In general, ice climbing is no easy feat, but try doing it at 5,895 meters (or 19,341 feet) above sea level where just breathing can be a task. Last year, ice climbing legend Will Gadd, who was recently named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year with fellow paraglider Gavin McClurg, traveled to the highest point of Africa to climb some of the last remaining ice on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Action adventure and extreme sport photographer Christian Pondella captured the awe-inspiring moment.

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Once covered entirely with ice, the 20-square kilometer peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro is left with only a handful of rare ice formations due to intense melting. More than 90 percent of the ice on top of Africa’s tallest mountain (and the highest free-standing mountain in the world) has already melted and what’s left of the natural wonder might disappear completely in as little as five years. The Canadian adventurer, who has been on a quest to climb ice on every continent in the world, knew he had a limited time span if he was going to make it to the top of ice he had one day hoped to climb, so he made Tanzania his priority destination.

Like any climber ascending the busy mountain to the roof of Africa, Gadd faced acclimating to the altitude. Before even reaching the glaciers, he was struggling to breathe. When he finally witnessed the rare glacial formations after a week of hiking with his team, he tells RedBull.com that they looked like “fins of ice sticking out of the hot sand…they look like icebergs on a tropical beach.”

Photos via Christian Pondella/Red Bull Media House; h/t Twisted Sifter

Because of the giant ice crystals formed by the melting, his ability to easily latch onto the glacier was affected greatly, even with the best climbing equipment. He had to carefully select his climbing path to avoid loose pieces. Ice chunks he had climbed one day had even fallen and melted the next—a testament to just how quickly the ice landscape is changing. The climb marks a special milestone in Gadd’s career of climbing adventures as he says it was one of the most meaningful and challenging.

“We would literally climb stuff that wouldn’t be there the next day. I’ve climbed a lot of ice, but this was the last of its kind. The glaciers are just small remnants truly in their last gasp. I felt very lucky to be there!”

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