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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

EXERCISE KENYAN VENTURER 2014

07 November 2014

On the 27th of July 2014, I set off on my Kenyan adventure not really knowing what to expect! I flew to England to meet up with the rest of the group spending the night in Godalming, Surrey ACF’s Cadet Training Centre, where we checked all our kit and added in extra group kit to a maximum of 23kg. After a late night and an early start took us to Heathrow Airport, filled with excitement and anticipation we flew the long haul flight to Nairobi, East Africa. The group was met at the airport by the Savage Wilderness Team, a Kenyan based adventure activity company with James Savage being with us at every stage. After loading all our kit onto the bus we made our way to their “office” in Nairobi for our first night in Kenya.

                  

Following a three hour road trip we quickly found ourselves on a varied acclimatisation programme beginning in the Great Rift Valley, climbing and trekking in the forebodingly named Hell’s Gate National Park. Here we spent the day rock climbing on Fischer’s Tower, walking through a spectacular gorge which also featured in the film ‘Tomb Raider 2’ and after a short trek through the bush, set up camp on a hillside. As a group we were split into 3 parties, each party had a specific role to carry out i.e. Cooking, Washing and Camp Admin. Moving from Hell’s Gate to Lake Naivasha, a vast lake in the Rift Valley where we camped for 2 nights and ascended Mount Longonot at 2700 metres and trekked around the rim of this extinct volcano, with a very in depth and interesting commentary along the way given by James Savage. Following this success, it was time to up the ante with an arduous 2 day trek in the Aberdares Mountain Range with a wild camp at 3000 metres. Carrying our full rucksacks packed with spare clothes, tents, food and 5 litres of water enough for the 2 day stay and accompanied by the four park rangers armed with their AK-47s we set off.

The trek was long and hard, as there were no paths through the dense forest. Eventually we reached a clearing where we set up camp, a welcome sight!! Having completed sentry duty at 02:00hrs, I settled into my sleeping bag and slept soundly for the next 5 hours! Dawn broke at 7a.m., just like someone switching on the light and it was broad daylight and no more sleep was to be had. Passing through “clearings” on our descent, where small mud hut villages had developed over time, the locals were going about their daily chores only giving us a passing glance but the children were dancing around us shouting “Jambo, Jambo”.  This meaning “Hello, Hello” in Swahili.

We made our way to Sagana, Savage Wilderness’s headquarters for some well- earned admin time before our main expedition trek on Mount Kenya. We set off in the direction of the Park gate to begin our 6 day trek; following the clay path we were met by light drizzle which seemed to be constant. The first camp site was very cramped and uneven, which did not lend itself to a very comfortable nights’ sleep! To assist us on our expedition and do all the main carrying of camp equipment we had 62 porters who were outstanding and amazingly fit. As we woke up on the 2nd morning, we heard Lt Col Richard Ayres and SSI Larry Hallett discussing the weather and Lt Col Ayres saying “there’s no guarantee of good weather here, at any time” and SSI Hallett’s reply being “if you want a guarantee – buy a toaster” which we thought was rather “random” but then most mornings we were greeted by “random” statements, we named this “Lanter” on reflection of Larry’s banter!!

However, we must have been lucky as the days that followed were dry and brought stunning scenery as we ascended higher and higher, eventually arriving at Mintos camp, a large flat site, on Day 4. Mintos camp was, as stated by Lt Col Ayres and Maj Graham Beckett,” their most favourite place in the world” and I could see why!

Day 5 was “Summit Day” to Point Lenana at 4985 metres (16,355 ft) above sea level; the previous nights’ sleep was interrupted due to the freezing conditions and the excitement of nearly reaching our goal. The last climb was steep and made even harder by the fact of little oxygen in the air due to the high altitude. The sense of relief when I reached the highest via ferrata in the world, christened “Olonana”, was amazing and an excellent photo opportunity not to be missed. However, at the top nothing could be seen except never-ending white clouds, an awesome sight.     

  

Our descent was quick but dangerous as we came down a scree slope for the majority of the way. The final night was spent at Leki North camp site, situated in a deep valley. We took the long flat route out of the Mount Kenya National Park, leaving the dramatic scene of Mount Kenya behind us and crossing over the Equator as we headed for Timau Lodge and a proper nights’ sleep in a proper bed.

Ahead was a 2 day Safari in Ol Pejeta Game Reserve, where we wild camped at Hippo Hide, took 5 Safari drives where we did see four of the “Big Five”- Buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Rhino but unfortunately not the Leopard! Many other animals were seen on our trips out over the vast plains such as Zebra, Wildebeest, Gazelle, ostrich and Hyena. It wasn’t until the last game drive that we took sight of the whole pride of 14 Lions, a truly wondrous sight to behold. Richard, the Hippo Guru insisted on us taking a walking safari to find the Hippos. He said that Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal, I’m glad he waited until after we had seen them, to tell us!! Afterwards we visited and fed “Baraka” the blind Black Rhino, who resides within the conservancy along with the abandoned and orphaned chimpanzees. It was sad to imagine what trauma these chimpanzees has endured as they lost their mothers and families to poachers but now saved and thrive in Sweetwater Conservancy within Ol Pejeta.

The final part of our Kenyan venture was a community based project, close to Savage Wilderness’s Sagana Headquarters. We were to assist in the completion of building and decorating a local village school, Thangathi Primary School, which the previous expedition group has started. We had only 4 days to do this, we mixed cement and laid paths, dug drainage ditches, rendered and painted walls/shuttering inside and out of the school and painted murals with the school motto “Strive to Excel”. Amazingly, we did complete the school with the help of “Wilson” and his assistant, the local builders, to the delight of the children and villagers.    

 

 In celebration of this feat we were treated to an African music and dance spectacle after the formal hand-over had taken place, in which we were asked to participate. During our time with the community project we spent an afternoon white water rafting, this was a great time and everyone really seemed to enjoy our time messing about in the river. Our last day, we travelled back to Nairobi and visited the orphaned Elephant and Giraffe Sanctuary; it was an up close and personal experience with these animals!  The teams’ last meal in Kenya together was a Banquet, where I tasted crocodile and ostrich. The flight back to the UK was overnight and I think I slept for most of the way!!

On the whole my Kenyan Venture was the most awesome experience I have had the privilege of taking part in and will be remembered throughout my lifetime.

I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank those people and organisations for helping me make this once in a lifetime adventure happen, to my parents David and Liz, NI RFCA, ACFA NI, WO’s & Sgt’s Mess 1st (NI) Bn ACF, D Coy 1st (NI) Bn ACF and finally to the Battalion itself the 1st (NI) Bn A.C.F.