Hetal Shah, 31, is an investment advisor with a love of adventure. Her love affair with adventure started when she first ascended Mt Kenya on her 18th birthday.
Today, she and her girlfriends Ratna Hirani, a doctor, Poonam Nagda, an investment advisor and Binny Shah, an accountant who currently resides in England, regularly partake of similar adrenalin-rush activities both locally and internationally.
The girls, all in their early 30s, met about four years ago at a pedal go kart event. “This is an event where you ride pedal karts the whole night,” explains Hetal. Together they have conquered Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro, and enjoy other outdoor activities like cycling and swimming.
In April this year, inspired by the movie ‘Everest’ the four friends embarked on their most ambitious expedition yet. “We went on an all girls’ trip to Nepal to ascend Mt Everest,” says Hetal. They faced a lot of opposition from fellow mountaineers and mountain guides. “There were a lot of sexist comments about why we shouldn’t undertake the climb without a man,” explains Hetal.
“What if something happens?” the mountain guides asked them. “You need a man in your team to assist you girls.” Also, while Hetal’s family were supportive of her endeavour, some of her friends did not have the same luck. The locals in Nepal were also sceptical and questioned why women were climbing Mt Everest alone. However, Hetal and her friends were adamant. “Women, single or married, can also reach greater heights,” she asserts.
“(Climbing a mountain) is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” says Hetal. “It took us a year to get mentally prepared.” Once on the climb, it took them 18 days to get to Island Peak on Mt Everest, which is 6,189m ASL. “The ascent was grueling and it took us about eight to nine days to get to Everest Base before continuing on our journey to Island Peak,” she explains.
Despite the excruciating challenges, Hetal finds this sort of activity relaxing. “This is my idea of me-time and my way of relaxing from life’s daily stresses,” says Hetal. “I believe in nature. It emits positive vibrations. When you respect it, it respects you back.”
The Mt Everest experience, however, remains the most challenging and dangerous venture they have undertaken to date. “The way up Island Peak was paved with crevasses, which are deep open cracks in the thick ice,” she explains. They jumped over the crevasses that were not too wide but used ladders to go across the wider ones.
“The idea of falling into a crevasse was very real and scary as one cannot be sure of the chances of rescue and survival,” says Hetal. “It’s like falling into a bottomless black hole. So we had to ensure we perfected our balancing act on the ladders.”
Poonam and Ratna were scared, unlike Hetal who was excited by the adrenalin rush. They, however, managed to successfully navigate the five crevasses on their way up and down the mountain. So far, the girls have visited Cape Town where they climbed Table Mountain, swam with the sharks and did the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee (the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jump).
So what’s her next challenge? “I will embark on a 600km, five-day cycling adventure this month,” says Hetal. “Life is full of challenges and we must challenge ourselves to reach higher heights!”
Eve Mwenda, 31, is a procurement officer. She and her friends Reg Chuhi, 31 and a film editor, communications specialist Brenda Nakhulo, 33, film producer Serah Kimundu, 29, brand consultant Sian Saitonik, 29, food and beverage controller Eve Makanga, 34, and Eunice Wanjiru, an education technology marketer, are a force to reckon with.
They all met on different hikes and have known each other for about five years now. “Over time, we began to bond and realised we had a lot in common,” says Eve. “We eventually formed a group and we call ourselves Power Girls,” she says. Eunice Wanjiru is the most daring in the group and is always the first to sign up for an adventure. She has summited Mt Kenya about 10 to 15 times.
Women too love competition and most of these ladies belong to a group called Medal Hunters, whose target is to run 1,000km by the end of the year. The idea is to participate in competitions that involve trail runs, where the competitors run in the wild as opposed to on tarmac. “We aim at collecting as many trophies as we can,” Eunice explains. “The sight of the trophies displayed in your house is amazing,” Eve adds.
Together The Power Girls have conquered Mt Kenya, Kilimanjaro and undertaken numerous hikes. They usually sign up for races in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “Running calms my body and helps me operate better, thus making me more productive,” says Eve.
“In addition to keeping fit, it resets the body after working hard all week long,” adds Eve, who has also done 10 half marathons with some of her friends and is still raring to go. What’s so exciting about climbing the mountains or being out there in the wild?
“Each climb or adventure is different and tests your endurance both mentally and physically,” she explains. “The sense of accomplishment validates the fact that you are a strong woman and also boosts your self-esteem. Outdoor activities require a lot of discipline since it involves getting up before dawn for practice or engaging in the various activities. Most people who do outdoor activities are grounded as they have to adhere to strict guidelines,” explains Eve.
This usually opens you to a world of people who are focused in life, she says. And it may also be a great way to start dating. “My friends who met during one of our activities are getting married,” Eve reveals.
Amy Wahome, a communications expert and her friend Linda Matama, a marketer, have been globetrotting for a while now. The two friends met about five years ago when they worked together in the same organisation.
The dynamic duo, both in their 30s, have both climbed Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro and find solace in discovering new places for adventure. “You don’t have to rob a bank or have a million shillings in your account to see the world,” offers Amy. “It’s about saving and working towards a goal. Do something for yourself,” she says. “You can start by visiting our local attraction sites,” she says.
The two friends plan their travel diary at the beginning of the year. They budget and book way in advance so as to take advantage of low season rates. “At times we are joined by other friends depending on their availability and work schedules,” says Amy.
Together with their friends, they have experienced the ‘Bigger Experience’ on Victoria Falls in Zambia, considered to be the largest waterfall in the world, which included zip lining across the Falls, bungee jumping and jumping into the falls harnessed on a rope.
However, their highlight and the most dangerous experience they have had was swimming with the sharks in South Africa. “It is an experience that elicits excitement and fear in equal measure,” explains Amy. The participants are divided into groups of nine and they all set off to the deep sea. A cage is then hooked to the boat where it is suspended with half of it inside the sea. As sharks come to feed, the participants jump into the cage to watch them.
“At times the sharks bump into the cages and as much as you know they can’t get in, it can be scary,” “The cage has some openings and one always wonders what if it opens,” poses Amy. But that is how these girls unwind and they will still go under the sea again for more adventure. Currently, Amy is on a break as she is pregnant, but says she will be back to enjoying her adrenalin adventures once her baby is old enough to be independent.