“There is snow on the mountain.”
About 300 metres from us were a group of High School Students of a Swedish High School in Nairobi. They were about 25 of them, boys and girls. They camped in tents and were resting before the ‘peak attack’. The attack will normally start in the early hours of the morning (what we will call in African languages ‘in the middle of the night’). Around 2.45am.
It was during this night that I realized I took a terrible decision of hiking the mountain. Why was it terrible? I was wearing two thick t-shirts, a sweater, a bigger thermal wear, three thick pairs of stockings, two trousers, both thick, gloves, head warmer and a blanket and inside a sleeping bag, yet I felt like I was in freezing Moscow. The altitude was 4,500m. It had to be that freezing that night.
I trembled on my bed and could barely sleep for a few hours before we were up at around 2.30am. We had hot tea and it was time to leave. I removed some of the clothing and properly geared up for hiking. I put on a jacket and a muffler which I used to cover the part of my face below the eyes. Then I put the head-torch on my head above the head warmer. As we began to walk in a file due to the narrow steep roads, I could hardly breathe due to the covering on my nose. And when I removed it, it became so cold. I got cold burns. We walked slowly and hoped to reach the peak before sunrise. That was the calculation.
To be clear, the mountain has 3 popular peaks, Point Batian (5199m), Point Nelion (5188m) and Point Lenana (4983m). The first two peaks can only be climbed with technical equipment (for professional mountain climbers). The latter can be reached by trekking. While on our way, we caught up with the High School students walking in a long file. Everyone was chatting in low voices. The sky above was so beautiful and lit up with a few stars. But we still had to use our flash lights. We walked for two and a half hours before we reached Austrian camp, were hikers take refuge for short while before getting to the peak. Everyone jam packed in to the small two rooms. I lost my team members, they lost each other too. Some of the students laid on the beds. Exhaustion filled the air in the camp.
After a few minutes, the guides called out. We had to get going if we are to see the sun rise from the vantage point when we stand on the mountain. As we walked passed glaciers and frozen streams of water, ice crystals developed in our water containers. The chocolate in my backpack froze as if it had been in the freezer. The temperature was definitely below 0 c. Slowly, we walked towards the peak. Someone slipped, among the students. It was bad. The chopper took her away when she got back to Austrian camp after sunrise (not that it came for her though). Some professional climbers who were interested in using the equipment to climb the highest peak arrived Austrian camp via the chopper.
Going up some paths, one has to hold on to securely positioned ropes. Any slip and you will have at least one broken bone in you. Part of the wisdom in attacking the peak during dark is also to make climbers oblivious of the dangerous falls. When it was daylight, on our way down, it looked very dangerous and you could hardly believe you passed through the paths.
We got to the top, rested for a while, saw the sun rose behind the horizon and took a few photos. But there was no snow on the mountain. It had melted the time we got there, sadly. From atop, we could see Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m), the highest mountain in Africa. It was about 300km in ground distance from Mount Kenya.
And we started the descent, arguably the hardest part in mountain hiking. The frozen streams we walked on while ascending were now flowing as the sun has melted the ice. Some of us slipped momentarily at some safer paths of the mountain as we descended. No one got harmed. We got back to Teleki Lodge at Mackinder’s camp (named after Sir Halford Mackinder), rested a while and continued to the Met station. We arrived the Met station early with a truck waiting for us. After a small picnic discussing our triumph, we headed straight back to Nairobi.
I haven’t had a bath in three and a half days. I got a proper one as I got home and laid to sleep in a more usual indoor microclimate. My thighs were soar and I could barely walk up any stair case.
It was when I got back, laid on my bed and started reminiscing the experience that I realized the wonderful and fulfilling experience I have been through. It was a huge satisfaction to me. I will do it again and again and again.
Have you hiked any mountain higher than 3000m before? How high was it? Did you encounter any challenge?