This April, a former goatherder from Swaziland walked from a small village in Norway all the way to the geographic North Pole.
Sibusiso Vilane’s six-day journey across the Arctic ice made him the first black man to join the exclusive “Three Poles Club,” made up of explorers who have visited both poles and the summit of Everest (Vilane climbed the Himalayan peak in 2003 and walked to the world’s southern extreme in 2008). He has also completed the “Seven Summits Challenge,” having climbed the seven tallest mountains in the world.
How did he reach the top?
Vilane was born into a poor family in Mpumalanga, South Africa in 1970. As a young man, he grew dextrous leading goats and cattle through rough terrain. Eventually, he got a job as a park ranger.
It was in that position that Vilane met John Doble, a British high commissioner to Swaziland. On long hikes together, the pair discovered Vilane’s passion for mountaineering. Using his contacts in Africa and the West, Doble helped raise enough money to send Vilane first to Kilimanjaro and then to Everest.
Vilane’s exploits have led to media attention in his homeland and abroad. His recent trip to the North Pole was funded by the British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.
In the footsteps of others
But Vilane is actually not the first black man to reach the North Pole. That honor belongs to Matthew Henson, an African-American explorer in the 1909 expedition of Admiral Robert Peary. In fact, Henson was the first man of any color to stand on top of the world.
As Vilane beats the odds to visit the world’s most forbidding places, so he hopes others will take heart from his accomplishments. “It is my desire to inspire Africans who think they cannot do these things,” he told a South African journalist before his North Pole expedition. “Africans have been sitting back because of a lack of exposure and a lack of funds. Each and every one of us has got what it takes to be great.”
The next step?
Now that he can be classified as an elite explorer, Vilane has plans to lead pan-African teams of adventurers up Kilimanjaro and other dangerous peaks.
Where else will he end up? Latitude News couldn’t help noticing that a black African has never been to space (though a white South African entrepreneur rode a Russian rocket to the International Space Station in 2002). Could this be a new frontier for Vilane? So far, it seems, the sky’s the limit.
You can read more about Vilane’s trip to the North Pole at the link below.