‘Born out of curiosity’: Cheruiyot Kirui’s great heights

For a man who loved the thrill of extreme outdoor adventures, ascending the world’s highest mountain without supplemental oxygen was an ambition Joshua Cheruiyot Kirui was determined to achieve. However, like Moses in the Bible who saw the Promised Land but never reached it, the 40-year-old banker fell short by 848 meters from conquering the treacherous climb, as described by those who have triumphed over the prestigious mountain.

Prior to this quest, Kirui summited Mt. Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 meters, in September 2023, becoming the first African to do so without supplemental oxygen.

Kirui began his mountaineering journey in 2014 by scaling Mount Kenya. He achieved several outstanding accomplishments, some of which he captured in his book “An Ultramarathon Story of the Tor Des Géants,” written after completing the 356 km marathon in the Italian Alps in September 2019.

Exposed to the outdoor world through his hikes, Kirui undertook multiple speed climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro, including completing an ascent and descent in just 15 hours. He also set course records on the three main routes of Mount Kenya, participating in over 20 ascents. Additionally, Kirui embarked on a six-day expedition of Mt. Ruwenzori and completed several routes in Kenya’s Aberdare Ranges.

Besides mountaineering, Kirui was involved in ultra-marathons. His most recent accomplishment was taking second place in Thailand’s 160 km Chiang Mai Ultra Trail race in August 2022. He also participated in ultra trails in Turkey (Cappadocia), America (No Business 100), and Poland (Beskidy), among others.

On April 18th this year, Cheruiyot shared a post from Ramechhap Airport, indicating they were stuck for two days due to bad weather. Three days later, he updated his followers on the start of his long-anticipated journey to reach the highest point.

Physically, mentally, and financially prepared, Kirui shared his plans in July 2023 to take on this ultimate challenge. “Born out of curiosity; what would it feel like to be above 8000m without supplemental oxygen?” he wrote. His reasons: “the adventure of it, and the curiosity of whether my body can handle the death zone.”

In his last post on May 17th, titled “A Lukewarm Update,” Kirui expressed optimism about achieving his goal despite delays due to harsh, unpredictable weather. However, determined to quench his quest, Kirui was reported missing at Bishop Rock, located at 8,000 meters. He was later found dead. It seemed so close, yet so far away.

Kirui was aware of the risks that come with scaling such altitudes, including sickness, extreme cold, and insufficient oxygen, but his unwavering spirit chose to brave them until his demise. It was a course not for the faint-hearted.

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