Motivational and inspirational speaker, mountaineer and expedition guide and leader Sibusiso was born at Shongwe Mission in Mpumalanga, South Africa. His South African father and Swazi mother moved the family to Swaziland and that’s where Sibu was eventually schooled (from the age of 11). After a stint as a labourer, and drawing on his experienced as a goatherd, Sibu began his working career as a game ranger in Swaziland in 1993. In 1996 he met John Doble who became a great friend and benefactor, and who was instrumental in finding the necessary sponsorship for Sibusiso's Everest summit expedition.
Sibusiso started climbing in 1996 by summitting peaks in the Drakensberg. In 1999 he summitted Kilimanjaro and went on to the Himalayas in 2002, successfully climbing Pokalde, Lobujé and Island Peak, all of which are over 6 000 metres high, as part of his training for the Everest expedition.
In March 2003, Sibusiso set off for the Himalayas again in his quest to be the first black African to summit earth's largest and most fearsome mountain, Everest, the Queen of the Himalayas. He summitted successfully on 26 May 2003.
On that day, South African President Thabo Mbeki congratulated him on his achievement and grit. “In this, he has shown the heights we can all scale in life if we put our shoulder to the wheel and work at things without flagging. Sibusiso, you have done us proud!” (In 2006 Sibusiso was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga (Bronze) by President Thabo Mbeki. Technically he can sign his name 'Sibusiso Vilane, OIB'.)
In 2005 Sibusiso reached the summit of Everest again with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Alex Harris after accessing the peak from the North Ridge - the more difficult and statistically less-successful side. This achievement meant that he is the first black African to climb the world's highest peak twice and by two different routes. Three children's charities benefitted from his climb: The Birth to Twenty Research Programme at Wits University, the Africa Foundation and the SOS Children's Village in Swaziland.
Sibusiso is one of a handful of South Africans, and the first black African, to achieve the feat of climbing each of the Seven Summits, the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
1. Kilimanjaro (Africa) 1999
2. Everest (Asia) 2003 and 2005
3. Aconcagua (South America) 2006
4. Elbrus (Europe) 2006
5. Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania) 2006
6. Vinson (Antarctica) 2006
7. Denali/McKinley (North America) 2008
On 17 January 2008, Sibu and his Team Extreme partner, Alex Harris, became the first South Africans to walk to the South Pole completely unassisted. In early 2012 Sibu completed the three poles ‘challenge’ when he trekked to the North Pole. (The Three Poles are the North Pole, the South Pole and Everest.)
Sibusiso’s irrepressible spirit and infectious enthusiasm for life inspires and uplifts people of all backgrounds and circumstances, and especially children. As a professional speaker, his message is simple: every person has their own “Everest” to climb. Whether you’re prepared for it or not, it’s there - challenging you to reach the top. And if he can do that in the most dangerous and inhospitable of conditions and against all the odds so, he suggests, can you.
Since 2006, Sibusiso has been the African ambassador for Lifeline Energy (formerly the Free Play Foundation) - see www.lifelineenergy.org. He dedicated the 1,113 kilometres he trekked to the South Pole, in some of the worst conditions imaginable, to the children of South Africa. In May 2008, as a result of this generous act and hundreds of sponsors supporting Sibu, Lifeline Energy was able to provide 300 Lifeline radios to children from the Nkomazi district, where Sibu was born.
"The future entirely depends on the education of children, their access to information to broaden their thinking and understanding of the ever-changing and challenging world" says Sibu.
Sibusiso founded a running club called Born to Win. He has also hosted a radio show 'My Climb, Your Climb' on 1485 Radio Today in which he interviewed black achievers about the challenges they faced and overcame in their careers and lives. He was also patron of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Leadership Group.
Sibusiso is married to Nomsa and is the proud father of four. He supports the educational needs of three young girls in honour of those who contributed to his own education when his parents couldn’t afford it.
On Thursday December 2011 Sibu was introduced to the Queen of England at a reception at Buckingham Palace. The reception was held to acknowledge those involved in mountaineering, adventurer and exploration. Also present was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a great friend of Sibu.
In January 2012, and again in 2013, Sibusiso successfully guided a team of South Africans up Mount Aconcagua. This is the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, the highest in South America and one of the seven summits. In 2012 he helped five of the team members to the summit of this mountain including South Africa’s youngest person to summit Aconcagua (at age fifteen).
In 2012 Sibusiso became a fully-fledged member of the British Alpine Club.
Sibusiso has become the only black South African to complete the grand slam of adventuring known as the Three Poles Challenge: Which is reaching the summit of Everest, South and North Pole. Sibu’s last achievement of the three, the North Pole, took place in April 2012.
In 2012 Sibusiso was included in the ‘Green Book 'of South Africa's 100 Most Influential People in Sport’ at a function hosted by Minister Fikile Mbalula of the Department of Sport and Recreation.
In April 2013 Sibusiso Vilane teamed up with legendary long-distance runner Bruce Fordyce to run the African-X trail run in the Cape.
On 2 June 2013 Sibusiso ran his fifth Comrades Marathon in aid of the 46664 Bangle Initiative. For more about the work of this charity, please see www.46664bangles.com.
