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‘Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top

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Dutchman Wim Hof aka ‘The Iceman’ did it again. He adds another world record to his list of already 20-something achieved records by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in what is supposed to be the “fastest group ascending world’s highest volcano”. In 31 hours and 25 minutes the group of inexperienced climbers led by Hof reached the top of the highest mountain of Africa, almost 6.000 meters above sea level. Will this achievement silence Hof’s critics who said that it would be irresponsible to climb this fast because of the high risk of getting altitude sickness?

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)
Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

The performance of the group has gotten some media attention outside The Netherlands as well. The Mirror reports: “Iceman wins 26th world record as he runs up Mount Kilimanjaro in just 31 hours and 26 minutes“. But let’s have a closer look on what Hof actually achieved this time. The press release on his blog gives the following information:

‘Iceman’ Wim Hof started his climb to the summit (5895 meters) of Kilimanjaro on the 14th of January 2015 with a group of 18 trained people, without any actual climbing experience. He reached the summit of Gilmans point, on the highest mountain in Africa, within 31 hours and 25 minutes. The group walked up to Kibo hut in just shorts and bare torso.

A press release in Dutch which was spread via ANP Pers Support gives a bit more detail (translation by me):

Wim Hof and the group of pioneers started on January 14th at an altitude of 1,800m. From here the marched on to a camp at 3,700m. The stayed there during the night and went on early in the morning to break through to the top at 5,685m (Gilman’s Point). This tempo would normally not have been possible because of the acclimatisation time used to prevent altitude sickness.

But wait a second … Gilman’s Point? That’s not the actual summit of the Kilimanjaro, is it, Wim Hof?

twitter Wim Hof Uhuru Peak Gilman Point

[Me: “Hey, @Iceman_Hof, did you reach ‘only’ to Gilman’s Point, or even to the real summit, Uhuru Peak?”  – He: “@pjvanerp Uhuru Peak is ‘just’ at 1.5 hrs distance. Safety chosen above Ego. Without altitude sickness, 31 hrs. Top achievement by the group]

OK, so Hof admits that they didn’t go further up to the real top of Kilimanjaro after reaching the edge of the crater. Still this achievement deserves some attention, because it is quite remarkable that none of group members suffered from altitude sickness. Although five of them didn’t make it to the ‘top’ because of reasons of which we are only told that they had nothing to do with altitude sickness. So maybe people who love to climb mountains at these altitudes can profit somehow from the breathing techniques Hof is promoting.

The press release and the blog posts (English and Dutch) by Wim Hof are misleading on several points. Noteworthy is that the Dutch version of his blog doesn’t mention the fact that the last part of the climb (from Kibo-hut) was done fully clothed and not in in ‘Wim Hof-outfit’ (barechested, only wearing shorts). The record time of less than 32 hours is set off against the usual time of 5-7 days for a trip which tourists would normally take. However, that’s the time for climbing ánd descending. The total time for Hof’s expedition was about two and half days (this is not mentioned more exactly).

A report in the Tanzanian newspaper Guardian on Sunday gives some other details, which enable us to reconstruct the time schedule Hof used to reach Gilman’s Point on the edge of the crater. They took one of the usual tourist routes (Maragangu route) but marched two normal day stages in one day and skipped the acclimatisation day which is usually included in the schedule at about 4,000m altitude. So they didn’t actually progress faster when walking, but walked longer distances in one go.

There is a drawback to this schedule, however. Normally tourists would start from Kibo hut early in the morning for the final ascent to reach the craters edge around sunrise (which can be spectacular). The group led by Hof started from Horombo hut (much lower, at 3,700m) and only reached the edge late in the afternoon. If they would have continued further to Uhuru Peak (along the edge of the crater), that would have added at least two hours walking for that day. And maybe more important, it would have meant that a big part of the descent back to safety in one of the camps would have taken place in darkness, which is not to be recommended.
From the article we also get that the original plan was to reach the summit in 36 hours, but I fail to figure out how this could have possibly led to a responsible climbing schedule with the quite regular tourist pace they were climbing at. Also arriving at the summit after sunset would not be preferable for some nice photography …

So comparing the different sources on this climb (press release, blog posts, newspaper articles) we are confronted with some inconsistencies and vagueness. Whether they reached the actually summit, walked clothed or barechested, and whether this will be acknowledged as a real Guiness World Record. Hof and his family members, who work with him in the family business, probably don’t have a big interest in clearing this up to full transparency. They already have a track record in spicing up his achievements including an attempt to ‘tidy up’ the Dutch Wikipedia article about Wim Hof. One of Hof’s sons tried to change this article recently so that it would give a more positive view on the evidence for the effectiveness of Hof’s method, without to much respect for the sources given. Of course this was not accepted by the Wikipedia community as can be seen in the discussion on the ‘Talk page’ (in Dutch).

Uhuru Peak, summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Wikimedia Commons)
Uhuru Peak, summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll end this post with a fun question: do you have any idea what the record is for an individual climb (and descent) of Kilimanjaro? I was quite shocked by the answer. It’s the asthonishing time of 6 hours, 42 minutes and 24 seconds! This was set last year by Karl Egloff from Switzerland. And this was up and down to the real summit of the Kilimanjaro: Uhuru Peak.

Update 26/1/2015: a Norwegian website reports on this expedition as well. One of the Dutch members of Hof’s group lives there and he confirms that they had to return when they reached Gilman’s Point because of the falling darkness.

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