August 9, 2011 (Margaret Allison Wilton-Siegel) – Though not as high in elevation, Mount Kenya is said to be more challenging a climb than its Tanzanian counterpart, Mount Kilimanjaro. With its tallest peak at over 17,000 feet, the challenge of climbing it enticed us all – six Canadians working on the continent of Africa. Perhaps we should have been a little more inquisitive beforehand about the details of our adventure – we didn’t so much hike Mount Kenya, as endure something like an upwardly mobile – literally – boot camp. I have never before climbed, scrambled, walked or crawled more while eating so little in my entire life.
Our drama-filled trip begins on the journey from Nairobi. It should be three hours to our destination if a truck of molasses hadn’t spilled its entire load across the highway. The saying ‘slower than molasses’ instantly acquires a whole new resonance for us. Perhaps it is a forewarning of things to come. A random man saves the day when he decides to seize the moment, resulting from the massive traffic jam, to boost ice cream sales. We eventually reach our hotel near the base of Mount Kenya, 20 kilometres from the equator where the entire group decides against showers, based on the condition of the bathroom. The paint job looks as though someone has slaughtered a pig in there.
Our leisurely hike begins in the pleasant Kenyan outdoors. It seems like a lot of walking, approximately six hours, but it is manageable. Despite the concerning lack of sustenance during mealtime (bread, avocado and tomatoes), my spirits are high. Luckily I had thought ahead and created a deluxe combination of nuts, chocolate, gummies and dried fruit and satisfied my hunger by devouring handfuls of it.
The honeymoon is definitely over. Breakfast consists of an egg and deep fried bread, with nothing more but an uphill climb until dinner. Although trail mix has kept me going, I begin to worry how many peanuts and raisins my body can tolerate with such limited water supplies.
This is the day I should have been more aware about our over-ambitious attitude towards the ‘mysterious Mount Kenya’. The guidebook reads: ‘few attempt this (the summit circuit) and actually conquers it.’ I now believe this is for sure. The day starts at 8am. I am energetic as we depart for a taste of the ‘beast’ after the usual egg/toast combo, laden with trail mix. The next four hours we trudge uphill. There is no indication of a ‘circuit’. It just seems like we are continuously heading uphill. How is this geographically possible? Lunch is brie f- a skimpy sandwich of tomato and onion. Not the meal I craved nor the afternoon naptime I need. For the next three and a half hours we continue uphill.
I battle the desire to launch myself off the uphill pitch of the mountain just to experience the downhill advantage of gravity. Close to 6 pm however, panic sets in- isn’t tomorrow the day we ought to have reached the summit? Why have we spent the day walking around the base of the summit when tomorrow we have to actually climb up the damn thing? Thankfully, sometime around dusk we make a short descent back to our base.
The cook sets before us pasta, green mush and something red (sauce?). I’ve never been happier. By 8 pm all six of us collapse exhaustedly into bed despite the melodious high-pitched chatter of mice in the 6-degree hut that we call ‘home’.
It is 2:30am. No that isn’t a typo. My worst fear is realised as the alarm sounds. I am forced out of my lukewarm sleeping bag only to discover my legs don’t have any strength and my pack should be ready and waiting in the hallway with everyone else’s. Oh and how did everyone else know to bring a headlamp for the ‘midnight climb’? The uphill march in the cold requires unusual skill. I have to maintain close proximity to the guide’s headlamp ahead to catch a glimpse of the upcoming terrain while keeping my distance to ensure his leg doesn’t slip (which is approximately every other step), sending a landslide of rocks with him ending up on top of me. At 6 am we still haven’t reached the top and I seriously reconsider my desire to see the sunrise from the summit. Actually I begin to wonder when exactly this became an aspiration of mine. My attitude changes when we finally reach the summit 40 minutes later. I marvel at how I managed to free climb the last 10 minutes of sheer rock – huffing, puffing, shaking and absolutely exhausted. I have never been so challenged physically or so cold in my entire life. As one of the first to arrive, it is with wicked pleasure I watch, one by one, the previously overly enthusiastic members of ‘team Canada’ scale the last cliff looking as drained and freezing as I am. I can only laugh, which luckily helps to warm me up.
At 6:45am I enjoyed the most satisfying moment of the whole experience- opening a beer as the sun rises before us on Mt Kenya at 4975 m–Cheers!
Now I would like to say the day ends there, with a successful and beautiful moment, but that would be all too pleasant and enjoyable. Much to my horror not only do we have a brutal descent, but breakfast is delayed until almost noon. After a too brief stop of only 25 minutes, we learn that dinner is to be postponed until after another five hours of hiking. We walk for over 15 hours that day over all terrains and inclines to finally reach our destination, a beautiful lodge that is certainly wasted on me. I could cheerfully have slept on a porcupine.
Our wake-up call comes all too early on our final day. Who needs to be awake at 6:45 am after what we have gone through? Haven’t we done enough? Apparently not, so we hike some more. Finally at noon our pick up jeep take us out of the park towards civilisation. It is actually sad to say goodbye to the fresh air, hyena prints, bamboo forest (by this time we have traded the rocky terrain for lush forest), and elephant dung.
Do I actually miss uphill marching? A puff of diesel smog, as we head into the city makes me realise I do.
Mount Kenya 4975m Trek
Photo Credits Susan Wong © All rights reserved