Katlego Letheo is about to embark on a journey of a lifetime, the Seven Summits Challenge. We asked her to tell us a bit more about what’s lying ahead…
We recently met Katlego when she walked into our Cape Town store in search of some gear to document the epic journey she’s about to embark on. You see, Katlego will be attempting the Seven Summits Challenge, we asked her to tell us a little bit more…
First things first, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Katlego Letheo. I was born in 1981 in a little village in the former Bophuthatswana, now the North West province. I am an IT auditor by day and pursue the great outdoors after hours, hence my interest in pursuing the Seven Summits Challenge – which is an attempt to reach the highest peaks in all seven continents of the world.
How did you get into hiking? Where did it all start?
My friend Jules invited me for a hike up Lion’s head one evening. I’d never pursued sporting activities because of my Asthma so I was apprehensive at first – but I decided to give it a try and it became a life changing experience. I turned around halfway because I was unfit – and it was the realisation that I didn’t get an asthma attack but my fitness levels that prevented me from reaching the summit that made me want to push harder. I started walking every day after work from that day and after two weeks, I returned to the mountain alone, and I summited. I then set my eyes on Mt Kilimanjaro and a year later I was on the roof of Africa.
So you’ve set the Seven Summits Challenge for yourself, how did that happen?
While on the Mt Kilimanjaro expedition, I learnt that a lot of people were there because they were pursuing the Seven Summits. So when I got home I did a bit of research and learnt about this challenge to reach the highest summits in all the 7 continents of our world – and I immediately knew that it would be an awesome adventure. Only, I couldn’t pursue it then because I had been accepted at Columbia University for a Masters Program. With no scholarship or bursary, I parked the mountain dream and moved to New York to complete my studies while working full time to make ends meet. When I completed my studies I returned home after two years and started training and signed up for the Mt Elbrus expedition in Russia.
However, I quickly realised that this is a discriminating sport to participate in due to the high price tag. As I did more research, I learnt that most climbers are sponsored for big expeditions like Mt Everest one, so I started approaching various corporations around South Africa while building my profile as a climber (I climbed a few peaks in the Andes and Kenya). Over three years, 60 plus organisations turned us down, including the Naitonal Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF). I continued my research and learnt about the funding criteria of all the organisations that turned us down, including the NLDTF and resubmitted my proposal to all of them once again. The NLDTF awarded us funding in December 2014 on our third application. They are currently solely funding this expedition.
What is your goal with the Mt Everest expedition?
I want all the girls growing up in rural South Africa to know that all dreams are valid and they have a responsibility to themselves to keep trying. My first exposure to the sport happened when I was 26. There’s no doubt in my mind that had I gotten this exposure earlier in life, my asthma wouldn’t have been such a barrier for the majority of my young life. Our school didn’t have any proper sports ground – just four poles around a dusty field to mark the size of the field. Whenever I tried to participate I’d always end up at a hospital, as the cloud of dust that would erupt aggravated my condition. I found hiking to be non-impact and there’s not enough action to bring about dust so it would have been the best solution, especially given the hiking trails we have around the Pilanesberg, where I grew up.
The NLDTF has allowed us to involve 5 schools from the Bojanala District in the North West province to participate in this adventure. There is a writing competition open and students need to write in and tell us why they’d like to join us for a mountaineering camp scheduled for July 2015. The 25 winning letters will be selected and the students will join us at a camp where they’ll be further assessed for their readiness to join us for Mt Kilimanjaro expedition during October 2015. We sincerely believe that awareness of the sport will increase participants amongst children in the rural villages and thus help transform the sport.
When do you start?
We start our Mt Everest expedition on April 13th and we’ll be attempting the mountain from the Northeast ridge in Tibet. The expedition is expected to end during the last week of May if all goes well, and I’ll be home for a week before I take off to attempt Mt McKinley in North America, which will be followed by the second attempt of Mt Elbrus in Northern Europe. If we are able to secure additional sponsorship we’d like to complete the challenge in one calendar year.
How will you be documenting the trips?
I have always been a keen landscape photographer, I normally use a Canon 7D so will take this up the mountain to capture the journey. We are also creating a documentary film of our journey and when I visited ORMS to brainstorm with Juanne about the various broadcast cameras we can use – we ended up deciding on a Canon EOS C500, Canon EOS 1D C, Canon Cine 50mm Prime Lens and a Atoms Shogun 4K Recorder because they are closer to what I am used to settings-wise. We don’t have a crew on the mountain as one has to be a climber first but I have been practicing and so far so good. We will see if we are able to deal with the challenges of low temperatures and their effect on our camera equipment as we ascend to higher altitude, but I am confident we’ll be able to capture some great footage. All of this will be shared via our social media portals: tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.
Can you tell us a bit about where you are now?
I am in Johannesburg now, due to leave for Nepal on Saturday. I have my confidence back now following the foot injury I incurred while ice climbing in Scotland a few weeks ago. Our training included walking on snow with ice boots and crampons, fixing ropes, surviving avalanches and crevasse falls.
We had a very small window to train so we did to much in a limited amount of time. I also discovered that my flat feet are a disadvantage as they are prone to sprained tendons and over pronation. Luckily I have the best training team and we were able to get the best care available and now my foot is fine. I can still feel a bit of pain but it is manageable and I have an all clear to get on the mountain.
The toughest bit about training over the past few months was doing so without trying to lose my excess weight. With three big expeditions scheduled back to back, we had to anticipate the weight loss on the mountain and ensure that when it does happen – I won’t go to the negative side of the BMI as that would increase my chances of hypothermia. I am anxious, excited and sometimes both at the same time. Funding for mountaineering sport does not come easy so this is an absolute privilege and I hope to make South Africa proud.
This was Part 1 of Katlego’s Seven Summits journey, we are very excited to see the footage and images she’ll be bringing back. We’ll also be doing follow up interviews with her as the expedition progress.