How Ann Kimunyu overcame anxiety living in the wilderness

Ann Kimunyu backpacking in Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming, in the US in June 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

Every evening when Ann Kimunyu returned home from work, she would lace up her running shoes and hit the pavement. On dark nights, her feet would thud rhythmically against the sidewalks of her estate, the sound echoing her internal struggle.

It wasn’t a routine she particularly enjoyed, but it was necessary—a way to push out the despondency and anxiety that had been her unwelcome companions for the past five years.

"I needed to feel alive," she says and adds," I needed a distraction that could morph into a passion, something to ease the sadness that came with my anxiety. Sitting behind a computer all day, the flames of my anxiety were fanned higher. I craved an outdoor escape, something soothing."

The evening strolls and occasional runs were not entirely satisfying, but they marked the first tentative steps toward a larger goal.

It all began in 2014. At 25, Ann was a trained journalist working at a corporate training firm. Every day was a battle against anxiety.

Something had to give.

“I love adrenaline,” she recalls, her eyes lighting up. “It makes me feel alive. That’s what led me to bungee jumping and water rafting in Sagana.”

That trip to Sagana, Kirinyaga County, sparked a transformation. Today, at 35, Ann spends almost the entire year living in the wilderness. As an outdoor educator, she travels far and wide, teaching others the skills needed to survive in the wild—an art she calls ‘backpacking.’

Ann Kimunyu during her one day hike on Mt Kenya.

Photo credit: Pool

“Outdoor education is a broad envelope,” she explained. “It could be hiking, camping, water sports. My niche is hiking and backpacking.”

In the beginning, bungee jumping provided the adrenaline rush she craved. But then, she discovered hiking.

“For the whole of 2014, every weekend was an adventure—hiking or camping. It was my escape, my therapy.”

With each hike and camping trip, her fitness improved, but more importantly, she found fulfillment.

“After each activity, despite being sore and tired, I felt happy. I started to understand myself better, even on a social level.”

Living in the Wilderness

With every day, Ann grew and sought new challenges. Summiting Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro multiple times intensified her desire for something different.

“At first, it was about reaching the summits, the accomplishment of standing on top. But after a while, it became about the journey, the experience of living in the wilderness.”

Her wish was granted when she landed a job with an American agency specializing in backpacking and hiking, training her to become an outdoor specialist.

“As an outdoor educator, it’s no longer about me. It’s about empowering others to embrace the outdoors. We teach skills like hiking, backpacking, building tents, and surviving in the wild.”

Now stationed at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro, Ann spends about seven months of the year in the wild.

“The longest single streak I’ve spent in the mountains is 42 days. You backpack everything you need for at least 30 days—food, utilities, gear.”

On these treks, she’s constantly on the move.

Ann Kimunyu backpacking in Wind River Range, Wyoming in the US in July 2023. 

Photo credit: Pool

“The wilderness is vast. We go to the most remote areas, setting up camps in different locations and trekking to new sceneries each day.”
Typically, she carries a backpack weighing at least 30 kilograms.

“Sometimes, it’s not about summiting a mountain. It’s about bonding with nature, waking up to beautiful scenery every day.”

In the wilderness, communication is cut off.

“That’s the point. Mountaineering fosters teamwork and kills anti-social behavior. It builds character and discipline. Can you go without your phone or internet? It’s hard to stay away from technology, but being out there teaches you normalcy.”

Ann acknowledges the risks.

“Nature can be unforgiving. That’s why following instructions and mastering survival skills are crucial.”

Skills taught by Ann and her team include leadership, map reading, setting up emergency shelters, warding off predators, finding food, purifying water, first aid, signaling for help, and choosing the right gear.

“These skills teach you to be present, to live in the moment away from life’s distractions and stress. That’s the real appeal.”

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