Mt. Kenya : 11th – 13th Dec 2020

About 5 months back, four of us agreed that we needed to attempt this hike…again. Three of us had attempted it back in 2018, one of us made it to the summit, here. We kept fit by running, walking and taking on hikes whenever we could. There was more confidence in us getting to point Lenana. We contacted Hikemaniak and they helped us get everything sorted for the hike. Their planning and professionalism is top notch!

Day 1 : Old Moses Camp

This was the first time camping on a major hike-it was the option we had gone for-having experienced the mountain bandas accommodation previously. With the C-19 pandemic, we thought camping would be a better option; after all, we were two couples.

The trek from the Sirimon gate to Old Moses is 9 km on a winding tarmac road. We got to camp about 4:00 p.m., changed into warm clothing-it had rained on our way, I got a quick nap then we went a few meters up to the bandas to catch the sunset. A week back, one of the bandas at Old Moses was burnt to the ground. We had done a day hike to Old Moses on 21st November before the incident and so this was a rather sad sight.

Our assigned chef made us some really delish dinner which we devoured under the stars and called it an early night. It was not as cold as I had anticipated-possibly because the camping site was surrounded by trees hence breaking the wind. However, the grass and tents were covered in ice when we woke up but we were happy it hadn’t rained that night.

Day 2: Shiptons Camp

The sun shone on our faces that morning as we left for Shiptons camp 14 kms away. I shivered a little when I recalled how altitude sick I was two years back on this same hilly terrain. I had however had some good sleep, enjoyed my meals and had nil mountain sickness symptoms. We all had runny noses that morning but nothing alarming.

There’s that terrible feeling I get at high altitude that’s indescribable. It hit me as we walked through the bog…it’s as though your body is giving in, you’re tired, upset, there’s not enough oxygen, you want to move but your body doesn’t want to. It’s at this point that I question my decision to hike and think about my bed.

Her majesty in all her glory, her snowy peaks and clouds hovering around her loomed in front of us. It was breathtaking. We kept moving amidst the strong winds that were slapping at our cheeks in the valley. Beautiful birds chirped away cheering us on. Humphrey who was our lead guide from Hikemaniak kept encouraging us to keep at it. I was mentally exhausted but I had to keep moving. Mountain weather changes in a blink and it would have been dreadful were we to get drenched in torrential downpour.

A hot cup of tea and warm heavenly popcorn awaited as we got to camp at around 5 p.m.. My heart was in my mouth as the clouds cleared and for a moment she was right in front of us! It was as though she was welcoming us, or mocking us. Whatever it was, I felt small. She was majestic. I gulped my tea and changed into layers of warm thermo tops and bottoms in time for dinner.

Summit Night

Summit pants, jacket and fleece tucked tight into my sleeping bag, I blocked everything out and closed my eyes at about 7:30 p.m.. I could hear chatter in the dining area from the tent about 3 hours later. There was a group that had gotten to camp later that night. It was a surprisingly warm night. It of course was freezing outside but my hands and toes were warm enough and hence I was able to get some decent sleep, waking up at 2:00 a.m. in readiness for the daunting summit.

After some tea and biscuits, day bags on our backs, headlamps piercing into the night, off we went. One of us who had summit in the 2018 attempt couldn’t join the party as she developed a cough that worsened in the night. Someone would watch over her as we got tortured. The peak is 4 kms from base camp but is a dreary encounter because of the high elevation and altitude gain. About a kilometre into the hike, everything I had for breakfast was up and spewed to the rocks. I felt some relief from the nausea.

We snake our way towards the stars. The outline of the mountain with her fiery peaks daunting us. Every often I requested our lead guide for the night to allow us get some rest. To maintain body warmth, you have to keep moving. I was exhausted. At some point my fingers hurt so bad from the cold I couldn’t feel them. It was as though thousands of small needles were piercing into my skin.

The one thing that kept me going was the fact that I was in perfect form despite the nausea and I was looking forward to the sunrise. The sun brings with it a rebirth in the mountains and I tend to forget my troubles even after being thrashed by the stinging cold and wind. The hues of orange are in the horizon painting the peaks of Nelion and Batian in lovely golden petals.

Nausea clawed at my throat, my stomach contracting fiercely and once more, everything including bile was out as Lake Harris welcomed us. It’s like nothing I remember in 2018. It’s a desert and the water levels have substantially reduced. Nonetheless, such a beauty. We have to keep moving because of the glistering snow; we have been told it can cause partial blindness. Our polarized glasses on, eyes on the summit.

Lake Harris in the background as we head back to camp-after summit

I have found it absolutely helpful hiking with people I can laugh with amidst the tears in the mountains. The motivation I got from everyone went a long way. Humphrey, thank you for pushing me – I’m sorry for the several dagger eyes I threw your way :-). Nothing prepares you for this slightly over one kilometre stretch to the summit. It’s gruesome and more so when you come across other hikers who are descending. You envy them.

I wonder why people attempt the other peaks. They’re technical and look murderous. We get to summit about 7:15 a.m.. The beauty from up there is to behold. A few minutes after freezing the beauty from up there, we’re headed back to Shiptons camp. The descent is terrible. Loose rocks, steep decline, the previously frozen ground has melted away leaving slippery slopes. The sun has warmed us up though and we get rid of some of the heavy summit clothes.

This would be the longest day in the mountains. Returning to base camp after 10 a.m., we packed our porters bags, downed some lovely breakfast and off into the valley we went. By time we got to Old Moses 32 kilometres later, we were over it. It had been an epic encounter.

As I scribe this, my feet are up, hair shampooed and fresh, outline of the mountain kilometres away, feeling great within, ready for the festivities. We are at some lovely Airbnb in Nanyuki, Bongo Court. Many thanks to Hikemaniak for putting together our itinerary and Humphrey for keeping up with all the madness up there. Asanteni sana!

Tips to Hikers

  • Listen to your body and let whoever is in charge know should you feel unwell.
  • Do not overload your day bag. It will only wear you down.
  • Easy does it. It’s not a race. Move at your pace.
  • Throwing up comes with incredible relief so do not shy away from painting that mountain :-).
  • The elements up there will be brutal-sun, wind, biting cold. Wear appropriate clothing and keep moisturizing your face and lips-Arimis/milking jelly does wonders.
  • Tip those porters, guides and chefs. They are life savers up there.

Njoki.

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