Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Outward Bound and NOLS - The Most Challenging Outdoor experiences ever!

Outward Bound - 1983

When I was 17 and had just completed my '0' levels in Nairobi, my friend, Pauline, told us about Outward Bound. Not really knowing what we were getting into, we signed up. It seemed like an Outdoor Leadership school was a great way for Pauline, Scola, Lorna and I to celebrate graduating Form 4. We were all city girls who had no experience of the outdoors, we didn't go camping or hiking or do any kind of nature exploration. Deep down inside each of us though, there probably was a craving for outdoor life and pushing ourselves to the limits!

"Outward Bound is an international non-profit organization founded by Kurt Hahn that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through challenging learning expeditions that inspire strength of character, leadership and service to others." Its motto is;

"To Serve, to Strive and not to Yield"

Outward Bound in Kenya is located in a place called Loitokitok, at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the Kenyan side of the border between Kenya and Tanzania. It is a 3-week (17 days to be precise) outdoor leadership course for young people aged 17 - 30. In Kenya at the time we went in 1983, it was also used as a training facility for the army.

The entire group was divided into four smaller groups named after four famous peaks in East Africa; Elgon, Nelion, Kenya and Kibo.

A Day at Outward Bound

  • Woke up at dawn 
  • Run and Dip - Did some warm up exercises in the dark and then ran half a mile up and down a bumpy road as dawn was breaking and just as the sun was beginning to rise, jumped into a two foot-filled pool where the water came straight down from the snow-capped Kilimanjaro - in other words freezing! 
  • Breakfast
  • Morning meeting
  • Ropes Course - a challenge course of ropes that start with simple challenges and the final challenge was getting up a tree and ziplining down the entire course.  It would have been fun, but I never did get to that. Though from where I started to where I got to was quite the achievement for me!
  • Lunch 
  • Team competitions for obstacle hike courses - The winners got army biscuits!  These were so terrible that you'd want to not win so you didn't get any!
  • High wall - learning basic rock climbing techniques
  • Dinner

There were other things that we did that I have forgotten over the years.

Some expeditions we did;
  • Rock climbing at Rhino Rocks - a sheer vertical rock at least 100 feet high and you're dangling by a mere rope! (crazy for anyone, but especially for someone petrified of heights!) - a leader stood at the top and one at the bottom and that was your life line! I think I screamed all the way up!
  • A long hike which entailed crossing over a river on a log and ended with us jumping from a cliff into a pool of water below!
  • Another beautiful long hike through the savanna with graceful giraffes walking beside us - if you reached out you could touch these beautiful reticulated creatures!
  • Solo Night or more like two solo nights - You get in a big truck and people get dropped off one by one in the bush! They give you the bare mininum - a panga (machetti) to cut away brush to make space for a shelter, a piece of tarp and rope to build up a shelter and cover yourself, your sleeping bag to keep you warm, and a couple of matches to help start a fire and cook some food. I tried to do all those things, but it poured that night so the matches got wet, the key on the corn beef can broke and I tried to machete my way into the can, but that didn't work, the shelter fell apart and I was soaked to the bone, floating in my sleeping bag all night wondering why on earth I ever thought Outward Bound was a good idea! I also found out that I was right next to a farmer's field after I saw some cows grazing beyond the bush. I wasn't sure if I should be scared of the fact that there was no one around or if there was a farmer around! The instructors came by the next morning and had a fire going in seconds, opened up my cans and probably had a good chuckle! That afternoon, some other friends found each other and then came and found me. Our solo night was over! The second night was happily communal! 
One of the disappointments for us at Outward Bound that year was that we never got to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. They hadn't done the climb in a few years because the border between the two countries, Kenya and Tanzania, had been closed, but it was just opening up and we were hopeful that it would happen for us, but unfortunately it didn't, so we never did get to climb Kili!

You couldn't really buy hiking shoes in Kenya at the time, so my mum had bought me some second-hand purple shoes that looked like hiking shoes, but weren't. I had terrible blisters on my feet. Fortunately I left for Mombasa right after Outward Bound for a Sports Festival and the waters of the Indian Ocean made those blisters disappear like magic!

While we were waiting for the bus to take us back to Nairobi after the course, I had an itch in my eye.  One of the instructors came over and discovered I had a dead tick stuck in the bottom of my eyelid! (remember that farmer's field?). They managed to dig it out with an unstearalized safety pin!

There were so many other things we did over those 17 days, but these are the ones that are etched in my memory. It is probably the most intensive program I have ever done in my life, but it was so completely worth it. It tested my limits and made me go further than I ever thought possible! 

NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) - 1984

At the end of Form 6 (Grade 13), Pauline found out about this new American program called The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). They were doing a pilot in Kenya and were looking for some youth to participate. So the girls from Kianda who had gone to Outward Bound a year earlier, joined in. NOLS provided everything from the equipment to the leaders to the food. The cost was nominal.

NOLS was a wilderness leadership training program that took us on a three-week climb of Mt. Kenya, the highest mountain in Kenya. You could do this climb in two days if you took the shorter route, but we took the longer route.

Our starting point was Nanyuki.

Our first part of the hike took us through the foot of the mountain, the forested, lush, green part of the mountain. We could hear monkeys howling at night and we bathed for the first and last time in the icy waters of Mt. Kenya!

As we climbed higher up the mountain, the more sparse, less green and the more arid the vegetation became . On one of the hikes, the trail was right along the edge of a steep cliff. One morning we were quite high up and in tents and when we opened our tents, we were shocked to see the mountain covered in snow! We had never seen snow before. It was so beautiful!

As there are no toilets on the mountain, you had to dig holes and couldn't use any toilet paper on the mountain either (it doesn't decompose at that altitude), so you have to use the leaves of the Giant Lobelia!

The two top peaks of Mt. Kenya, Batian and Nelion are rock peaks that only rock climbers can climb. The third peak, Point Lenana stands at 4,985 metres (16,355 ft). The night before the ascent to Mt. Kenya's third highest peak, we camped at the foot of Lenana in bunk beds in Top Hut. It was freezing! When we woke up at 4 am to start the climb, our boots were frozen! Only Pauline and I out of the group of 17 made that final climb to the top. It was beautiful and although it looked like it was right there, it was a tough climb. The feeling when we got to the top was unbelievable! The sun was just rising and you could see for miles around! Pauline and I felt like we were at the top of the world!

The majestic Mt. Kenya!

Unfortunately, I lost my photos!
Thank You for sharing Day 18 of 50 with me!

Kahzmir's Turning 10!

Thank you for sharing Kahzmir's Day 5 of 10! 

No comments:

Post a Comment