Tom Belz: Conquering Kilimanjaro with One Leg

Mammut Ambassador Tom Belz hiking Kilimanjaro

In August 2018, Mam­mut Brand Ambas­sador Tom Belz accom­plished some­thing amaz­ing. The 31-year-old, who lost a leg to bone can­cer as a child, sum­mit­ed Kil­i­man­jaro using crutches.

There’s a lot behind Belz mas­sive accom­plish­ment, includ­ing a train­ing tour in the Swiss Alps, a sup­port team, and a strong dri­ve to over­come the lim­i­ta­tions he was told were impos­si­ble to over­come. Despite the odds and an ardu­ous sev­en-day ascent, Belz stood at the top of Kil­i­man­jaro on August 9, 2018.

We talked to Belz about his dri­ve, his love for adven­ture, and the biggest climb of his life.

THE CLYMB: Do you have a clear mem­o­ry of the surgery and ampu­ta­tion when you were eight years old? How did the months after the ther­a­py look like?

TOM BELZ: When I woke up from the 3.5‑hour oper­a­tion, my whole body burned. I was incred­i­bly thirsty and the taste of the anes­thet­ic in my mouth. A nurse moist­ened the inside of my mouth with cot­ton swabs. Short­ly after, my par­ents arrived. I removed the blan­ket so we could look at the miss­ing leg togeth­er. “Mom, Dad .. now the bad can­cer is final­ly gone!” After that, I had to learn every­thing again. Sit­ting, stand­ing, walk­ing, and besides that, I had to con­tin­ue with chemotherapy.

CLYMB: Did you have an active child­hood after you com­plet­ed phys­i­cal ther­a­py, or did your sport and adven­ture pur­suits start much later?

TB: I’ve spent most of my youth try­ing to fig­ure out who I am. It was hard to prove that I was a nor­mal boy and that I could do every­thing just like oth­er kids. Thanks to ath­let­ic activ­i­ty, I could active­ly show what I am capa­ble of. The more I tried out dif­fer­ent sports, the big­ger was my ambi­tion to push myself to high­er lim­its. Bit by bit, small­er actions became big­ger and bigger.

CLYMB: What inspired you to try moun­tain climbing?

TB: First, you should say good­bye to the idea that I’m a clas­sic moun­taineer. I do it my own way. A lit­tle näiveté, a lit­tle courage, and, on top of it, a lot of joy in the action itself. Final­ly, I was inspired to cre­ate some­thing that many peo­ple only dream of. I’m not a dream­er, I’m a doer—so why wait? At some point, time is over. I am some­one who lives in the moment, and I want to explore life to the fullest.

CLYMB: Can you tell us about your train­ing at the Äusseres Bar­rhorn in the Swiss Alps? 

TB: In gen­er­al, there was no real train­ing. Sim­i­lar to the Kil­i­man­jaro ascent, I was men­tal­ly far ahead of the climb. In my imag­i­na­tion, I’ve gone much fur­ther than I imag­ined at the present time. A clear advan­tage was, how­ev­er, that I had 23 years of expe­ri­ence with crutches.

Mammut Ambassador Tom Belz hiking Kilimanjaro

CLYMB: Why did you decide to climb Kil­i­man­jaro? Why this par­tic­u­lar moun­tain? What did the chal­lenge mean to you?

TB: Africa has always appealed to me. The Lion King was one of my favorite movies when I was a young boy; a few years lat­er, when I watched a doc­u­men­tary about Africa and the Kil­i­man­jaro with my dad, the idea was born. When I think about reduc­ing my life to some­thing that is total­ly irrel­e­vant in my opin­ion, then some­thing new builds up. Every­thing that builds up grows up. That’s why I want­ed to prove not only to myself but to every­one else that it’s pos­si­ble to do such a trip. Do what you can’t and be what you can!

CLYMB: Did you have any anx­i­eties before the climb?

TB: Fear is some­thing very impor­tant to me. It’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty to grow beyond your­self. It reminds me that I am alive and that I’m doing some­thing that brings me out of my com­fort zone. I was afraid to fail, afraid of not reach­ing my goal, the sum­mit of the high­est moun­tain in Africa.

CLYMB: Your trip to Kil­i­man­jaro was com­plete­ly filmed by a team. Can you tell us what that expe­ri­ence was like?

TB: In the begin­ning, it was extreme­ly weird to wake up in the morn­ing and be sur­round­ed by sev­er­al cam­eras all day long. Every­thing is filmed—the good days, as well as the not so good ones. At some point, though, the cam­era became a means to an end for me. I saw the cam­era as a friend and this friend was meant to expe­ri­ence my sto­ry hon­est­ly and authen­ti­cal­ly. I imag­ined what it would be like for the eight-year-old Tom Belz to see these shots.

CLYMB: Did you encounter chal­lenges that you did­n’t expect dur­ing the actu­al ascent, or did you feel well pre­pared for them? What was the hard­est part of the adventure?

TB: As a rule, you have to walk and drink a lot. If you are not affect­ed by alti­tude sick­ness, you actu­al­ly have a good chance of reach­ing the sum­mit. But the truth is that I was not ready to expose my body to such stress. The high­er we got, the hard­er it became to breathe. If you can’t find the right breath­ing rhythm, you have a big prob­lem. You get cold and you lose your ori­en­ta­tion. At one point, we start­ed to sing, which final­ly moti­vat­ed me and calmed me down.

The most dif­fi­cult part, how­ev­er, was the sum­mit climb. We left at 11:30 pm and walked six hours through the cold and dark night. In con­trast to the pre­vi­ous stages, it was so cold at night that I could­n’t hold my crutch­es. I kept break­ing into the ice or slip­ping. My drink was frozen, so I drank too lit­tle. But in the end, it was def­i­nite­ly worth it. I con­quered Kil­i­man­jaro and ful­filled a child­hood dream.

Mammut Ambassador Tom Belz hiking Kilimanjaro

CLYMB: Where do you want to go next?

TB: The world is a huge play­ground. There are a lot of nice places I still want to see, but cur­rent­ly, there are no con­crete plans. Thanks to my Swiss friends from Mam­mut, all doors are open to me to imple­ment fur­ther projects and dreams. Often, actions and projects arise only when you meet cer­tain peo­ple in your life, so I’m always look­ing for­ward to find­ing new crazy friends!