Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro. It is an extinct volcanic mountain and the only mountain lying astride the equator. The highest peaks are Batian(5199 metres), Nelion(5188metres) and Lenana (4985metres). I hiked Lenana peak as you need to be a registered mountaineer to attempt the other two.
The thought of seeing snow for the first time in my life, without having to leave Kenya, was enough of a seduction for me to hike it. Then add the thought of conquering the highest mountain in Kenya 4985m and the second highest mountain in Africa. In the days leading to the hike, we engaged in looking for camping gear, hiking gear and the like that we actually forgot to train/exercise for it. We chose to be optimistic and rely on our good, fit genes, a choice that both worked and failed us.
Our expedition started with a trip to Sagana, where we spent the night so as to aclimatize to the cold weather. We tried to keep anxiety and excitement at bay by engaging in games. When night time came, the reality of what we were about to embark on hit us hard. The temperatures dropped to lower than what we were used to, the sleeping bags seemed like paper, thus hardly cushioning us from the hard ground. The tent felt like water had been poured on it, it was cold and felt wet to the touch. I worried, if this is what dew could do, what would rain do to us. I have never been so happy to see sunrise, yes, I needed to thaw.
Day 1: Gate 2500 m to Met Station 3000m:
We thereafter proceeded to the Mount Kenya National Park Gate which is at 2500m, accessing it from Naro Moru .The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Mount Kenya. Our hike was to be a five day affair, three days climb, two day descent. At the gate, one game ranger advised us to leave anything that was not a necessity, otherwise it would impede our hiking-woe unto those of us who did not listen. As we started the hike, we were dressed like eskimos in the Alps, thick, bulky jackets, several sweaters beneath, several layers of t-shirts beneath that and the heaviest pair of socks or two we could fit in. Though I wanted to keep the cold at bay, this not only became cumbersome but hindered my efficiency to move easily. By the time we were doing final summit climb, we were down to basics, one jacket, gloves, top and pair of pants. We greatly regretted the extra luggage we had carried yet didn’t use.
The scenery is quite interesting as on goes through a sort of mountain forest, bamboo forest, savannah and moorland. As we continued our excited walk, I opted to lead the pack, I was too excited. We had been informed that the park does not host any carnivorous animals and so we were at ease. However, my heart almost stopped when we took a turn and came almost face-to-face with a lone bull. I assure you, no amount of watching National Geographic prepares you for such a moment-we froze. It is at this point that all the scary stories I had ever heard of about lone animals let alone lone buffalos came to mind. They all categorically ended with one conclusion, “it would be a death affair.” Our prayer became that there would be more buffalos, that seemed like a better situation. It snorted and I am still not sure how my bladder did not choose to embarass me at that point. It looked up and continued to chew at the green grass and we managed to peek beyond it and were relieved when we saw a large herd of buffalos littering both the path and the savannah ahead.
The whole team, 13 of us, traded notes on what we had heard about dealing with animals in the wild and there was a concensus-” They do not like noise.” Amongst us, the only wepon at best would have been a pen knife, which really wouldn’t have helped in case of an attack, buffalos have thick, tough skin. We thus all removed anything and everything that we had that could create a loud noise, cooking pots and cooking spoons were all we had. We then all huddled together, to look like a large mass and then progressed slowly, cautiously forward, towards the buffalos. We hit the cooking pots, we clapped our hands, we shouted, we marched forward albeit with our hearts in our mouths. Slowly but surely, the buffalos raised their heads as they continued to chew and eyed us wierdly as if trying to decifer what was before them. After a few minutes, slowly but surely, they all leisurely moved from the grass, moved from the path and walked into the bamboo forest that lay on either side of us. We marched on, shouted more, banged more as we looked at the glaring eyes peeping from behind the trees-sary time I assure you. Finally, after what felt like forever, we had completely passed the trees and we were all alive. Apologies for the lack of pictures of the Buffalos-my adrenaline didnt allow me to think of taking picture then.
