It has been a long time coming since I thought of sharing my Mt. Kenya experience. I know that many of us would rather not read so I’m planning on being as brief as can be.
In another post, I will highlight the prep and what you need to purchase in case you are planning on joining the hiking madness. This is a story about the hike from Old Moses (Camp 1) to Lake Michaelson; Sirimon to Chogoria route.
At the Sirimon gate, I was pumped and ready for the adventure that lay ahead. The 3 peaks were visible and this sort of gave me the jitters-for some reason I knew I was ready but there’s always that fear of the unknown that creeps up on me whenever I’m hiking new heights. I had hydrated the entire way- I would relish bush moments later (or not when it was freezing and I had to go) for the next 5 days.
The hike to Old Moses was a slow one to allow us acclimatize-Pole pole, maji mingi as Duncan of Xtrym Adventures & Safaris kept reminding us. By the time we got to camp (3,300m ASL), I was okay or so I thought. What I did not know was that altitude can get you in many ways! The very first time I got altitude sickness (which results from exposure to low oxygen amounts at high elevation) was at Elephant hill-a story for another day. While I was not throwing up, I was nauseous, kept yawning and had a headache. That night, I barely got 2 hours of sleep. The wind was threatening to blow away the iron sheets, I could locate all the snores and I could count the number of people that woke up in the night for bathroom breaks. It has remained one of my longest nights. Did I mention that there was of course no showering and we slept in a dormitory? Well, we just spread our sleeping bags on the beds, used wet wipes to get rid of the sweat (if you have been to the mountains, this is not gross at all 🙂 ), applied lots of Arimis (milking jelly) changed into warm sleeping gear and called it a night. There is no electricity up there so one must have a headlamp.
When we set off for camp 2 (4,250m ASL), I had enjoyed my breakfast and made sure that I mentioned to the leader of the expedition that I had barely slept. Our vitals were checked before we set out and everyone seemed to be in good shape.
I had not before seen such a beautiful expanse; the Geography classes came in handy; mountain vegetation is breathtaking! We fetched water in the rivers and refilled our hydration bags. Too dope an experience. My mind keeps drifting away though and I’m asking myself why it is I hike after promising myself that the previous hike was the last, why I’m out here and not at home in my warm bed, whether the rest of the team are feeling as crappy as I am, and other thoughts. It so happens that hikers have these thoughts all the time so I’m sane guys!
The rains started pounding on us just after lunch and barely an hour later, altitude sickness hit me real hard. I had a fever, I was throwing up and I just kept yawning. My system was shutting down literally. Everything that went down my throat, water included come back up real quick. Thing is, I had to keep hydrating which was super annoying because it was just useless as the water barely settled in my tummy before I threw up. Anyway, the leader of our expedition as well as the guides attended to me and the rest of the hikers had to move at my pace-terrible feeling when you slow people down.
I wasn’t getting any better and so it was decided that the rest of the folks keep moving. I had two guides assigned to me to keep a close eye and my boyfriend was also with me so I was good to go :-). The throwing up kept getting worse as we scaled higher. I literally had nothing in my stomach at some point and so it was really painful when the muscles constricted and there was nothing to throw up. The bile was also out-terrible!!
By the time we got to Shipton which lies at 4200m ASL, it was about 7pm. The rest of the crew were ready for dinner. The lovely porters in charge of the kitchen had already prepared a concoction for me which I gladly downed after getting rid of the dump boots and into fresh thermals. It so happens that ginger helps ease the altitude sickness. However, I couldn’t stand the sight of food-it made me want to throw up. So, for dinner I had about 5 spoonfuls of plain rice and I was ready to call it a night. My body was fatigued, and I really needed to get some sleep in readiness for summit night.
The cold was biting that night. The trick is to sleep in thermals and everything else you need for the summit night needs to go beneath the sleeping bag to ensure total warmth when you wake up at 2 am the next day ready for summit. I at least got 2/3 hours of sleep that evening. My stomach was rumbling but the thought of getting food into my mouth gave me the jitters.
