Friday, December 7, 2012

To the Top from Nowhere, by Vilane & Jennings

Sibusiso Vilane, with the help of Gail Jennings, tells of his becoming the first black African to climb Mount Everest in To the Top from Nowhere. Vilane grew up in South Africa and Swaziland, and progressed from herding goats and cows to attending school (and doing quite well) to eventually becoming a game ranger. He met John Doble when he volunteered to walk in the game reserve with him on his day off (and continued to do so), and his life has led a new course ever since. Doble was convinced that Vilane would make a good mountaineer and could even climb Everest, and he encouraged him, pulled strings for him, and sponsored him on his climbs, first to Kilimanjaro in 1999, then a Himalayan training regime in 2002, and then Everest in 2003. Vilane faced a sharp learning curve, with Kilimanjaro as his first experience at altitude, three trekking peaks as his next experience, and then Everest. He does well with the altitude, though the cold affects him greatly. Differences in culture play an important role in his narrative, as he is not used to sharing a tent, eating most of the foods available to him, using a computer, or being the object of a great deal of attention due to his skin color. Additionally, money is consistently a concern for him, especially during his first Everest trip, as he has very little to spend, and is fortunate in the kindness of others for things such as calling home.

Vilane actually makes two trips to Everest, first from Nepal via the Southeast Ridge in the spring of 2003, and again from Tibet via the North Ridge in the spring of 2005. Both times, he uses Jagged Globe for his climb, first as a member of a guided expedition, and then as an outfitter for his trip from the north. He climbs to the top in 2003 under the leadership of Robert Mads Anderson. (See his Summits: Climbing the Seven Summits Solo for his several earlier attempts on Everest.) For his return trip, he invites Sir Ranulph Fiennes (I really enjoyed his To the Ends of the Earth, about his transpolar circumnavigation of the earth.) to climb with him to raise money for three African charities. A few other South Africans join them. Vilane, three teammates and two Sherpa make the summit in an initial attempt, but Vilane faces a harrowing descent. Fiennes turns around at 8400 meters in a second party due to a feared heart attack. Since the publication of his book, Vilane has moved on to complete the Seven Summits, as well as trek to both the North Pole and the South Pole.

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