Radio Personality Gugu Mfuphi On The Lessons Learnt During Her Kilimanjaro Summit — And More

by | Oct 24, 2023 | Wellness

Gugu Mfuphi, a financial journalist and host of the award-winning weekday evening show Kaya Biz on Kaya Fm, recently summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, with an all-female group, as part of the #Trek4Mandela and The Imbumba Foundation’s Caring4Girls initiative. The two organisations have partnered to raise funds that go towards addressing the period poverty still experienced by many girls in South Africa and the world over.

Through #Trek4Mandela, adolescent girls are provided with sanitary towels, puberty education and menstrual hygiene support. Speaking on taking this leap of faith, Gugu says she had to constantly bargain with her fear of not making it back alive by remembering that this was all for a good cause.

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The Kilimanjaro experience, she says, helped her with many lessons that she will be applying to her career and life in general.

“So far, a large influence has been my career within financial journalism. The realm that I choose to operate in is within business finance and economics, but it also spreads across the breadth of women empowerment, how youth can get involved, technology and other ancillary sectors. I’d say, crafting a niche for myself, being deliberate about it, my skills competence, constant curiosity and great networks have stood me in good stead,” she reflects.

A self-confessed fitness enthusiast, one whole swears by high-intensity workouts, Gugu says the organisers encouraged them to maintain a healthy lifestyle ahead of the trip. “Once you’re on the mountain, something as simple as a cold could turn into something more dire. I took lots of ginger shots, primarily to boost my immune system,” says Gugu, who’s always loved hiking and the outdoors.

Below she shares some of the highlights of the trip, lessons learnt and how she survived it all.

Gugu Mfuphi

One Thing I Didn’t Do More Of…

“…was upper strength training. From a fitness point of view, a lot of us actually admitted that we didn’t focus much on our core, shoulders and back. As a result, we sure felt the pressure of carrying the additional weight of our backpacks for that extended period. Typically when you train on the stairs, you’re there for a few hours with perhaps 8kg weights on your back. On the mountain, however, you’re walking for up to eight hours daily while carrying your luggage throughout. Hard lesson learnt here!”

Respect The Basics

“Listen, I’d never appreciated Vaseline as much as I did during the hike. I probably took three tubs of Vaseline with me [chuckles]. Around dusk and on summit night (specifically) there was an icy cold breeze that left a burning sensation on the skin feeling — especially on the the lips and nose. I used it on my hands and face at some point because your ordinary moisturiser just wasn’t cutting it. 

Sunscreen came in handy on the days when the sun was scorching hot, ginger sweets helped ease the altitude-induced nausea. And how can I forget wet wipes? The dusty and windy conditions meant that we constantly had to wipe ourselves down. Wipes also came in handy during pee breaks in the bush, as well as wiping hands. There’s just no looking cute up there, something I had to quickly accept because I’m a such girly girl [chuckles].”

Gugu Mfuphi's hiking essentials

Showing Up For Self

The hike through the rain forest went well, followed by our move from Mandara Camp to Horongo Camp – a 13km distance that took us about eight to 9 hours. This was when altitude sickness started kicking in – we were moving 2100m above sea level to just above 3000m. In as much as we’d taken diamox to aid with the altitude sickness, I still got terribly sick. It started off with a headache. One of the guides said he’d noticed that I’d been a lot quieter than usual. I’d been drinking lots of water, taking ginger sweets and fighting the strong urge to throw up.

Right after the guide had questioned my silence, I started throwing up and continued for the rest of the afternoon until we arrived at the next camp. I tried eating soup with a bit of rice in it, and it all came back at the lunch table. I basically threw up until my stomach was empty. The nausea pill that the doctor gave me also came back up. At this point, the doctor was worried about my sugar levels. I proceed to hike in my weak state, with the guides and the doctor monitoring me closely. The team was really amazing – they wiped my mouth each time I threw up, carried my bag and handed me my walking stick while urging me to forge ahead slowly.

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Meal time was always best

“The guides and porters really made a great effort of serving us cooked meals, which were surprisingly good. I must admit that I’d gone there with no expectations of having decent food but was always pleasantly surprised at dinner time — everything from pasta dishes to stews. I made a mental note to make a concerted effort to cook more back home and have a greater appreciation for food as well as to remember that what I put in my body ultimately nourishes both my body and soul.”

Gugu Mfuphi at the summit

Lessons Abound

“While weak and throwing up, I remember one of the guides saying to me: ‘Time will pass but you need to keep moving’. That’s when I realised that people can help you with everything – they can carry your bags, give you meds, wipe your mouth etc, but unless you put in the effort yourself to do what needs to be done, you’re not going to get anywhere. Even though I wasn’t at my strongest physically, what helped psychologically was one of the guides saying I needed to walk in front. That forced me to recognise that I was leading people and that we needed to get somewhere.

Pole, pole!

One of the phrases the guides often repeated to us by the guides was ‘pole, pole‘, meaning take your time. I was reminded that slow progress is still progress and of the power of showing up. I also wasn’t prepared to go out like that, not on the second day. Thankfully, altitude sickness eventually eased its hold on me. Summit night was particularly draining, and in hindsight, I realised that it was due to the altitude. I remember blinking and feeling like it took me forever to blink – the brain was deprived of oxygen because it had been allocated to other parts of the body, mostly the lungs and the legs because they were doing the bulk of the work.

The oxygen deprivation is what makes people delirious or have a minimised function of the brain. I remember telling one of the guides that I was fine and not out of breath, but just tired. At that point in the hike, the guides spoke to us a lot to ensure that our brains were still functional. Some people start hallucinating or develop pulmonary oedema (water in the lungs) due to oxygen deprivation. I kept thinking: ‘I need to get to the peak of Kilimanjaro’ but had completely forgotten about the descent [chuckles]. No matter how difficult it gets up there, mentally you need to want it for yourself. And the same lesson can be applied to life in general!”

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Nurturing My Body

Back at home, Gugu admits to being the type of girl who can easily choose dessert over a meal. In her world, she shares, a slice of cake and a cup of tea make the world a better place. “Perhaps it’s some type of psychological security because that’s how my grandmother, mom, aunts and I used to connect on weekends,” she shares.

To snack, she loves nuts, which work well as a hiking snack. “Pineapple, grapes and blueberries also top my list of favourite fruit on any day,” she says. Upon returning from Kili, Gugu took some time off before getting back into her wellness routine.

“I generally work out three to four times a week and swear by high intensity workouts — I’m a burpee, jump squat with a dumbbell kind of girl. And I still do a lot of cardio and endurance training which is what we had to do in preparation for Kilimanjaro,” she says.

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