SA women’s Everest feat will be one for the history books
Four Joburgers are preparing to be the first all-women team from Africa to make it to the world's highest summit
Deshun Deysel fears plummeting into a crevice, Tumi Mphahlele dreads a sudden change in the weather, Lisa Gering’s family is more worried than she is, and Alda Waddell fears nothing – in fact, heights excite her.
Meet the the four Johannesburg women determined to become the first all-women team from Africa to summit Mt Everest in 2020 – at a cost of R1.25m each.
Gering, 43 , Waddell, 45, Deysel, 49 and Mphahlele, 45, are all experienced climbers and athletes, but Deysel is the only one to have attempted the mountain before.
“The closest I got was 500 vertical metres from the top but had to turn back because of the weather. It took me years to get over the disappointment, but they say that third time’s the charm,” the married mother of two told Times Select.
She has tried it twice and was part of the expedition to Everest in 1996.
Deysel’s biggest fear ahead of the climb is falling into a crevice. “Falling is a real danger and there are all sorts of ways you could lose your footing and fall into a crevice.”
According to Himalayan Database, here have been 296 deaths on Everest. Most of the bodies have been left on the slope because the weather, terrain and the lack of oxygen, especially in the “dead zone” (above 8,000m) where the oxygen is so thin it cannot sustain human life, making it impossible to bring bodies down
“The worst incident I experienced as a mountaineer was when I was hit by a boulder on Mt Kenya. I had a hairline fracture to my arm. Onlookers said if I hadn’t ducked I would have been killed ... You just get on with business. Mountaineering teaches you humility. I have huge respect and reverence for the mountains,” Deysel said.
Their preparation for the expedition will begin in September 2019 with a climb up Mont Blanc (4,810m above sea level) in the Alps in Europe and Mount Aconcagua (6,959m) in Argentina on the Chilean border in December.
According to Richard Sailsbury, who maintains the Himalayan Database, a compilation of records for all expeditions up the Nepal Himalaya shows there have been only four SA women who summited Everest.
Catherine O’Dowd was also the first South African to summit, in 1996. She is also the second on the SA list because she repeated the feat in 1999, but from the Chinese side.
According to Sailsbury, 32 South Africans have summited the mountain 37 times.
The women will be attempting the climb with the logistical help of Ronnie Muhl, a mountaineer and founder of Adventures Global expedition company, who will also help them raise funds for the expedition.
Gering, an accountability coach at The Real Entrepreneur, a business coaching company, said the trip, including preparation climbs and gear, will cost R1.25m each.
She said she wasn’t afraid of anything ahead of the climb.
“I’ve heard that once you get to the mountain, your fears come out. My friends and family do worry about us not coming back, but at the moment I’m not afraid of anything,” she said.
Waddell, who works for BMW SA, said she was the least experienced mountaineer in the group.
“I’m aware that I am the least experienced as I have only climbed Killi [Mt Kilimanjaro] and local mountains, but that has me working really hard to get ready for the climb.
“Everest can take up to two-and-a-half months to climb and the challenge will begin from day one,” she said.
The mother of 17-year-old twins said she liked pushing herself and she couldn’t wait to climb the metal ladders across crevasses, a particularly dangerous part of the climb.
“I had a car accident in 1991 and badly injured my back, pelvis and ankles. I was listening to a radio show where some SA celebrities had climbed Killi and I thought if they can do it then so can I.
“A couple of months later and I had done it. If I can do Kilimanjaro then I can do Everest. You need a strong mind and willpower,” she said.
Mphahlele, an entrepreneur in the renewable energy sector, has completed three of the seven summits.
This will be her first climb since having two operations for external iliac artery endofibrosis (EIAE), an uncommon disease that affects an unusually large number of athletes. It affects the arteries and the effects are similar to having cholesterol.
“I try to raise awareness among endurance athletes, but after two ops I am back, and this year I will be running the Comrades Marathon again before we start climbing,” she said.
Mphahlele has summited Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Elbrus, but Everest will be the hardest climb.
“I’m most afraid of the weather because the weather can change instantly. You need to be prepared,” she said.
Mphahlele said the reason the Everest climb takes so long is because mountaineers need to acclimatise.
“You go up to a base camp then come back down, then you get to the next base camp and back down again. Until you are ready for the final climb.”
The climb is not recorded unless the climber makes it back down the mountain.
“The summit is a bonus – you need to enjoy the process. The experience is worthwhile but you have to come back alive," Mphahlele said.
The seven summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Everest is the tallest at 8,848m above sea level. Climbing to all seven summits is regarded as a mountaineering challenge.
The list of summits depends on the mountaineer’s definition of a continent. For example, Elbrus and Mont Blanc are both in Europe but on different tectonic plates, while Kosciuszko is on the continent of Australia but Puncak Jaya is in Oceania. For this reason the list can vary, or can include up to nine summits.
Everest – Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas (8,848m);
Aconcagua – Argentina, South America (6,961m);
Denali – mountain peak, North America (6,194m);
Kilimanjaro – dormant volcano in Tanzania, Africa (5,895m);
Elbrus – dormant volcano in the Caucasus Mountains, Russia (5,642m);
Vinson – mountain massif in Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica (4,892m);
Mont Blanc – Alps, Europe (4,810m);
Puncak Jaya – Papua Province, Indonesia (4,884m);
Mount Kosciuszko – New South Wales, Australia (2,228m).