Magnus Cort’s Off-Season Hike Up Kilimanjaro

The Dane shares his off-season adventure

February 8, 2022

Magnus Cort had not been on a family holiday in over ten years. His last was a canoe camping trip to Sweden when he was a teenager.

That was how his mum and dad liked to spend their summers—paddling remote lakes and rivers and sleeping in tents by the shore. Magnus loved those trips. Ever since he was a boy, he has loved being outdoors. Back home on Bornholm, the Danish island in the Baltic sea where he was born and raised, he would roam the dunes and rocky cliffs by the coast and explore the woods inland. By his early teens, he was doing so by bike. Cycling fed his yearning for adventure—and competition. Racing soon became his obsession.

“I know my sister got tired of it during the last years that I was living at home,” Magnus says. “For me, at that point, it was just my hobby, but it took all of my time. We would be sitting at the dinner table and all I could talk about was bike parts. My dad was very happy to talk about cycling too, so she got a bit tired of it all.”

By 16, Magnus had moved to the Danish mainland to try to turn pro and left his mum and dad and his younger sister and baby brother behind.

Magnus’s family watched as he rose through the ranks. Early successes at the Tour of Denmark, where he beat World Tour pros while racing for a local team, led to grand tour victories. Now, Magnus is one of cycling’s most respected professionals—a ruthless finisher who can climb and time trial. His rivals know he can win on almost any terrain and will push himself to insane lengths when he sees an uncrossed finish line.

“I don’t know if there is a secret, but for sure there is something,” he says. “When I get close to the finish and I can smell it and see it, I can push that little bit extra out, and I think that makes the difference between being second or third and winning.”

Still, Magnus’s family knows that he sometimes likes to get away from racing. When he has a day off in the winter, Magnus will go into the mountains near his home in Andorra on his skis and just enjoy being in the natural world. He’ll come home to Bornholm for a couple of weeks at Christmas and go on long hikes across the island, just as he did as a boy.

“I like to take the competition element out of it and relax out there,” he says. “I think that is important.”

A few years ago, the Corts got the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro. Hiking up Africa’s highest mountain would be an adventure that they could do together. The dormant volcano rises from the bushland of Tanzania to a snowy crater 5,895 metres above sea level, but is not a technical climb. It requires fitness and getting used to the altitude, but no special mountaineering skills. Magnus’s brother, who was born when Magnus was 11, was now old enough to do it. His sister, who is two years younger than Magnus, was keen. And Magnus’s mum and dad weren’t getting any younger. They didn’t know how many more great adventures they might get to do as a family. This would be the first in over a decade. Magnus just had to find the time.

Since he turned pro when he was 21, Magnus has hardly had more than a few weeks off from training and racing per year. The cycling season ends in October and pros need to begin preparing for the next one by the end of November. That hardly leaves much time for visits to Bornholm, let alone a trip to Africa for a hike up the continent’s highest mountain.

The Corts first planned to go during Magnus’s off-season last year. COVID got in the way of that, and they had to cancel. International travel was out of the question. So, this November, with borders opened up, Magnus and his family made the most of their chance and flew to Tanzania.

They arrived in a hot, misty jungle. At the base of Kilimanjaro, monkeys were running all over their camp. Over the next eight days, Magnus and his family climbed with a group of Danes through rainforest, heather, and alpine desert towards the glaciers that surround the summit of the great peak.

Magnus soon fell into a familiar routine. The hike was not so different from stage racing. The Corts would get up early and eat breakfast together before packing their things and getting off to a brisk start, and then be on the move outside for most of the day. By dinnertime, they were tired and very hungry. And then they were ready to climb into their tents and go to sleep, so they could do it all again the next day.

For Magnus’s brother, who is still in high school, and his sister, who studies sustainable design, the routine was much less familiar. They had to push through some difficult moments and show the kind of physical toughness that their older brother is famous for, especially higher up the mountain, where the air is very thin. They managed to make it to the summit. So did Magnus’s mum and dad!

From the top, Magnus and his family were able to watch the sunrise over a sea of clouds together. Then, they descended and spent a couple of days on safari.

For Magnus, it was a prize on par with his greatest wins.

Share this story