Climbing Mount Kenya

Episode 1

Two days ago was exactly one year since I made the courageous decision to climb the second highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya, an ancient extinct volcano soaring 5, 199m (17, 057 ft) in elevation. It has iconic peaks (not just one) and lies just 16.5km away from the equator, in central Kenya (about 200km away from Nairobi).

We were 4, all working in the same office pursuing the mission of advancing African innovation. The two Japanese professors and my colleague from Ethiopia, Hamba san. We agreed to hike the Mountain in 3 days against the usual minimum of 4. We left office on Thursday after lunch, packed with all the necessary gears needed. Backpack, sleeping bag, hiking boots, thermal wears, gloves, snacks, camelback, head torch, walking stick etc. We picked up bigger backpacks later. We drove away from Juja towards the mountain area near Nanyuki, before lodging at Naro Moru River Lodge, a scenic lodge, big in size with lots of green landscape. It normally hosts Mount Kenya climbers and tourists.

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L-R: Tsunoda san, Hamba san, myself and Shiomi San.

During dinner at the restaurant of the lodge, a group of 25 researchers from the United Kingdom were celebrating their feat of climbing the mountain. They hike mountains every year. In the bar of the restaurant were pieces of clothing and national flags hung by different people conveying information about their hiking feat; names and dates of ascent. Some dated as far back as the late 80s. Many of them regarded it as a great feat. No doubt it was. That night, I had no idea what I had signed up for. According to reliable sources, the first ascent to the highest peak was made in 1899 by Sir Halford Mackinder (English), c. Ollier and J. Brocherel, although many attempts have been made by other explorers before this.

The next morning, we left the lodge and headed for the mountain, a few kilometres away. We could see the peak, ‘it was snowing on the peak” said the tour guide. Four of us, plus the tour guide/potter, making 5, started the hike at the western entrance of Mount Kenya National Park. We left the bigger backpacks at the entrance. It was to be picked up by 4 other potters. Each one of us had a potter to carry the bigger backpacks and we picked the smaller ones, carrying necessary supplies like water, snacks, an umbrella and a rain suit.

There are 3 common routes of reaching the peak, Chigoria (eastern direction) which is the longest and most scenic, Sirimon (from the north) and Naro Moru (west) which is the shortest and of course, the route we followed.

We started hiking around 10.10 am, dodging dungs of buffalos, leopards and elephants along the way. We arrived the Met Station (the first station) after two and a half hours. Normally, everyone is supposed to sleep there, despite the short walk (2.5 km). This is because we need to acclimate to the high altitude. The altitude at that camp is 3, 048 m (10,000 feet). If one continues walking at high altitudes without been used to it, one will most likely get altitude sickness caused by reduced oxygen to breathe (symptoms: headache, dizziness, lack of appetite, nausea etc.). That reminds me, days before the hike, I was taking up more exercises in the gym, just to make sure I am fit for the challenge. We camped at the Met Station, enjoying the cold windy weather (below 15 °C) and talked and talked about the mountain, where Kenya got its name from. There are lots of myth about the mountains.

 

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With Hamba at the Met Station.

The tour guide was also the cook. He cooked noodles and a special soup, to help us adapt to the weather. And then we swallowed some tabs, meant to make us resistant to suffering from altitude sickness. The next day was to be the longest in hiking.

The night passed peacefully. No monkeys knocked on our doors or windows. In the morning, after breakfast, we suited up and started the hike at about 7.43am. The next stop will be Mackinder’s Camp. We stopped at some locations to rest a little, have a snack or a meal. Along the way, our potters caught up with us. They didn’t stop at the first camp, because they are already used to the altitude. And they passed us in minutes. We were never to see them again till at the next camp. They looked energetic and were fast paced. They belong to the native of people who excel at Olympic marathons. More on why Kenyans and Ethiopians succeed at marathons in my later posts.

We went up, down, turned left, right and docked as we kept at the mission. The wild alpine high-altitude plantation was just beautiful. There were streams and frost structures. As we kept gaining altitude, the temperatures were becoming lower. No doubt what we learnt in high school geography, the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. We were still in our thermal wears, gloved and glued to the walking stick.

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Mount Kenya in sight.

We arrived Mackinder’s camp around 1.44 pm, after trekking for about 6 hours. We were so close to the peak now and excited for the ‘peak attack’.

To be continued…

From “My Mountain Memoirs: Mount Kenya”

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