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Samburu Rock Training

Jo and Maina making their way up on the Cat with the spectacular backdrop of Olokwe behind

We have been up in the North of Kenya in the wild Samburu area delivering some training to the Rift Valley Adventures team. We are out in Kenya with some work on until mid December when we return to home, hopefully for a good winter ahead.

Its been a few years since I first came to this part of Kenya for a reccy while looking for a venue for a trip for the American School of Kenya. Its a vast and wild area situated in Northern Kenya. Home to the Samburu Masai its an area of semi arid desert with some huge cliffs and mountain ranges that spread out as far as the eye can see. Gradually there is more and more interest in the wonderful climbing potential of this area. We headed out their with the team and the aim of improving peoples personal climbing ahead of their South African RCI award early next year.

We packed the provisions and gear at the camp in Ethi which lies under Mt Kenya in Laikipia and rolled on down from about 2200 metres to the sweltering heat at 1000 meters in Samburu county. Its a stark contrast heading from the more lush ‘Kenyan Highlands’ to the arid Northern Frontier which spreads to the North and Ethiopia and Somalia beyond. This is Masai country and also an area known for some security issues and at the moment tensions will be high due to the longest drought on record. People and wildlife are under immense pressure at the moment in this dry landscape. We passed Isiolo and onto Sabache camp which lies in the Kirch valley which has Olokwe the main mountain in the area and holy mountain to the Masai immediately above.

Steve on Baboon rock clipping bolts

As an area for rock climbing its stunning from isolated rock towers, single and multi pitch crags and big walls there is something for everyone. The huge orange rock walls that surround the area have had some development but there is still a blank canvas with regards new routes of all grades. But our job was for staff training so once we had the camp set we got to it on the Baboon cliff which lies only a few minutes walk from the camp. A large selection of bolted and traditional climbs have been done there over the years and its a great area to get a feel for the rock and start adjusting to the intense heat. The team have all climbed before but we needed to refresh skills and introduce some new ones and then gain milage. We looked at gear placements, anchor building and also various things to do with sport climbing and then spent the rest of the day ticking routes and coaching as we went. The aptly named Baboon crag is home to a troop who will spend the night there avoiding cats as much as possible but the issue for us is not the baboons but more what they leave behind so hanging around on ledges is not always the most pleasant. The rock however a very compact form of Gneiss is excellent to climb on and has been cleaned well. Its also a very friendly crag in terms of the bolting with no long run outs, just my type of climbing.

After a hot night in the tent we headed out again to the crags in the Kirch valley with an intensive look at coaching lead climbing skills and using a variety of anchors. Swinging leads between the team we covered a lot of pitches with the team showing strength on a couple of quite fierce single pitch routes. We had an early start so that as the heat builds to an inferno we could retreat to camp and the shade for a long lunch and head back out as it cooled later in the afternoon. Which we did although in never really cools down until about 2am. During the afternoon we looked at some abseiling and retreating ahead of the following days adventures.

A short lived attempt to try a new first pitch on the Mouse

The following day with an early start was to be the ‘adventure and exploration day’ at the Cat and Mouse. This area lies a few kilometres from the camp out in the plains and consists of two big towers. They are spectacular feature ripe for exploration. They have a few routes on them including a visit from Alex Hannold. Its is though a serious spot for climbing, far from help and with areas of loose rock, snakes and scorpions ensure that you stay pretty alert throughout the day. The approach to a from is also pretty hard going through the worst thorny ground you could imagine. No one would come back without being peppered in holes and cuts from the unforgiving thorns. The main purpose of the day was for the team to operate as individual climbers making all the decisions in terms of route planning and choice, which given there are limited recored routes only emphasised that planning. We climbed various pitches which where all of good quality albeit with some loose rock to contend with. We ended the day with trying a route up the Mouse which certainly provided some sport the first pitch was fine however the top pitch onto the top at a pretty stiff 6c ended the day part way up.

Back to camp and one last night in the pertex sauna before having a recap on things the following morning. We headed back to the Baboon cliff area where we asked everyone to lead a pseudo assessment pitch and a neat personal abseil back off. This was done very well and all would have passed given their performance on the routes. Fingers crossed things go that way on the assessment in the New Year. After a final debrief it was time to hit the road back up to Laikipia and back to some more habitable temperatures.

The Cat seen from the Mouse

The Mouse seen from the Cat

Its a fantastic area for the more adventurous of mind and some huge climbing possibilities for all grades. It will be great to get back there again at some point. I hope though when we do return that during that time some rains arrive. It's desperately dry there and people are struggling. Its the first time I have been there and seen no big game which I am assuming its simply to dry for them to find anything to eat or drink.

The Rift Valley Adventures instructional team

We where working for Rift Valley Adventures with whom I have been working with for the last decade. It’s great to see the team and how far all have come in the different adventure sports they offer. Its also great to head back to various sites over the years and keep finding more and more to do. At some point we shall have to head further North into the Ndoto (Swahili for Dream) mountains where the fabled big wall of Mt Poi lies.

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