In July 2013 Sibusiso summitted Mount Kilimanjaro with Richard Mabaso and Joshua Awesome on Mandela Day.
In December 2013 Sibusiso was appointed as Chief Scout for the South African Scouts Association. He served in that position until the end of 2018 where he decided to step down because of his adventures and time.
The Dragon Mountains known as the Drakensberg. “My Hike Journal, 2020”
John and I had driven for many hours from Swaziland to KwaZulu Natal Highlands. We checked in at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, dog tired. Towering the hotel building were dragon like giants. Champagne castle and Cathedral peaks looked at us as if saying we will swallow you. No, they were not going to swallow us, but we were going to be swallowed by their vistas and beaty forever. It was in 1996, when John and I had just become walking friends. I say walking because we only enjoyed walking on trails in nature reserves and wilderness places, but never camped overnight. We woke very early on the Saturday morning and hiked up all the way to the top of Cathedral peak. In my head the question still remained, ‘Why”. Why struggle on steep terrain where you could break your ankles? Why huff and puff and sweat the day out on a mountain? But then at one point, just as the sun shone brightly on the slopes of the mountain, I looked back and all around. The beaty, of the valleys, the scenery, the gradient, all captivated my mind such that I could not take my eyes from the distant views and have never done so since. That was the moment I discovered why people go up to these wild and natural places. They go there to feed the soul, the spirit and the mind. The scenery remains imbedded in one’s heart for a very long time. It is what people take down with them from any hike, climb or summit.
That day of our hike and summit in 1996 was a day of self-discovery. I discovered that I had grit, determination and the will to push myself even if my muscles ached. I discovered that I had physical tenacity and a very strong mental capacity to endure hardship. Since that discovery I became confident that I could climb any mountain if I wanted too. John and I went on and hiked a lot in the Drakensberg up until his departure to England three years later. We had then climbed the likes of Cleft peak, Thabana Nhlenyana, Sterkhorn, Mont-Aux-sources, champaign castle to name but a few. But our many day hikes had been at the Malolotja Nature Reserve, that is where we found each other’s love for mountains. If it wasn’t for John, I wound have never climbed a mountain, and if it wasn’t for me, John would never had climbed a mountain. When I arrived in the Himalayas to climb mount Everest, only the Drakensberg were in my resume. I had walked up and down all of them and toping it all up with Mount Kilimanjaro summit in 1999.
Over the last couple of years of not being able to raise major sponsorships for attempting the major mountains that are still out there, I had fallen back to my own backyard to keep my mountain love flame burning as bright, and the Drakensberg, Rwenzori’s, Mount Kenya and many Kilimanjaro summits have all given me the fulfillment that comes with visiting these magnificent high places.
Having missed the opportunity for nearly nine months due to COVID-19, I felt delighted to have the chance to return to the mountains as provincial travel restrictions got eased off. In partnership with www.uprisingza.co.za, a NPO started by Nicole Capper, William Butler and myself dare to climb mountains to honour the bravery of children with dreaded disease and their families who faces their daily challenges with a smile. We lead teams of transformational climbers on epic climbs and rare adventures, to raise funds and awareness for charities supporting children with rare Diseases, and to transform the lives of the trekkers themselves. I recently joined the team to hike and summit Mont-Aux-sources, 3282 M, and Namahadi, 3274 M, over three days. This was a part of the now becoming popular 9 peaks challenge, which is to summit all high mountains of each of South Africa’s provinces. Not my ideal dream, but for many hiking and climbing
enthusiasts, this is a trophy to be bagged. There were fourteen of us with the guiding crew lead by Adrian Saffy of Pure Adventures www.pureadventures.co.za.
Having driven from Johannesburg I found myself back at the foot of a 30 meters high chain ladder. This was the place I had stood at in 1996 when John, following me from a distance yelled
‘Sibusiso, we have got to climb the ladder, the top is way beyond.’ I had stopped at the bottom of there because I was waiting for him, not because I was intimidated. So, I climbed up and waited for him at the top. “I had thought that you would say that you were not going to climb the ladder because you were terrified.” John commented, while being stunned by my fearless climbing ability. Well, I had not seen it as an obstacle but an opportunity to play because I had never seen a ladder attached on a rock face like that. It was that simple.
This time though, I was taking care of others and had to make sure that they were as safe and as comfortable. Others were visibly not sure about the risk. But because we were there encouraging them, they took on the clanking ladders and climbed up on to the magic of the Drakensberg escapement. It was getting late at night, so we caved in to overnight. Yes, it was a cave night even though not the one we wanted because we could not find it in a dark moonless night. But the stars we as bright and as magnificent.
We woke up on the Friday morning to a beautiful sunrise over the Tugela falls. Like rock hyraxes we crawled out of our sleeping bags and shot straight up for our first target of the day. We duly stood at the summit of Mont Aux Sources just as the sun got warmer. A mad rush over difficult contour ridges got us all hyperventilating. Thanks to Adrian’s water hunting skills because we landed at a little puddle and we drank it all up as would elephants who had walked for days to get to water hole.
But the day was still as long, so, we shouldered our heavy back backs and tried to find the sight of the peak which never appeared. For hours on end we slanted along contours trying to avoid climbing up hills. At some stage the words of Nelson Mandela rang loud and true “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” And these many hills in front of us were big and we had to climb them all before the ideal one. Such is the nature of the mountain way of doing things.
