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Walking With Warriors

August 5th, 2012

Know the poorest of the poor are among your neighbors, in your neighborhoods, in your town, in your city, perhaps in your own family. We must look first to our own streets. — Mother Teresa

Last month, five climbers and I went to climb Mt Kenya for Challenge21 in hopes of raising money and awareness for Water For People. Through the process, we learned far more than we had anticipated.

The dynamic Kenyans we met demonstrated that the first place to make a difference is in our own neighborhoods—in our own country. For those with greater wherewithal the help can and should extend further. In the big picture, our greatest hope is to educate as many people as possible in the areas where our world is struggling and losing balance: clean water, sanitation, wildlife poaching, climate change, poverty, illiteracy etc.

Pete McBride and Jake Norton teamed up to film the trip. Their talent is exceptional with stunning imagery that captures the path of water from its origins on Mt Kenya, which supplies the country with 70 percent of its water, through the bush to the city where it runs dry in the slums. This film will show even those in the first world that there is a lot at stake as we lose our watersheds.

The Mathare Slum

The morning after we arrived in Kenya, our first stop was to the slums of Mathare. Pete’s good friend, Soiya, started a foundation called We The Change, that is creating a new format for improving circumstance in the slums through the education of its children. She hopes that it will be model that can replicate throughout Kenya… and eventually, all of Africa. Accompanying us were two local boys, the program manager, Edra, and Soiya. Without our guides, we later learned, we would have been robbed, harmed, and taken within two minutes of entering the slum. It is beyond dangerous to enter without proper precaution.

The slums are misunderstood. Most of the inhabitants were country dwellers that moved to the city to find work. Many have jobs and half or more of their nominal salary per month goes to rent. The children that attend the school must pay a small fee and wear a uniform so that there is a gesture of commitment to the program. There are 800,000 of record living in Mathare and closer to 1 million off-record. That number is set to double in the next 20 years. They live surrounded by garbage, in dismal sanitation, and have limited access to clean water.

Mt Kenya

Mt Kenya is a major Kenyan resource that is under duress. Once we got there, we could see why. The glacial recession is severe. The mountain put forth more challenges than anticipated. The weather was unpredictable and did not cooperate. Most of our climbs were done in mist, rain, snow or all three.

First we circumnavigated the mountain and acclimatized. We then climbed Lenana Peak (16,300 feet), summiting on the eerie morning of July 25th. Our next peak was Batian via the North Face route (17,075 feet). The 5.9 climb rating was old-school (more severe) than our modern day softer grades. Leaving our camp at 4am, Jake Norton and I each led the first eight pitches of the climb- Jake teamed with Frank Pope and I teamed with McBride. With 50+ pound packs, approach shoes and ropes, we made our way up to the ampitheatre mid-point by 11am. Our team of four then ascended the remaining eight pitches together, simul-climbing and working through the two tougher upper pitches as one rope team.

On the summit ridge we got slammed. As thunder cracked above us, an electrical storm buzzed our hair, gear, and the rocks, threatening our safety. Then a storm moved in in full force. Our long descent quickly became cold with pounding snow and sleet, wind, and darkness. There was zero-visibility. When we arrived to the ampitheater at 9pm, our small bivy was wet. The storm continued through the night and the last eight rappels the next morning were done down streaming waterfalls through the lower canyon.

We gave it our best and mother nature gave us hers.

Read more about Kim Havell’s adventures in Africa on her blog

Kim Havell is one of the world’s premier female ski mountaineers. Her career began as a ski coach in the Telluride valley before transitioning to climbing and ski mountaineering in the San Juan Mountains. Before leaving Telluride, Kim went on to claim first female descents on several classic lines. She is one of only a handful of females to have major ski descents on all seven continents, including first descents on four of them. Kim has been featured in several ski films over the years, and when not skiing, keeps herself busy by writing for Outside Magazine, Powder, ESPN, National Geographic and more.

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