Florence Odhiambo was raised by parents who enjoyed spending time outdoors but she never got an opportunity to explore with them. Her mother played netball while her father played football and also did athletics.
When she thought of motherhood and how to raise her own children, she decided to involve them in all outdoor activities from a young age.
While she was pregnant, she took up hiking as a hobby. She started by climbing Elephant Hill and Rurimeria Hill in Aberdare Range.
“I hiked until 38 weeks of pregnancy and then I gave birth to my child Beyond (his nickname) on the 40th week,” she says.
When her son hit five months, Florence took him rock climbing. That is when she noticed his urge to hike from a young age.
“The moment Gitonga Wandai of Hikemaniak, [a group of hikers] held him close to the mountain cliff, my son wanted to climb up. When he was one year old, we hit the nature trails starting with Ragia Waterfalls. I bought him a hiking bag and we’ve been to five other trails and are planning to do more,” she says.
Before she goes for a hike, Florence ensures that her son is warm enough and that his hiking gear is ready. When he was a baby, she packed his diapers and extra food or snacks if he got hungry deep in the woods.
“When he gets tired while we are on a hike, I let him sleep. His hiking bag has a comfortable headrest scratching him. Because of hiking, I’ve noticed that he knows quite a lot - he's very eager to learn and try out things. With the exposure, he loves swimming - something which started when he was very young,” says the mother of one.
For Wamaitha Mwangi, the team lead at Outdoor Ke, a hiking group, it is the nagging of one of the twin boys that made her decide to involve him in mountain climbing and trekking through forests. She recalls how the photos of her climb to Mount Kilimanjaro piqued her son’s interest.
“I started hiking in 2021 and after every hike, Mwangi [her son] would bombard me with questions on where I was, what I was doing there. Why was I going to hike? How did I get there? Then I decided to go mountain climbing as our mom-son bonding activity,” she says.
On their seventh birthday, Mwangi requested a very unique gift: to climb Ngong Hills with his mum, father and brother.
“I bought him the hiking gear and we climbed Ngong Hills, the entire family. While his father and his brother managed to reach the Massage Hill [a spot where hikers get to be massaged after 2 or so hours of trekking up the seven hills], Mwangi and I reached Kona Baridi and that’s how I knew that he was meant to hike. [A majority of hikers take 4 to 5 hours to traverse the whole range of Ngong Hills to the southern end at Kona Baridi, which means cold corner],” says Ms Wamaitha, adding, “In every nature trail walk that we have gone to like Karura Forest, he has managed to finish with ease.”
So far, the boy has managed to hike Mount Kilimambogo, Kijabe Hills, Mount Longonot, Elephant Hill, Mackinders Summit on Mount Kenya, Table Mountain in Aberdare Range, Mount Satima and Mount Kenya’s Lenana Peak via Sirimon route.
His most frequented hikes include Nyahururu Falls, Karura Forest as well as Arboretum. In April during Easter this year, Mwangi climbed Mount Kenya as a beginner despite her mother’s sceptics and people being against it.
“He was so excited when we (his dad and I ) told him that he would go to Mt. Kenya. We packed the gear and snacks and he was particularly wowed by his sleeping bag. He also loved the snacks and the fact that he wouldn’t shower for four days.
However, I had to remind him that the altitude once we reached Mackinders and at Sirimon enabled him to slow down and to drink lots of water,” says Ms Wamaitha.
Climbing Mt Kenya
Mwangi, she says, loves looking at the big rocks, and valleys, walking above the clouds, crossing the rivers and drinking from their source.
“We met a Kenya Wildlife Service officer who was very impressed by Mwangi. The officials at the gate had to see the photos we took at the summit for them to believe that he truly climbed. Apart from Old Moses Camp to Shipton’s Camp on Mount Kenya, I have never hiked with Mwangi upwards because he is fitter than I.
He walks so fast so I allow him to go ahead but we descend together. And that’s the only time he gets to tell me how he’s feeling, of his friends,” she says.
Just like adults, mountain climbing with children requires preparation. The ardent hiker takes a lot to ensure that her son is prepared for the hike. First, Ms Wamaitha ensures that her son is active during the week.
“He has a high metabolism while his twin has a low metabolism. As a result, though I cook the same food, I always ensure that Mwangi eats more proteins and carbohydrates than his brother.
During the hikes, his snacks are mainly nuts and seeds. I also ensure that he does his homework and rests well on Friday nights,” she says.
In an era of couch potatoes-ism, where children lazy around the house, spending so much time in front of the TV, a trend that is contributing to rising obesity cases and loneliness among children, Ms Wamaitha advises parents to begin taking their children for nature trail walks and mountain climbing.
She says adventure has many benefits. More children are growing up feeling lonely as they spend increasing amounts of time online rather than playing with others and discovering outdoor spaces.
“Apart from being book-smart, they [outdoorsy children] learn how to handle life issues like stress and friendships. It also trains them on emotional wellness. For instance, to admit when things are tough and seek ways to conquer challenges.
It’s also a great bonding time between parents and their children. I have noticed that Mwangi can share all his thoughts and feelings with me,” she says.
As for parents who want to start hiking with their children, she urges them to start small and not to discourage their children who might want to also do adventurous activities.
Some of the child-friendly destinations, she says, include Ragia Forest, Gatamaiyu Forest, Nthenge Njeru Waterfalls in Embu, Karura Forest, Tigoni Falls, and Ngong Hills.
“Start around your neighbourhood and then graduate to longer walks at safe places like Karura Forest, Arboretum, Mt. Kilimambogo and then gradually increase the length of walks and altitudes. Most importantly, listen to your babies.
Is it something that your child wants to do? Or is it you, as the parent, who is enforcing your desires on your child to live their life through you? Make decisions together. There's no hurry,” she says.
Some of the gear to buy for your children include hiking boots or good running shoes to enable them to be comfortable while walking. Rain gear for the rainy season and a great hiking bag that can carry things as well as act as a pillow should your child be tired.