If anyone asked me who Munyaka Njiru is… I couldn’t genuinely summarize you. You are everywhere—the HeadMaster. Tell us, who is Munyaka Njiru?
If you are keen on my WhatsApp status, it sort of lists what Munyaka Njiru is. “Master of Air, Water, Earth & Fire, Adrenaline Junkie. ” In essence, I am this guy who sees the Universe as one huge playground and that I was set on it just to explore it and conquer it. I am an adventure consultant who loves selling the same things I love doing. Broadly I can describe myself as a trail runner, ultra hiker, mountaineer, biker, and an outdoor Team leader and Experiential learning Coach. That long description can easily be summarized as someone who hates staying in one place for a few days without moving.
How did you come to hiking? What led you to this career?
When I joined UON for an Actuarial science degree, I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for the maths degree and its complexities. My school life was quickly getting boring. Circa 2007, the scouts’ movement formed clubs in universities to prepare for the world rover scouts moot. I jumped to the idea, created a Rover scout’s club, and it rose to become one of the most active outdoors clubs in the University. By the time I finished 4th year, we had made over 45 trips, and this is where I got the experience to refuse employment and start my company right after Campus.
There are no Buckelist Adventures without Munyaka; tell us how Bucketlist came to be?
When I left Campus, we started Black Hammock, a Team Building and Recreational company with some friends. Away from the Team Building, I started organizing weekend hikes and trips. One of the signature events was the Rhino Charge, and in 2014, we had a severe logistical blunder that led to an online PR nightmare with disgruntled clients. Our board decided to do away with individual tours and focus on corporates. I really loved giving people the opportunities to relax and find themselves out there, and that’s how Bucketlist Adventures was born to take care of the adventure seekers out there.
How many years has it been, and how has the journey been for the company?
2014 to 2021 makes it seven years. We are incredibly thankful for the growth mostly experienced during the CoVID-19 period when other tour outfits closed down. We decided to be brave and offer people opportunities to decompress from the stressors associated with this pandemic. We have grown our team from 2 to 6 during this period. We have also worked directly with over 30 guides, chefs, and other industry professionals every other weekend.
I know you have other ventures like Black Hammock and Wakimbizi; tell us more about them?
Black Hammock is basically a Corporate Team Events provider specializing incorporate sports and fun days, team buildings, meetings, and incentives.
Wakimbizi is a group of carefree runners who believe that running should be fun and not as serious as it is for elite athletes. We organize runs in places where people will find it scenic, fun, and adventurous and have a fantastic after-party after every run.
I am in your Bucketlist and Wakimbizi group, and I find that sometimes you merge the activities, which is fantastic. How do Hiking and Running merge, according to you?
I believe in people focusing on time spent on their feet doing whatever activity pleases them. This is something I was trained by my running coach Dedan Miricho. When I create a trail, I leave it to people to decide whether to walk/hike, run or cycle it as long as they do it with their feet. Every good hiker can find benefits in the running by improving their cardiovascular health. Every good runner can benefit from hiking by training in endurance, pacing strategy, and most importantly, recovery and learning to go slow sometimes.
Speaking of mountains and strides, sometimes you have runners do trail runs in Aberdares and even Mt. Kenya, and I, for one, don’t even grasp how you can hack that 🤣but you guys do it anyway. How does one get to that kind of stamina, thrill, and commitment?
From my experience, this is something that people do by just sheer grit. When we started hiking, I am on record stating that doing Mt. Kinangop, a treacherous trail in the Aberdares, as a day trip was reckless. But people began pushing limits, and nowadays we can do that trail and be down eating nyama choma at 5 pm. Of Course, you have to put in the training. It’s easier for runners to graduate to sky running/mountain running and also for fast hikers to adapt. But I would say everyone who does these fast climbs doesn’t really look like it. I would say for someone to achieve this, you just need to learn to push your limits. Stop less when hiking, go for the harder trails but make sure you have a good plan, a good guide, and possibly the route GPS map.
Ultra Running is becoming a popular trend in Kenya right now; what would be your advice to people looking to embark on that journey?
Ultrarunning is running without boundaries. This can be defined differently for different people. Still, in layman’s time, most ultra runners are people who run without caring when they will finish and where they will finish, and hence they end up way over what is regarded as normal distances. The only key to it, as mentioned earlier, is to push your limits and put in the work. If you run 10km this weekend, you must want to feel how 15km feels next weekend until you climb past the 50km mark consistently. You also need to find friends crazy enough to join in these escapades. It’s great to finish a 50km run alone but even greater when you laugh after with a group you ran with over a beer and campfire. So the key is to find those people who are already doing it, clear your calendar, and find time to run some awesome distances out of town.
To me, you’re a hiker first before anything else. That’s how I got to know you. Tell us more about your hiking career? When did it stand? Why hiking? How many mountains have you summited, and how many times?
