Wellness & Fitness

Testing my grit up Mt Kenya’s Batian peak


Margie Gathungu on the summit of Batian Peak, Mt Kenya on July 19, 2021. With her is her instructor and fellow mountaineer, Peter Naituli. PHOTO | POOL

On her Instagram profile, Margie Gathungu describes herself as a hiking trendsetter and an adrenaline junkie and has pictures to prove it. When she is not at work, Margie is probably ascending or descending a hill or mountain.

On the day we meet at her office in Nairobi’s Karen, where she works as an accountant, she has traded hiking gear for a black and white floral dress with black high heels. Margie is among the hundreds of Kenyans discovering the joys of standing on top of Mt Kenya highest Batian peak.

At 1.45 pm on July 19, 2021, she stood on top of the peak, taking in the breathtaking views of the world below.

“This experience taught me that we can train our minds to rise to any occasion we require it to,” says Margie, a fitness fanatic.

There were so many reasons for the climb but two stand out. She wanted to conquer the mystery and ambiguity that engulfs the Batian peak.

“I’ve been up Mt. Kenya up to Lenana peak but somehow beyond this, it seemed like a place reserved for experts,” the nature lover says, adding “The remaining 214 metres between Lenana and Batian gnawed at me for months.”

Always in search of heightened pleasures, Margie has been up the Aberdares ranges, Mt. Elgon and West Pokot’s Mt. Mtelo, Mt Ruwenzori and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Internationally, she summited Toubkal, the highest peak in Atlas Mountains Range in Morocco, Le Morne in Mauritius and Egypt’s Mt Sinai.  But all this hiking experience had to be parked aside.

As she came to realise, hiking and mountaineering are not the same things. One uses their fingers and toes a lot during a climb, in addition to learning how to use climbing equipment, which is foreign in hikes.  “You also require a lot of endurance both mental and physical as the body has to be conditioned to withstand pressure and stress over a long time.”

With a goal in mind, two things were required to make it possible: proper physical preparation and unparalleled mental preparation. To train properly physically, you need time and an experienced trainer.

Sh4,000 for training

Sourcing one from Nanyuki, where most trainers are based, was out of the question because it would require her to break the bank paying for their transport and accommodation. Some were discouraging and pessimistic about the climb. Eventually, she settled for Peter Naituli, an experienced trainer and mountaineer she had seen in a film five years prior.

“During my training, at no one time did he say that the adventure was impossible,” the accountant recalls.

She dedicated all her weekends from March to July to training, which included following a climbing programme, mobility, endurance, and strength training. She paid Sh4,000 for each climbing session.

As a lover of CrossFit exercises, which are usually high intensity to strengthen the body, it was easy to stick to a gym routine. She did deadlifts, back squats, pull-ups, pushups, bench presses among others. The workouts were to help her build upper and lower body strength which is necessary for strenuous mountain climbing. She credits her current flexibility, strong forearms and lower legs including the toes, to mountaineering.

She also did mobility exercises like shoulder circles, squats, lunges, and hip circles which prevent injury and increase strength and flexibility. To build endurance and learn the gist of rock climbing and using and securing ropes, she communed with hills in Kiambu, running uphill, and the rocky terrain at Lukenya and Hell’s Gates. For altitude checks, she hiked mountains above 3,000metres. Her climbing gear and equipment were purchased from a climbing community she had joined.

Finally, it was D-day.  “When I started the climb, there were no ‘if’s,” she says. A few steps in and her hands were already numb from the cold.

Keeping time is important because you want to finish on time. This is where mental preparation comes in. The pain from the cold was worse than the climb. Margie only realised after the descent that she had scratches on her hands, most from thorny bushes.

It is a lonely journey to the top.

“This is because the guide leaves you alone to figure your way up. Climbing is a series of many problems solved. You have to know where to place your hands and feet for the best results,” she says.

Hours later, at 5,199 metres above sea level, Margie lacks words to best describe what she saw: “It’s a beauty that cannot be explained, a different universe. You get split-second glances of a glorious mix of sun and cloud that demands you to pause and admire. It’s a beauty lost to the world and left to you, one at a higher level. You must be there to see it.”

If you go up Batian peak, Margie says, you will find two things: The fear of the unknown that she left there and an aura of knowing that the mind can do what you want it to do when you put it to task.