UPDATE AUGUST 2023: Due to the significant doubts surrounding this expedition, we have chosen not to recognise Ognen Živković’s climb as the record.
On 6 August 2023 the record for the youngest person to have climbed Kilimanjaro appeared to have been broken. Five-year-old Ognjen Živković from Serbia took seven days to complete his trek, taking the Machame Route to the summit.
Unfortunately, several eyewitnesses got in touch with us, independently, and before I’d even written about his climb, to tell me of the disturbing sight they’d seen near the summit of Kili of a young child being carried down the slopes, semi-conscious, on the back of a porter.
As any mountaineer will tell you, to successfully climb a mountain you need to a) do it under your own steam; and b) climb both up and down.
And so, due to the significant doubts surrounding this expedition, we have chosen not to recognise Ognen’s climb as the record.
And so we still say that Coaltan Tanner, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the US, is the youngest person ever to climb Kilimanjaro.
Coaltan reached the summit on 22 October 2018 at 11.40am.
He was born on September 18th, 2012, meaning he was just six years, one month and a few days when he made it to Uhuru Peak.
We first heard about Coaltan’s desire to reach the summit of Africa’s Highest Mountain back in January 2018, when his mum, Caitlyn, contacted us seeking help for her son’s climb, and to help her negotiate the tricky red tape that surrounds any such attempt. (For those of you who don’t know, the legal minimum age for climbing Kilimanjaro is ten, so special permission has to be sought from the park authorities, KINAPA, before any such climb can take place.) The following extract from the original email that she sent to us will give you some idea of why they were so keen for their son to climb:
“Coaltan found out about extreme mountain climbing from an explorer book that he got for Christmas last year and frequently asks us to read to him before bedtime. It’s called “How to be a World Explorer, your all-terrain training manual”. Page 82 is about climbing Mount Everest. After we told him we are not going to take him to Mount Everest any time soon, he wanted to know what other high mountains he could climb…and thus started his infatuation with climbing Kilimanjaro.”
It appears that Coaltan’s talent for trekking emerged at an early age, as this next extract makes clear:
“We didn’t realise Coaltan had the stamina or will to climb up mountains until we accidentally took him on an 8 mile, very steep hike up the Sandia Mountains to see an old plane crash site last summer. We were under the impression that it was only a 4-mile hike, but quickly realised that it was 4 miles one way, 8 miles round trip. He was only 4 years old at the time and we periodically asked him if he wanted to quit and head down, but he was determined to get to the crash and finish the hike. Since he had enough snacks and water, he did fine and we were completely shocked that he was able and willing to hike that far with such ease.”
There are, of course, plenty of people who will be horrified at the thought of someone taking such a young child up to the summit of Kilimanjaro. But his mother, a pharmacist back in New Mexico, and his engineer father, who use to be a marine, took every precaution. This included having a doctor clear Coaltan for the climb. Coaltan also went on a couple of 5-7 day treks, hiking and camping at 13,000ft, before he’d even set foot in Tanzania.
This was actually Coaltan’s second attempt at the summit. A first, back in July, was aborted when the local guides, fearing that they would have their licences taken away, refused to take him to the summit. So a second attempt was arranged in October and my friend (and brilliant guide), Nick Basso, was able to successfully take him to the summit with the Majestic trekking company.
Though there have been younger children who have stood at the summit of Kilimanjaro, they have been carried at least part of the way by guides/porters rather than making their way up the mountain under their own steam.
Coaltan’s achievement breaks one of the longest-held Kilimanjaro records – and also clears up any doubt as to who the actual record-holder is. Back in 2008, Keats Boyd, from Los Angeles, climbed to the top aged seven. His record stood until January this year, when Cash Callahan, also aged seven, managed the same feat. Unfortunately, Keats Boyd had become pretty much untraceable and so without knowing his exact birth date we could never ascertain who, exactly, was the youngest of them all. Thankfully, with Coaltan now reaching the summit we have a new – and undisputed – record holder!
You can watch a video of Coaltan’s climb here.
Congratulations to everyone involved!