actually amazing. In fact, one on, on, on that, on one of the mountains, which were climbing, I go to see. What her pens, when climbing had hard to shoot, because for my team we were 12 and the team two people got high altitude sickness and they had to be evacuated. So suddenly I'm like, oh, actually you can just get sick and probably die. And then, and then we, we saw a guy from another group. That has just passed me, like very close a dress, took a step behind me and fell over a cliff.

Sibusiso: And I were, we were on ropes and, and the, the one, the most touching moment for me about that fall was that no one. Climbed or to send down to where he had fallen to have a look, because it was technically impossible for any human being to go down there to have a look. So, so, so all of those just happened and it wasn't something I was reading about.

Sibusiso: I was there and it just sort of gave me the idea of what is. It is that I've just put my hand up to say, yes, I'm, I'll I will, I want to do it. So, so I, the experience was such, it was eyeopening. It was learning, but it was just seeing vividly what could happen to me. And I think that was very good for my mental preparation, because people ask how to mentally prepare.

Sibusiso: I say, well, I don't think you can mentally prepare yourself other than. Understanding the broader picture of what, how dangerous what I'm doing is going to be, what are the risks going to be? And once you understand them and accept them, then you are mentally prepared. Because if, if I, I walked out of that meeting, I said, well, I've seen people fall over cliffs.

Sibusiso: I have seen people walk with the high Archie to sickness. I've seen people getting frostbite. I've seen tents, almost being blown off the mountain, but I'm going, therefore I wasn't mentally prepared to take.

Seth: Yeah. How do you, are you at peace with the fact that you could die? How do you deal with that? Because you're facing. Actual the actual possibility. How do you get to that point?

Sibusiso: Yeah, it is a very, it's a very personal one as well. But it, realistically, when you leave your house, You have made peace with the fact that you might not see your, your relatives, your wife, your children, or whether they are when they say goodbye, because you do not have a full understanding of how are you Al can you possibly avoid an accident or you're dying because you don't know that therefore you sort of accept the fact that it might happen to you and. And I think that is, that is what then gets you going. If you have accepted that, I don't think in my humble opinion, there's a climber or an explore row and adventurer who goes to the most risky places on our planet. Being confident that they will come back because we know that you may not. And in on mountains, it is a such in fact, I remember at one point I was sitting at at base camp, Mount Everest base camp, and one of the logistics operators had organized a party.

Sibusiso: If people were happy, cheerful, it was such an amazing afternoon. And somehow something happened to me. It's just said to me, look around, everybody's happy and the mountain is over there. I look at it. And then the ma then, then this, this sort of voice within me say, some of us are not going to make it down a life though, but who that will be, I didn't know.

Sibusiso: And after the season ended, 10 people had lost their lives on the mountain. So, so it is, those is those moments that. Sort of play around you that tends to make you accept and feel at peace with the fact that, you know, what, if I come back, I'd be grateful, but I might not come back

Sibusiso: and

Sibusiso: that's okay too.

Seth: Yeah. Wow. That's, that's incredible. And I think, you know, at the end of the day, any time just living is a risk. You know, when you drive on the road, you could be hit by a drunk driver. Like there's always these levels of risk. And so when you do something like mountain climbing, Like you've seen people die.

Seth: And so then you have to like factor that in more. But I think it's something that we all have to kind of think about with everything we do, you know, we have to do this risk versus benefit analysis. And like you said, it's a very personal decision. A personal journey that you go through getting mentally prepared for something like this.

Sibusiso: absolutely. No, I agree. A hundred percent and, and you're very correct. In fact I being a game ranger when people asked me the, the same question, when you scared of dying on Mount Everest, not always say. I have, I felt much more safer on Everest than I did in my job where I worked for seven years.

Sibusiso: Working with buffaloes elephants lions members, I felt much more threatened, could be buttoned by a Mumbai and day in a day. Or I take by an elephant where Buffalo any day. On Everest, I felt much more safer. So, so, but it is that understanding once you've got that in your head, then you realize actually being on the mountain is much more safer than being in my, in my, in my country at, at the moment the, the, the, the road exit dent is so appalling such that you, you get terrified hopping onto a car to drive around because you don't know if you'll make it with the other side or can be a core my life.

Sibusiso: So I'd rather be on a mountain than being on the roads. And this.

Seth: Yeah, man. And, and when you were preparing for this, this climb, were you also preparing, were you thinking much about the fact that you'd be the first black man to climb Mount Everest and how huge that would be for. You know, your neighbors, your family, Africa, how was that a big factor in your preparation as well?

