Above: Close up of the rock climber on the cliff face of Lukenya belonging to the Mountain Club of Kenya. Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: The East African Nation media
It looks like Spider-Man is inching his way up a gigantic cliff. He’s spread eagle and through my zoom l see his muscles taut as he gets a foot-hold in a tiny cervix in the rock as his hand grips another to move up. It’s tense but the climber is secured to a harness for safety. Finally, he reaches the top while his mates cheer him from below. A few minutes later, he rappels down in seconds.
Rock climbing is an adrenalin-intense sport and finally making it to modern Olympics with a debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Modern gyms have cashed in on this sport that has its genesis in ancient cultures that date back to thousands of years around the world.
We’re on foothills of the very ancient prehistoric hill of Lukenya on the edge of Nairobi where our cave-ancestors once lived and probably rock climbed with vines and left behind a trail of ancient tools and rock art as evidence.
It’s the third Sunday of the month and l’m on a potluck with Nature Kenya, a day out for nature lovers. Turning into the murram road to the iconic rock that is so visible on the Nairobi-Athi road, we stop by a water pan in the arid grassland dotted with euphorbias, commiphora and acacia trees. The incredible Fleur Ng’weno with her encyclopaedic memory of all things wild and wonderful, points to a shrub that we have all overlooked.
“Smell it,” she says.
It’s the wild aubergine in full bloom with tiny white flowers full of fragrance that is so cleansing. Everybody is enchanted.
Suddenly lady-luck smiles on us.
Sabastian Mutiso walking past, introduces himself.
He’s from the Mountain Club of Kenya where Spider-Man has just conquered the rock. He invites us to the cliff that belongs to the Mountain Club of Kenya. A few more rock climbers have arrived to conquer the cliffs.
George Grayson of MSK gives an insight about rock climbing in Kenya where it started at Lukenya in the 1940s.
“Lukenya is a favourite of the rock climbers for a number of reasons,” tells rock-man.
“For starters, It’s close to Nairobi (a 45 minute drive if there is not much traffic). Then there are some 300 documented routes for climbers on Lukenya, check out: Kenya, Trad climbing | theCrag.”
I’m truly awed. It’s like a new route for everyday of the year minus 62.
Grayson continues. “There is a wide range of climbing styles and Lukenya has everything from difficult to easy climbing. And the landscape around is beautiful.”
I can attest to that because besides the landscape, we have seen a bushbaby and a bat in deep slumber, a side-stripped squirrel and a vervet monkey. Meanwhile, it looks like many in the group are thinking of becoming future rock climbers.
By now it’s late afternoon and we’re back to the main cliff where a climber is dismantling his harness strung along a cliff.
Suddenly over the ridge, a pair of black eagles aka Verreaux’s eagle drift into the high skies. It’s the grand finale as everyone bursts into an excited WOW!
“When the eagles are breeding, certain routes are closed so as not to disturb them,” informs Grayson.
To learn more about rock climbing the MCK has a ‘Climb and Curry’ night on the first Wednesday of every month at Diamond Plaza.
There are more climbing routes in national parks like Tsavo West and the Aberdares and remote locations like the Ndoto Mountains with plenty of unclimbed rocks waiting to be explored.
MCK runs beginners climbing weekends at Lukenya a few times a year and in Nairobi there is the Climb Blue Sky indoor climbing gym in Diamond Plaza. Once qualified, there’s the whole country to explore via rock climbing such as Hell’s Gate National Park, the peaks of Batian and Nelion on Mount Kenya which require rock climbing skills.
If you are climbing at Blue Sky, you can rent climbing shoes and a harness. MCK also has equipment for hire and lots of info about starting out in climbing on Starting out rock climbing in Kenya – Mountain Club of Kenya
At Lukenya Hill, the cliff face area belongs to MKC. Entry is free to MCK members but non-members pay a Day Membership (KES400 for Kenyan citizens, KES800 for others)
Online form and more information for MCK – https://www.mck.or.ke/membership/