2 am and people need to start moving as we needed to have summited by at least 6:30 am! I’m macho, fatigued, ready to get over and done with and get home. I stayed away from breakfast-I couldn’t stomach throwing up. The air was much warmer outside and we could clearly see the outline of the mountain due to the snow-filled slopes glistering in the moonlight. The summit was to be tackled strategically and so the weakest led the pack. I was behind the lead guide alongside two other ladies that had also been hit by the altitude in the night; the strongest were at the tail of the queue.
Barely an hour into the ascent, three of us got really sick and we had to be detached from the rest as we were slowing the rest down. We had two guides and my boyfriend also stayed behind; I was covered. By 4 am, I was ready to be evacuated!! I was done hiking, I was never going to hike again, altitude is a %*&$ and I had had enough. Thing is, at that time, it was still dark and we were at some steep elevation-all I wanted was a helicopter; after all, I had an evacuation cover!
Folks, evacuation did not happen and we had to keep moving. Five steps, sit, throw up, repeat. There’s some calmness that altitude sickness gives in such heights and you just want to close your eyes and shut out the world. The guides had to keep a close eye as one is likely to walk off the cliffs in instances of sleep walking.
The sun rays gave me some life. At least I had lived to see another day. I was starving. I needed to eat something. I got out a cookie and barely ate half of it before I was crouching on the snow. It was out before it touched base. I knew I was done with food until I lost some altitude. We had to keep moving to avoid snow-blindness.At least Jay (boyfriend then fiancé now) was there to keep me moving; he maintained my sanity.
Eventually we got to Lake Harris which lies about 4700m ASL and it was such a beauty to behold. I knew there was no way I was going to push myself to summit. I had zero summit fever! I was ready to get off the mountain. The other two ladies are much better and willing to tackle the last bit. I just want a photo and I’m out of there. My boyfriend is 100% and he’s been lagging behind because I’m unwell. I’m sad he had to endure my gruesome experience but happy he’s with me. I let him know he can go ahead and summit as I have a guide who’d ensure I got to camp. He declines the offer. I know I will be better soon as I loose altitude.
I’m sitting on a rock thinking about my bed. Our new found friend Daisy is ready to freeze the moment with her phone camera. I crack a smile. My boyfriend starts talking about how he’s applying for a full time job and I’m wondering if this is the best location he would have chosen to tell me about a new job. I look at him with mixed feelings; could it be that I’m getting worse or is this man really talking about a job here…in the snow, when I don’t want stories (I may have rolled my eyes lol). What I did not realize was that he was asking me to be his wife!!! Yoh! No I did not cry. The altitude sickness may have eluded me for a minute. I was beyond happy, flabbergasted maybe. We met on a mountain and he was sealing it on a mountain. Good job Jay!!
As the two ladies attempted the summit, one of the guides who had been my number one support descended with my fiancé and I. It felt amazing walking down the snowy slopes. I was engaged and it felt amazing. We were bound for Lake Michaelson. The most spectacular lake I’ve ever seen. We took about 3 hours to the lake and boy was I looking forward to a good meal!
The chef and the rest of the porters had already gotten to camp and tents pitched. They set a beautiful picnic breakfast for us and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I cleaned up and before I knew it sleep was calling. I was woken up later that afternoon by the rain drops. I felt perfectly okay and soon as I helped the mister get some stuff into the tent, I was set for round 2 of sleep. I couldn’t imagine being out in the rain. The rest of the crew got super drenched but their joy of summiting couldn’t be dumped. They had conquered.
We got some amazing photos taken by the lake by one Bem /sixtyonekenya the following morning before we left for the Bandas where we would get our first shower in 4 days! You surely never miss the waters till the well runs dry. I had sworn that I’m never hiking again but as I write this, I’m already doing my prep hikes to attempt Mt. Kilimanjaro in February 2019. I’ll be sure to let you all know how that goes 🙂 .
My fingers were pretty swollen 🙂