This is a tricky question. I started hiking while at the University with my scouting crew and, after that, grew into it with groups like Kwea Milele back in 2011-2014. I have helped revive multiple trails and create new ones over the years and climbed Mt. Kenya, Rwenzori, Kilimanjaro, Meru, and Elgon a couple of dozen times. It would be hard to put a figure, but anything hilly within 200kms of Nairobi I most likely have gone to its peak.
As a guide, you keep going back to these mountains multiple times. Does it ever get exhausting?
It’s always different every weekend because the groups bring diverse energies and challenges. It’s exciting to see newbies get to the summit you have been to many times and see their joy. However, I am quick to delegate some really nasty Mauano hikes to my colleagues nowadays. Maybe age is catching on finally.
What’s your advice to first-time hikers?
To start with, whatever form and shape they are without waiting to “be fit.” I would say for someone to achieve this, you just need to learn to push your limits. Stop less when hiking, go for the more challenging trails but make sure you have a good plan, a good guide, and possibly the route GPS map. To create enough time for hiking if it’s possible. I don’t find it helpful if someone hikes once a month; seriously, the body will forget, and this is a sport like any other; it’s like running once a month. To get the right gear and quality gear, for that matter. Good gear will save you in the unforgiving mountains and prevent you from expensive medical bills and downtimes.
What’s the Ultimate hiking experience, in your opinion?
If you are thinking about Kenya, the ultimate Hiking experience is doing the Aberdares Traverse from Njabini to Shamata Gate. Last week, I missed an expedition with Cheruiyot, the ultra runner, and I am raring to do it this month.
In East Africa, nothing comes close to Rwenzoris; they are the wildest place I have ever been to. I felt vulnerable, being 2-3 days away from any help if I got injured.
As far as the world is Concerned, K2 is the mother of the Himalayas. I wouldn’t find myself on Everest unless if you guys paid for me. It’s an overrated mountain for people with money 🙂
You also plan a lot of oddesies. I find it to be an adorable way of introducing folks to our motherland. The places we’d never think of going….you make people realize that Kenya is so so beautiful. Was that your intention? How did you come to that?
An Odyssey is a long trip that we have been doing every end of the year since 2014. The focus on the Odyssey is always to see Africa from the ground hence by road. I started this because everywhere else on earth, you can take yourself as there is enough information out there online. And accessibility is not a problem. In Africa, logistical challenges make solo trips impossible. Hence we started the Odyssey and have been able to visit all countries from Ethiopia to South Africa extensively by road on tours that go for between 14 and 30 days. This year we have planned a Morocco trip, but unfavorable Covid rules are making us shift towards doing a Malawi coast lien trip this year. It has the best inland beaches in Africa.
What’s the best Odyssey, in your opinion?
The Best Odyssey we ever did was the Namibia Odyssey in 2018. We landed in Windhoek, took 4X4s, and did ten days in Namibia before crossing the deserts to Botswana and Victoria Falls via Okavango Delta. It was the most adrenaline-packed trip ever. I cannot know how much I spent to date, from desert tours in Namibia to skydiving where the Namib desert meets the Atlantic to a helicopter ride over Okavango delta to the Bungee and rafting at Victoria Falls before flying back to Nairobi.
Most people gravitated to hiking during Covid cessation. And now people are open to more outdoors and fitness. People who never thought they had it in them realized that hiking is pretty dope. What would you tell someone who has never hiked and doesn’t think they ever will?
Man was designed to be mobile. In hiking, we have so many different offerings. We have the easy hikes, we have people looking for just short walks in nature, chasing waterfalls, and then we have the people who want to do Mt. Kenya in a day. My advice is that everyone needs to go out there and see what the world has to offer. Just find the group or trail that fits your level best, and you should be fine.
I love that you bring Nishani (your daughter) on hikes and camping. Would you advise parents to take their kids out in nature, and why?
Taking kids out is the only way I know how to impart crucial life lessons. I am not the sit-down and talk kind of a parent. Hence I like teaching kids experientially, opening up possibilities to them by taking them to farms, adventure trips, forests, and even too daring adventures like zip lining and even when they are older Bungee jumping. We need to build strong-willed and confident children, and the outdoors with other kids is the perfect school for that.
Everyone has an affiliation with nature. What’s yours?
A playground. To subdue and conquer while living it intact for the next Ninja.
You recently organized a mudathon; what more do you have in store for us?
The inaugural mudathon was a great success to get 240 people spread over the vast Njukiri forest in Embu. The mudathon will be a series of obstacle races around East Africa, and we are just getting started. We will have the following installation soon. We also have a range of outdoor games lined up. We are looking towards adventure racing now instead of just trail runs, and that’s what people want.
On the sky running from, we are planning a three peaks challenge to do Mt. Kenya, Meru, and Kilimanjaro in a week this September, looking forward to supporting this.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Being a formidable authority in the adventure consultancy industry and helping people ensure that the outdoors are safe for everyone to enjoy. And of course, selling shots at a bar in our campsite “)