What you need to know:
- For Mohammad Taibjee, a six-year-old boy, his dream of climbing Africa’s second-highest mountain almost came true, having managed some 4,000 metres plus.
Trekking Africa’s second-highest mountain (5,199 metres) after Mount Kilimanjaro is not a mean feat, more so for a six-year-old boy, Mohammad Taibjee, who recently set the record as the youngest person to ascend Mount Kenya.
Alongside him was his reassuring uncle, Mufaddal Tayebji, who supported him before and after he made his debut entrance at the gates of Mount Kenya.
A few months before the duo took on this challenge, Mufaddal’s friend, Salman Fidahussein, had planned to travel to Tanzania from the US to scale Mount Kilimanjaro with Mufaddal. He had intended to reach the summit within 24 hours.
“He kept on telling me that climbing mountains is something as easy as breathing. However, having a goal in mind would push us to do it differently. So the initial plan was to get to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 24 hours,” Mufaddal narrates.
He had already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in September 2020 as well as Mount Meru in March 2021.
One day Mufaddal sat down with Mohammad at their home in Tanga, and the two were reviewing pictures of his previous ordeals of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which kindled the interest of climbing the mountain in his nephew, his age notwithstanding.
“I have always loved adventure. It makes me feel alive and happy. When my nephew asked to join me on my next adventure, I was very happy. "I however, understood that it would take me a lot of persuasion to make his parents buy the idea,” he recalls.
Mufaddal began his research on Mount Kenya, and he found out that the youngest person to climb the mountain was named Elsie Akeyo, aged eight years old.
“I opted to climb Mt Kenya with my nephew not only because I understood it would be a unique experience for him but also because it was among the top five mountains I planned to climb. The other two are Mount Stanley in Uganda and Mount Semien in Ethiopia,” he details.
Three months prior to climbing the mountain, the two of them began to physically prepare for the arduous task.
They would frequently jog to ensure that their bodies got acclimatised to the strains of having to climb the mountain.
A month before their trip, Mufaddal and Mohammad began cycling down a steep harbour hill, where they would climb up and down. They also did workouts climbing steep stairs at a swimming club in Tanga.
“We began making ten rounds of stair-climbing. To us, the act of scaling up and down was considered a single round, and we made it a plan to make 30 such laps in the same week, exceeding our expectations,” he recalls.
The duo began a five-hour journey from Nairobi to Chogoria town in Meru County. This route offers scenic landscapes and spectacular views, ranging from gentle hikes to steep ascents.
The route leads you through Mt Kenya forest and moorlands, passing high waterfalls and gurgling streams.
It took them one hour from Chogoria to the main gate. During this entire time, Mohammad was excited that ascending a mountain would take him soaring above the clouds.
“He wanted to feel the clouds and the fog. This was something that he wanted to do from the moment I showed him pictures of me on Mount Kilimanjaro,” Mufaddal explains.
At around 3.30 pm, they had lunch before they began their hike. A team of two grew to three after a woman named Pooja joined them. They followed the track in the forest and giant heather to arrive at the first camp site at Lake Ellis.
At an altitude of 4100 m, you join up with the main Chogoria trail, where we get spectacular views over the scenic Gorges Valley, the Northern Moorlands, and towards Ithanguni.
The incessant rains hit them shortly after leaving Lake Ellis, but they kept on beating the track because there was no place to wait for the rain to subside.
At around 7.30 pm, they arrived at the camp and had to change their rain-drenched clothes into warmer gear that could ward them off the biting cold of the snow-clad mountain.
Porters pitched tents, and shortly afterwards, the duo had their dinner and closed the day with a hearty sleep.
After waking up the next morning and having had their breakfast, they braced themselves for the hike ahead.
“We cleaned up and then sat down for breakfast. Bathing in the ice-cold water from the mountain was a bit of a challenge. We were then introduced to the rest of the team and began our hike. Nothing could have prepared us for day two,” he narrates.
Woolly clouds and fog hovering above the mountain peaks excited and urged Mohammad on, sometimes breaking into a run “to catch the clouds.” This had tickled his imagination.
“Linking up with climbers we had earlier met at Lake Ellis, the boy was so charged that, in his own words, he said that he wanted to be the first to reach the next camp. The guide had to keep up with him to ensure that he was safe, and he half-ran up the mountain,” Mufaddal narrates.
Mufaddal would get tired and need some time to rest at some point, but the boy was so inspired that somehow he had to be persuaded to slow down with a bar of chocolate.
The boy did not see the point of sitting down to eat the chocolate bar. He reasoned that they could eat as they climbed.
After crossing the 4000-metre mark, the boy began to slow down because of altitude sickness.
The sickness is caused by ascending too rapidly, which doesn't allow the body enough time to adjust to reduced oxygen and changes in air pressure.
Symptoms include headaches, vomiting, insomnia, and reduced performance and coordination.
“He began vomiting, and fortunately, I had with me precautionary emergency medications. The boy felt better, and after a short while, we kept trudging up the mountain. At around 2 p.m., we arrived at a picnic spot where we had lunch and kept on trekking. An hour and a half later, we were at Mintos Camp. His condition had become worse, but he still wanted to ascend the mountain despite his condition,” he recalls. When he got back to school, Mohammad excitedly shared his experience with his teachers and fellow students. They marvelled at what the daring young boy had accomplished.
“I would advise parents and guardians to challenge their children with activities that would unveil new adventures that would leave them with everlasting memories. My nephew now knows the feeling of ascending the mountain and he now understands clouds, different kinds of plans we came across during our ascending and the like,” he says.