“Haiya! Kumbe wakenya hupanda mawe pia?” is one of the comments Elizabeth Ndindi has heard during her time climbing. The phrase translated means “Oh my! So Kenyans climb rocks too?” According to Mountain Project, the Kenyan landscape is abundant with a variety of climbing including traditional, sport, bouldering, and ice. Although not typically highlighted among some of the most popular climbing destinations, Kenya’s climbing scene seems to be growing in popularity.
Albeit the first documented ascent was in 1899, an article by the American Alpine Club notes that modern day climbing entered this area via British climber Ian Howell and Iain Allan in the 1970s. The Mountain Club of Kenya (MCK) details much of the climbing areas around Nairobi along with information on how to get acquainted with the areas.
According to Elizabeth, rock climbing in Kenya is considered a western sport. Rock climbers in Kenya mainly comprise of ex-pats and members of the local western and Indian communities. “This unfortunate reality has inadvertently led to the presumption that rock climbing is an elitist sport and that local Kenyans do not rock climb. So much so that it is almost impossible for most to perceive a local Kenyan as a real rock climber.” says Elizabeth.
The expectation of African Kenyans to be disinterested or excluded from the sport of rock climbing has driven much of the reactions Elizabeth has experienced whilst climbing; both indoors and outdoors. As this inclusion gap played out for Elizabeth, she reflected on her own climbing experience and began to ask, “Why are Kenyans not embracing rock climbing? Whose responsibility is it to advance more inclusive rock climbing in Kenya – individual climbers? expatriates? MCK?”. She found that “at the core of promoting rock climbing in Kenya two things stand clear, that (1) it is the responsibility of all who love this beautiful sport to share it with others and (2) increasing diversity is imperative for the growth and development of rock climbing in Kenya.”
In her effort to disprove the assumption that Kenyans do not rock climb. Elizabeth created the instagram account @ClimbingLifeKenya as a way to create a space for African Kenyans to connect with the sport of rock climbing. “I want other local Kenyans to see someone who looks like them doing it and think, ‘Hmm, that looks interesting… maybe I can do that too”.
Despite hosting the highest mountain in the country and the second largest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kenya, Elizabeth describes the Kenyan interactions with the outdoor climbing as “largely passive” with most being observers as opposed to active participants in the sport. “Most Kenyans I have interacted with treat rock climbing with a general fear that springs from lack of knowledge about rock climbing. It therefore comes as no surprise that people think I must be crazy to climb rocks – and sometimes with no rope!!”, Elizabeth comments.
She adds,”it would be a great achievement for me to be able to create an inviting space that connects people, especially beginners, with climbing and where experienced climbers can share their knowledge and encourage novices.”
From the sounds of it, Elizabeth has already shown signs of success generating interest from Kenyans keen on experiencing rock climbing. Through her account, @ClimbingLifeKenya, Elizabeth has created a page to share her love of climbing with others and to start a conversation that will inspire other African Kenyans to try the sport out and stir other rock climbers to take action so that they too can encourage local climbers, and in so doing continue to push the Kenyan climbing scene forward. This task may not be easy but Elizabeth, like most climbers, is up for the challenge, “It is not lost on me that changing mindsets is not an easy task, but I believe this is a journey worth taking.”
So what’s next for Elizabeth? She is looking forward to climb a lot more and to begin scouting for new climbing sites. She hopes to one day make her way down to climb in South Africa as well! We would like to thank Elizabeth Ndindi for taking the time to share her story with Brown Girls Climb. Follow Elizabeth and her climbing journey here @ClimbingLifeKenya!