James Mixon
James Mixon
Africa 2017
I am a junior at Belmont University from Nairobi, Kenya. I will be spending the summer of 2017 on the tallest mountains in Africa, including Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro, filming a documentary about the guides, porters, and rangers who work to explore and conserve these remarkable areas.

A Second First Time in Africa

Over the past week I’ve been getting to know several Kenyan guides, shadowing them in their work, and laying groundwork for the film. Samson Mwangi is a tall and lanky rock climbing guide working for an adventure company in Nairobi. Tyson, who now works for the same company, used to be a wilderness instructor for the Kenyan military on Mt. Kenya. He’s summited the mountain more than a dozen times. Both are a rare breed, which is why I’m following them around.

Climbing of all kinds (mountaineering, rock, ice, etc.) is typically a sport for the upper classes and has been dominated by wealthy Americans and Europeans for the last century. In my film I’m trying to explore the newer demographics of the sport, particularly the local Kenyans that have made it their lifestyle.

I drove Sam and Tyson out to a small mountain named Lukenya which is a popular destination for rock climbers due to several massive rock walls and a smattering of boulders up and down the slope. I followed and filmed Sam up several long climbs which he danced up with ease. There was something beautifully primordial in watching a man engage with nature so fluidly in this area of the world where mankind as we know it most likely originated. As we pulled up on top of the cliff, several hundred feet above the arid savannah, a cold wind pinned us down for a bit. Only Sam had had the foresight to bring a jacket (after all, we’re in Africa!).

A gorgeous orange cliffline popping up out of the savannah.

A gorgeous orange cliffline popping up out of the savannah.

On the drive back up Mombasa Highway, a two-lane road that accommodates potentially six-lane traffic, I questioned Sam and Tyson on the state of climbing in Kenya. They were optimistic about the future of the sport, but were more interested in why I was interested. This led to an interesting discussion, in broken Swahili, of my complicated identity as an American missionary kid from Kenya. Tyson, particularly astute, pushed me to admit that I was just as privileged as most Westerners that choose to climb and suggested that my African experience had been fundamentally limited. I had to agree with him.

This, of course, is why I came. To reexperience Africa as an adult, as an artist, and as a honest human. All of our childhoods were limited in scope and experience, but I think mine led me to believe I was more worldly than I really was. Sitting in rigid Nairobi traffic, the BBC blaring, matatus honking in futility, I accepted that in many ways, this is my first time to the real Africa.

Setting up base in Nairobi!

I’m in Nairobi! After a brief detour in Switzerland and some truly awful traffic (Nairobi has the second worst in the world!) I made it to my base in Nairobi.

Fortunately for me, this is my parent’s house in an area of town called Gigiri. They’ve lived here for many years and have kindly offered to let me stay here when in Nairobi to A) save some cash and B) have a workspace with some decent internet — ‘decent’ of course being a term relative to Africa. My primary month of filming runs from June 20 to July 23, during which I’ll be climbing Mt. Meru, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Mt. Kenya back to back to back with little to no respite. In preparation for that rather grueling period, I’ll spend the next month mostly based here in Nairobi doing several things. I’ll be finalizing logistics such as equipment lists and permits; for example, I just finished submitting a film permit to the Kenya Wildlife Service that asked me to submit a final version of the film in VHS format; either their form is out of date, or (more likely) they’ve never felt like upgrading their system. I have already (in the day and half that I’ve been here) touched base with an experience filmmaker who lives here in Nairobi and is helping me arrange interviews and with a local Kenyan climbing guide, Samson, who will be going on several smaller expeditions with me to film and research for my story. Later this week we will be heading out to Lukenya, a small mountain about two hours from Nairobi where Samson guides.

I’m excited to get this show on the road and I’ll keep you updated! In the meantime, here’s my minimalist mountain filmmaker camera rig:

ready to roll

Getting Ready!

Hello! I’m excited to be writing my first of many posts for my Lumos adventure. I will arrive in Kenya in less than a month, which is frighteningly soon.

I’m looking forward to returning to an area of the world that in some ways I know well, but in many other ways am still a total foreigner. During my time in the mountains, I’ll be completely immersed in the African culture and will have to learn how I fit into it now as an adult. I’m nervous, but I’m also thrilled to be able to expand my comfort zone even further.

A view of Mt. Kenya's twin peaks from the east side of the mountain. I'll be back on the mountain in just over a month!

A view of Mt. Kenya’s twin peaks from the east side of the mountain. I’ll be back on the mountain in just over a month!

In the month before I head off, I have lots of loose ends to tie up with school and work and relationships, but I’m almost completely prepared for Africa. I could (and would happily) throw my gear in a backpack and walk out right now if you asked me to!

I’ve spent the spring gradually accumulating the various pieces of equipment I’ll need for my film this summer, making lists, paring them down, getting worried, adding things back to them, paring down again and eventually just committing to a system. I’m taking two cameras, one Olympus Mirrorless EM-10 and one Canon EOS 6D. I chose to use DSLRs instead of proper video cameras in order to save weight and space in the mountains. I’ll also have two mics, a tripod, and lots of backup batteries and storage. A true minimalist’s set-up.

I’ll post again just before I head out with some neat pictures of all my gear, mountaineering, filmmaking and otherwise! Thanks for reading and I hope you keep with me for my whole adventure.