Saturday morning Josephine and I caught a ride to Nanyuki with our hiking boots on, our sleeping bags packed, and our spirits high. For me the excitement was two-fold – climbing Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, sounded amazing, and doing so with my family who I hadn’t seen for over a month was equally thrilling. We ended up in Nanyuki far ahead of schedule, so Josephine and I spent a few anxious hours waiting and explaining to the countless vendors who approached us with carved wooden animals that we were climbing the mountain today and couldn’t buy anything (best excuse we’ve had so far).
My family arrived pretty much on-time, and after a long bout of hugs and “how are you”s we began finalizing the preparations. This involved 1) taking over half of a restaurant with their piles of luggage and tried to figure out what they needed to bring and what would just be extra weight, and 2) trying desperately to find a bank in Nanyuki that would cash traveler’s checks. After being rejected at four different banks we were starting to panic, but by using two different debit cards and changing all the American money we had to shillings we managed to scrounge together enough. Money issues dealt with we jumped into our transport to the mountain – a mutatu packed to the brim in an authentically Kenyan manner.
We arrived at the gate a little after 1pm, and sat down to a delicious lunch before beginning our journey. The first day’s hike was 9km, 700m vertical gain up a dirt road to Old Moses Hut. It was enjoyable, although compared to the rest of the trip it was a relatively unremarkable trek.
We arrived at the hut at around 6pm, and had enough time to unpack and take in some of the views before eating a deliciously prepared dinner. Staying at the hut were three other travelers who would be heading up the mountain with us – a Canadian sister and brother and an American. They were all very nice, and we chatted for a bit before going to bed.
Our second day began bright and early – we woke at 6:30, ate at 7, and were on our way before 8am. The trail to Shipton’s Camp (16km, 900m vertical gain) was very much a trail, rather than a road, which was a nice change of pace. We played OA games for the first third of our hike, which helped pass the time until we began getting to the more impressive vegetation and views. A few minutes into the hike the peaks of Mt. Kenya disappeared behind the hills, and they stayed put until their dramatic reappearance as we crested an enormous hill at about the halfway point.
The second half of the hike took us through a valley with the most other-worldly vegetation I have ever seen. Enormous lobelia plants dotted the hillside, interspersed with white flowering plants and crazy wiry grasses. All of this was framed by majestic walls on either side and the iconic peaks of Mt. Kenya ahead. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve been on.
Weather to this point had been beautiful, but our luck ran out with about an hour left to go as the dark clouds opened up and began to pour/hail on us. I loved it, but I think this event marked the low point of the trip for the rest of my family.
When we got into camp we were soaked, and as the temperature dropped we had to resort to walking around in tights and sleeping bags to keep from freezing. Popcorn and tea helped with everything though.
The ascent to Point Lenana, the peak of our trip, began the next morning at 2:30am. My parents and brothers had decided that they were content with getting to Shipton’s, so Josephine and I were the only two up for the attempt. We put on our still-wet clothes and marched into the moonlit sub-freezing night. The hike was long and steep (700m gain over a 1-2 kilometers), but we kept up a steady pace and were about 30 minutes ahead of schedule as we neared the summit. We waited in wind protected notch below the summit, and reached the peak with the sunrise, a little after 6am.
The view was absolutely spectacular, with the rising sun slowly illuminating the peaks and valleys and towns around us. We stayed at the summit for 20 minutes or so, enough for my hands and toes to start freezing off, and then began the trek down.
At camp we reunited with the rest of our party, took some group pictures, had breakfast, and were off by 9am, for what would be the most painful part of the trip. Our shortened itinerary left us with one day to hike back down the entire 25km trail, and though it was downhill most of the way, by the end our legs were ready to fall off.
We did all make it down alive, and after many hours of cramped driving to get to the El Karama Lodge we were clean, warm, and asleep in comfortable beds. The next morning I waved goodbye to my family as they left to continue their adventure with a few days of safariing and I went back to Mpala to recover for my next class.