Marine veteran amputee reaches summit of Mount Kilimanjaro: ‘It’s the closest thing to getting to heaven’

Waking up around midnight on Aug. 25, Marine Cpl. Kionte Storey began his final trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the culmination of months of rigorous training that led him to the top of Africa’s highest peak.

With every step he took, the 29-year-old veteran climbed higher than he ever had before.

At 10:45 a.m. local time, Storey made it to the summit, 19,341 feet up – a feat made more outstanding by the fact he achieved it with a prosthetic leg.

A view from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

A view from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Courtesy of Jake Rath)

The view, he said, was simply “amazing.”

“You look down and you are above the clouds,” he told Fox News on Tuesday. “I keep saying it was the closest thing to getting to heaven, and then the sun comes out and you can see everything.”

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The trip to Africa was part of a campaign by the Bob Woodruff and Steven & Alexandra Cohen foundations called #Give2Veterans.

'I keep saying it was the closest thing to getting to heaven.'

— Cpl. Kionte Storey

For the journey, Storey was joined by Jake Rath, 25, of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, who documented the entire trip with a DSLR camera and 360-degree photo.

“The photos don’t do it justice,” he said, adding that seeing the night sky with only miles and miles of stars was breathtaking.

A starry night atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

A starry night atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Courtesy of Jake Rath.)

“To see the mountain in the starlight, thousands of stars, that was an amazing sight to see,” he added. “I was amazed by Africa.”

Storey, who joined the Marines in 2007, lost his right leg below the knee after stepping on an IED while deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. Part of his physical and mental recovery after the injury included training at Paralympic camps and hiking.

In 2013, he became the first African-American and first amputee to reach the summit of Antarctica’s Mount Vinson.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, fixes his prosthetic while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, fixes his prosthetic while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Jake Rath)

“I didn’t know how my body was going to respond [in Africa],” Storey said. “My leg did well all the way up – it did a lot better than I expected.”

Both men said they had to pace themselves while on the climb, not trying to rush and give their bodies time to acclimate. Trekking through the different terrains – from jungle to savannas and finally glacier-covered stone peaks – made for a more interesting climb.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, (left) and Jake Rath, 25, (right) at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, (left) and Jake Rath, 25, (right) at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Jake Rath)

“We both trained a good amount – we were fit. The hardest was the mental challenge,” Rath said. “For each step you take, it’s the highest step you have taken.”

Through #Give2Veterans, the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation is giving away up to $500,000 to help veterans. The foundation will give the Bob Woodruff Foundation $1 every time a social media post is shared using the hashtag. The campaign ends on Sept. 30.

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The California native said the final push to the top of Kilimanjaro was the make-or-break moment for them because it was the point in the journey when they started questioning everything.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, during his recent climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Cpl. Kionte Storey, 29, during his recent climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Jake Rath)

“You start asking yourself 'why' – 'why am I doing this when I could be doing better things?,'” he said. “And then I started to think about the whys and I remembered my friends serving overseas who aren’t alive. I started thinking about amputees and showing them through my experience that anything is possible.”

He added: “For us know that we were doing it for something bigger than ourselves, [we thought], 'we are getting to the summit and that’s it.' That’s how big our reason was for getting to the summit.”