The Nelson Mandela Foundation announced with a “heavy heart” on Monday the death of Gugu Zulu, one of the climbers on the Trek4Mandela team. The South African rally driver lost his life while attempting to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
The climbers participating in the Trek4Mandela were due to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on Monday, to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day. The aim of the climb was to raise awareness to the Caring4Girls sanitary pad distribution program.
Right at the start of the six-day hike, Zulu said he was “so honored to be part of this amazing positive initiative.”
On July 16, Zulu made his second to last post on his Instagram page: “Made it though [through] day2. My wife is doing fabulous, she has even learnt the local language. Am having flu like symptoms and struggling with the mountain but taking it step by step!! Today we managed to see our destination and our camp is literary [literally] above the clouds!! Bring day 3@@ #AdventureCouple #AdventureLiving#Trek4Mandela #Caring4Girls #Thule #Fitbit.”
Made it though day2. My wife is doing fabulous, she has even learnt the local language. Am having flu like symptoms and struggling with the mountain but taking it step by step!! Today we managed to see our destination and our camp is literary above the clouds!! Bring day 3!! #AdventureCouple #AdventureLiving #Trek4Mandela #Caring4Girls #Thule #Fitbit
In the South African rally driver’s last post to Instagram, he said: “Acclimatization day3 – just taking a stroll in the garden high above a blanket of clouds – amazing.”
In a press release, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said, “On behalf of the Board and staff of the Nelson Mandela Foundation we extend our sincere condolences to his wife Letshego Zulu, their daughter Lelethu and the Zulu family on this tragic loss.”
The press release went on to read that the details they had were “sketchy.” They did know Gugu experienced breathing problems on the mountain and that the medical team supporting the Trek4Mandela put Zulu on a drip before descending the mountain. Reportedly while the medical team did everything possible to save his life, Zulu passed away.
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The statement continued, “Gugu was climbing Kilimanjaro with his wife Letshego and we understand that they both descended the mountain together with Richard Mabaso, the project leader and the medical teams. The team was led by experienced mountaineer, Sibusiso Vilane.”
As reported by Timeslive, Zulu complained of suffering from flu-like symptoms on Saturday and posted to his Instagram page that he was “struggling with the mountain.” While he continued walking the next day, it was hours later that he required medical treatment for breathing difficulties.
Although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed, according to climbing experts, Zulu most likely succumbed to altitude sickness, also known as pulmonary edema or acute mountain sickness, which is reportedly a common cause of death on high mountains.
— Eyewitness News (@ewnupdates) July 18, 2016
Justin Lawson, a mountain guide for Climbing ZA, said, “Any such [flu-like] symptoms are a cause for concern whilst at altitude.”
“If you have symptoms of mild AMS (acute mountain sickness)‚ then you should not go any higher for 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms do not improve or get worse‚ then you should descend immediately‚” he said.
Adam Collins, an expedition coordinator for Ultimate Kilimanjaro said Zulu should have turned around sooner.
“However‚ it should be noted that it is very common for climbers to get symptoms associated with acute mountain sickness at some point during their climb‚” Collins added.
“So it is really a question of what degree of acute mountain sickness Zulu experienced‚ and what was done to prevent‚ identify‚ and treat altitude related illnesses‚” he said.
According to Collins, Mount Kilimanjaro is commonly described as being “Everyman’s Everest,” because it is one of seven summits that can be climbed by anyone who is reasonably fit and no technical mountaineering skills are required.
“However‚ at 5895m-tall‚ there is a high probability of developing some degree of acute mountain sickness while on Kilimanjaro,” said Collins, adding, “Therefore it is good practice for those wanting to climb Kilimanjaro to get cleared for high altitude trekking by their doctors.”
Collins went on to say there is always a danger when climbing high mountains and that approximately 10 out of 35,000 climbers die each year on the mountain, primarily due to acute mountain sickness.
Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation said, “I am devastated. I knew him well. I recruited him to climb Kilimanjaro. The last thing he said to me at the airport before he left last week was that he wanted to speak about doing other Mandela Day projects. I feel a huge sense of loss.”
According to Eyewitness News, Zulu’s sister, along with a representative from the Nelson Mandela Foundation were meeting doctors in Tanzania on Monday evening to establish the exact cause of his death. The Foundation is also working to repatriate Gugu Zulu’s remains back home to South Africa.
[Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images]