Nowadays, almost every Kenyan wants to try mountain hiking. Not only to lose weight, but to overcome the fear of heights and also to see how far they can push their bodies.
Muindi Kikuvi had a fear of heights (acrophobia) and she was overweight.
“Weighing 100 kilogrammes, I had tried all other ways of losing weight until some friends advised me to try mountain climbing. I knew I could not do it because I feared heights,” says Ms Kikuvi.
Determined to lose weight, she approached Hikemaniak, a mountaineering group that brings together lovers of outdoors who do fun activities every weekend from forest bathing to hiking Mt Kilimanjaro.
Ms Kikuvi's transformation journey started in June last year. She began by climbing Sleeping Warrior and Ugali Hills near Lake Elementaita which normally takes about five to six hours to reach the top.
“It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. I was not prepared. I joined a group of hikers but I had the wrong shoes and I didn’t know the hike will last eight hours,” she says.
After going back to the house that evening, she vowed never to go hiking again. She started looking for other exercises and alternatives to help her lose weight and lower her blood pressure.
However, after one week, her friends called her to inform her of another hiking adventure. After a lot of persuasion and armed with the right hiking shoes and attire, she joined her friends to Mt Longonot which takes about seven to nine hours to go around the crater.
“I searched online on what I needed before climbing a mountain,” the 32-year-old says, adding that before rushing to climb a mountain, research and read to prepare physically and mentally.
Engage a gym instructor who has trained hikers. Unfit people can faint, vomit or nose bleed during a hike because when the altitude changes, people get mountain sickness, she says.
For first timers, start by doing simple exercises to strengthen the muscles and increase the heart rate before going for the actual mountain climbing.
Ms Kikuvi says, from experience, a person should consult a doctor before climbing a mountain especially for those who have health conditions. Also, always carry a lot of water and hire a mountain guide for safety purposes.
Mt Longonot was not as treacherous and soon she started climbing more mountains and hills. Because of her fear of heights, she picked the less steep mountains then graduated to high ones over time.
“I started with low, small hills in Ukambani, then graduated to table mountains in Aberdare Ranges, then Mt Longonot and Mt Elgon,’’ she says, adding that you don't have to wait until you are lean of fit to start hiking.
Lost 20 kgs
So far, she has climbed the rocky Elephant Hill, trekked the world's highest mountain Mt Everest base camp, the Himalayas in Asia, Kasigau Hills in Ukambani, Mt Ololokwe in Samburu, Ngong Hills among others. Nowadays she hikes two to three times a month.
“The heights phobia is gone and I have shed over 20 kilogrammes,” she says.
Besides meandering through the different terrains, she climbs rocks, watches rare birds, takes photos and searches for forest fruits to make the hiking more fun.
“Hiking has taught me to be patient, persistent and to be grateful. It is also a stress-reliever,” she says.