Ebulani from Nairobi, Kenya has only been hiking since July 2020 but has already been to such amazing places – Elephant Hill, Rurimeria, Mt Kipipiri, Gatango Forest, Sleeping Warrior and Ugali Hills, to name a few. I met her on Instagram and was quickly drawn to her adventurous spirit, incredible hiking trails, amazing photography and undeniable sense of humour. I wanted to feature her on the blog even before I found out she was planning the adventure of a lifetime, climbing Mt Kenya. Besides hiking, she loves food, food photography, blogging, travelling, meeting new people and rock climbing. I’m so excited to share this interview!
What inspired you to get into hiking? To be honest with you, I think it was always in me but I never got started when I should have. Not sure if laziness is to be blamed here or the fact I had put other things I thought were important first. Any time I would watch documentaries on mountains, I just felt so drawn to them and I wanted to get myself to Mt Kenya and Mt Everest during my University days but I just never got round to it. I did not know how or where to start and thus it just became a dream. However, I am now living that dream and I love being outside.
And your dream became a reality! Just a few weeks ago, you summited Mt Kenya Point Lenana (4985m). When did you start planning this journey in earnest? Initially when I started hiking, Mt. Kenya was not even on my mind. I think I thought I was just not ready and that I would give myself at least a year, then see. I had zero experience with mountains, however, I was hiking every weekend. So around October, I told myself that in December 2020 I need to make it to the mountain. Come November, I had paid for the trip, bought all the gear and was ready to summit on 12th December, Kenya’s Independence Day. All I had to do was take myself there…
That was not to be. I ended up in Uganda during that week for work. However, there was another trip around the 20th and I thought, ‘Ah, that’s great. I will be back and ready for this adventure’. Again, this was not the case as I found myself out for work, this time Ethiopia. I didn’t make it for Easter as we were in a Lockdown and we could not move out of Nairobi. I was literally left with baby hikes within Nairobi. You could not go too far out of Nairobi just in case you got caught outside curfew which means fun times with the cops! When the Lockdown was lifted and I saw there was an opportunity, I went for it with everything crossed as I did not want another roadblock. I summited on 1st June 2021 which was Madaraka day, a Public Holiday in Kenya. Madaraka in Swahili means “authority” or “ruling power”. The holiday commemorates the day Kenya attained internal self-rule in 1963, after being a British colony since the 1920s.
Was there ever a point in your training where you felt your dream was slipping away? Yes, in my third last week. I wanted to do Elephant Hill so badly. I had not summitted it previously due to muscle cramps. One would need to be past The Tail by 12pm to summit. By 2pm you would need to be on your way down because of the weather as it rains in the afternoon and downhill is a nightmare due to the steep nature of the terrain and the animals come out to play (elephants, hyenas, buffaloes). So this was going to be my second attempt. It had rained, it was muddy and I fell in love with the plants. Took so many pictures that I forgot why I was there. Turnaround time was 1pm and already we had started late and I spent a few hours taking nature pictures. I made it to The Tail, then it got so foggy you could not see what was ahead but could hear some weird animal sounds. The ranger told me that those were buffaloes. This was 12.30pm. I was debating if we should continue but the visibility was so poor. In the end, I turned back. The Hill was going nowhere but I was a bit disappointed and I asked myself if I would manage Rurimeria again and the great Mt Kenya. I just had to put in a bit more effort. I summitted Rurimeria.
I made the decision to go back to Elephant Hill for another trial. And yes, I summitted! Also, along my side was my hike mentor Gitonga. He was the time keeper and I did not want him to say we need to turn back. I have been on hikes where he has turned me back and I could not argue with him. I just did not want my heart broken. At least, this gave me confidence that Mt. Kenya was possible. I think I had a lot of anxiety and could not wait for the day to get here.
What were some things you had to consider in your preparations? As the day drew closer, the remaining preps were all high altitude as this would help in terms of a climatization. My diet had to change. I had more boiled food and carbs. I am generally not a huge fan of junk food. But it’s good to do a lot of beans, sweet potatoes etc but not fried foods. I did this for three weeks. Also, I avoided sodas etc., drank lots of water. It is so important to stay hydrated. And of course sleeping early. I did my medical a week before I left. I had blood tests, chest x-ray, kidney, liver, an ECG that is an electrocardiogram which records the electrical activity of the heart. This test would help in identifying if there are any issues with the rhythm of my heart. It was one of the most painless tests I did that day. I was given a clean bill of health by the doctor.
You finally start your journey. Which route did you use and how long did it take? So THE DAY came and I had a flu but I was so determined to climb. I had medicine and felt my flu was under control. What I did not know was that a cough was just around the corner. We took the Chogoria route which was going to take us to the summit of Lenana (the third peak) and then down to Shiptons, 14km to Old Moses and the Sirimon gate. The route was just too beautiful, so scenic, with endless valleys, hills and perfect weather. The first two days we experienced fog and you could not see what was ahead of you. Did I mention the many lakes that I lost count of?
