My Assumption That We Could Walk Straight To Point Lenana With No Preparation Was Misguided And Naïve

- Muthoni Kamau

Muthoni Kamau - Class of December 2021

My idea to scale Mt Kenya was initially pegged on leveraging this momentous landmark to draw public attention to the teenage pregnancy menace in the country. Armed with a theme ‘Scaling the Heights to Save Girls,’ a meeting with Robert from Outdoorer to get some insights on what was required was held.

The meeting was an awakening call: the assumption that we could walk straight to Point Lenana without any preparation was misguided and naïve! It is on this premise that I decided to be schooled through the Outdoorer Academy #BeginnertoMtkenya program.

The journey turned out to be a more incredible adventure than I expected, one of the highlights being acquiring new friends. The package included six prep hikes, with Kilimambogo being the first.

The Outdoorer team organized transport for all hikes with strict observations to COVID-19 protocols. Their organization with precision surprised me. They took roll calls as people boarded the vehicles and issued branded wristbands of the mountain to be unlocked and a pack of fruits.

Departure time was strictly 5:00 am, and if you miss the bus, you are on your own. The notion of African time does not seem to resonate with them. Everyone is treated equally, bound by the desire to connect with nature.

At Kilimambogo, we started with warm-up stretches, a ritual at every hike. The rules of engagement were spelled out: “No littering!” Robert would remind us, “The mountain is not going anywhere; I am.” This one was ingrained in us throughout the program. The Outdoorer creed, repeated at every hike, reminded us of who we are: hikers, not marathoners.

Kilimambogo, rising to 2145M ASL, was welcoming. The sun was scorching. People walked in a single file through the first narrow path. The temptation to walk fast was tempting, but the climb was somewhat steep. Some hikers had hiking poles. Others, like me, had to contend with a stick picked along the way. I had carried only one liter of water—the gravest mistake any hiker could make. Hydration is life-saving. I was learning. This was a new education, not confined to a classroom. There were hardly any theories, just practicals. The designers of the CBC curriculum would have been proud!

Despite the heat, the hike was manageable. In 4 hours, I was done. In my ride back to the city, I was proud of my performance in this first level: my initial mark as a hiker of sorts!

The following day, I was yearning for a soothing massage. Since most facilities had closed due to COVID-19, I called Robert to reference any masseuse. He took a long laugh and said, “That soft life will soon be forgotten.” I did not believe him. I thought he was inconsiderate, not knowing what “hikers need.” He was right; my body was accustomed to trekking by the third hike, leaving the soft life behind.

William Hill, at 2276M, was also very kind. Then came Mt. Longonot at 2780M, a great transition from hills to mountains. Mt. Longonot was brutal for me: hot as a furnace with dusty trails! The hike to Kilele Ngamia was maddening, walking on fours. The Outdoorer team was at hand, reminding us that there is no bad weather for a hiker. Still, I thought they were missing something. This school was getting interesting.

Although I did not fully understand it, I decided to hold on to the end. I set my eyes on Mt. Kenya. There was no turning back.

Next was Table Mountain, the table that never was. The trail was an endless steep climb to an elevation of 3792M that would make you question why you enrolled in the program in the first place! Remember, the hills are behind us; no more junior hikes.

I would describe the Table Mountain hike as the maturing stage—the teenage of hiking. The moorland trail is boggy; you get an opportunity to test your boots. This is when you know if your vendor took you for a ride.

A friend had advised me to get a boot from one of the shops and swipe my card to avoid feeling the pain of counting the money. The advice came in handy. My boots were solid up to the last minute out of Mt. Kenya. I hold them dearly, as they are indeed a part of my journey.

Despite the steepness of Table Mountain, the scenery is breathtaking—extremely rewarding. At the summit, I enjoyed the serenity while fueling the body with packed lunch, primarily nuts, as recommended by our trainers.

On the way down, the heavens opened, and I had to grab my rain gear from my backpack. I can assure you investing in proper hiking gear — whether new or second-hand — is paramount.

By Adam’s words [Adam from Outdoorer], whose nickname could very well be ‘Hiking Gear Adam,’ proper gear pays off. The mountain culture is at his fingertips. Robert would add, “Cotton is a hiker’s worst enemy!” Of course, some of us had learned this the hard way at the maiden hike.

My journey to Mt. Kenya was now looking real, despite some caution and discouraging messages here and there. I still had some conviction that Mt. Kenya was out of reach. This kept me glued to the next expedition.

