En route through the vibrant Mount Kenya National Park | Heike Krumm
A few years after she led a trek to Ethiopia’s dramatic Simien Mountains with World Expeditions, Rebecca Stephens MBE prepares to return to Africa for another trek, this time on what she describes as her favourite mountain: Mount Kenya.
In this exclusive Q&A session, the mountaineering legend shares with us what draws her to the mountains and how her love affair with Kenya began.
What is it that draws you to the mountains time after time?
I feel properly alive in the mountains. It’s a combination of things: the aching beauty of the landscape and the big open skies. Then there’s something about using one’s whole body - every muscle, every sense - that awakens us and feeds our physical and mental well-being.
There’s the thrill of the journey, seeing new vistas, new people, new cultures - and that wonderful connection with the earth, a reminder of our place in nature and our oneness with the universe.
For me it’s the best tonic in the world, the mountains nourish the soul and I’d feel bereft without them.
I thought, ‘this is happiness, I’ve arrived.’
What has been your most memorable mountaineering expedition so far and why?
There’s perception, and reality. Everest changed my life and I’ll carry the label of first British woman to climb it to my grave.
But my most memorable mountaineering expedition wasn’t 1993 when I climbed it, but 1989 when I discovered it - everything fresh, brightly coloured, exciting, full of anticipation and hope.
You have a special relationship with Kenya, don’t you?
I’ve had a long-standing love affair with Kenya since my student days when I worked there on a farm.
One of my most vivid memories is sitting in a beautiful garden, squeezing freshly picked lemons for juice to take on safari, whilst looking out at horses grazing in the shade of an acacia tree, and beyond, the vast expanse of the Rift Valley. I thought, ‘this is happiness, I’ve arrived.’
Have you climbed Mount Kenya before?
I have but on a different route, what was called the Ice Window, way back in 1991.
What magic to stand on the top, at the very pinnacle of a vast obtuse triangular shadow of the mountain cast across the savannah where life itself began.
What makes the Mount Kenya trek so special for you?
Asked what is my most favourite mountain in the world, my answer is Mount Kenya - more so than Everest, Denali or Vinson. It isn’t only the romance of the mountain itself with its rugged summits and beautiful names - Gates of the Mist, Batian, Nelion, Point Lenana - but where the mountain sits.
Much less populated than Kilimanjaro, it's surrounded by pristine moorland and rainforest and the real possibility of seeing game.
Do you have any fitness or training routine that you can recommend for someone who wants to do this trekking adventure?
The best training is to do what you’ll be doing: namely, climbing hills. The gym might be all that’s accessible if living in the city - stair masters are great - but it is important to put on some boots and clamber up a few hills as well.
I’m lucky to live at the foot of the South Downs and my dog is always happy when I’m off on a trip, she gets a lot more exercise than she would otherwise. [red: find more training tips on our blog]
It would be crazy to go to Kenya and not go on safari.
What do you expect will be the highlight of the trekking tour?
I expect every step to have its meaning and joys, but highlights come from unexpected places - a glimpse of an exquisite dawn, a new friendship, the sense of achievement with having reached the summit, the list goes on…
The Mt Kenya trip finishes with a safari. How does this compliment the whole experience in the mountains?
It would be crazy to go to Kenya and not go on safari. There’s always a feeling of accomplishment having completed a trek, and a renewed appreciation of a hot shower and the luxury of clean sheets and a comfortable bed.
On this trip, this will only be heightened by the treat of witnessing Africa’s majestic animals in their natural environment. I can’t wait.
Finally… do you speak a few words of Swahili?
Jambo! Hakuna matata – no worries! And how can any of us who've climbed in Africa forget, Polepole - slowly…up that hill. I’m going to have to get my phrase book out and brush up before we go!
Do you want to join Rebecca Stephens on her next trekking adventure to Africa? Mount Kenya and Safari with Rebecca Stephens departs in March 2023. Limited availability. Book your place now or contact us for more information.