Childhood desire that conquered mountains
Cynthia Wanjiku Ngarariga has fond memories of her childhood — she recalls numerous road trips she took with her father, James Kagambi, popularly known as KG.
Kagambi enjoyed spending time with his children and road trips provided him with an opportunity to bond with his two sons and two daughters.
One incident that Cynthia will never forget, however, was when she daringly jumped into a pool and the result was disastrous. “I didn’t know how to swim and choked on water. Luckily, my father came to my rescue,” she recalls.
Her father has been her source of inspiration, always making her to think and do big. She recalls having endless conversations with her father, how he told her there’s no limit in life and that she could do whatever she put her mind to do. She thinks she also got her love for hiking and adventure from her father.
Kagambi, a 62-year-old retired teacher, made history by becoming the first Kenyan native to summit Mt Everest in May this year. Mt Everest is the tallest mountain in the world reaching an altitude of 29,032 feet above sea level.
She shares how her father fell in love with the mountains in 1973 as a teenager when he watched in awe his village celebrate it’s first decade of independence from the British rule. Hailing from Naromoru, which is near Mt Kenya, he had followed his father outside their small hut to witness the fireworks from mountain where a group of patriotic Kenyans were celebrating in a style. Deep in his heart, he desired to one day climb the mountains, but he never thought that he would make history out of it.
Cynthia shares how her dad’s patience as a teacher, coaching sports, and teaching traditional African music would come in handy when he started his mountaineering career. He began his guiding career at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) as a field instructor in 1987.
He worked in Africa, Chile, India and the United States as a back-packing, climbing and mountaineering instructor, spending over 700 weeks (13 cumulative years) as an outdoor educator.
He is the founder and owner of guiding company KG Mountain Expeditions. On December 12, 2013, he was among five people who made it to Mt Kenya’s point Batian, the second highest point in Africa, to hoist the Kenyan flag to mark 50 years of independence.
Other achievements include climbing three of the world’s seven highest summits and representing Africa in the UN Peace Climb for the world on the Eiger, Switzerland in 1992.
His recent scale to Mt Everest was the greatest after two unsuccessful attempts due to lack of funds. “In one attempt, the American sponsors insisted that beneficiaries must be US residents and he was Kenyan. In another attempt, his name was just struck off from the list. This was frustrating,” Cynthia says.
So when he announced his plans to try it again, Cynthia, who knew his father’s never-say die spirit, was happy for him. “The journey began in February 2022 when he announced his plans to hike the tallest mountain in the world after 30 plus years of preparation,” she shares.
He started his challenge with an uphill task of trying to find a sponsor for his climb. A WhatsApp group meant to raise funds was formed, but despite the contributions, which were trickling in, it still wasn’t enough to do the climb. He needed at least Sh10 million to cover training, travel allowance, insurance and operational logistics, among other issues. He would luckily get a last minute sponsorship from sports betting company – Betika through their initiative dubbed ‘Betika na Community.’
The journey would later begin on Monday 4 April, 2022 with the whole team named ‘Full Circle’ led by Phil Henderson — an experienced mountaineer. Kagambi was the only non-American member of the ‘Full Circle’ group that aimed to become the first all-black group to reach the peak of Mount Everest. After spending 40 days on the mountain, the group successfully reached the summit.
“Part of his rigorous training regimen has included scaling Mount Kenya six times from January to April. That was followed by a two-week expedition on the Ruwenzori Mountains in neighbouring Uganda. The Full Circle Everest team also met in January for a reconnaissance and team-building session in Nepal,” Cynthia reveals says.
As for his diet, Cynthia says her father didn’t have a strict one, but he really wanted to gain weight before he went on the expedition.
She adds: “It was overwhelming, but I had strong faith and hopes of an amazing outcome,” Cynthia says.
Cynthia says all her father wanted was to inspire black people to go out and climb mountains because they are capable of doing so. “He managed to overcome all challenges and climbed the mountain like a warrior he is. The whole family was supportive. Mostly, I would manage his Instagram account throughout the whole expedition and also offered emotional support,” narrates Cynthia.
While the climb has now made him famous, he is happy that he has now paved way for other black mountaineers. “This expedition was to showcase the tenacity and strength of the climbers and highlight the barriers that continue to exist for black communities in accessing the outdoors,” she says in ending.