Climbing Mount Kenya

Having a good discussion is like having riches – Kenya Proverb

It’s my natural style to travel with a goal, even on vacation. Whether I’m exploring cultural and historical monuments, visiting family or friends or climbing mountains. To summit Mount Kenya became my expedition beginning of 2013. On a deeper level it was also my pilgrimage, another journey of self-discovery and nature, walking higher to the heavens.

To help me find my way a trip to Nanyuki was the first stopping point. This place marks the line of the Equator, and to prove it I saw a bucket full of water being drained with a stick inside to demonstrate the rotation of water. Approximately 10 metres from the equator in the northern hemisphere the stick spun in a clockwise direction and in the southern hemisphere in an anticlockwise direction. What happened when I stood right on the equator? Simply no rotation and the stick went straight down with the flow of water.

Old Moses Hut  

Mount Kenya straddles the equator standing 5199 metres high in elevation. Being an equatorial mountain, it makes climbing easier both in terms of the atmospheric density and temperature. I was happy when I found out there were two additional Kenyans joining the hike and to have their company. From Sirmon’s gate at 2600 metres, we trekked slowly up to 3300 metres to Old Moses Hut. It was warm hiking up the mountain and the colourful wildflowers shone brightly in the sun, especially the daises and everlasting flowers. The sun and steep trek had drained my energy levels and it was a welcomed relief when I saw the hut as cloud was rapidly hugging the mountainside. I was also relieved to sit down for a hot cup of tea and chat with other hikers. I am always curious to meet people from all different walks of life and why they had come to walk the path to Mount Kenya. 

Shipton’s Hut

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up to brilliant sunny day, what wonderful hiker’s luck! My legs were feeling stronger after the 9-kilometre walk yesterday and ready to walk 14 kilometres today. The hike began easy with gently rolling shrub land. We crossed three mountain rivers with the help of small bridges and transverse many gullies. I was told the water was safe to drink and a few hikers took their chances to quench their thirst with fresh mountain water.

At the peak of the gully was a rewarding view – Mount Kenya’s peak was laced with snow on top. The sky was still a brilliant blue, with a few fluffy cumulus clouds started to grow in size. We took a few photos to capture the moment before trekking on through another gully with mountain peaks in the distance to keep our goal in mind. 

Wild flowers were growing abundantly and the splash of red, yellow, white and purple colours were nestled amongst the green foliage. We walked for quite a while before leaving the alpine moorland ecosystem and into the Afro-alpine zone (3800 – 4500 metres). The vegetation was unique with hairy carpets of tussocks, and bright green moss where the ground was damp. The giant lobelias appeared like massive rosettes, first seen as shrubs and then fully grown into tree height.

Growing in abundance was the groundsel (Senecio brassica), which looked like a cross between an aloe and cactus. It grew tall and some of these trees were higher than me. Birds were noisy and often fluttering between the tops of the lobelias. Our guide, David pointed out the hylux; it was my first time to see such an animal. Its face was like a cross between a raccoon and small bear. It just sat there peering at us over a rock. I was later to see a lot more of them as they bunny-hopped around.  

After walking through some boggy ground we reached Shipton’s Hut at 4200 metres. It wasn’t much cooler here than at Old Moses Hut. I went for a small walk after my cup of tea and found the mountain cloud settling around the hut very quickly. We ate well for dinner; I always grateful for the porters and cooks on these mountain expeditions. I tried to get some sleep knowing I had to be up at 2.30am in the morning.

Point Le Nana 4985m

After a sweet tea at 3.00am we set off to summit Point Le Nana at 4985 metres. This was the third highest peak on Mount Kenya after Point Batian at 5199 metres and Point Neilon at 5188 metres. Much to my surprise it wasn’t too cold and six layers of clothing was far too much and I quickly shed two layers. I was ecstatic with the beautiful clear weather and the stars shone brightly. For the first hour of the climb we slowly paced our way up the gravelly slopes and seldom stopped for breaks. ‘Pole, pole’ was the best medicine for this mountain climb. As we slowly trekked up the mountain and I could see some terns (glacial lakes) in the starlight. To my surprise I didn’t feel any headaches or nausea and I was relieved altitude sickness was not haunting me at all. We were scrambling up steep rocks and avoiding patches of snow and ice as we hiked up the north face of Lenana Point.

We arrived early at the peak, having ascended in less than three hours despite all the breaks. It was 06.05 when we summited. Sunrise wasn’t until 06.25am but I enjoyed the sunrays slowly beginning their gradual glow across the landscape. There was a layer of cloud beneath us, and in the distance I could see Mount Kilimanjaro standing proud as the tallest mountain of Africa. Mount Kenya is the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa. Our fingers and toes were becoming cold and it was a matter of constantly wriggling them. It was painful. After the sun had risen we moved our partially frozen bodies to capture some photographs. We were soon to make our way down – and at rapid speeds as well. With single and loose rock everywhere we were slipping and sliding down the mountain slopes.

It took us an hour and an half to get down to Shipton’s Hut (half the time it too us to climb), although our knees and thighs were much sorer for it! I was deliciously hungry and enjoyed a wholesome breakfast of bacon and eggs and French toast. We set off just after 10.15am and were to arrive at Old Moses hut by 03.15pm. This trek was tiring and strenuous as we had been hiking for 10 hours. 

I slept very well, waking up just before 07.00am. The final hike of 9 kilometres was predominantly downhill and we were soon to arrive at Sirmon’s gate just after 10.00am. We said our farewells before embarking on our next journal. I’d had the privilege of climbing another mountain in Africa, seeing unique plants and animals, and having diverse chats with people along a path less trodden.

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