I was beginning to doubt if there was ever a thing called Namahadi when Adrian, played with my mind and pointed at a bump which he called false or old Namahadi summit. Apparently Namahadi summit moves further every year, just like the North pole on the Arctic ocean. I was about to give up the summit and focus on the joy of hiking on the escapement, when from afar, I saw a small group of hikers standing on another little summit. It got to be that one for sure I said to myself. Adrian pointed at it just as Nicole was reminding me of my own words to her many years ago. Where I had said, it is never about the summit, but the journey. To that I said yes, but the journey must lead me to a visible target, even if it was a mental image. You cannot reach a summit you do not have in picture or mind. It is easy to give up or get sidetracked and losing focus because you have no vision of your summit, it is that simple. Since I had none of these traits in my head for Namahadi, I was getting frustrated.
With a target on sight, I told the group to pick up its strides, time was against us. We silently huffed up along a steep ridge and just as our lungs were crying for more oxygen, a dome shaped top appeared. We picked up our pace and struggled to the top of Namahadi peak. Pictures taken quickly, and then a mad rush down to a camp on the escapement just above the chain ladders before dark. Two summits, another peak ticked off by the 9 peaks collectors on the uprising 9 peaks series. For some, this was number 5, meaning four more to go. For me, the words of John Muir were echoing in head as I thought about the amazing day on the Dragon mountains, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.”
Early Saturday morning we marched back on to the chain ladders. Again, I went down with ease. But the many first timers had to face and conquer their own fears. The ladders were a test of courage and all the climbers gave their best. It warmed my heart when I heard one of them say, ‘this was the most difficult thin I have ever done.’
That is why we do what we do, to challenge ourselves, push our limits to beyond our comfort zones and step into a new discovery. A discovery of realizing that we have unlimited potential. We can rise up to any challenge, with just a little will, strong faith, and a strong determination.
Mental Resiliance, 13 June 2021
“The drive, the determination and willpower to keep going when the going gets tough.”
After making a vow that I was never going to run any virtual event again after dismally failing to get myself into race mode during a tough 21-kilometer virtual race I ran last year, I decided to try once again this year. Well; it seems very clear that I do not stick to my words.
Before the end of April this year I decided to register for a virtual comrades marathon. Perhaps motivated by the fear of missing out. The Comrades marathon centenary challenge proved too impossible to resist. But the challenge was that I had not been training as much as I would do in preparation for the comrades in the past. I only trusted my strong mind.
As the date, 13 June was drawing closer, I sat my targets as you would your financial investment targets in the beginning of the year or season. My targets where set at running 10km for very 60 minutes. I wanted to get to 45 kilometers (halfway) in 04:30:00. And then aimed to get to 60 kilometers closest to 6 hours. These were specific and clear in my head. Mentally I believed I could achieve them all, yet physically in doubt because of the training. But with a sound pacing plan I thought they were all achievable. I had opted for a route that would take me past my house soon after the 60 km mark with 30 km left to go. This was a big mistake.
At 05:00: 00 in a cooler and cloudless morning, I click start on my watch. Kilometer by kilometer I was in control. The result was that after the first hour 10 kilometers had been shed. I was on my way to running 90 km alone. The longest I had pushed myself to run alone had been 60 km in the past. Had never ventured beyond that, this was going to be a game of the mind.
Pacing was going to be the difference maker and I have not been great at it. I have never been consistent in pacing and that has killed me during races in the past because its either I go too fast or too slow and I still get too tired in both ways. So, I was consistently looking at my watch to make sure I was not too fast. Many a times I had to force myself to slow down. One important lesson, even for investing, slow down, look at your performance rate. It might give you an important hint.
My support structure were there doing their best to keep me well fed and well rehydrated. I was going well passing 21 km. I got to 30 km feeling strong and in control. But I had dropped a little in pace because I was seven minutes behind target time at halfway. Was this a sign that I my muscles were starting to give in?
I refused the temptation to think about that. I fought to stay closest to my 60 km time target even though it was visibly clear that I was drifted off pace. I accepted 35 minutes behind target and turned my focus to last 30 km until the 90. From the 62nd Kilometer onwards, it became a struggle. I started to cramp. The sun was a bit too much on the body. Loneliness kicked in. I missed the spectators who cheer and keep us going at Comrades. Things were becoming mind over matter. Twenty-eight kilometers was like a thousand kilometers away. I kept my cool and focused on one at a time. Then distance accumulation came to a standstill, while time started racing fast.
I dropped from being a 6 minutes per kilometer runner to a to 11 minutes per kilometer shuffler. I was walking the most than running. Every step was becoming a painful effort. At 68 km I found my wife and my son waiting. They had been with me until 60 km before I told them to go and wait for me at this point. I stopped and looked down the road towards my house. It was only 100 meters to a shower and a good rest with a possible cold something…., With 22 kilometers left when I could not even run, it was very tempting to just throw in the towel and give up on the madness of hobbling along for an agonizing twenty kilometers to a finish line that was never as energizing as the usual finish at the stadium. There was no motivation, no physical fitness.
