The women mountaineers of Africa are reaching for new heights, following in the footsteps of the first black African woman to scale Mount Everest. Now four other South Africans are training to become the first all-female African team to climb the world’s tallest peak.
Deshun Deysel, Lisa Gering, Tumi Mphahlele and Alda Waddell are training on the sandstone cliffs of South Africa’s Drankensberg Mountains. They hope that next year, they can become the first team of African women to conquer Mount Everest.
The women are inspired by South African business executive Saray Khumalo, who in May became the first black African woman to climb the world’s highest mountain, which stands at 8,848 meters tall.
Africa has few mountains to practice on, but Khumalo says that is not a problem.
“What excites me even more is that those coming behind us, behind me, effectively won’t have to struggle as much as I have had, you know,” she said. “Even though we’re not born in a place where there’re mountains, there’s ice and snow and more. So, when the ladies go next year, I think it’s going to open up even more doors.”
Each team member does her own intensive mental and physical training along with group sessions to prepare for the difficult climb.
Alda Waddell explains:
“There’s different elements that you need to train for. It is the technical, the equipment that you need to understand. It is the physical that you need to be able to do. And then also the cold. You need to be able to manage the cold. And then lastly, it’s the altitude,” she said.
Levels of experience
The women have different levels of experience in mountaineering.
In 1996, Deshun Deysel became the first black South African woman to set foot on Mount Everest.
While she wasn’t able to reach the summit, since then she’s scaled mountains on five continents.
“When I first started high-altitude climbing there was so few women in the mountains,” she said. “If I look around now, especially in the South African climbing community, that number definitely increased and because of that we have a greater pool of women to choose from. So why not have an all-female team?”
As South African women entrepreneurs, the team sees parallels with running a business in a male-dominated world and climbing the world’s tallest mountain.
They want their attempt to scale Mount Everest to inspire more African women to reach for the top.