Four courageous South African women are preparing to summit Mt. Everest in April and May 2020 as the first all-women team from Africa to complete the climb, with the aim of fulfilling their long-held dreams and inspiring young women entrepreneurs to overcome metaphorical ‘mountains’ in their lives with the ‘courage to start and the strength to endure’ – the motto of the expedition.
The women, who are all both leaders and mountaineers, are Lisa Gering, Alda Waddell, Deshun Deysel, and Tumi Mphahlele, all from Johannesburg, with Ronnie Muhl, avid mountaineer and founder of Cape Town-based Adventures Global, managing the full logistics of the climb. [Bios of each below.]
From the outset, the idea was always to be an all-women team, and the first from Africa to summit the world’s highest mountain – of which only a few South African women have ever achieved that. Gering, spokesperson for the team, explains, “Alda set her heart on climbing Everest and started the ball rolling. She contacted Deshun who said yes, as long as Ronnie Muhl manages the logistics. Ronnie recommended me to join the team, which I was excited and delighted to do. We knew we needed a fourth member and searched until we found Tumi, who is very experienced and perfect for the challenge.”
All the women have extensive mountaineering experience, trekking, hiking, climbing, and summiting the highest mountains in several continents, while Deshun and Tumi are also accomplished athletes in other sports.
The team is also fully committed to the cause behind the climb – inspiring, empowering and supporting women entrepreneurs. Gering says, “The Everest 2020 climb has a strong give-back element, and a percentage of our sponsorship will be going towards inspiring, supporting, and empowering women entrepreneurs – it’s where we all come from and it’s something we’re passionate about. We want them to know that they too can conquer the ‘Everests’ in their lives.”
Deysel adds, “Building up a business is like climbing Mt. Everest – it requires many hours of preparation, endurance, and sacrifice while staying focused on the long-term goal of success. As women entrepreneurs, we get it. We’ve been climbing our business Everests for many years and we understand the pain involved in making a business sustainable. As mountaineers, we have physically walked these journeys as well.
“Our mission is to highlight the plight of the woman entrepreneur in Africa by climbing the world’s highest mountain, and our hope is to inspire entrepreneurs, to relate to their everyday struggles, and create a positive narrative around the possibilities and victories that await those who give it their all.”
As part of their preparation for the expedition, the all-women team will climb Mont Blanc (4,810 metres) in the Alps in Europe in September and Mount Aconcagua (6,959 metres) in the Argentinian Andes in December, as well as intensive individual training by each of the team members, and two-weekly meetings to ensure everything is on track.
Securing sponsorship is a vital element in the plans and preparation for the expedition as the full cost of the preparation climbs and the ultimate expedition up Mt Everest in 2020 for the four-women team is about R5 million. “We are working on sponsorship/partnership options and are open to discussions with corporates who would be interested in seeing their company flag flying at the top of the world,” says Gering.
Media coverage of the Everest 2020 all-women climb will primarily be handled by Tony Lourens, world-renowned mountain journalist and photographer, and editor of SA Mountain magazine, who will be based permanently at Everest Base Camp for the duration of the expedition to oversee the extensive press, radio, television and digital coverage.
Ronnie Muhl says, “I am very proud and extremely excited to have been asked to look after all of the logistics for this expedition, and I cannot wait to see the women hold the South African flag on the summit.” Earlier in April 2019, Muhl trekked to the Base Camp of Everest. “Part of the reason for this visit to the Himalayas was to prepare for the South African Women’s Everest expedition in 2020.”
Follow the team as they prepare for Everest 2020 on Facebook on Everest2020SA.
BRIEF BIOS ON THE FOUR EVEREST 2020 SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN
Lisa has a personal company called LRM Diamonds but is full time as a shareholder and partner with REAL Entrepreneur.
She holds the position of COO across two of the companies in the REAL Network group, she is the Culture Champion, and also heads up the Coaching Division and helps to run events.
Lisa has trekked or climbed every year, sometimes twice, since 2010 and has stayed fit and strong for the trips. She started mountaineering when she was brought into the Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition in 2010 as a ‘team and client’ trip.
What do you love about mountaineering? “I have never found another environment where one is tested on all levels as much – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. I love the journey of discovery and growth and the lessons one learns. The person on the other side of each trip is changed forever!”
What strengths do you bring to the team? I play an incredibly strong supportive role as well as being able to get stuff done. I am proactive and a self-starter. I am a good listener and people feel heard and seen when I engage with them.
On being the first all-women team from Africa to conquer the world’s highest mountain? “It’s an absolute honour! I feel incredible blessed and grateful for the opportunity to take this step for not only myself but to inspire and encourage and support others to take their first steps to conquering their ‘Everests’.”
Your message to women entrepreneurs? “Our motto for our trip – ‘Courage to start, strength to endure!’”
Alda works for BMW South Africa as a Specialist: Sub Sahara Africa Operations and Special Projects. She has 23 years’ experience in the motor industry and holds an MBA Degree from Rhodes University, BTech Degree in Management, National Dip in Management.
She is mother of 17-year-old twins, Clair and Craig.
Alda has battled personal injuries and embarked on a journey to test her own physical and mental strength by setting goals to climb the highest mountain on each continent.
