Saray Khumalo, the first black African woman to summit Mount Everest, to complete climb of 7 highest peaks on all 7 continents

On 15 December, Saray Khumalo is setting out to break more records, aiming to complete the Explorers Grand Slam by June 2020.

The expedition involves summiting all seven of the highest peaks on the seven continents, completing a technical rock climb and reaching the North Pole as well as the South Pole. 

The summits include Mount Everest (Asia), Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Denali - also known as Mt McKinley (North America), Aconcagua (South America), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Mount Elbrus (Europe), Mount Kosciuszko (Australia) and Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia), which is considered the only technical rock climb of the expedition.

Saray has already summited four peaks and when she completes the expedition she will be the 68th person - and the only African person - on the planet to complete the Gland Slam.

Her goal is to inspire people to believe in themselves, to aim higher, and be more than just ordinary.

READ MORE: Drawing inspiration from Saray Khumalo, these women share 3 key preparation steps and motivation ahead of their Mount Everest climb

Apart from doing what she loves, the hunger to leave a mark behind and help improve a young people’s lives is what drives the 48-year-old to climb.

The mother of two boys says she teaches her children that the sky is the limit and wants other children to learn to dream big too.

One of the reasons why Saray climbs is because she is raising funds for underprivileged kids to have a chance at education.

“A study shows that 51 percent of children can’t go to school because of finances. I want that to change. So, I have partnered with Regenesys Business School and their foundation to allow deserving students to learn and make something out of themselves," says Saray.

They provide for 300 students, and each month, interested donors can donate R500, which is R16 a day. The classes are done online so that the students need not worry about travel expenses and accommodation.

READ MORE: Two of the incredible women smashing stereotypes as they conquer Mount Everest in their hijabs are from SA

Saray started climbing in 2012, successfully climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and raised funds for a home in Benoni.

“I have also seen that African women are not represented when it comes to climbing. I take it upon myself to be the representative.”

She admits that it has not been a comfortable journey and that climbing comes with its dangers. In 2014 she climbed Mount Everest, and could not complete the summit. She eventually managed to summit in May 2019, making her an African here.

Saray failed forward and has been questioned along the way by people who once supported her. She explains some of the difficult points in her journey.

In 2017 she got involved in a life-threatening incident where her oxygen tank got blocked, as a result she failed to breathe and fainted on a summit.

Before that, in 2016, she was involved in a mountain bike accident that landed her in a comma for some weeks, but none of that ever made her doubt that she would one day succeed.

READ MORE: Four business lessons I learnt on top of Kilimanjaro

One of the things that matter the most before climbing, Saray says, you must be physically and mentally fit.

It is vital to have insurance in case anything happens and to have a tracker to keep in contact with your family when you are there.

Speaking about her quest to find funding for the Grand Slam, Saray says, “I have sent over 200 proposals, and I was asked what makes me think I will be able to complete the Explorers Grand Slam because there is no African woman who has done that. That’s about to change.”

READ MORE: Capetonian Tarryn Tomlinson shares her plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on her wheelchair

Saray has partnered with Momentum Multiplyas its brand ambassador, and the company is sponsoring her Explorers Grand Slam.

“What an amazing opportunity it is. When Momentum Multiply came to the party, they said go for it. They believe in what I believe in, and that is to help the younger generation,” says Saray.

As difficult as it can be, there's no stopping Saray. “I do it because I love adventure. I enjoy doing most of the things that people are afraid of doing. Anything that seems like a challenge to humankind. I am up for it.”

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