Days 190 to 193 - Climbing Mount Kenya
Trip Start Jan 10, 2011
221Trip End Jan 08, 2012
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We set out from Nairobi loaded into a Matatu with our guide Sammy and a bunch of other Kenyans heading north. Matatus are the local transit system. These 10 person vans run designated routes but typically wait until they are full. 'Full’ now means that each person has a seat and seat belt; after some recent emphasis by the government including random police checks along the highway (we did see some pretty crowded Matatus in town…).
After a few hours ride we stopped in the town of Nanyuki to meet our crew. The swarm of guys angling for a guiding or porter job was intense but subsided pretty quickly. After grabbing some lunch and last minute supplies we drove up to the Sirimon park gate with our assistant guide named ‘Showsa’ and 2 porters named John and James (who were AT LEAST 55 if not older!).
Starting at 2650m we hiked up through the tropical rain forest passing some baboons who took very little mind of us. About an hour into our climb, the clouds on the horizon blew in and turned dark with alarming speed. It started to rain. So we threw on our jackets and kept on going. It rained steadily for the next 2 hours completely soaking our lower bodies. We arrived at our first camp called ‘Old Moses’ at 3300m and quickly set up our tent, hustling about to stay warm before changing into dry clothes.
Our cook whipped up the best ‘field cooking’ we’ve ever had (apologies to Eli’s favourite canoe tripping chef M.Naylor) consisting of carrot soup (from scratch), pan fried fish fillet, rice and seasoned vegetables. Our crew was using the existing huts at each campsite while we chose to use our tent to save a little money and add to the adventure.
We snuggled into our warm sleeping bags as the cool night air blew up the mountain.
Morning came early and brought a coating of frost on our tent. We quickly packed up ready to move up the mountain to our base camp. The forest had slipped away in the final stages of our previous days climb giving way to moorland. This was a very scenic and gradual hike with a gentle breeze pushing light clouds up the valley over the grassy ridges. We admired the high altitude flowers, interesting birds and uniquely adapted plants that flourished but only within a very specific altitude range. We also saw a creature that looked like a beefy ground hog but in fact is the nearest living relative of the elephant. The Rock Hyrax even has tiny tusks; a remnant of its shared lineage.
After passing a few groups, including a 30+ company of UK high schoolers, we stopped for a quick lunch under an overhang that dripped water draining down the mountain. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade and we rotated layers accordingly while we chatted with Showsa about life and society in Canada & Kenya.
After about 7hrs on the trail we arrived at the Shipton Hut mid-afternoon where we would spend 2 nights acclimatizing to the altitude of 4200m. We pitched our tent nearby a German couple who had a newer model of our tent. We got to chatting and it turns out they were climbing the highest peak of 5400m on their own. They had packed in all of their own gear, food as well as the ropes and climbing equipment and were intending on bivouacking at 5000m: sleeping on the side of the mountain mid climb! HARD CORE!
On our acclimatization day we relaxed and prepared for our summit day. In the afternoon we hiked up through the Western Terminals and 4650m. Eli resisted taking a dip in the glacial lake with the sun hiding behind the afternoon clouds.
Back at Shipton’s we played cards to pass the time, chatting with the brits and encouraging some of the more hesitant. We hydrated early and often balancing drinking tea with a mid-night pee!
It was early to bed with a 2am wake up call.
We woke in the middle of the night and packed up our gear, including our tent with a THICK layer of frost on the fly. We moved deliberately shaking away the cobwebs and the nip of the cold temperatures. After a light breakfast of tea and some cookies we started for the summit. It was a slow and steady climb under a bright moon. The trail to the peak was steep and covered in loose scree causing us to slide slightly down with each step.
Although we took our time, we were the first group to reach the summit a little before the intended sunrise. We waited in chilly anticipation for the sun to crest the horizon. It was a clear morning with a spectacular view, though the summit of distant Mt. Kilimanjaro, over 300 km south, was hidden behind a shroud of cloud cover.
We moved down a different route into the Gorges valley via the Chogoria route. We stopped to remove some of our layers and slap on sunscreen as the rising sun shone brightly. We seemed to be moving quickly but it took us longer than expected to make it to the camp for our full breakfast. Mia was feeling great, though somewhat tired from the exertion, and beamed after a glorious summit. Eli developed a mild headache that lingered throughout the day despite us losing nearly 2000m of elevation. Strangely this happened on the way down – perhaps due to some mild head congestion.
