An 84-year-old mountaineer is leading a team of 11 to climb Mt Kenya in honour of Kenya's second liberation hero Kenneth Matiba who died four months ago.
If successful, Mr Naigzy Gebremedhin's mission to scale Mt Kenya’s Lenana Peak will see him become the oldest man to climb the mountain, smashing the record he set two years ago.
The treacherous journey to the top of the second highest mountain in Africa started off at noon on Friday with Mr Naigzy leading a team of young climbers.
This will be his 13th climb of Mt Kenya for the Eritrean-born American, five less than the 18 times Matiba scaled the mountain.
The team will use the Naromoru route and are expected to descend on Sunday. They will make several stopovers at camps along the route to allow them acclimatise to their surroundings.
While the hike for most of young climbers is an opportunity to cross another activity off their bucket list, the climb is personal for Mr Niagzy.
“I want this trip to be in memory of my friend Matiba. A great friend, patriotic Kenyan and mountaineering enthusiast,” he said before starting off his journey.
Mr Naigzy, a hiking and mountaineering enthusiast, became friends with Mr Matiba back in 1990. The two met during a hiking expedition to officially open the Mackinder’s Camp on Mt Kenya.
“Actually Matiba was putting up a team to climb Mt Everest and I asked if I could join. Since we had just met he allowed me to join him on the climb of Mt Kenya,” he said.
At the time, Mr Naigzy was working with the United Nations Environment Programme and Matiba was looking for people from all walks of life to climb the mountain to boost tourism. The hike would become the beginning of a 26-year friendship between the two.
Having grown fond of the veteran politician, Mr Naigzy speaks highly of Matiba, describing him as a noble selfless man.
In 2016, he climbed Mt Kenya for the twelfth time to pray for Matiba who was then ailing at the time.
Following the hike at 82, he was ready to throw in his towel and retire from mountaineering but he has decided to give the challenge another go.
It is for this reason he is beginning an annual hike of Mt Kenya to honour Matiba. This, he says, is to pay respect and honour to Matiba’s love for nature.
“I hope this can be done every year and that the young generations can take it up as well,” he said.
At the same time, he expressed concern over environmental degradation saying it has adversely affected the mountain. Nevertheless, he believes that the situation is salvageable.
“Back in the days there used to be so many flowers and the glacier was so much we could walk on it. Now it is just rocks. But every situation is reversible if the young generations put in some effort to protect the environment,” he said.