All was gone; pain was my only friend. I took a bottle and drank the water, poured some on my cramping legs and started towards the finish. I refused to give up. This was no longer a physical game; it was a mind-numbing mental resilience. I needed to be as stubborn as a mule in refusing to think about home. I summoned all my mental strength and marched on. At times I could not even lift my feet off the ground without cramping. I shuffled along as I limped from one dreaded kilometer to another. I started counting myself down every time my watch clocked another kilometer as done. It was then that I said to myself, “Your mental resilience will get you to the finish line as long as you don’t stop.” Refuse the temptation to give up on your investment. “It is always too soon to quit.” Norman Vincent Peale is right with that quote. Stay the course.
I did not stop. Every small step towards the end goal was success. After a grueling and agonizing 11:22:37 hours, I stopped my watch as it beeped for 90km. I had run a virtual 90km and I was ecstatic. The slogan “no pain no gain” suddenly made sense and sounded perfect and relevant.”
I accomplished what I had set out to do because I had refused to give up when there was a chance and reason to do so. I reached my pre-determined end goal because when all physical fitness and strength including self-motivation had left me, I summoned my mental strengths to pull me through hours of pain and dread.
“strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on, but you keep on going anyway.”
On your financial investment journey, you need to be mentally tough and refuse to give up. Just keep on going.
By: Sibusiso Vilane
Emperor Asset Management brand Ambassador.
- - -
Everest the Historic Trek 2023
A Summary of my Trek by day; Sibusiso Vilane
After running an amazing 04:55:59 at Two Oceans ultra marathon, I had a meeting with an energetic team at performance Brands the following morning. www.performancebrands.co.za, a half an hour of storytelling culminated to a continued support by Performance brand with their First Ascent SA range of clothing. They were going to sponsor my clothing for the trek to Everest base camp with my family. Things had changed, however. My family was no longer going with me. We had had difficulty in raising the necessary funds for them to go with me. They had, however, agreed that I should go.
Now that my clothing was being sorted out to be shipped to Nelspruit, I sprinted back home to start packing. I had been a First Ascent SA supporting climber since 2010. A journey that had helped me to reach some known heights in Africa and the Himalayas. I had used their mountaineering range of clothing during my no oxygen attempt of Mount Everest in both 2014 and my return in 2018 where I climbed all the way to the death zone without any issues.
I was very excited about the opportunity to return to Everest to celebrate my 20th anniversary. It was an absolute delight to be joined by Lungiswa Tshayana (SA) , Itumeleng Mehale (SA), Lisa and Alan Chapman who came from England, as part of this historic trek.
14th May 2023,
I took a shuttle bus from Nelspruit to OR. Tambo international, arriving just in time for check in and bag drop. I met a few of our friends who had come to send us off. Itumeleng and Lungiswa were already at the airport too. There was not much hustle at check in and bag drop, except that one of the people who had joined us was refused travel due to passport issues. This was very disappointing.
We said goodbye to our friends and well-wishers as we disappeared towards passports control. We would be gone for a little while. The Everest base camp trek had begun.
15th May 2023
We landed in Kathmandu in the afternoon. After immigration formalities we walked out to be met and welcomed by our friends from Family Alpine Trek and Expeditions www.alpinetrek.com.np.
A young man, Thilee Sherpa met us and led us to the shuttle bus. We had arrived at the city of the big mountains. Beating the afternoon traffic, we duly arrived and checked in at the Kathmandu Guest house hotel. This would be my third stay here, my last of which had been in 2019 when I came to run the Everest marathon. I has been introduced to the Kathmandu guest house hotel by John in 2018. I will never stay anywhere else since then.
16th May 2023.
My old-time friend, Mr Lp Sherpa and his grandson Thilee came to meet us for a briefing and final formalities. I met LP in October 2002 while on a pre-Everest preliminary expedition with Jagged Globe. He was the sirdar then. We liked each other and have been friends since. LP had organized the last of John’s trekking expedition to Tibet’s Mount Kailash in 2018 which I was his guest.
I was looking forward to hearing about the plan for the next couple of days. The briefing was short and sweet. The greatest news from LP, was that we were flying the next morning from Kathmandu airport to Lukla instead of the usual long bus drive to some domestic airport. This was awesome news. It doesn’t happen often. We set of straight away to pack and make ready for our big flight. An early dinner at Gorhana house restaurant was enjoyed. We got treated to several Nepali dishes and live music and performances.
17 May 2023
I had not slept well because of the excitement of flying to Lukla. Not for Lukla’s airport popularity, but the fact that the trek was starting in due time and as planned. It was unreal.
All five of us followed our two guides, Thilee Sherpa and Pawan Rai to the Sita airline check in desk. The airport was already a hive of activity that early in the morning. Our bags got weighed and shoved to a huge pile. Then the wait began.
After a while we received our boarding passes and then more waiting. After nearly three hours we got called up to the boarding gate. Then on to the buses and a good held an hour wait inside a bus in a Kathmandu heat. We watched one Yeti Airline plane after another take off, and another land. But none from Sita. This was concerning because nobody said anything. Just wait and be patient, you tell yourself. But then, a tiny flying machine landed and taxied towards our bus. I looked on the side for the name. It was Sita’s one. a Dornier-228. I should have noticed by the number of passengers on the bus that this was such a small airplane. It did the formalities of refueling and inspection. We were called to board. A sherpani air hostess welcomes us warning us to mind our heads as we crouched down on to our free seating arrangement. Boarding complete, we hit the runway and the clouds.
