Everest conqueror 'not sure about mountaineering'

The third South African to reach the summit of Mt Everest—Sean Wisedale—isn’t too sure about this mountain climbing thing.

“I’m still trying to develop a love for climbing mountains,” Wisedale told chortling journalists in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

In the 50 years since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to set foot on the top of the world, only three South Africans—Wisedale, Sibusiso Vilane and Cathy O’Dowd—have reached the top of the 8850-metre peak, known as Chomolunguma in the Sherpa language.

Wisedale, who runs a film company with his girlfriend Joy Simmonds, said he got professional enjoyment from mountaineering.

“My joy comes from capturing the images of (mountains). Filming them is fascinating. The light changes all the time.
There is snow, or there isn’t snow. All these subtle changes…”

Nonetheless, Wisedale has some serious mountaineering experiences under his ice axe—Antarctica’s Mt Vinson (4897m), Argentina’s Aconcagua (6960m) and Alaska’s 6194m Denali (also known as Mt McKinley).

Wisedale also finds satisfaction in witnessing the effect big mountains have on those who “have made mountains more part of their lives than I have”.

“I enjoy filming what they (mountains) present to the climbers, people like (2003 Discovery Everest team leader) Alex Harris and Sean Disney.”

Wisedale (37) described Harris as a mature mountaineer whose excellent decision-making skills meant that the entire team got back to South Africa unscathed.

Harris and Disney were attempting to reach the “seven summits”—the top of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. They and Deyshun Deysel abandoned their Everest attempt this year just 350m away from success. High winds made it unsafe to continue the climb.

A few days later, after the team had decided to leave Nepal without “bagging” Everest, Wisedale decided he felt strong enough to try again.

“I thought of all those 270km cycles on Saturday morning… the mental and physical training we had gone through was definitely one of the reasons I made another attempt,” he said.

Luckily for Wisedale he arrived on the summit of Everest on May 30 half-an-hour before anyone else.

“For the first time in a long time you can see 360 degrees around you. You are not shadowed by the mountain. It was a fantastic privilege and a great relief,” he said.

“I probably haven’t absorbed the whole meaning of it.”

Meanwhile Simmonds (38) continually worried about her boyfriend. Simmonds doesn’t climb at all and said she did not have the right goal-orientated personality for battling through the piercing cold and physical trauma of high altitude climbing.

“I can understand—rather I am fascinated by—these endurance types. I am fascinated by the psychology of it,” she said.

Simmonds flew to Katmandu to meet Wisedale—an unexpected surprise for him after his great success.

“That meeting was incredibly special. It was sweeter than sugar,” she said. - Sapa

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