Climbing the Seven Summits of the World with Saray Khumalo

Words: Tam Selley

Findus June 2017 Carrots Leaderboard

We take our hats off to hard working moms and dads around the world – balancing a career and a busy family is by no means an easy feat. Saray Khumalo is a woman who has gone above and beyond both of those things to redefine the meaning of dedication and quite honestly makes the rest of us mere mortals look like we’re simply not doing enough! Saray, mother of two, a business leader of one of South Africa’s biggest financial institutions, a social entrepreneur, and a Mandela libraries ambassador is now also climbing the seven summits of the world.

If this isn’t already awe-inspiring stuff – it will be when you know that she isn’t climbing the highest peaks on each continent to prove her strength to the world, she’s doing it to raise funding for South Africa’s underprivileged schools.

She’s also doing it to prove to the world that no matter your background, circumstance, or upbringing, you can achieve your goals no matter how hard or high they are, even as high as Mount Everest.

Saray has set out to be the first African black woman to reach the summit of Everest, and, along the way she is leaving a trail of inspirational breadcrumbs for young, aspiring South Africans to follow. We chat to Saray about her dedication to this project, her goals, and her life-changing experiences challenging some of the world’s greatest and most dangerous natural obstacles.

Climbing the Seven Summits of the World with Saray Khumalo

Saray Khumalo

Crush: First off, a huge congratulations for being the record holder for black African women in 2017 and 2018 reaching summit 2 of Everest, you must be so proud of this achievement. How does it feel to represent SA for this?

Saray Khumalo: Thank you, it’s a humbling achievement, and the credit goes to the many African women who have made it possible for me to believe and dream the impossible dream.

Crush: What sparked this idea and initiative for climbing the 7 summits – can you tell us a little more about your mission from the beginning?

Saray Khumalo: Growing up as part of the Pathfinder Club, I always loved the outdoors. The experience of climbing Kilimanjaro in 2012 and raising money for Kids Haven Children’s home made me realise that I could continue doing what I love: to sell the dream to those who can climb, as well as to those who never will, while making a difference.

I could inspire other African children like me to reach for their own personal summits through my journey. Everyone can climb, but using the experience to leave the world a little better than one finds it becomes a choice; a choice that I have been privileged to make and one which I am enjoying!

Crush: What made you decide to concentrate on children and libraries as a cause, as opposed to other charities?

Saray Khumalo: I am passionate about education and its power to open up a world beyond our imagination. The power of education not only changes one generation but positively affects multiple generations.

I attribute my little success to the investment my mother and grandparents made in my education as a child. It is their fruits which my children are reaping and hopefully, one day, my grandchildren too. An educated African girl becomes an equal partner on the global playing field and it starts with one African child who dares to dream.

Saray Khumalo

Crush: Have you always enjoyed hiking? What sparked your love for climbing?

Saray Khumalo: I grew up as part of the Pathfinder Club and went up to Master Guide level. The club opened my world to camping, hiking and knot-tying, among other survival skills.

Although hiking and camping was not part of my life after varsity, it’s always been a place of reflection and introspection for me. I am particularly passionate about clean hiking, where people leave only their footprint for the next group to enjoy nature in its glory.

What is your training schedule like for these climbs, how do you prepare?

Saray Khumalo: I usually train at least six days a week. When preparing for a climb, I train twice a day for at least six months before the climb. This generally incorporates two strength-training sessions and the rest cardio, which includes running, hiking and cycling. I however, have reduced my cycling after a near fatal accident on an Mountain Biking trail.

Crush: Have you had any falls or scary experiences during any of your expeditions?

Saray Khumalo: Everest, like all mountains, demands respect from every climber. It can be gentle and can also present gruelling weather conditions, with amazing challenges for both novice, as well as expert climbers. I have had my share of life-threatening experiences: in 2014 16 Sherpas lost their lives in the Khumbu Icefall, and in 2016 I was caught while on the Western Cwm by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which killed over 8 000 people in Nepal.

My most threatening experience was on 24 May 2017, when we were caught in very high winds close to the Everest summit and had to make our way down to Camp 4 for another attempt the following day. Unfortunately, I fell during the descent, and was carried to Camp 4, where we discovered that the high winds had blown our tent away along with all our mats and sleeping bags.

Saray Khumalo

Crush: We’ve read some pretty gnarly stories about the dangers climbing Everest, how did you find it? Did you see Green Boots?

Saray Khumalo: Mountaineering is a solacing sport, but also one that comes with natural challenges. It demands discipline and experience from all who attempt it, depending on the level of the challenge. Everest, being the highest peak in the world, presents similar challenges with high numbers of climbers attempting to steal their moments with her at the peak within a small window.

The dangers of Everest include altitude sickness, which presents itself to many climbers in different forms and depends on their acclimatisation schedule. From the South Side, the mighty Khumbu Icefall – with its ladders – adds to the challenge due to the endless stream of crevasses and cracks, presenting a bridge from Everest Base Camp to Camp One.

Green Boots rests on the north side of Everest, which I have not yet had the privilege of visiting.

Crush: We hear that you have have two kids; are they proud of their Mom for all the hard work and good she is doing?

Saray Khumalo: I believe they are proud, but what’s more important for me is that they chase after their dreams, work hard and reach for the skies because we all owe it to ourselves to be the best that we can be.

Crush: Would you say your inspiration for helping children comes from your own kids?

Saray Khumalo: I am inspired by the women in my life: my mother who raised seven girls who have all become successful and powerful women in their own right; my grandmother, who spent all her harvest, feeding the community around her; and my aunties, who showed me that there was a world beyond any circumstance in which I found myself.

Saray Khumalo

Crush: What do you do when you aren’t scaling the world’s highest peaks?

Saray Khumalo: I am a mother, a sister and a business leader in a financial institution in South Africa. After my near-fatal cycling accident in 2016, I have started to enjoy local runs with the hopes of not falling… but hey, if I do, I would not be going as fast as I would be going if I were cycling!

Crush: How many peaks have you completed now? And what are your next expeditions that you are planning?

Saray Khumalo: Of the seven highest peaks on the seven continents around the world, I have successfully summited three. I have climbed Kilimanjaro, Elbrus in Russia and Aconcagua in Argentina. I have plans to tackle Everest again next year, however this is dependent on whether I get sponsorship or not, as I have been paying for myself up until now. So God willing, I will return to Everest next year!

To read more about Saray’s achievements, work, and future adventures, follow her social links and website. You can also donate towards her mission and towards the libraries and schools she aims to help. | Facebook | Twitter

Findus June 2017 Carrots Leaderboard

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