Jace King, 11, successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and he’s one of the youngest to ever do it.
Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to circumnavigate the world in the 16th century. Jace Magellan King, 11, is already following in his middle namesake’s footsteps.
“I lost track of the countries I’ve been to after seven,” King said.
On July 10, King added to his travel log when he became one of the youngest people to successfully summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
On the day of the summit, King and his parents, Michael Williams and Jamene Pinnow, woke up at 11 p.m. and left at midnight to begin their six-hour climb in freezing temperatures to the top. At one point on the climb, it was so windy King and his family had to stand sideways and hold onto their poles to continue their trek. Their path was only the length of a sidewalk, and on both sides of it, the mountain steeply sloped down.
When King finally reached the summit, he did the splits to celebrate.
“When I saw the summit at Stella Point, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m there,’” King said. “Before that, I’m hiking and I’m hiking, and it seems like it won’t ever end. It felt good to finally see that.”
His Kilimanjaro journey began in December, when King and his parents decided to travel to the African country and climb the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Through Boy Scouts, King has had extensive experience camping and hiking, so he was not nervous for the climb.
The family’s training consisted of walking two to three miles per day to become accustomed to their new hiking boots.
“It’s hard to train for a mountain when we’re in Florida,” Pinnow said. “It’s so flat.”
The family left for Tanzania June 30 and began the climb July 3. Through the African Walking Company, they took the Lemosho/Shira hybrid route, which approaches the mountain from the west. The route is known for its high success rate and scenic views, and the family took a private climb with porters who guided them and carried their belongings.
The second day of the eight-day summit proved the most challenging for King. The climb that day was six hours and 2,000 meters of ascent, but they covered longer distance due to the constant change in sloping.
They finally reached the Shira base camp, which was the first time they saw the summit.
“Before I left, I saw a picture of the peak from Shira,” King said. “When I saw it, I thought it was so cool. I’m 8,000 miles from where I was, and I’m seeing this same picture in person.”
When the family reached the Barranco part of the trek, they had to hike on sidewalk-wide pathway with a 300-foot drop. This proved to be King's favorite part of the trip, not because he enjoyed the adrenaline rush, but because he was able to laugh at his dad.
“Seeing my dad’s face when he saw a cliff really close at the Barranco Camp was funny,” King said. “He turned around and realized he was three feet from the edge. My dad literally panicked. I was scared, but this made it funny.”
The day the family reached the summit was the longest day of climbing, with 10 hours total of both ascent and descent, hiking in the middle of a cloud in freezing temperatures. It is common for hikers' zippers and tents to freeze at this high altitude.
On the final ascent, they were given oxygen to use for the first time after practicing several times in lower altitudes. Many people at this point start to hallucinate due to the lack of sleep and oxygen.
When they finally reached the 19,341-foot summit at 7:30 a.m. July 10, King became one of the youngest people to accomplish the feat. The family's guide has done the climb 400 times, and King is only the second 11-year-old he witnessed summit the mountain. The minimum age to climb Kilimanjaro is 10.
“No kids under 12 usually make it up,” King said. “I’m proud but more modest. I want to be a normal kid who climbed to the top. It’s a reminder I can do a lot of things if I did this. It’s an achievement. People were high-fiving me when I was coming down.”
King dedicated his hike to black cat adoption awareness to pay homage to his three black cats. He hoped his climb and the blog he created about his trek would allow others to better appreciate black cats.
“A lot of people think black cats are mean and scary,” King said. “But they’re just like any other cat and are looking for a home.”
The family also bought seven pairs of boots, socks, two pairs of gloves, three jackets and several hats to donate to their mountain porters, who carried all of their items the entire climb, including the oxygen tanks.
“They are working this job and then going home to their family for a day before climbing again,” Pinnow said. “They should spend their money on their families, not on the items they need to work. They ask that if we have room, we come with donations.”
When he’s not traveling the world, King enjoys Boy Scouts and is a black belt in taekwondo. He will be in the sixth grade at Pine View School in the fall.
The 21st-century explorer hopes to visit all seven continents and aspires to stay in an ice hotel, see Ayers Rock in Australia, visit Antarctica and climb Mount McKinley.
“We gave him the middle name of Magellan because we said, 'This kid is going to travel,”' Pinnow said. “If you just stay in one place, that’s all you know. It gives you perspective, and we’ve tried to give him that at a young age.”