The hike after breakfast was beautiful, running beside a magnificent gorge. We stopped to enjoy the view whenever it was revealed by a break in the blowing clouds. As we descended, our porters sped past us despite their age and loads! Soon afterwards the clouds brought another afternoon rain. We hiked through the green and lush landscape as the downpour continued. After a quick convo with our cook, we agreed to skip lunch, grabbing a few slices of bread and a juice box to tide us over until we reached our camp for the night.
We tramped through grass above the knees as the trail wound through fields of small shrubs before descending into a full growth forest. The path became more and more muddy and as we waded through overgrown areas. Finally, we reached our destination exhausted and soaking wet; a combination of the rain and perspiration despite our Gortex gear. We dried our equipment as much as possible while eagerly chowing on potato pancakes for dinner. We were used to dried (and light food) when camping and were amazed that our porters carried bags of full potatoes, vegetables and eggs up and down the mountain.
A sign on the same grassy knoll where we camped warned of the dangers of wild animals in the area. We were exhausted and put this and the ranger staying nearby with his rifle always in hand out of our minds as we went to bed while still daylight warm and dry in our tent.
Our final day was again sunny in the morning as we descended along a rain rutted dirt road through a bamboo forest. We met up with our Land Rover transport after hiking the 10km in in just over an hour and a half. The ride down to Chogoria town was bumpy and slow moving. We related our jeep experience in Nepal and shared the pictures on our camera with our crew.
We had lunch at a café before tipping and thanking our team. It was during this exchange that it was revealed that our cooks name was actually NOT Showsa but rather Charles! Even after knowing this what we heard when he said his name was much more akin to ‘Showsa’ than ‘Charles’. We shared a laugh before saying goodbye to our crew then moving to a Matatu depot ready to head back to Nairobi. The area was full of people, some loitering about others waiting for rides and plenty of guys looking to hustle up a buck. It took over 3 hours for our guide to coordinate our ride which seemed like a very long time. While we waited, Eli in particular, was targeted by a number of the locals.
There was the standard thumbs-up re his Mohawk. He was asked by one man to start an NGO to fund his wheelchair racing. Some used football to foster a relationship (of course Barça is our favourite team – Catalan connection). However, the most incredible was our interaction with 2 little boys. Firstly, we were sweating in the midday heat while these kids stomped around the stalls like they owned the place, wearing woollen sweaters and Dr. Seuss inspired balaclava type headwear.
They were shy and playful and after fooling around with them Eli approached the woman in a nearby stall to politely ask if these were her children and if he could take a picture. She asked why and he explained to which she demanded 200 shillings (roughly $2.50). Eli politely declined and walked away. But he was followed by the kids who ran up to another woman each embracing one of her legs. She paid them little mind maintaining focus on the coconut she was slicing up on her lap with a big knife (20cm blade). After momentarily furrowing his brow he asked this woman if these were HER kids and incredibly she said yes.
She had no problem with him taking a picture and in fact Mia snapped good shots which we shared with the little boys and the mother. However, the best was yet to come. While waiting, we saw the woman cutting the coconut in the direction of children’s face while they clasped her knees! THEN she use the knife to indicate he should go play somewhere else pointing the tip of the blade at the child’s chest – not with any sort of malice but rather with the nonchalance one would use with a pencil. Later, when we saw the little boy running around and "playing" with the knife in hand we were flabbergasted and could only share a wide eyed smile.
Finally, our ride arrived and it was a small car instead of a Matatu. We were jammed in with 4 other people for a sweaty and long drive back into Nairobi. The arterial roads around Nairobi are under massive construction and as a result are in really rough shape. Mounds of dirt or even sloped concrete litter the roadways attempting to get traffic to slow down. Most drivers we have seen in our travels intimately know their vehicles and masterfully manoeuver over and around obstacles. This woman was less adept often bottoming out on the abutments sometimes VERY hard.
We made it back to our guesthouse around 8pm thrilled at completing the climb but very ready for a shower, comfy bed and a good nights rest.