Mt. Kenya is often overshadowed by it’s big brother, Kilimanjaro, which attracts many climbers each year, but at 17,058 feet, it is the second tallest mountain in Africa, and an iconic climb in it’s own right. The mountain, like most, has a history, and plenty of tales to tell, not the least of which is detailed in this story over at National Geographic Adventure.
Back in 1943, a British POW camp was created in Kenya to house the many Italian soldiers who had been taken prisoner during the East African Campaign. Thousands of them were sent to Camp 354 to wait out the war, and while they were treated well, life in the camp was quite dull. After months in confinement, three of those Italians hatched a crazy plan. They would break out of the camp, trek to Mount Kenya, climb it, then return, sneaking back in. One of the men, Felice Benuzzi, had spotted the mountain from afar, and it recalled days of climbing in the Italian alps in his youth, before the War. He later recruited Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and climber himself, as well as Enzo Barsotti, who came along because he was “mad as a hatter”.
The trio spent weeks planning. The made makeshift backpacks and crampons. They collected food, and even got their hands on a key to the gate, so they could make good their escape, all with their eyes on reaching the top of Mount Kenya. They knew that the nearest safe country for them was over 1000 miles away, in what is now called Mozambique, and reaching it would be nearly impossible. They were looking to escape alright. They were looking to escape boredom. As they knew that they would eventually have to return to Camp 354, but the risks would be worth it if they could just stand on top of that mountain.
The adventure that followed is detailed in Benuzzi’s book No Picnic On Mount Kenya. A classic of 20th century mountain climbing literature. In the article I linked to above, author Matthew Power attempts to retrace their footsteps, and stand on the summit of Mount Kenya himself.
I always enjoy hearing about this story. Talk about someone who is compelled to climb a mountain. The three POW’s were willing to risk their lives just escaping from the camp just to have the chance to risk them again on the mountain, fully knowing that when it was all said and done, they’d still have to go back to the camp. That’s risking all for adventure. And I think it’s an amazing story.
And if you would like to plan your own Mount Kenya adventure, be sure to check out their guide by clicking here.
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