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Cliffs, Community and Breaking down barriers

Climbing Life Kenya's Liz Ndindi shares her love of new heights.

Interview by Circumspectacle's Emily Lynn Cook.

Liz Ndindi at Hell's Gate National Park, Naivasha, Kenya. Photo by Danny Skilton

To start off, how would you describe the Climbing Life Kenya project?

Climbing Life Kenya is an initiative by local Kenyans who are passionate about promoting rock climbing and contributing to its growth in Kenya. We are doing this by reaching out to Kenyans, particularly of African descent, who are less likely to be exposed to rock climbing and creating an inviting and welcoming space where they can connect with rock climbing.

Climbing Life Kenya has emerged to be a platform through which local climbers can integrate into the wider climbing community. What started as a personal challenge has grown into a movement that amplifies Kenyan local climbers’ involvement in rock climbing by informing them of and connecting them to climbing opportunities, shining the spotlight and celebrating efforts by local climbers and encouraging engagement in the wider rock climbing community and in society at large by volunteering and giving back.

Climbing Life Kenya continues to break barriers and make the local voice more audible. We feel humbled to have played a significant role in creating increased awareness which has culminated in an upsurge of the interest in rock climbing by Kenyan locals over the last couple of years. We have also seen some players who have been in the rock climbing community longer than we have being stirred into action so that they too are now consciously identifying with and heeding to Climbing Life Kenya’s call to connect Kenyans, especially beginners, with rock climbing in a way that had not been done before.

When and how did Climbing Life Kenya begin?

As I started out in rock climbing, I was baffled at how rock climbing opportunities that were so near could remain so hidden, hard to access and or simply unknown to many locals. I also became increasingly aware of the underwhelming presence of other Kenyans of African descent in rock climbing.

This caused me to have a crazy thought. I wondered, “What can I possibly do to make a difference and bring more locals on-board?” I knew from the onset that visibility would be an invaluable aspect in breaking barriers and changing mind-sets. It would open others up to opportunities and possibilities around them and embolden them to step into a space where they would have otherwise felt unwelcome.

It was then that I made a conscious decision to use my rock climbing experiences as a platform to help raise awareness about the sport in Kenya. By sharing my rock climbing journey through social media, I was inviting other Kenyans to be curious about rock climbing, to start talking about it and to realise that they can do it too. I wanted other Kenyans to see someone who looks like them doing it and think, “Hmmm, that looks interesting”, “maybe I can do that too”, “can I join you next time you go rock climbing?” I also hoped that it would stir other rock climbers in Kenya to action so that they too can encourage local climbers and share their love and knowledge of rock climbing with them.

And so on 4th September 2017 Climbing Life Kenya came to being.

When did you start climbing personally? Is there a moment you can name where you fell in love with rock climbing or was climbing always part of your life in some way?

I started climbing in 2015. As a working mom, I found myself feeling consistently exhausted and in need of an interesting, challenging and physically engaging activity that would get me from my office-home routine. Regular gym did not tick all the boxes for me so I decided to give climbing a go.

Rock climbing was definitely love at first touch. Not only had I found an amazing physical activity, I had also an activity that had gifted me with an opportunity to clear my mind and focus on simply being present in the moment. It was also something I could share with my kids! In those early moments I felt that rock climbing would be a consistent part of my life.

What are the typical attitudes towards climbing in the area? Are those attitudes evolving? If so, how?

In spite of Kenya’s rich rock climbing history and its incredible climbing sites, rock climbing remains, either by design or default, a somewhat hidden activity from most locals here in Kenya. We have found that most Kenyans we interact with as Climbing Life Kenya do not know that rock climbing is available in Kenya and that it is an activity they can engage in.

Exposure to knowledge about rock climbing and to the available rock climbing opportunities which locals are getting to take part in has seen perceptions, attitudes and stereotypes slowly eroding particularly amongst the youth and young adults.

What's it like watching others encounter climbing for the first time?

It is so fulfilling to see others encounter rock climbing for the first time. On the approach to the rock you can literally see someone’s eyes widen at the disbelief that rock climbing has been around in Kenya for over a decade and that it is something that they can engage in!

There is also this amazing transformation that happens in an individual right before your eyes as they get to experience the rock for the first time. Fear and uncertainty turn to self-doubt, a calm meditation and a moment of self-awareness which then morphs into courage, excitement, and self-belief. It is a beautiful cocktail of emotions that culminates in a certain self-empowerment and a can-do-will-do spirit that no-one wants to end! The person who goes up the rock is never the same person who comes down. That for me is the best part - the moment when someone experiences rock climbing’s transformative power for themselves; the moment when they start defining their why in rock climbing.

Liz Ndindi instructing during Climbing Life Kenya's Rock Climbing Beginner Session.

What's been your favourite event you've run?

I have many favourites but if I had to pick I’d go for one I fondly refer to as the Ubuntu Climb. In September 2019 we brought together a group of local men and women for a day of sport climbing and bouldering at Lukenya simply for the love of rock climbing.

What stuck with me about this event is that it embodied Climbing Life Kenya’s goal of connecting Kenyans with rock climbing and left every one of us with a profound sense of belonging and togetherness. People were open and available to others - challenging, uplifting, celebrating and affirming each other to the end. On that day the climbing community spirit was alive in all of us; the crag was our home and we were all family.

How has Covid-19 impacted Climbing Life Kenya and the broader community?

2020 started off in such a great place for Climbing Life Kenya. We had planned numerous community outreach activities and events and were looking forward to creating more impact on the ground through concerted efforts with individuals and organisations that are committed to creating a more inclusive and engaged rock climbing community.

Rock climbing depends on gathering of people and movement from one location to another. And now, thanks to COVID-19, no one can congregate in-person anywhere and movement is restricted. This has dealt a significant blow on our plans but has not dulled our resolve.

As Climbing Life Kenya, we are taking this time to push forward with our mission to create awareness and connect Kenyans with rock climbing through social media platforms. We are delighted to see that our efforts are yielding results as we continue to generate interest from Kenyans keen on experiencing rock climbing once the pandemic is over!

Our team has also taken this time to carry out a study on the Factors affecting Local Kenyans’ Participation in Rock Climbing. The information that will be gathered through this study will help us streamline our focus in addressing barriers that limit local Kenyans’ involvement in rock climbing activities and also contribute to the body of knowledge around rock climbing in Kenya from a local perspective!

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rock climbing community in Kenya has remained vigilant in upholding the directives on physical distancing, staying at home, curfews and lockdowns as we play our part in flattening the curve. Most rock climbers have resulted to at-home buildering and workouts. We look forward to more rock climbing in the future even as we brace ourselves to face the new ‘normal’ life post-COVID-19 will present.

Where can people find out more about you? How can people support your project?

You can find out more about us on our website.

We welcome support from individuals, organisations and corporates to help us grow our impact as we seek to connect Kenyans with rock climbing. Support for our efforts can be by donating climbing gear, sharing expertise, helping to fundraising and spreading awareness. You can also join our community by climbing with us or volunteering in our events irrespective of your social, economic or cultural background or experience in rock climbing!


*This article originally appeared on circumspectacles/



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