He’s climbed Everest and set records, and Sibusiso Vilane has learned a few life lessons along the way. Now, the legendary African adventurer is sharing those lessons with Adventure.com
On 26 May 2003, Sibusiso Vilane became the first Black African to stand on the summit of Chomolungma, also called Mount Everest. Upon his return from the Himalayas, he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga and shook Nelson Mandela’s hand.
Since that historic climb, he’s ticked off the Seven Summits, become the first Black person to complete the “Grand Slam” challenge, including climbing Mount Everest, plus reaching the North and South poles. Now, at 51, he runs 90-kilometer ultra-marathons for fun.
We sat down with Sibusiso to chat about climbing, ambition, failure and the lessons he’s learned after 25 years spent exploring wild—and high—places.
There’s no substitute for hard work
When I speak to kids and they say, “I want to do what you’ve done,” I tell them you need good friends and a good network (adventuring is sadly a very expensive game). But you also need luck. I’ve been very lucky that I met people who believed in me and supported my climbing career. I grew up in two countries. I was born in a very rural part of South Africa, in Mpumalanga province near the southern part of Kruger National Park, a place called Shongwe Mission.
But my mother moved us to Swaziland when I was four; it was much more relaxed than South Africa during apartheid. She was a single mum with no qualifications. We didn’t have a home. We didn’t have food to eat. But she was a visionary who believed in education. Luckily, she met my step-dad, and he could afford to send us to primary school. In a way, it was a blessing, I knew I had to work very hard if I was going to change my life.