Sunday, 6 August 2023. A day, Ognjen, Zoran, Musa and Wilson will never forget. Why? Because on this day they reached the summit of Africa’s highest mountain: the world-famous Kilimanjaro.
Okay, this doesn’t sound like such an outstanding feat. After all, many hikers from all around the world do this every day. This time, things are a little bit different though: Ognjen is only five years old. Told you… it’s a sensation!
By reaching the peak of the Roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro’s nickname, Ognjen has not only fulfilled his dream, but he also set a new world record as the youngest person ever to reach the summit of the 5,895 m high mountain.
Of course, he didn’t manage it just like that. It’s the result of thorough preparation, from acclimatization and hikes to various European summits up to red tape.
And since he is only five years old, he couldn’t have done it by himself.
Five-year-old Ognjen Žitkovic from Serbia has long dreamed about climbing the Kilimanjaro. All he wanted was to reach the summit and to sit in front of the famous sign at Uhuru peak. His parents were amazed by his passion and so they started to support his ambitious wish.
With all his energy and motivation daily hikes of 20km were soon an easy thing to do. To prepare for the famous Kili climb, they hiked up to mountains like the Sass Pordoi (2,950 m) and the Piz Boe (3,152 m) in South Tyrol. Each picture they took at the top pushed their motivation for their next adventure – it became clear, that the dream of reaching Uhuru peak would soon become reality.
On each of their tours they were not only accompanied by their passion, but also by the famous heavy metal band Sabaton from Sweden. Not physically, of course, but by their spirit or rather their music. Ognjen is a big fan of the band and their tunes and guitar riffs keep pushing him to new heights, literally. When the band learned about Ognjen’s plan, they were stunned by his bravery and his adventures which is why they started to fully support him.
The route to Kilimanjaro
The decision had been made: Ognjen and Zoran, his father, would climb the Kilimanjaro in 2023. So they started searching for a tour operator that would support them in their endeavor and they found Tanzania Specialist. After we saw their vigour and how well they had prepared for this tour, we just had to get on board. To make Ognjen’s dream happen, we requested permission to the Kilimanjaro National Park authorities (KINAPA) for this special request to break the world record, which has been approved.
From the beginning we stayed in close contact and Zoran read all our travel guides and necessary information, tips and recommendations he got from us for this trip. After talking to our guides, we decided to take the Machame route to reach the summit – one of the most beautiful climbing routes in the world (it even has a reward to prove it).
Besides all the necessary vaccinations, visas, insurances, flight tickets and the necessary equipment, he also got a written approval by Ognjen’s mother – to be on the safe side.
Since the biggest challenge of a Kilimanjaro climb is probably the environment, they had to prepare their body for high altitude and avoid the undesirable effects of altitude sickness. They decided to acclimatise naturally during two weeks before the actual ascent. In addition, they also successfully carried out artificial acclimatisation of 6,500 m and slept in a shelter simulating conditions of an altitude of up to 5,000 m.
And Ognjen? He mastered each and every one of these challenges. He was ready to go.
The summit within their reach
Finally, the day came to embark on a journey, Ognjen and Zoran had been working towards for a long time. One of our most trusted Kilimanjaro guides, Musa, welcomed them together with our porters and Wilson, the assistant guide. We spoke to Musa after their descent, which is why we can tell you exactly how everything went. So buckle up, this is going to be an exciting ride!
At Machame Gate, their starting point, they already faced the first problem: children aren’t allowed on this route which is why more approvals were necessary. Since everyone was well prepared, this was resolved quickly, but pushed back their start by some time.
Nevertheless, they could start their hike with the first kilometers leading them through a beautiful undisturbed natural rainforest to the Machame Camp where they stayed for the night.
On day 2 they only had to hike for five kilometers, which all of them managed well. Even though that part of the route is a little steeper than the previous one, they arrived at the Shira Camp early. Here it was time to relax, eat and drink, set up their tents and get a good night sleep under the African starry sky.
Day 3 was more demanding, since they had to walk twice the distance compared to the previous day. Ognjen didn’t mind, though, and started hiking – probably to the rhythm of his favorite Sabaton song (just a guess…). From Shira they walked to the famous Lava Tower and since this hike takes them to quite some altitude, it was time to take a break and have lunch together. Everyone was in a good mood and enjoyed delicious food right next to this stunning natural wonder. After lunch they continued hiking to the Barranco Camp which is located just next to the impressive, huge and steep Barranco Wall.
With many ascents and descents, the route on day 4 is just as challenging as the previous one. Ognjen’s motivation level was high as ever, but it was good that the adults watched out for some tricky spots. With breathtaking views on the Kibo volcano and Mount Meru in the distance, they walked from the Barranco Camp to the Barafu Camp, where they relaxed, had some nice warming food and slept… but not for long.
At midnight the alarm clocks rang since it was time to start their last ascent. It was cold and windy, but Ognjen couldn’t have been in a better mood. With a lot of energy, excitement and the spirit of Sabaton he managed this last long stretch to Uhuru Peak. Since this is the most challenging part, our guides kept a close eye on him though – just as they do with all the other hikers, so that they are physically and mentally well.
After a few hours, they saw the sign everyone wants to reach:
CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE NOW AT UHURU PEAK TANZANIA 5895M AMSL
Wrapped in their warm jackets, their smiling faces warmed by the rising sun, Ognjen, Zoran and the guides took the picture, which will always take them back to this special moment.
After a few hours at the top – and a little we-are-on-the-roof-of-africa-party – they started their descent to Mweka Gate. At an altitude of around 3,000 m they took a little break, had some food and enjoyed the last few hours they’d have as the extraordinary group as they were. Not just Ognjen and Zoran were beyond the moon but also all of our guides.
Ognjen couldn’t have been happier and Zoran couldn’t have been prouder of what his five-year-old son managed to do that day. He doesn’t only predict Ognjen a bright future as a mountaineer, but also as a heavy metal warrior guarding Sabaton’s legacy.
Ognjen Žitkovic – five years old, a hero, and a world record holder.