Seth: Or were you, was it kind of something you thought about after and you were so focused on the exploration for yourself? You know, just the huge achievement

Sibusiso: Yeah, it w at first it was a S a sort of a personal journey. And, and I thought, okay, the people that will really treasure this, if, if I got to the summit was going to be myself, my family, my immediate family. And Jorn because I didn't know. The impact and, and the magnitude of the meaning or the whole thing to the country and the continent.

Sibusiso: But at the back of my mind, I realized that people will just see this as a positive energy, particularly when going back, let's look back to South Africa. 'cause so Africa moves from a party from nine to 90, 19 92 92 for the Westwind they're transition-wise and Nelson Mandela comes into power, and then the country is free.

Sibusiso: But I had a feeling that most black people, because of the apartheid conditioning or of black people to look inferior, they didn't have the confidence that they can lead, that they can, they can. Oh, Coupa positions anywhere just like anybody. So I thought this was something that they will treasure to say, you know what?

Sibusiso: We are capable. It doesn't matter where you are. It's not just about climbing a mountain. We have got the ability to within us. So there was a personal feeling that that was going to happen. But anyway, what then makes you this thing to men? Even a lot more to me is arrive in Katmandu and there's a lady, I think she's she's Puesto and now Elizabeth wholly used to do.

Sibusiso: Collect all data for Reuters. And she would interview every Mo per person that arrived in Katmandu who wanted to climb any of the big or over 8,000 meter peaks. And every, so she, she asked for an interview with me. She tells me that I've been collecting data for the last 20, 30 years. And she says to me, Civil CSO.

Sibusiso: If you climb and summit Everest, you will not be the first black south African to do it. You will be the first black person in the world to do it because there's no black person from anywhere in the world that have submitted a Himalayan mountain. And that for me was big. And then I realized, okay, now you have got a much more bigger representation here.

Sibusiso: It's not just your country and not, not just Africa, then. World that is going to be benefiting on this spill, living that they can do it themselves. So it was huge and it played a very pivotal motivation because then my Hawaii became bigger and clearer and it just overwhelmed me. And that is why I said I will not give up.

Sibusiso: Because I know there's so many people that are looking up to me as an example of what can be at.

Seth: Yeah, absolutely. And then as you actually climbed the mountain, was there, was there any setbacks, was there any experiences that you started to question, Hey, maybe I can't summit this.

Sibusiso: Which, yeah. Well, I'm sure it does. It sort of happens on the mountain. So, so I will, I will put it in this way that you, you now, you wake up in the middle of the night and it is minus 20 degrees and you, you freezing and you've been sitting in a tent for almost two days, stuck in a wind and snow storm, and you realize that you will not be climbing to the next camp the following day.

Sibusiso: And that is when then you start thinking. Questioning yourself about, do I really want to do this? And then, and in fact, I think that is the point when most people then. Wake up the next morning, pick their bags and go home if they don't really know why they're there. And, and it was so good that I knew why I was there.

Sibusiso: And every time these thoughts came up, I realized that you, you got to stay because they so much at stake for you. And there's no way you can. Go home like this, you need to walk down this mountain with the summit So, so I did find myself in a situation like that. And about the question of, was there a stage where I thought this.

Sibusiso: was not going to be possible?

Sibusiso: Yes. About two times. We were, we had started going for a summit attempt and we got to within the. But just before the summit ever is just hit us with a blizzard, very scary wind and snow storms. Where had we pushed on? We probably, all of us would have perished anyway on that mountain, but sensibly, we had a very experienced team of leaders and they said, not in this conditions, we need to go down devastating and.

Sibusiso: Disheartening as it was, it was the best decision for us to withdraw and go back down. And the challenge was that we were not just going back down to like halfway through the chem next camp or something. It was all the way down to base camp, which was devastating. But we, I didn't even know that. Maybe go back up again.

Sibusiso: So that was heartbreaking. So we're not told that we have enough food and enough oxygen to go again for a second attempt. I was delighted, but unfortunately in that second attempt didn't work out well, because again, we caught thrown down or pushed back down by by big wind and snow storm. So I was about losing hope on the mountain, but there was something. Kept me encouraged. It was, you had given your best, you had not given. It was because of outside circumstances or conditions or were out until fuel controlled that you will not going to make the summit drift for, need to reconcile with yourself. So I didn't really beat myself up. I was prepared to just take what I had put on and then go away with it.

