As Jack London once said, “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” Far too often we travel through life on autopilot, going through the motions, accepting what is, and having every day pass like the one before it.
Friends of Longonot live in a different adage. We are ready to explore the beauty of our country Kenya no matter how challenging it is. It is this free spirit and love of adventure that saw us set out to Mt. Kenya on Thursday a day before Good Friday. Easter was surely going to be quite an experience for all of us.
Planning the trip took a few months as we had to identify a good tour company, save up for the trip, shop for Mountain climbing gear and make sure we were physically fit. Mt. Longonot was our training ground while others took it further and participated in marathons all in the name of fitness. So when the day came, we were mentally and physically prepared and reading loads of literature on Mt. Kenya helped a lot.
Fifteen members of the Friends of Longonot made it for this expedition and we headed to Mt, Kenya. Excitement reigned and laughter filled the air on our drive there. We used the Nanyuki way as our choice route was the Sirimon described as the easiest to get to point Lenana. The route ascends the mountain from the west. Beautiful wooden bandas resplendent in the popular KWS colours stood out as we drove into the Mt. Kenya gate. Kenya Wildlife Service has done amazing work with the place and their guides are very welcoming. The porters had already arrived and we each got one to assist us carry our luggage, We had to change into our walking gear as we had to embark on a 9km trek to the Old Moses Camp. After a quick picnic lunch, the journey began. We set out together but about a kilometre into it, it was to each his own. The potters had carried very heavy luggage including the cooking utensils that was to be used in the four days of the trip. They were clearly used to this and walked faster than us who only had snacks in our day bags. Numerous stops were made, lots of water consumed and conversations had. The scenery to Old Moses was not very captivating apart from the montane forest and at one point we had to stop and stare at a dead tree. It stood out like a sore thumb as a constant reminder of a fire that had gutted it together with acres of forest two years ago. What was even sadder is the fresh memories of the Country recovering from a fire weeks ago that had consumed 10% of the forest.
We finally got to the Old Moses Camp which is 3300M above sea level and it was quite a relief putting down our bags and having some tea and snacks. Bunk beds were what we got and we were fortunate enough that we were the only ones in the camp so no sharing. The cold was slowly creeping in and we had to dress warm with gloves, scarves, fleece jackets and two pairs of socks as we waited for dinner. When dinner was ready, we all sat down at the dining area as some of the porters served us and we had a sumptuous well balanced meal. We knew we had to sleep early because we were to wake up at the crack of dawn but never ending humorous conversations and battle of the sex tête-à-tête shortened the night.
By 6am we were up and packing. Breakfast was served and you would think we were in a five star restaurant. The porters doubled up as very good cooks too. We had a 16km journey ahead of us and we knew it was not a joke judging from the previous day 9km walk.
We began our hike uphill through moorland and rocks till we got to Mackinders valley. The scenery here is to behold. We marveled at God’s creation to a point we forgot how tired we were. It was so beautiful. The contouring of the ranges, the unique plants some shaped like human beings standing on one leg, the caves that we used as our rest spots when we had lunch. It was almost surreal. It started raining and we had to quickly put on our rain gear. Unfortunately, some of what we bought thinking was water proof was not. Most of us got soaked and the walk seemed longer.
When we spotted Shiptons camp at a distance, tears of joy streaked down some of our faces already covered in rain water. It seemed so close and yet so far but we knew we were almost there. The sight of the green hut gave us so much energy and every step we took was to some hot tea and change of clothes. It was quite a celebration when we walked through the doors into our dormitories. Those who had arrived earlier welcomed the rest heartily as we all knew how challenging it was to get there. Shiptons camp is at 4,200M and the view of the peak of the mountain is much more visible and the surroundings breath taking. It was truly quite a site to behold. Shipton’s is extremely cold at night and we were fortunate enough to have a jiko to keep us warm. Most of us hanged the clothes that had been rained on in the kitchen, the unoccupied bunk beds and the dining area. Others used the jiko that we were using to keep warm to dry the clothes and shoes they would wear the next day. Every corner was resplendent in different colours reminding us of how far we had come and how great it felt. We had our dinner which was delicious and one by one we went to sleep.
At 2am we were up and ready to embark on the climb up to Lenana point. We had tea and biscuits and assembled outside as we got strict instructions from our guide. The climb up is no easy feat and we had to do as instructed. Walking fast was out of the question and we had to walk as a single file as we took short timed stop overs. For most of us it was the first time to see snow and we were ecstatic. The scree proved to be a problem to walk on and we had to avoid stepping on lose pebbles as it could prove to be fatal. Step by step we walked up steep paths and the higher we went the colder it became. Mountain sickness was experienced by most of the members and natural gas emission became the norm. There were times when some of us asked ourselves, “Did I have to do this?” but the eagerness to get to Point Lenana and see the famous Munyao flag kept us going.
Screams and jubilations lent the air as we got to Point Lenana at exactly 6.09am. No amount of words can describe the feeling we had when we made it to the top 4985M above sea level. We even forgot we were to stay up there for only ten minutes. It was no longer cold to us as we were busy celebrating and taking photos and videos to remember this big moment that we had looked forward to for a long time. It was no mean achievement and we knew many had given up and others had passed away trying to get to where we were.
Endurance, commitment, hardwork and team spirit got us up there. The best moment was to see Ian Mutahi, an 11 year old make it to the top. He will grow up knowing anything is possible and you can conquer whatever thing you set your heart out to do. We had done it! No one would and will ever take that away from us.
Sadly, we had to come down as we are not allowed to stay at point Lenana for too long as we can freeze up there plus there were those experiencing altitude sickness. Going down was easier and we took less time as we slid on the snow and ‘skied’ on the scree and loose gravel. A different route was revealed to us which was shorter and more steep but since we were going down it was ok. We finally got back to Shiptons camp and had a heavy breakfast, packed and set out on our journey back to Old Moses Camp. Barely had we covered 3km than it started raining. Hailstorms became our company for the next 7km and the ground everywhere was covered in ice. We were soaked and walked like zombies with no one talking to the other. Along the way we came across three groups who were headed to Shipton and all we could do was wish them luck and few words of motivation. When the hailstorms stopped it got even colder but we soldiered on and got to camp. We changed to warm clothing and enjoyed our dinner while waiting for morning so start our journey back to Nairobi. It was a fun filled, very challenging and eye opening Easter holiday. We are now preparing for Mt. Kilimanjaro next year. The sky is the limit…yes it is.
(BY EUNICE CHEGE)