Lakini, the trek to Mackinders Camp 4300M proved to be exceptional. Apart from acclimatization to the high altitudes, the trail would help us set our eyes on the prize, Point Lenana! I was excited.

As we entered through the Naromoru gate, having surmounted the previous four trails, I thought Mackinders would be a walkover. I was in for a rude shock: the trail intimidated me, and the ascent was endless—and brutal.

By now, every hiker knew their capacity. ‘Team shoebaru’ had emerged as the frontrunners. I could see them miles ahead, but I had to hike my own hike.

As I climbed, pulling my legs in short paces as advised by the trainers, taking deep breaths, and resting in between, my legs could not take me past 4000M. The words from the Outdoorer Creed: “the mountain is not going anywhere, I am. If I don’t summit today, I can do it next time” became a reality.

In this school of hiking, there is neither competition nor ranking, just the unlocking of one’s potential. I remembered the advice that any point on the trail could be my summit—even 500M from the starting point. Once you reach this, despite the distance covered, you dance on it. I danced on mine.

With my newfound friend, Naomi, our descent started. It was 2:30 p.m, the set turn back time to avoid confrontations with wild animals. We took pictures of beautiful flora and, of course, ourselves along the way. Other hikers joined us. There were ranging discussions on how to unlock Mackinders in the future. An overnight hike maybe, some suggested.

We found Adam and others from the Outdoorer team on our way down. He asked, “Did you get to the river?” I asked, “What river?” Only to learn that just before the Mackinders Camp is a river. It was a bit disheartening; a feeling of desperation crept in. Mackinders had humbled me and many others. Only 16 hikers, mostly ‘shoebaru’ made it to the finishing point.

Generally speaking, it was a good hike. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the company of fellow hikers. Nevertheless, the trail is back on my bucket list. To be unlocked someday!

Outdoorer saved Satima, 4001M, as the last prep hike to usher us to Mt. Kenya. The trail was beautiful and very kind—boggy on most sections to reassure our boots. Almost everyone in #beginnertomtkenya class of December 2021 summitted Satima. There was renewed hope amongst us after Mackinders. Satima rekindled new levels of confidence. The journey to Point Lenana was now unstoppable.

I was ready for the big prize, fully convinced that I was well prepared. I prayed to God for His divine intervention. I understood Mt. Kenya was no child’s play. Some of my friends warned me, while others urged me to pull out. I almost did due to work-related reasons. I talked to my supervisor, and he was, thankfully, supportive. He promised to pray for me, and so did my colleagues.

My two wonderful sons had been quite motivating throughout the training. I kept thinking of them, as they had promised to pray for me. Friends and relatives joined hands in calling God on my behalf. A blanket of prayers is vital in the final stretch.

With stories on incidents and accidents of hikers in the mountains, scaling Mt Kenya was nerve-wracking. I talked to Robert and Adam. Their assurance that all would be well was just the nudge I needed to push forward.

On the eve of the Mt Kenya expedition, Outdoorer called a final virtual session to ensure that every hiker had the requisite gear. I listened carefully. After cross-checking my items, I packed my porter’s bag: 13Kgs per the recommendations. We had to be mindful of the porters, Outdoorer told us.

The packing required new skills that few demonstrated by posting success in the WhatsApp group. Others expressed frustration, unable to fit everything in the porter’s bag.

All systems go. The hour of reckoning was with us. With the boys out of the nest, I was eager to follow my new passion—a hiker by default. The training was complete, God was on my side, and with encouragement and inspiration from my trainers and fellow hikers, I knew in my heart that I was ready to scale the big mountain.

With 6 prep hikes down, I set my eyes on Point Lenana. 55 hikers, ready to ascend the second highest mountain in Africa, gathered opposite International Life House on 2nd December. Three minibusses and land cruisers left Nairobi in the wee hours, with excited hikers baying for Point Lenana.

At Chogoria gate, 100 porters, 10 Mt. Kenya guides, 6 Outdoorer staff, and a host of cooks were at hand to receive us. They served hot beverages and food. I ate quietly, wondering what lay ahead.

After lunch, Robert, our team lead, offered a short briefing. In a solemn voice, he reminded us to observe a moderate pace, remember the breathing techniques Outdoorer taught us, and that the mountain was not going anywhere. From his tone, I knew we were on a different level, incomparable with the previous trails.

Surprisingly, he did not warn about eating wild fruits and herbs this time. Everything felt sacred. As we would experience later, the solitude in this mountain brought unexplainable peace of mind.