What do you love about mountaineering? “The entire journey of mountaineering is an adventure, from meeting new people and creating lifelong bonds, to the extraordinary places she has visited and experienced.”
When did your interest in mountaineering start? “In 2008, when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. To most, the start of the adventure starts on day on of the summit, but to me it actually starts months prior with a lot of physical and mental preparation, along with lots of research. The seven days summit was physically challenging and I kept asking myself, ‘Why I am I doing this?’ I then remembered that I had something to prove to myself. When I reached the summit I was overwhelmed by a mix of emotions, and the experience was somewhat surreal. Only later did I realise what I had accomplished – I had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and overcome my own doubts.”
On the Everest 2020 expedition? “Now, embarking on climbing Mt. Everest, I am a step closer to achieving my dream of climbing the highest mountain.”
Deshun is MD of Deshun Deysel & Associates, which equips clients to transition from Performance Management to Performance Development by using an Agile, Light and Continuous Digital Platform.
Deshun lives in Johannesburg with her husband Charles and their two children, Edward and Judith.
Her sports involvement includes mountaineering, open water swimming, cycling, running, and she played provincial volleyball in high school and college.
Mountaineering was “a childhood dream”, which was realised in 1995. Deshun was a member of the first team of South Africans who placed the new SA democratic flag at the top of Mt. Everest. She was the first Black woman in the world and the youngest South African to set foot on the slopes of Mt. Everest.
Deshun has participated in climbing expeditions to five of the seven summits on five continents: Mt. Mckinley, North America; Mt. Elbrus, Europe; Aconcagua, South America; Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa; Everest, Asia. She has successfully guided teams up Mt. Kenya, Mt. Kilimanjaro and smaller South African peaks, and summited Mt. Meru (Tanzania), Mt. Kenya (Kenya), Mt. Blanc (France), Mt. Kalapathar (Nepal).
What do you love about mountaineering? “The freedom of climbing and the challenge of pushing beyond my obvious limits.”
What do I bring to the team? “I bring experience of over 20 years as a high-altitude mountaineer. I started with no experience in 1995 and steadily built up a climbing portfolio, which positions me as someone who can assist, guide and advise the team.”
On being the first all-women team from Africa to summit Everest? “It’s so exciting because it’s a first. Also, being entrepreneurs, we want to highlight the real journeys of real entrepreneurs by creating a synchronised narrative for both experiences. I believe that I’m here, right now, at this time in history, to leave a lasting impression and impact on humanity. I aim all my goals to line up with this sense of purpose.”
What other interests do you have? “I love DIY, interior design and architectural content. When I want to relax or de-stress I go to these mediums (magazines/ TV shows/ books and internet).”
Your message to female entrepreneurs? “We were born for this! We have the fortitude, the drive and the endurance to start, build, scale and sustain businesses.” #CourageToStart #StrengthToEndure #JoyInTheVictory
Tumi is director and shareholder at IG3N and Amperion Energy – two companies in the renewable energy sector that she co-founded and is leading. Tumi is also experienced in the execution of complex projects and programmes and has served as GM for Corporate Strategy at the SABS and the Development Bank of SA.
Tumi is a recreational endurance athlete with a keen interest in mountain sports. She has successfully climbed three of the seven summits – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Elbrus and Mt. Aconcagua – and has ambitions to complete the rest of the seven summits over the next few years. She has also summited other mountain peaks of varying altitudes in Africa and South America.
Tumi is also a hiker, a mountain biker, an ultradistance road and trail runner, and has completed seven Comrades Marathons and six Two Oceans Marathons.
She battled ill health with External Iliac Artery Endofibrosis from 2016 to 2018, and after two operations late last year, she summited Aconcagua in December 2018.
Why climb Mt. Everest? “It represents an opportunity to break one of the major barriers that seems to be largely out of reach for women, especially African women. Being part of the team that will make history is a fantastic opportunity because I believe in the process. We will also practically demonstrate to many young women that they too, in their many areas of life, can reach for the sky and achieve whatever they set their minds to.”
The strengths I bring to the team? “I have the mental and the physical strength and the fighting spirit and temperament to attempt such a feat and stay the course. I have a strong work ethic and an ability to practice objectivity, even under intense pressure. I get fulfilment from achieving the goals that I set for myself.”
On being the first all-women team from Africa to summit Everest? “The thought of summiting Mount Everest as a group of women gives me goose bumps and it will be a dream come true. While I respect the mountains and recognise the risk and dangers associated with climbing Mount Everest, I do think that the success for the team and for the continent is worth the risk.”
In 2009 Ronnie Muhl founded Adventures Global, “which helps people to take on life’s great adventures, of which climbing Everest is one of them”.
He has been passionate about mountains all of his life. In 1979, he read a book that inspired him to climb Everest and 28 years later he finally stood on the summit, becoming the seventh South African to summit Everest via the North-east Ridge. He subsequently authored a book, Everest: Surviving The Death Zone, on the experience. He says fulfilling this dream has motivated him to help others do the same.
Ronnie has been the leader of more international expeditions on Everest than any other South African and his experience on the mountain is unsurpassed.
In April 2019 he trekked to the Base Camp of Everest to prepare for the South African Women’s Everest expedition in 2020. He is proud and excited to have been asked to look after all the logistics for this expedition and cannot wait to see the women hold the South African flag on the summit.