Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the mid semester break of my spring semester in Kenya I traveled with nine of my fellow peers to climb Mt. Kenya. The mountain, at about 17,000 feet, is the second highest in Africa and it is possible to climb in about three days with no technical support. On the first day we spent just a few hours on the trail, hiking up to the Old Moses camp. On the second day we hiked through three different valleys in rain showers until we reached the Shipton camp, which sits right under Point Leanna, the peak that we were aiming to summit. After a few hours of sleep, we awoke at three AM to clear skies and prepared to make a summit attempt. By the time dawn was beginning to break, we were at the summit and witnessed a glowing sunrise from the peak. After a few quick photographs and a moment to take everything in, we started our descent back to Shipton camp. At the camp we took some time to rest and eat breakfast before continuing our descent all the way back to Old Moses camp. By the next day we were very ready to be done hiking, and it was a relief that all we had left was an easy couple hours walk down to the gate where we were then picked up and driven to Nairobi.
This travel grant made it possible to complete this climb and study mountain guiding practices in Kenya. It was great to be able to be a client, but also see the trip through the eyes of someone who works as a guide back at home and at SLU. We booked our guides through a travel agent who also happened to be one of our classmate's homestay mothers. Besides two main guides, we also had three other porters who carried all of the group gear and assisted the guides. I spend quite a bit of time with our main guide, Dennis, learning about working as a mountain guide in Kenya. Dennis began his career by attending a 12-month program to earn a degree in Tours and Travel with a specialization in mountain guiding. He then spent 9 months on an attachment in the Maasai Mara before beginning to guide on his own. Dennis has spent the last seven years guiding hiking and mountain biking trips for three main tour operators.
Dennis and I discussed many of the issues with guiding in Kenya and through our conversations and my experience on the mountain; I was able to get a good idea of what it is like to work as a guide in Kenya. All guides working on Mt. Kenya must be members of the Mount Kenya Guides and Porters Organization; however Dennis made it clear that the organization did not amount to much. It is an organization run through the Kenya Wildlife Service, (KWS), and Dennis believes that one of the biggest issues for guides is the relationship between the KWS and the guides. The KWS has no weight limits for porters, so many porters are overworked and injuries happen regularly. When injuries happen on the job, there is no funding to help pay for costs and the porters are left to fend for themselves. Another issue is that the KWS does not require hikers to have a guide, and many travel on Mt. Kenya without one. A lot of these people end up finding themselves over their head once they get on the mountain and rely on the guides working on the mountain to assist them without compensation. Dennis noted that all of these issues have been addressed in Tanzania, and he thinks the KWS must catch up to them. He also noted that the guides must take some responsibility to start cooperating more and realize their voices could be heard if they organized better.