‘Summit all seven continents’ highest mountains’: Cheruiyot Kirui's ultimate ambition

Memorial service for late mountaineer Joshua Cheruiyot Kirui, who died on the summit of Mount Everest two weeks ago was held on June 4, 2024.

Photo credit: Steve Keter | Nation Media Group

Late mountaineer Joshua Cheruiyot Kirui, who died two weeks ago while attempting to scale Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, had dreams of becoming the first Kenyan to achieve the so-called Explorers Grand Slam.

His teammates from the Ultra Runners Kenya Club made the revelation during the funeral service held at Chepterit Primary School Grounds in Chepterit, Nandi County.

To achieve the Explorers Grand Slam or the Adventurers Grand Slam as it is also known, one has to summit all the seven highest mountains on each continent.

Bringing the body down is a risky and costly affair, depending on a number of factors, according to one of the late Kirui's close hiking friends, Limo Kipkemoi.

Photo credit: Cheruiyot Kirui Instagram

You would also have to reach the North and South Poles.

At the funeral service attended by family, neighbours, friends and colleagues of the late Cheruiyot, framed photographs of the late mountaineer on the summits of various mountains were placed along the tents where the mourners sat.

It was a fitting reminder to the people of Chepterit, who turned out in large numbers for the memorial service, that Cheruiyot was not only their son but also a son of the mountains. 

Mountain climbing

On May 17, 2024, Kenyan hiker Cheruiyot Kirui posted this photo on his Instagram page before embarking on the Mt Everest climb.

Photo credit: Cheruiyot Kirui | Instagram

Some of the teachers who taught Cheruiyot at Chepterit Primary School, where his funeral service was held, eulogised the late mountaineer as a humble student.
Although they noted that Cheruiyot was a shy student, they attributed his quest to conquer the mountains to his hardworking nature and desire to excel in whatever he did.

His friend Peter Muhia and a teammate at Ultra Runners Kenya, speaking on behalf of hikers, said that climbing Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, as difficult as it was, was not the banker's ultimate goal.

James Muhia and Cheruiyot Kirui

Photo credit: Pool

Becoming the first Kenyan and one of the few Africans to complete the Explorers GrandSlam was his dream, Mr Muhia revealed.

Having already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, Cheruiyot would have had five more mountains to climb after Everest before embarking on a journey to the opposite ends of the Earth's surface - the North and South Poles.

The North Pole is defined as the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface.

"One day when we were climbing Mount Kenya with Cheruiyot, I asked him what would happen after we climbed Everest. He told me that after conquering the highest mountain in Asia, in January next year (2025), we would climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina (the highest in South America) before planning to climb the other peaks," said Muhia, who was supposed to climb Everest with Cheruiyot before changing his mind.

The summits conquered on the way to the Explorer's GrandSlam include: Mount Everest (Asia), Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Denali - also known as Mount McKinley (North America), Aconcagua (South America), Vinson Massif (Antarctica), Mount Elbrus (Europe), Mount Kosciuszko (Australia) and Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia), considered the only technical rock climb of the expedition.

Mountaineers paid tribute to Cheruiyot as a brave and dedicated athlete whose passion served as an inspiration to those around him.

Explaining to the mourners on behalf of the family the decision to leave Cheruiyot's body on Everest's summit, Muhia said the process of retrieving the body was too dangerous and would probably have cost other lives.

He added that Cheruiyot was an experienced mountaineer and a lover of the mountains and his death was an accident.  

"We climbed Mount Manaslu (Nepal) with Cheruiyot in September last year and we set a record by becoming the first Africans ever to reach the summit of this mountain, which is over 8,000m high, without supplemental oxygen and a guide. I will say that Cheruiyot was a very experienced mountaineer and his love for the mountains was unparalleled. I know that in time, some of us will make it to the summit of Mount Everest and we will see Joshua's body," said Muhia.

Born in 1984 in Kapsabet, Nandi, to Ruth and Wilson Kenduiywo, he was the second child in a family of five. 

His mother confirmed in an earlier interview that Cheruiyot had shown an adventurous spirit at an early age when he could climb tall trees in their compound to the top.

Overwhelmed with emotion, the mother had little to say at the service, except to pay tribute to her son as a "special child".

"When God gave you to me, I gave you back to him for his care and provision. I know he has received you and you belong to him. Amen," her tribute read.

His father eulogised him as a confident and determined person whose passion for mountaineering had made him an icon. 

The late Cheruiyot's colleagues at Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) remembered him as a hardworking team player who inspired others to give their best.

Caroline Wanjeri, the Director of the Mortgage Division at KCB, who read the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paul Russo's message of condolence, described Cheruiyot as a 'Star performer in the bank' whose immense contribution to the growth of the business saw him bank the company's Prestigious Simba award at some point.

Cheruiyot joined the bank in 2009 as a management trainee at the KCB Nandi Hills branch before rising to become senior relationship manager, corporate mortgages at the time of his death.
His professionalism saw him carefully balance his work with his passion for social and outdoor activities, achieving immense success in both. 
Before he was reported missing and his body was finally found on 22 May just metres from the summit of Mount Everest, Cheruiyot had climbed several mountains, including Mount Manaslu (8,163m), Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Ruwenzori, Mount Longonot and Mount Kenya more than 20 times.

He has also completed over 50 marathons and several ultra-marathons (over 50km).