Remembering Kieran on Mt. Kenya

These times when my family is experiencing a rite of passage I’m reminded of my friend Kieran’s unforgettable time on Mt. Kenya.

I wrote about it in an earlier post. It tells a remarkable story of survival and how letting go is sometimes the only way we can save our life.

Rites of passage in life can be a bit like crossing the monkey bars.  Sometimes swinging from one stage to the next is as easy as crossing the street. Sometimes it’s like crossing the Grand Canyon on a tight rope.

My friend Kieran’s story about his right of passage is one for the ages.

I’ve known Kieran for nearly 40 years. He’s a dear, dear friend, one of the smartest people I know. I sponsored his family in their immigration to the U.S. from Ireland. Kieran is brilliant, passionate, loyal, intensely creative and a recovering alcoholic.

Here’s his story.

Kieran decided at age 50 to commemorate the birthday with a singularly difficult achievement. He chose to climb Mt. Kenya.

It didn’t surprise me. Kieran had climbed many difficult mountains in Europe, Africa and North America. What did concern me was the demanding route he’d chosen and the fact he was with a climbing partner he’d never climbed with before.

But Kieran’s hair was up and it was Mt. Kenya or bust!

As you can imagine from the photo, Mt. Kenya is a rugged mountain with many difficult climbing routes. He had picked a particularly difficult one.

All went well on the ascent. They made it to the top in good form and in good time but on the descent something went wrong, terribly wrong. 

As he came to discover, his climbing partner did not have the technical proficiency required on the descent. They needed to rappel down in stages due to their limited amount of rope. The maneuvers required exact precision and good communication.

They had neither.

His climbing partner got out ahead and out of communication range of Kieran.

Then disaster struck when a faulty latch caused Kieran to flip over, leaving him dangling upside down thousands of feet over the valley floor, with no way to right himself.

He found himself truly hanging over the abyss.


But this is where Kieran teaches us a great lesson in navigating through a difficult passage of life.

He had packed ALL the equipment he’d need for the climb, particularly his spiritual equipment. He may have selected the wrong climbing partner but he had brought his best self.

So as he swung thousands feet off the ground,

  • he did not panic,
  • he took stock of his real situation,
  • he looked for an alternative means to right himself.

He quickly surmised the weight of his back pack made flipping himself over out of the question. And even if he could, he would still be hanging in mid-air.  

He realized that if he simply relied on his own power and strength he would surely die.

So he shifted his thinking from what he could do for himself to what might be available from the surrounding environs. He reached out, as it were, for help.

 As he swung on his rope, he rotated 360 degrees so that he could see each section of the mountain. In surveying the entire area he discovered a previous climber had left a harness bolt on the rock face.

 If he could maneuver his way to that bolt he could reattach and right himself. So he carefully swung himself over to the harness bolt, hooked on, righted himself and continued his rappel off the mountain.

Kieran successfully completed his right of passage and also gifted us with a timeless story of how to survive those times when we’re left hanging over the abyss.

Always remember:

  • keep your eyes open,
  • keep your minds clear,
  • keep your hearts strong,
  • and fear not.

And know when to let go — there’s always a way through.

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” ~Bernard Shaw

Just a thought…


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