Climbing Mount Kenya on the Strive Challenge

Richard Branson smiling on the Strive Challenge in Kenya
Adam Slama
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 20 October 2022

I’ve always loved an adventure, and there are none more exciting and fulfilling than the Strive Challenge. This year, we set our sights high - 16,355 ft to be exact – to climb the second tallest peak in Africa: Mount Kenya (taller than Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc).

Looking up at the mountain, having climbed Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Mt Etna and Mt Toubkal on previous Strive Challenges, I felt confident. Prior to setting off, the impression I got was there wasn’t going to be so much technical climbing, and my training would set me in good stead. But, as it turned out, it was pretty brutal.

Richard Branson climbing Mount Kenya
Adam Slama

We set off in great spirits, with my son Sam and nephew Noah explaining to everyone what the journey was all about – testing ourselves, having fun together, and raising funds for Big Change, the wonderful charity they set up to reimagine and transform education.

As we began our journey, the mornings were extremely beautiful, waking up in our tents wuth spectacular views and astonishing sunrises. As we travelled on, we traversed enormous, soggy ravines and emerged into yet more stunning lakes and waterfalls.

Richard Branson smiling near a waterfall
Adam Slama

Of course, we couldn’t resist getting in the water. Charlie Carrol, a regular Striver, was the first in, and we all followed suit. I’ve been having some issues with my foot, so used sticks to ensure I didn’t fall into the water – then of course fell in anyway!

As we climbed higher, the altitude made breathing tough and sleeping even harder. There was freezing cold, driving rain and sleet. There was not as much snow as there used to be, due to climate change. Some Strivers didn’t make it to the summit due to altitude sickness and sheer exhaustion. They showed incredible bravery to make the right call and walk more than 12 hours down the mountain through the night in the perilous conditions. The local team who supported us up and down the mountain, carrying equipment, were absolutely extraordinary too – thank you all.

A campsite on Mount Kenya
Adam Slama

There were a couple of moments as the legs were aching and the cold was biting when I thought: what on Earth am I doing halfway up a mountain? I’m sure everyone had those momentary thoughts, and we all helped each other through them. We all helped each other to stay positive though, and keep our bodies moving too. Sam led yoga sessions during breaks and singing in the evenings to keep spirits up.

Strive always tests people’s nerve. I spoke to Aliyah Irabor York, a young woman from East London, on the first day. She was fairly tearful and nervous. By the time Strive was over, she had conquered her fears, reached the summit and became an inspiration to us all. I’d bet on her going on to achieve great things.

Richard Branson hugging friends on the 2022 Strive Challenge
Adam Slama

The day we reached the summit began at 3am as we started winding up in the pitch black with lamps on our heads. We got to the top just as the sun was coming up. Absolutely beautiful. As one Striver, Lindsay, wrote in a delightful poem:

From the top of Mount Kenya we scream aloud!

A summit we strived for and stand on so proud!

What a joyous moment we shared at the peak,

At 5000 meters we reached in less than a week.

Richard Branson at sunrise on Mount Kenya
Adam Slama

Before we knew it, we had to begin the ascent – often just as tricky as the climb. I was struggling with my foot issue so wore heavy mountain boots. I ended up a long way behind the group, including Sam, feeling the pace. Falling further behind, I decided to switch my shoes, and go into running mode. I raced down the mountain in the most horrendous conditions, feeling like a teenager as I caught up and passed my fellow Strivers, having such fun. I was about 100 yards from Sam at the finish.

So many people helped make this adventure happen, and I know the funds raised for Big Change will make a huge difference to education reform (our last Strive event in 2019 raised £1.46 million for Big Change). Every evening we had inspiring discussions about how to make education for life, not just for exams. Sam says starting Big Change is the thing he and Noah are most proud of, and I can understand why. There is a long way to go, and I’m sure we will keep Striving to make a difference. I’m looking forward to the next adventure already.

Richard Branson and the group of strivers on the 2022 Strive Challenge
Adam Slama

To Lindsay, the final words:

Strive ‘22, you delivered a challenge that was extreme,

We go home with pride and a smile we beam.

As we conclude, I don’t know where to start,

Thank you everyone from the bottom of my heart.