On the morning of August 6, 2023, Ognjen Zivkovic reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

But what made this moment historic is that Ognjen is only five years old, making him the youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro and setting a new world record.

Ognjen made the trip with his father Zoran, a doctor. His mother Katarina, a photographer, stayed at home to care for their one-year old baby. Originally from Serbia, the family currently lives in Germany.

According to the family, Ognjen has been interested in mountaineering since he was three years old. Undoubtedly, that love for mountains was influenced by his father Zoran, who has been mountaineering for more than 20 years.

Before Ognjen’s feat, the world record for the youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro was held by Coalton Tanner, a six-year-old from the USA. Zoran’s father believed his son was capable of beating the record given Ognjen’s physical and mental abilities. 

I decided to climb Kilimanjaro with my son because he too had an innate love for mountains from birth. He inherited a lot from me and his mother.

– Zoran Zivkovic

While park rules state that the minimum age for climbing Kilimanjaro is 10 years old, younger climbers are allowed with special permission. Factors for approval include evidence of trekking ability through past performance on other mountains as well as the competence of the guardian(s) who will accompany the child.

To prepare for their adventure, Zoran and Ognjen trained for one year, scaling peaks from the Bavarian mountains, through Norway to the Alps. However, Zoran stated that Ognjen has been hiking since he was three and that they trained harder to prepare for Kilimanjaro’s extreme altitude of 19,341 feet.

“We replaced watching television with hiking on weekends,” Zoran noted.

As a doctor and experienced mountaineer, Zoran carefully took into account every factor that could affect his child’s health condition. Ognjen preacclimatized by sleeping in an altitude tent designed to simulate the low oxygen on the mountain. This helps the body adapt to the hypoxic environment and lowers the chance of encountering altitude sickness.

Ognjen climbed Kilimanjaro using the 6 day Machame route, otherwise known as the Whiskey route.

There were no problems at all, and he was never bored for a single moment. The whole adventure was fun for him.

– Zoran Zivkovic

They reached the top when the sun was rising. Zoran says that it was an incredible moment.

Ognjen is entering first grade this year and, according to his parents, this is now his main priority.

“The mountains will stay aside for now. We certainly have ambitions for something bigger later in life, but let that wait a bit,” said Ognjen’s father.

Since this story was published, we received several eyewitness accounts by tourists and guides who alleged that Ognjen was carried by porters for sections of the uphill and downhill, which called in question whether Ognjen has a legitimate claim as the youngest person to have climbed Kilimanjaro.

Ultimate Kilimanjaro® discussed this matter with Zoran directly, asking if Ognjen had been carried at any point during the ascent.

“No, Ognjen was not carried during the ascent,” he responded. “We took turns carrying his backpack, and on the steep parts of the trail, he would occasionally use our help as support. We didn’t have the capacity to carry him because we had a lot of heavy equipment.”

When asked whether Ognjen carried at any point during the descent, Zoran acknowledged that there was a small section where he received help.

“From Uhuru Peak to Barafu Camp, we made it without any issues, and Ognjen was not carried,” Zoran noted. “From Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate, Ognjen fell several times on the muddy and slippery jungle trail. His boots were filled with mud, and there was a risk of injury. One porter helped him cross a short stretch by carrying him for about 15-20 minutes, no more.”

“During this stretch, we would step aside to let the porters pass. I am confident that many people saw us there, and they may have mistakenly thought that we were carrying him throughout the Machame Route,” he elaborated.

Zoran also stated that there was at least one other young child on Mount Kilimanjaro at the same time that Ognjen climbed. It was possible that people misidentified the other boy as Ognjen.

Ultimate Kilimanjaro® asked Zoran if he had contacted the Guinness Book of World Records for Ognjen’s inclusion. He noted that individulas under the age of 16 are not allowed by be acknowledged by the organization to discourage children in life-threatening situations. The age restriction was verified with Guiness Book of World Records.

“Ognjen was exceptionally physically fit to achieve this incredible feat on his own strength. We minimized risks through thorough preparations. Our experience with the Alps also helped us build the necessary stamina for the ascent and descent from the Uhuru Peak,” Zoran told Ultimate Kilimanjaro®. 

“I strongly refute the claim that Ognjen succeeded because he needed others’ assistance and that this was not his achievement.”

Ultimate Kilimanjaro® would like to thank Zoran for clarifying the allegations surrounding Ognjen’s historic climb. We extend our deepest congratulations to Ognjen’s successful ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.