The man who climbed Kilimanjaro without legs

The man who climbed Kilimanjaro without legs

Category Trekker Space Transformation Stories

By Vaibhav Chauhan


For most people, climbing any sort of a hill seems like a daunting task. Imagine having to do it without legs. In June 2012, a 31-year-old man from Canada climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa, on his bare hands and a wheelchair. Spencer West trained for over a year, to be able to get to the Roof of Africa. What he learned from his trek to Kilimanjaro was something that changed his outlook towards life.

Spencer West was born with a genetic disorder that took his legs at a tender age of five, but that didn’t stop him from accomplishing the unthinkable. There was only one time Spencer wished he had legs – while approaching the summit of Kilimanjaro, when two of his friends were struck with symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. It was during this moment Spencer wished he could be of help to his friends. Spencer recalled that moment in one of his motivational talks, “For the first time in my entire life, I wish I had legs to carry my friends.” Though Spencer was not able to that, he kept talking to his friends, pushing them to go the distance.

Spencer was able to reach the summit after seven days of laborious slogging through jungles, snowfields and isolated stretches. Spencer vividly talks about a few things he learned from his climb to Kilimanjaro. First thing he mentions is, “Sometimes, you have to let go of control and let someone else help you achieve your goal.” Spencer credits his team mates and staff for helping him realize his dream. “When I was tired, they tied me in a blanket and carried me on their backs,” Spencer states. He walked on his hands 80 per cent of the time and travelled the remainder in his wheelchair. When he reached the summit, a sense of accomplishment overwhelmed him. Spencer West states that climbing Kilamanjaro was like reliving his life-long struggle with feelings of inadequacy and being left out from leading a normal life.

So what are the learnings one can take from this?

1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Spencer’s accomplishment reinstates this age old saying firmly. He climbed Mt Kilimanjaro without legs! He faced difficulties, walked on his hands for 80 per cent of his time. But nothing could make him give up. And then, Spencer created history.

2. “Sometimes you have to let go of control and let someone else help you achieve your goals”

Spencer came with a year long extensive physical and mental preparation to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. His initial thoughts were to reach the summit with minimal or no help. Those seven days of laborious climb to the summit humbled him. He learned one should not shy away from asking for help while trekking. Teamwork and helping out is the quintessential aspect of trekking.

3. Smiling through tough times helps

It was not an easy climb to the top of Kilimanjaro but Spencer never let his pains show. He kept smiling, constantly talking to his team mates and keeping the mood jolly. It is so better when you smile and enjoy the moment while trekking. Everyone near you will feel the enthusiasm as you spread the happiness. This is guaranteed to have a very positive impact with your team mates.

4. Assume nothing and try everything

On many occasions we are prisoners of our own assumptions. Spencer is a living reminder of how one person can turn around adversity and redefine possibilities in life. That the only impediment stopping from realizing your goals is you. The strongest impression one gets while trekking is to stop assuming things and just head out outdoors and figure things for yourself.

Picture and interview excerpts, courtesy : The Daily Beast Youtube Channel & Spencer West Twitter page

To register for Kilimanjaro trek go to The Kilimanjaro Trek Guide


Why age is not a barrier for trekking in the mountains?

Vaibhav Chauhan

About the author

Vaibhav was associated with Indiahikes as a Writer & Chief Explorer. He is an avid traveler with a passion for trekking in Indian Himalayas. With his roots in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, the love for the mountains is in his blood. When not travelling he likes to spend time interacting with like-minded trek enthusiasts and read books on travel and mountaineering.