The propellers buzzed pushing the machine forward as we craned our next to try and locate another Mount Everest. To some, every mountain that showed up looked like Everest. I sat there and just watched. I knew exactly how far Mount Everest was. I was like them twenty years ago.
The flight to Lukla was fine. We landed smoothly. Met our three young Sherpa team of porters Arjun Rai, Porshu Ram Rai and Bijay Rai, and started our trek right away. Posters of the 70th anniversary celebrations and the Hillary and Tensing Everest marathon dominated the valley toward tok-tok ( Phakding). I was here to celebrate my very own first ascent.
Our start from Lukla was perefect, apart from the threat of rain showers in the late afternoon. It did not rain much. We checked in for the night at one of the lodges/teahouses at Phakding. We had had a terrific start, all members seemed to have enjoyed the day. Our lodge had free showers, never to be missed because “free” is a rare on this valley.
18th May 2023, Namche Bazaar.
It appeared as if all roads led to, than from, because very few people were trekking out. Many of us were trekking toward base camp even this late in the season. The route was busy, trekkers porters, mules etc. we plodded on slowly crossing one suspension bridge after another. Some are shorter while others are quite long and intimidatingly wobbly. Lisa did not take them kindly. She has a fear of heights. Thilee helped her at each and everyone of them. The views were just magical. Every turn led to another magic sight. We stopped for lunch at another beautifully situated tea house beside a raging river. Its rumbling melody was so soothing.
After refueling and with all the energy from lunch, we took on the steeper part of the trek which leads to the famous Namche bazaar. After a stunning day of enjoyable trekking, we checked in at Himalayan lodge in Namche. We settled in for a deserved two nights and acclimatization. We had reached 3440 M of altitude and as such a rest and acclimatization day was mandatory.
19th May 2023
Active rest and acclimatization day. I woke up to a stunning morning. Clear blue sky. When I looked out the window, Kongde Ri, the only towering peak west of Namche greeted me with gorgeous views of its snow-covered flanks. I got up, put on my running clothes, and hit the upper slopes of Namche following the Everest base camp main trekking route. It was not too cold for running. I ran for about 5 km towards Everest before turning back for breakfast. I was very surprised by how my lungs copped with the altitude. I had run here in 2019 when I came specifically for running the Hillary and Tensing Everest marathon. Maybe that is why I didn’t feel the effects of the altitude this time. It is your attitude, they say.
We had breakfast before starting our day’s activity. The plan was to trek up to about 4800m above Namche and then down to the village of Khumnjung where the late sir Edmund Hillary build a school. The trek up to the Everest view lodge was awesome with stops at the waste recycling and management facility. Here, the team had a chance to play and climbed mount Everest in 3 minutes. It is a technology that takes you all the way up. I still refused to do it.
After exploring Khumnjung we trekked back to Namche Bazaar to rest for the afternoon.
20 May 2023, Tengboche
This was to be a very long day of trekking. We started soon after breakfast following my running route with mount Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and Thamseku all staring at us magnificently as if saying “we are waiting for you.” I salivated as I looked at the mountain which I had thought was mount Everest those years ago when I first walked this valley. A mountain that I still refer to as the mountain of my heart. Ama Dablam will forever be a darling of mine. One of those I must climb one day, even if I do not climb any other. Mount Everest and Lhotse looked far. At the viewpoint of these giants, we stopped to take pictures. As I stood there a memory came to my mind. Twenty years ago, John and LP were walking back down to Namche from Everest base camp when they stopped right were we were on the morning of 26th May. They looked back towards Everest. It was blanketed in a thick cloud. Using visualization John asked LP “ where do you think they are right now”? Oh, “they are already coming down and I am sure Sibusiso, and the team summited”. John took out his camera a took a picture of that moment. I was hidden behind the clouds, yet he still saw me struggling my way down. That was the strength of his support for my Everest attempt.
I had to contain myself after that reflection. I stood and faced the direction and looked at Everest. I heard John whisper the words “ Isn’t she beautiful! You have been up there mfowethu”. I took by backpack and walked on.
This became another day where I became the celebrity of the trek, just like I had become during our trek to Namche from Phakding. The Indians loved to hear about my achievements. I enjoyed the brief celebrity status which I shared with one fo their own, the Guinness books of records holder who became the youngest person to climb the 7 summits and all the volcanoes in the 7 continents. He was leading a big group of trekkers from India. We loved their company.
We checked in at the Tengboche and I soon went for my second run. This was using every opportunity to remind my muscles that we had a big race back home to run.
My small group had done well and had adapted well to the altitude. I only hoped they continued to do well.
21 May 2023
A snowy morning run. I woke up to a snow-covered surface at Thengboche. It was such a stunning sight. I was not deterred. I ran down towards Everest again for another 5 kilometers one way before turning back to the tea house for breakfast. Excellent running again. After breakfast we trekked along a stunning valley with lots of rhododendrons, most of them in flowers which was just beautiful.
