June 24, 2024
CHERUIYOT KIRUI: The Seasonal Climber Who Dared Mount Everest Without Oxygen

CHERUIYOT KIRUI: The Seasonal Climber Who Dared Mount Everest Without Oxygen

The climbing community is mourning the death of Joshua Kirui, also known as Cheruiyot, a banker, ultra-runner, and renowned climber

His death was recovered on Thursday, May 23, a few metres below the peak of Mount Everest, where he was aiming to become the first African to ascend without using supplemental oxygen. 

Kirui, whose outstanding accomplishments in mountaineering and marathon running have garnered him global acclaim, died tragically during one of this season’s most dangerous trips.

Officials at the base camp verified that rescuers from Seven Summit Treks discovered his lifeless body. Rescue efforts for Nawang, his Sherpa guide, are still ongoing. 

“Kirui went out of contact at Bishop Rock,” the officials stated. “Nawang last communicated that Kirui refused to return and declined bottled oxygen, displaying abnormal behaviour.”

This mission has proved fatal for several climbers, with a big ice mound breaking off beneath Hillary Step, where Kirui and others were last seen.

CHERUIYOT KIRUI: The Seasonal Climber Who Dared Mount Everest Without Oxygen
CHERUIYOT KIRUI: The Seasonal Climber Who Dared Mount Everest Without Oxygen

This incident demonstrates the severe dangers that climbers confront when attempting to conquer Everest.

Cheruiyot Kirui’s interest in climbing began in 2012, on a work trip to Outward Bound in Loitokitok.

The spectacular vista of Mount Kilimanjaro fueled his passion for trekking, prompting him to officially begin climbing in 2014.

His early climbs were the Aberdares, Mount Kenya, and, finally, Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2014.

Despite a background in basic athletics during high school, Kirui’s intellectual curiosity for geography and history, combined with his growing love in hiking, spurred him into serious mountaineering.

His ultra-running abilities enabled him to finish many hikes from trailhead to summit in a single day, a feat that would normally take days for most hikers.

In 2019, Kirui met James Muhia, an experienced climber and fellow ultra-runner.

They both became brand ambassadors for Salomon Kenya, a sports gear company, which strengthened their bond through shared travels.

By early 2022, Kirui hoped to have climbed an 8,000-meter peak, beginning with Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. However, due to work restrictions, he transferred his concentration to Gasherbrum II, Pakistan.

When logistical issues occurred, the team shifted its focus to Manaslu, which served as a high-altitude training ground for Everest.

In September 2023, Kirui and four mountaineers began their adventure to conquer Manaslu, starting in Kathmandu and journeying to Dharapani.

Their acclimatization cycles brought them to higher camps, despite Kirui’s complaints of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).

His tenacity led him to the summit on September 24 without oxygen canisters or Sherpa aid.

Kirui’s Everest journey in 2024 was painstakingly planned, with extensive preparations for the harsh circumstances he expected to experience. 

A week before the climb, he wrote about his plans for dealing with the cold and high-altitude diseases, displaying his full grasp of the risks.

“Without oxygen, one is much more susceptible to frostbite,” he wrote. “I have heated gloves, mittens, and socks with spare batteries, and medications for HAPE and HACE. Nawang Sherpa carries an emergency bottle of oxygen for critical situations.”

Kirui’s final remarks demonstrated his enthusiasm and dedication.

“Climbing Everest has been done before,” he told the Star. “The difference is climbing without supplemental oxygen. That has not been done by any African. It’s the tough way to climb Mt. Everest.”

Despite his enormous physical, emotional, and financial investment, Kirui’s adventure ended tragically near the summit of Everest.

His last words encapsulate his spirit of adventure and resilience: “This attempt looks like a shot in the dark, but we know where the darkness is, and our shot is aimed there.”

Kirui summited Mt. Manaslu (8,163m) without supplemental oxygen in September 2023, becoming the first African to do so.

His other remarkable climbs include multiple speed ascents of Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895m) when he accomplished the round journey in under 15 hours.

Kirui has also summited Mt. Kenya (5,199m) 20 times, setting course records on all three major routes.

His record time on the Sirimon path from Old Moses to the Lenana Summit is a remarkable 2 hours and 56 minutes.

In addition, he has climbed three consecutive Lenana climbs in under 24 hours. Kirui has also conquered the Rwenzori Mountains, summiting Mt. Stanley (5,109m) in a six-day trek.

His successes extend to the Aberdare Range, where he has completed various routes, including a self-supported south-north traverse.

Mt. Everest, which straddles the boundary between Nepal and Tibet in the Himalayas, is the ultimate challenge for mountaineers worldwide.

On May 12, 2022, James Kagambi became the first Kenyan to summit Everest at 8,849 meters (29,032 ft) as part of the all-black Full Circle Everest team from the United States.

Joshua Kirui’s reputation as a brave mountaineer and ultra-runner will continue to inspire people.

His journey from banker to trailblazing climber exemplifies the incredible heights that can be reached with dedication and determination.

CHERUIYOT KIRUI: The Seasonal Climber Who Dared Mount Everest Without Oxygen

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