Sibusiso: But luckily gain, we go to that. Tiny weather window towards the end of the season. And we made it to the top elf of every, so the, where those two moments where I thought this wasn't going to be happening, but the good thing or the comfort was that it wasn't me. It was something that I was, I was not in control of.

Sibusiso: And there was a lesson I learned that, you know, what, if there, there are times in our lives as human beings that will not have controlled. And therefore it's a question. What, what do you do? Do you manage what you can and forget about the things that you can manage and walk away, or you still dwell on the things that you can't do nothing about and in waste your own time.

Sibusiso: So for me, there was very important and we realized, no, we have no control here. The only way we can play this game is by being flexible to the weather and then being adaptable, adaptability, and flexibility, coach me to the summit of Everest, into.

Seth: Wow. And so then you got, you got to the summit. What was that like when you finally achieve that goal?

Sibusiso: So, so we've had the two failed attempts and we get given a go after two days, the way that clears it was the 24th of May 25 may we climbed up to the top camp. It 8,000 meters that night we set off and we start. The conditions outside are still really not great. The wind is still hauling and temperatures that night.

Sibusiso: I think they will probably drop to minus 36. So it was just freezing cold. I remember there was, there were some, some hours where I couldn't even feel my hands and older where I grew rock solid and my, my feet, I thought frostbitten, no question about it, but was just plodding on and it's happens. Early morning hours of the 26th of May.

Sibusiso: I look to us the east, I can see the sun is about to rise and a look. And there's these mountains range after range, stress stretching for Adorno hundreds of kilometers, but it was just as far as my eye could see, and they were all smaller yet. I knew that. Big mountains when I was lower down. So I realized then that the only thing that was still taller than where I was, was this little Ridge where I was, because I was not at the summit.

Sibusiso: And I suddenly think about weather. Game all started. And I remember meeting Joe and I remember all the processes and all the failed attempts and everything vividly within that short space of time. I remembered that. And then, but the happy moment was that, you know what, you don't have much to go and then you will be at the summit.

Sibusiso: So this becomes. Much more of a personal journey and I start breaking down. I'm just crying. I don't know why I can't take the next step because it is heavy. I'm just overwhelmed by this whole thing. And then at that moment, I just feel the energy saying, you know, You are welcome to the summit of this mountain.

Sibusiso: And then it's, it was something within me that it said you are entering into a very special, spiritual and sacred place, but for you, you can step onto the summit. And then I took those fifties steps to the summit and stood there. And the feeling was such that even if I could just dive in. That would have been okay.

Sibusiso: I would've been at peace with it because I'd achieved what I'd set out to achieve. And at ended through grit, determination, perseverance, and never giving up. So I was just happy to say you had given your all, and now.

Seth: Wow Sibusiso. So thank you so much for sharing that story. Absolutely incredible. And kind of circling back to how we begin began this podcast. You're still doing the stuff you're still out there. Adventuring doing races. If people wanted to follow along with your adventures, what is the best place for them to find you on social media or the web?

Seth: The internet?

Sibusiso: Yeah. Well, thank you very, very much, indeed. But again, I want to thank you before I go for giving me the opportunity to, and of course, to the listeners of your podcast, I'm sure they're going to enjoy it. I hope so. I am found in all this social media. Platforms that are there. I am on Twitter. I am on Instagram.

Sibusiso: I am on Facebook. I'm just my name as a tourist people. I'm probably the one that's very prominent the adventurer. And then I've also have a website which is www dot and I'm still a very approachable or reachable person. You send a message. I reply to say hello. So one, all of them.

Seth: Sounds good. Well, I appreciate thank you so much again for taking the time to share your story today. And I wish you the best of luck on all your upcoming adventures.

Sibusiso: Well, thank you very much, indeed. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me, Seth. And uh, yeah, I hope you will keep on following us, but we'll, we'll keep on going on. We will never stop.

About the Podcast

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The Curiosity Shire
People you’ve never heard of. Places you’ve only imagined. Things which may surprise you. Join Seth as he discovers the remarkable people who will educate, inspire, and challenge you with the stories they tell.

About your hosts

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Seth Sutherland


Husband, dad, entrepreneur, and student pilot! Currently living in Iceland and soaking up the adventures.
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Agnes Gretarsdottir


Wife to the man of my dreams, mom to a beautiful baby girl, and lover of all things handcrafted.