I was very pleased with our progress as we checked in for a short lunch stop at one of the tea houses before arriving at Dingboche in total whiteout. I was disappointed because I had wanted the group to see what them was around. Perhaps it was ok that they had not seen much of the area so that the next day would have been a pleasant surprise. Green Tara lodge was to be our home for two nights after having reached 4300m. This is the best practice at high altitude.
22nd May 2023
A day like no other. In my previous visits I had never seen a day like this one. It had snowed throughout the night apparently. But none of us had noticed it because snow is usually quiet. I had planned to go for a run in the morning and had asked the man of the house to open the door for me. My alarm went off at 05:00 am. I opened the window and checked outside. Wow! Everything was just a blanket of white. The ground, the valley, and the mountains. Ama Dablam was towering over the village. It was just too beautiful. Looking up to the sky, it was clear blue. This meant that it was freezing. But once committed always committed. I put on my running clothes, picked up my camara to take a couple fo phots before going for the run. My cell phone battery had died. I was debating whether to take my camera or not because it is big for running with. When I saw the man open the door for me as I had asked, I felt embarrassed to go back to the house to drop of camera. Out I went with camera in hand and ran down the valley. But I could not stop clicking for photos. I had never seen a day like this. I was pleased I had decided to take my camera with me. My morning run was turned into a photographic run. I loved it. I still ran my longest in distance and time. 14 km in total. When I ran back to the tea house, I was just fulfilled and pleased to be doing the trek.
I found my friend in the same mood as just being mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains. We trekked up to above the village to an altitude of about 4900 m. It was just stunning. The views of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Island peak, just breath taking. Looking west, Thilee pointed to a mountain which he said was Cho-Oyo. Yes, we could see as far as Tibet.
We retraced our footsteps back to the lodge to rest for the afternoon.
23rd May 2023
A day of memory. We left Dingboche soon after breakfast. The conditions and weather were just great. We took it easy as the people were already starting to feel the effects of high altitude. We stopped for lunch at Thukla, the last tea house before the Khumbu valley. Once done with lunch, we climbed up the notorious steep climb to the top of the where nestled is the Thukla memorial. We entered the memorial areas and took a rest. While we rested, I asked Thilee and Pawan to help me build a memorial stone cairn in honour of John Doble. One stone after another we hauled to the site. Pawan started building while Thilee and I kept on bringing more stones. Before we knew it, there was a towering Cairn among the many that represents the memories of those who loved mountains yet died while climbing them. It was an honour for us to honour our departed friend in such a way.
I knew for sure that John would have stopped here and spent time to look at the names of the fallen heroes and heroines and pay his respect to them. I felt his presence as we built his cairn. I was very pleased that even though we had not deliberately positioned it where it was standing. It was right in front of Ama Dablam, a mountain we both loved.
This was a somber moment, a moment to reflect on life lived and life departed. We walked to Lobuche lodge quietly. I could not stop visualizing the Memorial Cairns we had just build for john. I felt very peaceful from there on.
24 May 2023
“Your mood should never be determined by how the day looks like at wake up.” It had been freezing at Lobuche and temperature readings as low as -5 ℃ in the room. I was pleased to have a warmer sleeping and I duvet from the lodge. I woke up determined to run again. My alarm went off, and I was up and running after waking up. Most would have thought it cold and miserable. It was a delightful day of running for me. I took off back tracking towards Thukla. When I got to the memorials I went to straight to johns. I greeted him and wished him to rest in peace. I continued running taking the route that takes you to tht Chola pass towards Gokyo. This was a lovely stretch of high altitude running. I met two Russians. We greeted each other and spoke a little before carrying on with my run. I turned back after reaching seven kilometers one way. I got back to the lodge for a quick breakfast and a sad farewell to Lisa who had to unfortunately evacuate due to high altitude relayed complications. I was here broken. Alan was devastated. But sometimes we have got to be more realistic. When life is at stake, we can never risk it.
The rest of us carried on towards Gorackshep; while Thilee made sure that Lisa was looked after until the helicopter arrived to pick her up. Alan was visibly disturbed by Lisa’s situation. Like any other loving and caring husband, wanted to go back down with Lisa. But she had insisted that he must go on and finish the trek. The trek from Lobuche lodge to Gorakshep was very bus. Many trekkers and climbing sherpas were already walking out. This was the end of the season obviously. Porters carrying over sized loads on their bags became a common sight.
The other main attraction being the forever crackling Khumbu glacier. We heard not many avalanches sounds apart from those disturbing noses of helicopters. Their activity up and down the Khumbu valley is such a sad experience.
The entire day had been enjoyable. We checked in at Gorakshep in the afternoon. We left Lubuche a bit late since the distance between the two altitude villages was short. Our lodge was packed.
I did not like Gorakshep. Not the place itself but the lodge where we stayed. Yes, I understood that the season was nearly ending, but then you do not take people’s money if you are tired of serving them. You close. With no options to choose from, we endured the two nights at Gorakshep.
25th May 2023
Africa Day. Our aim was to climb to the peak of Kala phathar at 5640 M. Most groups do this trek as their last. I preferred that we do Kala phathar first and then Everest base camp. It made a lot fo sense to me to do it in this order since the Everest base camp trek from Gorakshep is much easier than the climb up to kalaphathar. Why would I do easy and then harder next?