By the time we arrived at our intended first sleeping area, near Met Station Lodge located at 3000m, having covered about 10km in about 5 hours, we were exhausted, it was dark and the cold was back to consume us. It was freezing cold, you could cut through it with a knife. Our breaths were getting shallow, we all looked like we were smoking due to the white air from our mouths, breathing through our nose was not adequate. We were terrified at the thought of implementing our plan to “camp”, and all stared at each other, no way we were going to pitch tent and freeze to death we decided silently. Lucky for us, the wardens found us, as we pondered this quagmire and offered us to sleep in the empty dorm cabins for the night-forever greatful.
Day Two: Met Station 3000m to Mackinders Camp 4200m
As we got to the second day, the temperatures got lower, and the rain decided to give us a bath and this officially became the toughest day and night. The fog hampered visibility, the rain hampered trekking and the cold bit at out skin and bones. It actually reached a point all we were using to know if we were on the right path were red markings on some poles along the way. The snacks we carried were not sufficient, the salted biscuits as recommended were a struggle to the palate. The takeaway rice from the previous night was now frozen, yet we struggled to apease our hunger with it and margerine (oh, the bliss of youth). Along the way altitude sickness decided to show its ugly head. I had never experienced it, I didnt even really know what it was but the symptoms, muscle aches, muscle cramps, nausea, exhaustion, I will never forget. We all struggled but persisted, we drank as much water as we could as recommended, from the numerous springs along the way. Our pace slowed, anxiety, exhaustion, sickness tried to kill our morale but we were determined. Soon all that was making us move forward was the image of Mackinders Camp at 4200m ahead, we believed, if we reached it, we would find solace, we would be fine, we would have survived, we would get help . That night after arrival, having treked for over 8 hours, there was hardly any conversation at the camp, we were all drinking hot, freshly brewed tea by the gallons. We were all nursing the morning sickness in the best way we could, silently, food wasn’t palatable, though we tried so as to regain energy. The many hyrax that were moving outside gave us hope, with time all would be well. Now, kindly note, the bathrooms here are outside, it is freezing cold, altitude sickness was at an all time high, and the numerous cups of tea / water ensured several trips were made to the toilet alone-Terror-terror-terror, at this point no one could help the other, each man to himself.
Day 3: Mackinders camp 4200m to Point Lenana 4985m
This was to be the ascent day and we woke up feeling much better, though low on morale. We had initially planned to hike before sunrise, but ended up watching sunrise from the camp- we were beat. Many in the group had been beaten by altitude sickness that even in the morning, the mood was dull and some in the group opted not to progress. It is only later in the day after acclimatization that we were able to actually have fun. We were taught how to rock climb, I almost knocked my head hard and didn’t get an injury thanks to helmets we had. We eventually started off and when we reached a crazy supposed rock climbing area, some of those in the team started rock climbing and opted to end their day there. I wanted to, but I wanted to hike more.
The hike at this point was getting tougher, the cold biting, the ground getting rockier and rockier but we were determined, I had a date with Point Lenana and the Snow. We arrived at Austrian Hut, 4800m which is the base of the last ascent and this is where the reality that we would accomplish our mission was confirmed. We trudged on and finally, eventually, we were atop Mt. Kenya, we were at Point Lenana and I was holding snow with my gloved hands The feeling was surreal, we jumped, we hugged, we sat-we had conqured this mountain and from the final six who made it to the top, I was the only female. We there after trudged back to Mackkinders Camp as victors, as conqueres, having hiked over 9hours and covered about 8 kilometers, though it felt like more.
Day four: Mackinders Camp to Met Camp
At this point, most of the team was well rusted and were practically running. Those of us who ascended tp Point Lenana were finished. We were trekking but we were practically strolling. Our bodies were beat, but we were not. We saw several elephant dung spots but we didnt get to actually see any elephants-that would have been something.At Met, we slept and tried to regain the much needed energy.
Day 5: Met Camp to Gate 2400m:
This descent marked the end to an eventful hike.
I highly recommend everyone to hikes mount Kenya. It is the highest mountain in Kenya, it is the second highest mountain in Africa and the only mountain that lies astride the Equator. Global warming is greatly affecting the snow atop it, so hurry hurry, the feeling of successfully ascending it is priceless. On to Mt. Kilimanjaro-I see you, I see you. However, once we got back to Nairobi, I was on bed rest for two weeks, I could hardly lift a finger, let alone move with the only forced movement being from my bed to the bathroom and back.