9 Kenyan Students have taken in their stride the task of transforming from beginners to accomplished hikers in 90 days. They are preparing for the challenge of climbing Mount Kenya. With a focus on the well-being of University students and youth in general, their goal is to promote discussion and action around mental health, reproductive health and gender-based violence.
The fourth preparatory hike for the nine students took place on 11 June 2022 in the Aberdare Ranges. This time, the students were plugging to the high altitudes at Elephant Hill at an elevation of 3,650 metres above sea level, to strengthen their resilience. It is on this hill, which ought not be called a hill, that the young O3 Plus champions realized they could face and overcome any barrier they face in their lives.
This challenge is part of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 Plus) programme that aims to create awareness on the health and well-being of young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in Kenya. The programme is empowering young people to develop their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and competencies required for preventing HIV, reducing early and unintended pregnancies, and eliminating gender-based violence.
The stories and myths surrounding Elephant Hill began circulating among the group of students at the beginning of the month of June. So bad were the tales, and tall tales, that some of the hikers reported having nightmares, waking up in chills and drenched in sweat, out of fear of this dreaded hill.
On Saturday, June 11 2022, the team woke up earlier than usual and began the two-hour drive to Nyeri, at 5 a.m. braced and ready, or so everyone thought, to tackle the challenge that lay ahead. The drive was unusually silent, no one wanted to discuss the task that lay ahead, it would seem. On arrival at the foot of the Aberdares, we could all see the towering peak of the Elephant Hill; defiant, confident, almost as though grinning mischievously down at us. After the usual warm-up and mantra, the hikers were reminded to keep a positive outlook, colour their thoughts with sunshine and #ThinkMagents as, after all, it was the eve of Global Wellness Day.
The team set off for the hike, walked for an hour, and to our dismay, were met by the “Starting Point” sign after covering five kilometres! This did not deter the team, and they went to cover the 9.5KM ascent to the summit. After another hour’s trek, the team was ushered to the beautiful bamboo canopy that provided the much-needed shield from the scorching sun and weeds. The team was too excited, taking in the scenic cover of bamboo, which appeared in different species, sizes, and colours. To our dismay, the bamboo trail was unending, as we looked forward to reaching the next milestone, “Desperado. The point of Despair”. Elephant Hills seemed to nudge all hikers to turn back, with its slippery slopes, stony trails, and muddy paths. But the hikers kept at it!
The team pushed on, past the point of despair to the tail and on to the summit. Through the thick vegetation, cloudy and windy trail, without despairing. With near-nil visibility near the summit, the hill seemed to be urging us to turn back, however, we persisted, and despite the challenges, forged ahead. Some of the hikers experienced altitude sickness, and for others, Elephant Hill induced phenomenon that can simply be explained as the hill’s attempt at turning the hikers back! On reaching the summit, the sighs of relief, shouts of joy and poses for the camera that marked the summit were most well deserved. So, they soldier onto the next preparatory hike the Mackinders which will bring them closer to Mt. Kenya Lenana summit.