Sticking to our plan we woke up to a stunning morning again in Khumbu. It was a clear blue sky this morning. Not terribly cold in my own experience. We were at 5100 m. I suggested that we start with less on the body. We climbed up slowly. The views of Pumori, Nuptse, Everest and the Khumbu icefall about base camp dominated our views. It was just magnificent. Everyone was doing well even though Itumeleng was having a tough day in the office. She was struggling. I had to take charge and set up a pace that I knew was going to help her to regain her strength and keep going up.
Lungiswa and Alan were quietly plodding on slowly without showing much stress. The day was just what we climbed Kalaphathar for, Views of basecamp and the entire mount Everest massif. We were rewarded with magic.
We returned to camp to rest and just enjoy being on the mountain.
We had just finished lunch when a group fo trekkers arrived and stopped outside our lodge for a tea break. They were a big and very social group. One of them walked in to sit and greet. Itumeleng spoke to him asking him where they had come from. He replied with a joke saying “ I don’t know, all I remember was Lukla and then from there on everything because a boche this this and boche that. We laughed about it because we had also spoken about the very fact. Namche, Thengboche, Pangboche, Debouche, Dingboche, Lobuche. Yes, it never ends.
It would transpire that he was with a group of trekkers led by Jamling Tensing Norgay. The son of the first man tother with Hillary to summit Mount Everest. He kindly took me to meet Jamling and Tommy Heinrich, the first Argentinian to summit Mount Everest in 1995. This was so historic. Here I was on Africa day, being the first black person and the first black African to summit mount Everest sharing the mountain with the greatest. It was a bit too much to take in. The group was here to celebrate Hillary and Tensings’s 70th Anniversary. I was here to celebrate my 20th anniversary. Remarkable. Jamling and Tommy were kind to even sign my journal.
I felt very encouraged by their presence on the mountains. To see that they still value what their fathers did 70 years ago. I missed Hilary’s though because they were back in Namche.
After that Historic moment there was nothing else to do except to journal.
26th May 20023.
I looked up towards the mountain and said “ I was still going up at this time. I climbed strongly throughout the night. It had been cold and windy, but we were still fighting on toward the top. It was 05:00 am as we stood outside the lodge about to take the first step to mount Everest base. We were not going for the top this time. The morning was warmer than my summit day morning. We were the first group on the trail because most groups start from Lobuche now. A few porters shared the route with us. My thoughts were dominated by the morning of 26th May 2003. I could not help it. I was living every moment of that morning. The sunrise was magical. Everybody did well enroute and we got to base camp just about the same time I stood on top fo the world twenty years ago. We hugged and cried a little. I looked up towards the summit fo mount Everest. It fetl like she was looking down at me and saying, ‘ I am still waiting for you”. Was I interested in being up there? No. Down here at her base was my better place.
We took pictures. Celebrated the day and walked away.
- - -
My 13th Comrades Marathon 2023
I had only seven days before the Comrades marathon when I returned from 21 Days of trekking to Mount Everest base camp. I had decided that I was going to run the Comrades even if I only got back home with one day to spare before the ultimate human race.
I had started my training much earlier in January to make sure that I had done enough to by the time I left of the trek. I had run a couple of marathons between January and April, which included two ultra marathons. Some of these were run in pretty good times as well. I was getting fit and strong I observed. My Plan was to keep on running a little during the trek as well. I spent about two weeks at high altitude and running every now and then. I had done about eight runs before getting to Everest base camp. I felt strong every time I went out for a run. I was happy and returned home after my historic Trek.
I had accumulated more than two thousand kilometers of running mileage. This was way above what you would be recommended you do before a race such as the Comrades. Had I done way too much or not quite? Well, since the start of my running career, I have observed that I am not a talented road runner. This means that when those who are genetically encoded to just run, I must put in a lot of miles on my body to be able to at least have a descent run during a race. The more mileage the better for me. I was very happy and confident that I would be able to run a t a six-minute pace to finish the comrades in nine hours. I had worked on the strategy and a little pacing chart in hand, it all felt possible, and I was very confident having run a sub 5 hrs. at Two ocean and a close to 4 hours at Loskop ultra in April.
Comrades 2022 Pacing Strategy and target times
10 km = 1:00
15 km = 01:30
21 km = 2:06.29
25 km = 02:30
30 km = 03:00
35km = 03:30
40 km = 04:00
45 km = 04:27
50 km = 04:59
60 km = 06:00
70 km = 07:01 Up until here we got them all spot on.
75 km = 07:31.42 We had come to griding hobble than a run
80 km = 08:01.50
85 km = 08:31.56 Reality became real, and we accepted that Bill had gone.
88 km = 08:50:00 Finished in 09:28:11
Pace per km = 5:50 to 6:00
I would need to be consistent in being disciplined not to be tempted to pace faster than the predetermined pace. If I did and stuck to it for the 88 kilometers, I would get the medal target which has eluded me in my thirteen comrades including a ‘DNF” did not finish in 2015. I have grown to master my own pacing well over the years and with the help of my clever watches, I do well in that regard. I no longer pay any attention to what another person is doing. I just focus on me and my running.
