‘Suddenly, The Clouds Were Beneath Me’: Why The Sky’s Not The Limit For This African

Published 3 years ago

Saray Khumalo shares the humbling and enthralling experience of breaking barriers and summiting some of the world’s highest mountains.  

In May 2019, Saray Khumalo became the first black African woman to summit Mount Everest. In a recent interview with FORBES AFRICA, Khumalo speaks about her emotional, adrenaline-driven experience getting to its peak.  

The South African has also just launched a Malaria No More emergency response campaign called The Bigger Picture Campaign alongside marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge and World Cup winning South African rugby captain Siya Kolisi. With Covid now taking up so much airtime, Khumalo, who has herself had malaria many times growing up, is helping refocus the attention on malaria, as it’s still one of the world’s deadliest diseases and especially in the African context.  


Khumalo is also the founder of 7 Summits, an initiative that raises money for underprivileged schools through her climbing, and is now aiming for the Explorers Grand Slam involving 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. 

With a day job as an executive at Momentum Multiply looking after e-commerce, Khumalo started mountain-climbing in 2012.

Photo: Supplied

In this interview, she says: “I made a commitment to step on top of the highest peak on every continent, but use the journey to raise money for education. And that’s where the journey started. I’ve built five libraries. And I’ve raised money. And it’s the only way we can change the narrative for the next generation.” 

She also speaks of her harrowing experience surviving an earthquake in Nepal in 2015, and returning to summit Mount Everest in 2019, and valuing every breath. 


“The higher you go, the more appreciative you become about where we live, and the oxygen and a lot of stuff we take for granted. 

“I remember thinking about my mother telling me and my sisters, that ‘the sky’s the limit’ and suddenly, the clouds were beneath me. I could not see any ground. And also because it was my fourth attempt [climbing Mount Everest], you know, all the people that said I couldn’t do it, nobody like me had done it before. How wrong they were at the top!  

“It’s just a humbling experience and it also helps you realize how much of a speck we are in the bigger scheme of things.” 

Photo: Supplied