The first night we camped at the gate of Chogoria. The second night we spent it overlooking Lake Ellis and third was at Mintos Camp which was 3°C. The weather changed so fast, before you blinked it was insanely cold. After the summit we went down to Shiptons Camp and spent the night. It was still cold but at least we were inside a structure and not a tent.
What was the most enjoyable part of the climb? The most enjoyable part of the journey to the top were the views. The beauty up there is just endless. If I did not need human interaction I would be somewhere on some mountain. Just in such a peaceful state. Peace is priceless.
And some of the challenges you encountered? The night before, I struggled to eat as it was cold and I did not have an appetite. I had a few spoons and just stared at my food. I am still not sure what was going on. I gave up on food and drank some hot water. I think also the coughing was not helping. I had not slept for 3 days and this was another day added. The summit morning we left at 2.30am, it was freezing cold. I had to add layers of socks on. My thermals, I discovered were fake, and my toes were not impressed at all. I had on four pairs of thermal socks, two thermal pants, summit pants, four thermal tops, fleece jacket, puffer, a summit jacket, and two thermal gloves. I had layered up as I told myself I’d rather be boiling hot than cold. I could always remove. Fever was checking in and out. At some point, I just wanted to have porridge. We did not eat when we left camp. We could only have something light and all I was thinking of was brown porridge. This thought stayed with me until I got to the top and back down again.
Did you ever feel like giving up? I never felt like giving but at the last camp (Mintos) I was ready to go home and I just wanted this over and done with. I appreciated my bed, that tent-life for me for that moment was just not my potion. What was on my mind was ‘I came to summit, I MUST get to the top’. I did not care how long it took. At this point I barely had energy. I kept telling my stomach that the water I was drinking was porridge, so take a few more steps . It also did not help that I saw a fake summit when I was at the second hill. I thought I was losing my mind and I still don’t understand what I saw. I thought just a few more steps, then I turn and I am there. I got to the top of the second hill and there was a third hill waiting. Got to that one thinking it’s the final one only to see far ahead a huge mass of rock and that’s where the summit was. I did feel cheated and had some talks with myself. My brain reminded me that ‘We are here to summit. Don’t listen to the body’. I looked up and kept moving while sipping imaginary porridge.
What was it like finally reaching the top? What was going through your head? You did this! I do not know how to express the feelings I had when I got to the top. It was mixed. I wanted to cry but then I had to look cute for my summit pictures. I was so happy but I did not have the energy to scream. I was still saving it for the way down. So many things were going through my mind. I wished to have shared this victory with my grandmother and those that came before her. I’m the first hiker of the family. All I can say is that I was having moments within myself. I had dreamt of doing this and now it was done. At no point had I ever thought that I was not going to make it as that was not an option. Achieving something that I wanted to do ten years ago and kept making excuses and now here I was standing at the very place. We limit ourselves.
How long could you bask in your victory before you had to start the journey down? It was so cold and windy up there that in as much as it felt like I had so much time it was really 4 minutes. There were also others who needed space to bask in their moment of glory. At least I had enough time for the pictures and to just look around. Sometimes I ask myself, did this really happen? I do think that I will redo this just to remind myself that I actually did it.
People often forget that the journey back down can be challenging. What was this experience like for you? So the journey going down… I had not even given it a thought. After the summit, I had energy but just wanted to get to the camp for porridge. Believe me, I asked the guides if it was on the menu as I did not want anything else. It was steep coming from the summit and I thought “Okay, that’s normal” but what I was not ready for was the next bit. We turned and we were on top of, I guess, the mountain’s shoulder and we had to go down this rocky steep slope.
I thought the guide was joking, but he was as serious as a heart attack. I was mentally tired and it got to a point I just sat and pushed my way down. It took me two hours. It was long and it felt like we were not reaching the end. Part of my butt was sore but the relief of getting down, I really had not thought of it. I guess I had blocked this (going down) completely out of my mind as I was set on getting to the top. The rest I was going to see what happens. I did and now I know. If mentally I was obese, I would have thinned out that day.
What did this journey teach you about yourself? I look at myself and I am like who are you? I have learnt that I have some mental strength that I did not know I had. In as much as I never give up, this was the ultimate test. I summited having fever, coughing like an African drum and hungry, but I chose not to let that stop me. Never accepting failure and going back to a trail that was making me feel as if I was its stepchild (Elephant Hill). Being determined is great but you also have to work for it… put in the effort. If I had not done my preps, possibly I would have struggled a lot more, who knows? It does not matter how many trails you fail at completing, you dust up and go back. You compete with yourself and not with others. Everyone has a reason as to why they are on the trail. Competition is good but it’s never that serious. Go at your pace. If I want something I will go for it tooth and nail, but how bad do I want it? This matters.
What an extraordinary journey. I am in total awe of you. And we all want to know – what’s your next adventure?! My adventurous spirit is telling me Kilimanjaro but there will be more exciting places before then!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with all of us! Thank you so much for choosing me to do this. I have relived that day and I now feel like I want to go back again. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
What an extraordinary story. What an inspirational person. If you’d like to connect with Ebulani, check out her Instagram and be mesmerised by all her spectacular photos. She also has a great blog, Ebulani Photography, where she shares her take on food, travel, art and fashion.
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.