Spencer West top of Kilimanjaro

Could this be the hardest climb in the world?

Mt Kilimanjaro: 5,895-m (19,341 ft)

The world’s highest free-standing mountain. Africa’s highest point…. we all know the facts, and it is a tough mountain, but is it the hardest? No. But it could be if you are a man who has no legs and who has decided that today is his day to climb Kili.

That man is 31-year old Canadian Spencer West. He has climbed Kili using only his hands. Ok ok…. he used a wheelchair where terrain allowed, but as you can imagine, this was not often. He walked with his hands for 80% of the journey.

Spencer West lost his legs when he was just 5 years old. He was born with sacral agenesis, a genetic disorder that left his lower spine poorly developed and his legs permanently crossed and had his legs removed below the knees at the age of three and, two-years-later, had them amputated to below his pelvis. He was advised that he would never be able to be a participating member of public. In fact,  “Doctors told us when he was a baby that he would never do much with his life,” said his mother, Tonette, from Wyoming, where West grew up. “They said he should stick to activities like reading and writing.”

Pretty harsh…

But West’s parents didn’t let that sort of talk filter down to their boy. That, coupled with a strong stubborn streak he inherited from his father, allowed him to flourish. He moves his 2-foot-7 body with ease, using his hands as feet.

But perhaps it was a challenge a young boy needed to hear. He determined to defy the doctors and to be very much a member of the functioning public.

He trained for a year to scale the tallest peak in Africa and set off on June 12 with best friends David Johnson and Alex Meers. Mount Kilimanjaro has a unique advantage to other mountains – it can be hiked. An easier task for somebody with normally functioning legs, but West climbed hand over hand, steadily, along the rocky path.

It took them 7 days to hike through Tanzania’s jungles, snowfields and deserts to reach the final approach on Sunday and rose the following morning for the ascent to Uhuru Peak. “It was bittersweet and incredible to finally make it after all the hardships we went through to get there,” said West, 31, on a satellite phone from Kibo Hut, about 1,000 metres from the summit. “I would say it was humbling, beautifully overwhelming.”

They summitted at 11.15am after a exhausting seven hour hike.

This was an incredible achievement. Only 50% of able-bodied people who try to climb Kili reach the summit. Much of the danger is due to altitude sickness which both West’s two friends suffered from. They had terrible headaches, nausea and fatigue. West was fine, albeit drained. On reaching the summit he said “The bleeding fingers and blisters were all worth it.”

There were moments when they weren’t sure whether they’d reach the summit or not. “But that’s why the three of us came, to help each other. We leaned on each other, literally, to get to the top.”

In achieving the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Spencer West raised $500,000 (£300,000) for charity. His ultimate aim is to raise $750,000 — not far to go… His aim is twofold: to inspire others to achieve the impossible, a campaign called Redefine Possible and to build a clean water program for nearly 20,000 Kenyans with Free the Children.

Now that’s inspirational… a lesson that we could all do well to learn.


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