After doing everything possible to prepare us for the climb, the Outdoorer team knew they had done their best. Robert assumed his leadership mantle and took us through the Outdoorer creed.

For the first time since the program began, he led us in the Outdoorer prayer, committing us to God. After every stanza, we echoed, “Amen.” The Bible teachings on “nor by power, nor by might” dawned on me. We were in a territory where only God could deliver us.

A hiker gave an additional prayer to beseech God further—evidence that we needed God in this last stretch. After all, that was His dwelling place, per the beliefs of the Kikuyu community, ethnic to the region.

Every hiker was assigned a porter to haul their luggage during the expedition. We set off for Lake Ellis, our camp for the night, about 9KM from Chogoria gate.

The rains started pounding even before we could begin the journey. I guess it was the mountain’s way of welcoming us. We walked close to four hours in the rain as darkness crept in along the way.

When we finally reached Lake Ellis, the tents were ready for us, as was dinner. This was my first night in a tent. It was a cold night, but my duck-down sleeping bag kept me warm.

My roommate Naomi soundly slept as I struggled to catch some sleep. I envied her but remembered we are made different. An incredible lady, the trail connected us, and now she is a very good friend.

After breakfast, we set out for Mintos Camp, the base from which we were to ascend to Point Lenana. About 9KM with an elevation gain of about 800M. It took me nearly the whole day. By now, I was getting used to bush life. Replenishing water bladders from fresh flowing sweet water for the first time since the beginning of the program was just incredible. Drinking it straight from the source, someone remarked.

About 3KM in, I experienced altitude sickness symptoms: severe headache, bloated stomach, and nausea, to mention a few. My body was weak, no strength, and I feared the worst. My fellow hikers, Naomi and Wanjiku, were on hand to render support.

One of the guides, Richard, aka G4S, gave me some first aid. I must say he was pretty concerned. He radioed the Outdoorer team at the base to inform them of my sickness. He carried my backpack and walked right beside me to offer any other support if need be. At that point, I could have given anything to go back, maybe to the comfortable life in Nairobi. I thought of my two sons; I looked into the heavens and asked God to come through for me.

I dragged myself to the base camp. I found the Outdoorer medical team ready to receive me. Humphrey did the observation, asked the preliminary questions to determine the level of sickness.

Emotions ran high, and tears started dropping as I thought of the worst scenario. I held on to my faith that God would have mercy in His divine ways. I remember Majid telling me that it shall be well. In that state, I did not know what to believe. Long story short, after taking some medication, I was back to myself, ready for the summit the following morning.

Summit night was exceptional in every way. Robert urged us to finish our food. We all struggled; there was barely any appetite. He reminded us of the pace and breathing techniques in a solemn voice. We knew the next 4KM to Point Lenana needed our hiking skills and God’s intervention. He urged us not to push our bodies beyond their limits. Once again, he took us through the Outdoorer prayer, beseeching God for His protection.

The journey to Point Lenana commenced at around 4:00 a.m. We had slept and woken up in our summit clothes— a thermal baselayer, a t-shirt, a fleece jacket, summit pants, and two pairs of thermal socks. It was one of the warmest nights on the mountain. What mattered was the layering of clothes to keep the body warm in the freezing conditions. Raincoats, rain pants, leg gaiters, and a pair of waterproof boots were ceremoniously added in the morning. My tent mate and I prayed. We knew the last miles were not easy. We had come so far, and we really wanted to summit. With my headlamp in place, I crawled out of the tent.

Breakfast was ready: black tea, popcorn, and biscuits. People talked in whispers; others sat in deep thoughts, wondering how the journey ahead would be. Anyone who was unwell or did not have proper gear was advised to remain in the camp. This was a matter of life and death—ensuring everyone stayed safe and alive, as they had vowed from the onset of the program, was their priority. People were encouraging each other. The bond between us had strengthened, and the hike was no longer personal but communal.

Minutes before our departure, the heavens opened and surprised us with snowflakes. It was winter on the Equator! We walked on a white carpet from the base camp as we ascended to Point Lenana—a beholding and breathtaking experience. It was magical! We had prayed for snow, and here it was. The lead guide had difficulties identifying the trail; snow had covered the tracks. Quietly, we followed. Even ‘team shoebaru’ had been humbled by the pace set by the lead guide. No taking chances!

