Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Details of retired teacher who is only Kenyan to summit Mt Everest aged 62

At 62 years old, retired teacher and professional mountaineer James Kagambi became the only Kenyan man to reach the summit of Mt Everest, which stands 8,849 meters above sea level. He made history by achieving this on May 12th, 2012.

What did it take for the man to climb the mountain at 62? James Kagambi, popularly known as K.G., was part of a seven-person Full Circle team, and the only non-American in an all-Black group from the US.

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It took over three years of preparation to reach the summit and a total of 40 days to get to the peak of Everest. The aim of the team was to inspire more people of color to participate in outdoor activities.

True to their vision, Kagambi became an inspiration to many African mountaineers, including the late Joshua Cheruiyot Kirui, after his groundbreaking achievement.


“Climbing Everest was hard, but I was prepared. I did not know that I would make it this far with my old age and my weak knees, but I pushed myself to the next level. Africans should know that this space exists for them too,” he said in an interview after his descent from the Great Himalayan Mountain slopes.

Many see the cost and everything involved in climbing as a risk and wonder why some see it as an engaging sport. The summit of Everest is two-thirds through the Earth’s atmosphere in what is known as the death zone.

Its height is the cruising altitude for jet airliners. Oxygen levels there are extremely low, temperatures are extremely cold, and the weather is extremely unpredictable and dangerous.

So why did 62-year-old K.G. go after this expedition despite all the known risks and no guarantee of survival?

“It’s not about the point reached but how I got there. This was fun…because for me, I didn’t know that I would make it this far with my old age and my weak knees, but I pushed myself to the next level,” he said.

James Kagambi fell in love with the mountains in 1973 when he would watch in awe from his village at midnight as fireworks were lit atop of Mount Kenya as the country celebrated its first decade of independence from British colonial rule.

“That was really unique and I remember saying: ‘I wish I can do that’. But I never thought I would.”

Years later after graduating from teachers’ training college, he attempted to climb Mt. Kenya and make to its summit. He says the first time he stepped on snow, he knew it was special and he would always return to step on it more often.

Retired teacher James Kagambi becomes first Kenyan to get to peak of Mt. Everest

Climbing Mt. Everest isn’t cheap, costing up to Sh. 12.5 million ($95,000). James Kagambi had previously attempted the summit through U.S. sponsors but was dropped weeks before the expedition due to his nationality.

As he watched age catch up with him, he grew doubtful about ever climbing the world’s highest peak. Then, a friend reached out with a solution.

“The hardest part for me was that I expected to work towards going to Everest in terms of training, but I didn’t have the facilities and the finance to do that.”

Word got to Kenyan betting firm, Betika, who immediately struck a sponsorship deal with the aging man. They would cover his training, travel costs and allowances, insurance and operational logistics.

“Mountaineering isn’t cheap…Just getting a climbing perit, food, base camp tents, Sherpa support and supplemental oxygen costs more thanSh.2million,” KG told Nation previously.

As part of his training, James Kagambi climbed Mt. Kenya six times between January and April, followed by an expedition to the Ruwenzori Mountains in Uganda.

The previous year, from July to December, he was in the U.S., carrying 50 kg bags while hiking for months and training students.

“I’m confident of summitting Mount Everest, but the other thing I say is – I will not put my life at risk to do it. I have done enough mountaineering to know my body. I can assess and tell myself it’s time to go back,” he said before climbing Mt. Everest.

James Kagambi summitted Mt. Everest on May 12th, 2022. A successful expedition is not just about reaching the top but also returning safely, which he did by May 14th.

Kagambi also made history as the first black African to summit Denali, North America’s highest peak, and Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes Mountains.

K.G celebrated the life of the late Cheruiyot Kirui, who had tried to follow in his footsteps. Through a social media post, Kagambi expressed his condolences to the family, fellow mountaineers, and the entire Kenyan community.

“It’s a sad day for me! I may not have met him in person but held him in high regard. God gives and God takes.”

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