At 52, Kagambi still has passion for mountain climbing

Wednesday March 12 2014

Mr James Kagambi (left) leads a team of Kenyan mountaineers on their way to point Batian to hoist the national flag on top of Mt Kenya on December 12, 2013 to mark the Kenya@50 independence celebrations. He started mountain climbing at the age of 12 and has climbed many mountains around the world. He was the first African to climb Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. PHOTO/FILE

Mr James Kagambi (left) leads a team of Kenyan mountaineers on their way to point Batian to hoist the national flag on top of Mt Kenya on December 12, 2013 to mark the Kenya@50 independence celebrations. He started mountain climbing at the age of 12 and has climbed many mountains around the world. He was the first African to climb Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. PHOTO/FILE 

By STELLAR MURUMBA
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By EVALYNE GITHINJI
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To many, it only takes occasions like the recent Kenya@50 celebrations to bring about the spirit of patriotism.

Still, for some it was all about pomp and colour.

But for others it was nothing personal but all about nationalism.

Such is the story of one James Kagambi, popularly known as KG, an accomplished mountaineer by profession.

For KG, it all started in a village in Timau in Laikipia County, an expansive area blessed with a picturesque view of the snow tipped peaks of Mount Kenya.

TWO TEARS OLD
He was only two years old when the country first attained independence.

A decade later when Kenya was marking its first ten years of liberation from colonialism, young Kagambi promised his father that he would be part of the team that would go up Mt Kenya’s Batian peak just as the legendary Kisoi Munyao did.

Since then, that has been his driving force.

“It was on the eve of Dec 12, 1973 when I followed my father outside our small hut to witness the fireworks from the mountain where a group of patriotic Kenyans was marking ten years of independence in a style that sparked my mountaineering desire,” says an enthusiastic KG.

The robust father-of-three narrates of a sacrifice he made to fly all the way from Santiago, the capital of Chile in South America to be part of history during the commemoration of 50 years of independence at Mt Kenya on Dec 12, 2013, 40 years later.

BOOKED FLIGHT

“This was all I ever wanted since I was 12. Ridiculously, I had booked my flight a year before for I believed there was no way God would not let me be part of this. It is all I ever dreamt of,” he chuckles.

Since 1987, he says, he has worked in Africa, Chile and the United States as a backpacking, climbing and mountaineering instructor, spending over 700 weeks.

KG, now 52, was the flag bearer and the lead mountaineer together with Kenya Wildlife Service Corporal Evans Mwiti to lead the all-Kenyan team to hoist the independence flag on the highest point above sea level in Kenya in December 2013.

The team together with others was commissioned by President Kenyatta.

He reveals that he was eagerly looking forward to 2013 when such a day would come.

FLAG HOISTED

And at the stroke of midnight on December 12, 2013, the flag was finally hoisted.

He recalls of the rain and snow that fell at the same time but for them the mission had to be completed.

A torch was lit and fireworks reigned in the air amidst ululations.

But the occasion was not complete without a rendition of the national anthem as a pledge of loyalty to the country.

Notwithstanding the harsh weather conditions, which were worse compared to what was experienced in 1963 they managed to get at the Batian peak which stands at 5,199 metres above sea level.

50 years since independence, history repeated itself.

In 1963, renowned mountaineer Kisoi Munyao, then 25, led a team to point Batian and made history by hoisting the country’s first independence flag that signaled the end of the colonial era.

MOUNT MCKINLEY

KG the mountaineer, the first African to ever climb Mount McKinley in North America, shed a tear for Kenya.

Mount McKinley or Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,237 feet above sea level.

“We were between snow and rain and that is the worst it can get for a human being and one can even get hypothermic.

“I remember singing happy birthday Kenya and I cannot quite explain this but one tear drop fell from my eye,” KG recollects.

Mr Mwiti who is part of Mt Kenya Search and Rescue team said the climb was quite an emotional one.

“We were a team of nine but only five of us managed to get across the Lewis Glacier to the point Batian peak. It was not an easy task but the feeling was so great. This was nothing personal but all for the nation,” Mr Mwiti said.

For a man who has done this a thousand times his loyalty to his motherland could not go unnoticed.

“I have climbed more than a 1000 of the coldest mountains on the globe. I do this all the time, it gives me a good feeling,” he says.

FAMILY

However, while not enjoying his favourite activity—high altitude mountaineering—KG says he enjoys spending time with his family and three children in Naromoru.

Family gives him the energy to push on. Nonetheless, he notes that when he arrived in the country for the Kenya@50 expedition, he did not meet his family first.

Rather, he went straight to the Mount Kenya National Park in Naromoru where the whole expedition kicked off.

“When a country plays with another team in whatever challenge one should forget about any other differences whatsoever and just be patriotic.

Nothing much nothing less, even if the Kenya@50 event could not have been locally organized I would still have sacrificed to go up Mt Kenya for my country,” affirms Kagambi.

SENIOR INSTRUCTOR

As a senior mountaineering instructor, KG reveals that for ten years, he has regularly worked at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) mountaineering programmes in Patagonia.

Prior to joining the NOLS team, KG taught in Kenyan schools for seven years.

He also instructed in traditional African music and coached soccer and other sports.

KG trains search and rescue teams on Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro, and Ruwenzori.

He has also completed three of the Seven Summits and in 1992 represented Africa in the UN Peace Climb for the World on the Eiger.

KG’s longtime contributions to the field of rock climbing and mountaineering in Kenya have led to recognition and honors in his country.

He currently owns KG Mountain Expeditions, which regularly leads backcountry expeditions in East Arica.