As the sun came up, the whole place turned dazzling white. To describe it as ‘beautiful’ would be an understatement. It was an out-of-this-world experience. Initially enveloped by fog since the first day and like a bride in a veil, the mountain was revealing itself—in the most magnificent way.

Our trainers had warned us of snow blindness. Sunglasses were mandatory. When I saw the Outdoorer team put on theirs, I knew it was time. We stopped now and then to allow our bodies to acclimatize to the increasingly higher altitude. The 800M elevation to Point Lenana had to be taken in strides.

As we ascended, the Outdoorer team was at hand, monitoring each of us and turning back anyone perceived as vulnerable to mountain sickness or in the wrong gear. We soldiered on, mesmerized by the white snow carpet. We stopped now and then for guidance and hydration, although there was no thirst. We had been trained; hydration was vital since our bodies would lose lots of water in the high altitudes. Incredible survival skills such as blowing into the water bladder to break any frozen water and then sipping and the pressure breath came in handy.

The fear of not acclimatizing to low oxygen lingered in my mind. My legs were heavy as I tried to surmount the snow. My fingers were frostbitten. At one point, I could not unzip my rain jacket pocket to get a sweet.

The cold was severe, and so was the wind and the snowstorm. I doubted my ability to make it to the summit. Yet, I was determined. After all, wasn’t this the essence of my enrollment into the program? Every step mattered as I said silent prayers, knowing that I was in a territory that only God could deliver me.

With the snowstorm enveloping the mountain, we were unsure how far we were from the summit. We walked until we reached a point where the lead guide had to support everyone to go over some rocks. We must have been about 50M to Point Lenana when the snowstorm raged as if warning us not to go any further. I remembered Moses and the burning bush.

We were now only yards away from our grand prize—Point Lenana. My heart was excited. As I approached the rocks the guide was helping hikers go over, the slope was fully covered in snow. I overheard another guide saying it was ice. It was unfathomable to imagine what would happen if someone slipped.

We knew we were in a dangerous zone. We deliberated. We decided that there was no need to take a life-threatening risk, given the weather conditions. Life was more precious. Like the good students we were, we knew when to throw in the towel. We made that our summit, danced on it, took our summit photo, and thanked God for the far He had brought us.

We started descending, knowing very well that we had made the best decision. We had saved our lives, and we had seen Point Lenana. Nothing was impossible. We had unlocked our mountains, or the mountain had unlocked us. Either way, I was grateful. I was a hero in my own way.

In the meantime, ‘team shoebaru’ had crossed over. They managed to get to Point Lenana. All fourteen of them. They did us proud. We would not go into the history books of Outdoorer as the class that never summited.

The descent required skills. Our guide, Richard, was, once again, at hand to support us. When I look back, I am not sure if I would have made it down without him. He went out of his way, providing his leg for us to grip on to make it easier for us to come down, forgetting himself. And, he was not alone. The other Mt. Kenya guides were there too. There was a unity of purpose, engulfed in the desire to ensure that everyone got back to base camp in one piece—and with an indescribable lifetime experience.

No photos, videos, or words could capture my Mt. Kenya experience. Only those who took part with me can comprehend. Surprisingly, as we descended, the sky cleared, and we were able to enjoy the sea of snow. As I walked down, sometimes sliding, I thanked God for this rare opportunity. My heart was joyous. I had achieved what looked impossible in September when I enrolled in the #beginnertomtkenya class.

Back at base camp, the Outdoorer team received us with applause! The teachers were happy. We had done them proud. No matter the summiting point, they knew we had done our best. We did not disappoint. I got my high five, a pat on the back for a job well done. I pinched myself to be sure it was real.

The graduation ceremony commenced. We got our medals and certificates and posed for photos as we celebrated our summits. Remember, every point on the trails is a summit. It was our moment of glory. We celebrated each other. We were a family, brought together in three months by the love of nature. We had achieved a common purpose of unlocking the hiking potential in every one of us.

The skills acquired from the program have brought me this far. Many in our cohort could attest to this. The kindness, professionalism, concern for each hiker, and inspiration, just to mention a few, kept us motivated to be what we are today: modern hikers. How the Outdoorer team mastered each person’s name in such a short time still amazes me!

I have set my eyes on the high altitudes as I pen off. I am more eager than ever to unlock as many mountains as possible—in Kenya and beyond! With God, nothing is impossible. Thank you, Outdoorer, for the opportunity to unlock my hiking potential. I’ve found my new passion.

I did a thing; I summited the third highest peak in Kenya, Point Lenana.
- Fatma Said