The last few years have seen an increase in Kenyans taking up mountain hiking as a sport or a hobby. Mountain hiking is largely a community sport/hobby. So, you will find them in communities and groups ready to conquer the next highest peak.
Weekends and public holidays are their most preferred days. They surmount enormous bodily and mental challenges to get to the top, and with every summit they conquer, they promise to take on more significant challenges because once you go up, you never want to settle.
The BDLife talked to three avid hikers who, despite having challenges that would be limiting, continue to challenge themselves.
Ciku Kimani- Mwaniki, 49, has been hiking for 28 years. The celebrated author doesn’t know when to stop when it comes to hiking. Any sight of a mountain presents a challenge that she is only too eager to take, and if she is counting, she has hiked more than 150 times. She had, however, slowed down when she was diagnosed with hip arthritis.
“For two years, I suffered a debilitating pain that slowed me down,” she says. As a fitness enthusiast, her inability to work out affected her mentally. “Pain is terrible. It doesn’t just affect you physically. It affects your mental health as well. I needed to get back on my feet as soon as I could for my sanity.”
She opted for hip replacement surgery and part of the rehabilitation process involved walking. Since then, hiking has been her drug of choice. And she is hooked on it.
Another avid hiker, Swabra Swaleh, joined the hiking trail two months after giving birth through Cesarean section at the beginning of 2023. Since then, she has summited Mt Kenya twice, went up to the glacier on Mt Kilimanjaro, done a dozen other local mountains, and at the time of writing this story, she was preparing to do a day dash of Mt Kenya through the Chogoria route.
A day dash in hiking circles is a hiking experience to the summit and back within 24 hours.
The Glacier Queen, as she is commonly referred to in her hiking community (for getting to the glacier levels of Mt Kilimanjaro), is also a post-bariatric patient. This means her diet is strict, and she must always remain conscious of what she eats. This presents a challenge as mountain climbing is a diet-dependent activity. Swabra, however, hasn’t let this dampened her spirits.
Gachie Mwanza 45, is an avid golfer. In May 2022, he started experiencing intense pain in his right toe. Doctors diagnosed him with early onset gout and recommended cardiovascular exercises to keep it at bay. This prompted Gachie—an advocate of the High Court of Kenya—to look for something more involving than golf.
He joined Trek Tribe, a community that organises hikes to various places in Kenya.
“Until I started, I wondered why anyone would want to put their bodies under such immense pressure in the name of a hobby or sport. Hiking has unlocked my body in ways I cannot tell. Gout is common among people my age, and I wasn’t going to allow it to halt me or my life,” he says.
The three mountain hikers share a common convergence point with other mountain hikers-Freedom.
“Getting high up a mountain is an exercise in attaining freedom. My physical pain, my mental health, and my age, which some may think is a limiting factor, oh(laughs),” says Ciku.
For Swabra, it is the freedom to know herself better.
“I enjoy the freedom to understand that I can surpass my limits. I know my body. Hiking also reminds me that I no longer weigh 115 kg. I embrace my new 45 kg weight limit,” she says.
Gachie says hiking offers freedom from health scares and the ability to live fully in his 40s.
“I haven’t felt any pain in my toes for more than a year. Had this intervention not been made, I could probably be on some medicine for the rest of my life.”
Leading their busy lives and finding time to conquer mountains requires support and reassurance from their loved ones.
“Before I leave for the hikes, I sit down with my family and promise them that I will come back. It is important because they have watched the news and know that some people never return. We pray together before I leave,” Gachie says.
Ciku hikes with her husband and, at times, with their children.
“I have a very supportive husband. Raising our children, having a busy career, and still finding time for hiking is only possible if you have the right kind of support,” reiterates Swabra.
Their paths up the mountains haven’t been without challenges. Swabra remembers that, at first, she would sometimes express milk and have to discard it deep into the hikes. Gachie, wrestled with, “Why am I doing this?” whenever the going got tough.
Attaining a balance between hiking and other things, professional and social that require her attention has been a challenge. She says the opportunity cost that comes with her dalliance with the mountains is disconcerting.
All three plan to summit the highest peak of Mt Everest. Nothing will stop them, not their age or their bodily shortcomings. But before conquering the world’s highest mountain, they are busy working to overcome own personal mountains.