I took a shuttle bus from Nelspruit to Durban on Thursday 8th June. It was ten hours long, yet relaxing because I was not driving. All the other years I had driven down and that makes you very tired. I was happy and healthy arriving in Durban where I went straight to collect my race number and did not spend much time at the Expo. Opted to rest on Friday and Saturday. I felt very relaxed and excited about the prospect of running another comrade’s marathon. The race had become a bit of a religious pilgrimage for me ever since running my first in 2009. I have never missed a comrade since.
The big day, 11 June 2023.
I had not slept well in two nights, and it was haunting me. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I tried not to make it to play in my mind. I have grown to deal with sleep deprivation quite well because on the mountains I sometimes get no sleep at all. I never wake up feeling dread after a no sleep at all.
But perhaps this time it had gotten the better of me. I felt a little cramp in my right foot as I put my body down to sleep. Toes cramping before any activity? This was very strange. I had been rehydrating quite well over the past few days and have taken electrolytes in between. What was going on?
I got up at about 01:30 am to dress up and then got dropped off at the Comrades buses pick up at the Hilton hotel entrance. I was there just before 02:15 am. That was the time I felt I could sleep. It became impossible to even get a little power nap.
We arrived in a freezing Pietermaritzburg with no shelter. I walked straight to my seeding pan and waited there from there on until the announcers woke up to commentate to the start of the 96th running of the comrade’s marathon. It was 04:00 am, about an hour and a half of waiting in the cold. As the seeding pans filled up it got warmer and warmer as we protected each other from the unpleasant conditions.
The usual formalities got underway and then we were off. I took the first few minutes a little slower than my predetermined pace. I got back just in time, and we crested our first hill. The atmosphere on the road was just as electrifying in a country of load shedding. Plummeting down along Polly shots as slowly and easy as possible. I didn’t want to hurt my quads early.
Even though I was pacing well and on point as early as my first two-time targets, 5 km, and 10 km, I was feeling uncomfortable. There was a little pain in my left groin. It felt like I was about to get a cramp in my groin muscle. I began to stride funny. I hoped that this discomfort would just subside and allow me to enjoy the comrades.
I passed fifteen and twenty-one kilometers, exactly two minutes faster than my projected time. This was perfect running and pacing. I was in agony though. How long was this going to last. Should I slow down more and forget about finish time targets? Or should I just fight on?
I hate it when I start feeling uncomfortable this early in the race. It just messes up one’s mind. It puts you in a state of self-control which is very hard to counter. It forces me to start thinking about the longevity of the journey than focusing on one kilometer at a time. I tried to fight back to being where I was than being in Durban while still this far away. I was not even halfway for that matter. I had nothing to take to for the pain. I tried to apply the deep heat spray I carried, but it didn’t seem to help.
I maintained the pace of my halfway split time target of 04: 27:00 which I reached in 04:22:45. Five minutes faster didn’t feel that painful. I had planned to pace for 08:50:00 finish time, knowing that I was going to slow down at some point which might then still make it a photo finish at Kingsmead.
Looking at my halfway split time I felt good. All you need to do id to keep running and maintain the same cadence and pace. Your consistency of pacing will be the difference maker. I fought on for another twenty kilometers. From 40 kilometers up until the end I needed to log one hour for every 10 km. I had hit all these targets dead on the head until 60 km. With just under thirty to go, I was still on cause for a Bill Rowen medal. I ran for about two kilometers after passing 60 km then bang, a cramp on the same muscle that had been giving me torrid times since the start. I think it was the iliacus muscle, described as the triangular muscle which passes the pelvis thought the groin on either sides and together with psoas flexes, the hip. I could not run from there on. I walked a little while rubbing the cramp off. Hobbled along for a short distance before running again. At about 65 km Joe Faber’s sub 9 hrs. bus ( group) caught up. We ran together for another 10 km until the 72 km mark. They dropped me because I had been running through the cramp for that long. I could not keep up even though their pace was generous. I was very frustrated by the situation. I fought on. For eighteen kilometers from the 73rd kilometer until the finish I never got anywhere near 6 minutes per kilometer. That is how hard I had to dig. It took me a long time to forget about Bill Rowen. I still maintained my hopes and the time was still in favour until about 75 km. Then reality kicked in and I could not deny it. I accepted it and carried on.
The spirit of comrades got me through it all. When those kind spectators called my name encouraging me to keep going, I just had to fight on. I would give a little smile and agonize in my mind. Knowing that my friends from Literacy4Life www.literacy4life.co.za, were waiting to cheer me on at about two kilometers before the end kept me motivated. I was looking forward to grabbing that book at read it all the way to the finish.
I was very pleased that this year’s run was finishing at Kingsmead after my Moses Mabhida nightmare finished last year. That dreaded flat stretch that seem to go on forever killed me last year.
I took it easy as I alternated between jogging a little and walking a little until the finish gates. Entering the stadium was as thrilling as a comrade’s finish will forever be, regardless of where you finish. I picked up my 2nd Robert Mntshali Medal, my twelfth comrades medal in 13 starts and limped away feeling like a comrade who had fought and won a brutal war. Yes, I had fought one and it had been a personal one. Tasting victory at the end is a feeling that will never be equaled and never to be duplicated.
what is behind is history, what lies ahead is hope!