In another example of how drunken pub ideas can lead to kickass adventure (see also HITCHHIKING ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE) Sean Conway ascended Kilimanjaro in a penguin suit!


It is not the kind of extreme Kili adventure as the guys from LOW2HIGH Africa or The Iceman who climbed it in his shorts and sandals only but kickass nonetheless.

Conway explains how he came to climbing Kili in a penguin suit….

So there we were, a few good old friends in the pub on a cold winters day. We were all talking about adventures we could do within the next few months. My friend Kiwi Chris was heading back to New Zealand and on the way was going to climb Kilimanjaro. Now I have never been that keen to do Kili. I mean seriously, any mountain that has a route named after a global soft drink doesn’t really inspire my adventurous mind. If  I were to do it I had always thought of doing it with my future son/daughter when they turn 15. Not that they will be in the slightest bit interested no doubt, but one can dream.

I initially passed on the idea but a few glasses of mulled wine later we all had somehow managed to convince each other that it would be fun if we all did it together. So that evening we sent out the emails and within a week it was booked. I was now actually excited to spend a week with my best friends doing some good old fashioned hiking and camping.

There was however something missing. As if it wasn’t hard enough just to climb Kili, I felt the need to push myself even further. After much deliberation over ideas such as climbing it barefooted (Which has been done before apparently – nutter) I decided that I would go in fancy dress. I thought that being in fancy dress might give me the motivation to make the summit. Set your goals high I thought, and if you fall short then you can still take something from it.

So my challenge was set. I was going to climb Kilimanjaro in a Penguin suit.

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3 Months later we all stood below the towering 5998m Uhuru peak and after nearly backing out of the penguin idea I was fully dressed and ready to go. I was slightly nervous. I didn’t know how people would respond? I also felt a little patronising to all those people who had been training for months and had enough gear to climb Everest. I didn’t want them to feel I was devaluing their attempt. I was quite prepared for potentially not making it but was OK with that. I would rather fail in originality than succeed in mediocrity.


We climbed into the bus and straight away the driver laughed and called his friends. This strangely lifted my spirits. I loved making people laugh. It somehow lifted the entire mood of the bus. All our nerves seemed to slowly disappear as more and more people smiled and waved at the silly man in the Penguin Suit. My initial apprehension had now gone. I was glad I had decided to go through with it.


The climb itself was much the same as most hikes. Lots of banter at the beginning and then lots of looking at your shoes as your steps got smaller and smaller the higher you climbed. I was practically naked underneath to start due to the heat but then put more and more layers on underneath the penguin as it got colder. I enjoyed bringing smiles to peoples faces every time they saw me and hopefully gave them some sort of hope. If a guy in a Penguin Suit can do it then so could they. My one continuous problem were the yellow feet that were covering my shoes. These soon got wet and muddy which meant they kept getting caught on rocks which would make me loose balance on some pretty steep climbs. They soon looked all tattered. This would have been a great excuse to take them off but I had committed to wearing them the whole way and wasn’t going to back out now. No matter how hard it got.

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The final day was the hardest. The altitude was playing havoc with all our bodies and it took us 7 hours to walk the last 6km. My penguin suit however came into its own here. With the extra layer of insulation I was actually quite warm. Well no! I was still cold but not as cold as the others. We reached the summit at 7.30am as the sun rose above the misty Tanzanian landscape. It was strangely emotional. After a few photos and congratulations we all walked back down the mountain giving encouragement to others still on their way up.

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I had done it. I had climbed Kilimanjaro in a Penguin Suit and survived. I hopefully helped a few people get to the top and still remember all the smiles and laughs I got all the way up. These are the memories that will stay will me forever.

I challenge you to try something out of the ordinary. Not for fame, or recognition, but to prove to yourself that you can do it.

That indeed is the right adventure spirit. At least tell us about your ‘out of the ordinary’ adventure once you’re underway. We will cover you on this site!