May 302012
 

Evans Mwangi, our guide, picked us up at our hotel in Nairobi. A car ride from downtown Nairobi to the foot of Mount Kenya may not seem like much fun, but it was. The driver was a character – clever with words, opinionated, outrageous, incredibly funny, and deadly serious about serious issues. He even flirted with Jacqui while he was driving, and then gave me advice on how things should be!

The route that we had chosen was the Chogoria-Sirimon Traverse which meant that we started on the east side of the mountain, climbed Point Lenana, and returned down the east side. This route is less travelled, which appealed to us. At Chogoria we had a quick meal and loaded the gear on to a Land Rover.

Evans introduced us to the cook and 3 porters and we crammed ourselves into the vehicle – we picked up a hitch-hiker who insisted on sitting on the roof!

Some way along Evans, Jacqui and I started to walk and the guys drove on to the hostel.

The walk was a well-carved road but even here we could get a sense of Africa in the bush – the ever changing smells, sudden sounds of movement, beautifully coloured birds and small animals that looked out and moved on. We heard an elephant make a lot of noise in the scrub and could see from its spoor where it had crossed the road some hours earlier. The trek changed a lot with unusual trees and sudden clusters of bamboo and monkeys everywhere sneering at us.

The Meru Mt. Kenya Bandas hostel is a group of wooden huts. It was shrouded in mist when we arrived and it was cold outside. The guys built a big fire for hot water and cooking, we set out our sleeping bags, and the cook brought our meal.

The food on the trip was very appetising, filling and more than we expected. Soup to start – and even if you are not a big fan of soup, it is great when you have had a day’s walking and you are hungry. The main meal was usually rice or potatoes with vegetables and meat. They did a great job with basic ingredients, but then we are not fussy eaters as we have walked mountains for many years and when you carry your own food you watch the weight! Desert was usually fresh fruit and we had plenty of tea and coffee.

 

May 302012
 

The next morning there was spoor around the site from the night visitors – buck, eland and buffalo mainly. We had heard them in the night but were not brave enough to go out. The mist was still there which gave the whole place a shrouded look and the monkeys screeching in the trees made it even more eerie. Within a few hours’ walk the mist had burned off and we had a beautiful day’s walking. This stage to Minto’s Hut goes through forest and then there is a well-trodden path through the scrub and into the wetlands with the Giant’s Billiards off to the right . We saw elephants and zebra in the distance, a small buffalo herd and every kind of deer. Birds assailed us at every step and their noisy chatter was uplifting.

In the afternoon the walk was a bit steeper along the flank of the Gorges Valley. The views were wonderful of the craggy outcrops, the Vivienne Waterfall and Lake Michelson down in the valley. The multi-greened vegetation and the scraggy earth gave the place a forbidding look. It was hot and difficult to breathe. We had put sun-cream on our arms and faces as you would expect but, stupidly, I forgot about the backs of my legs and I burned behind my knees on this exposed walk. A painful lesson!

This first day’s walk was long and graceful with no end of false ridges. Over many hours we made a lot of height and while we were wiped out at the end of the day, it was a very comfortable walk.

The porters had gone a different route and were at the camp when we arrived. They carried our sleeping gear and clothes, plus their own, and all the food. We carried day-packs with leggings, ballaclava, sun and lip cream, insect repellent, sun glasses, gloves, water and snacks. We also carried spare dry clothes, a medical kit, whistle and compass, and a survival bag – just in case. We purchased Diamox in Nairobi for mountain sickness but we never used it.

 

Minto’s Hut is just that – a hut! It is really one big room with a bench for all the sleepers and some basic cooking facilities. We slept in a small tent outside. The area itself is almost moon-scape in appearance, rocky, very little vegetation and small lakes everywhere. The open section is dominated by a red painted toilet (the Choo) with a very large hole! When we were there it was -6c and we walked around to keep warm, watching birds and small reptiles live their lives around the water, until it got dark at 6pm and we went to bed.

 

 

May 302012
 

At 3am next morning Evans woke us up. I was in a deep sleep and sitting up quickly, I knocked the frozen perspiration from the roof of the tent on to us – a sort of frozen shower! We dressed, had a cup of tea and packed our gear. The three of us started out to the summit of Point Lenana with the intention of getting to the 5,000m summit for sun rise at 7am.

We could not see much and the torches were more a comfort than useful, as it was pitch dark and the torch light simply reflected back from the darkness. Evans never missed a beat and we simply followed in his footsteps.

It was a steep walk with many stops – “Poli, Poli” as they say, which means “Slowly, Slowly” in Swahili. At that height, no matter how fit you are, it is difficult to draw breath as you ascend and you have to keep to a pace that makes sense. In many ways it was good that we could not see the steep ascent as we did not have to measure our progress visibly!

As we approached the top of Point Lenana, the sky brightened up and we could see that there were other people there who had ascended by other routes. The cairn is a white painted rock with a large metal cross (a gift from the Pope in 1930) and a star and pennant. The area is rocky and barren with steep crags around and large ice-sheets down the sides. We found a good area at the top, out of the cold wind, and waited for the sun to come up.

 

In some ways it is like a great religious ceremony. There is a silence, and people speak in whispers as the sun moves over the edge. Everyone seems to feel the wonder that we are on a mountain, at the top of our world, looking out over a cloudbank that covers central Africa. And we are waiting for sun rise. When it does break over the edge it is a surprise and it all happens very quickly. The colours traipse over the cloudbank, red and orange and hues of blue, and the shadows are chased by orange light around the crag of Nelion and they seem to slide behind the mountain into their night. The snow lights up and the sky takes on the African blue and you look around and everyone seems to have a lit-up tan, and everyone is smiling. Then the cameras click and people take photos of other groups and the conversation is louder as if we have all survived and have this great communion in common. Evans pointed out the other peaks below us, Macmillan, Coryndon and Delamere and the deep valleys of Gorges, Hobley and Teleki. We could see Howell Hut near the top of Nelion and the leaning tower of Point John from further around the mountain.

We started down towards Austrian Hut, slipped and scrambled a bit, laughed a lot from the whole exhilaration of the morning and then said “to hell with it,” sat on our bags and slid down the snow field over the Lewis Glacier. It was dangerous but a lot of fun! We had breakfast at the Austrian Hut and sat out on the rocks as we ate, looking at the immense views of the Lewis Glacier, the whale mouth of stalagmites and stalactites at the bottom, and the steep face of Nelion. Evans has led groups up Nelion and Battian, and pointed out the complex route – a climb that requires advanced mountaineering skills. We then started the descent to Shipton’s Camp.

I have never much cared for walking down-hill. I always look forward to it when I am climbing up-hill but after an hour or so I feel cheated. You have to watch each step more carefully and you cannot look around and observe the world in quite so casual a way.

We heard later than one of the people at the top broke an ankle coming down and another got snow-blindness, and we heard that someone got mountain sickness and had to be rushed down. I call these “survival stories” as I have never walked a high mountain without someone having a story of disaster! Even so, taking basic precautions is imperative. The hut at Shipton’s Camp was fairly crowded with people setting out and the rest of us coming down from the mountain. There were small groups from many countries and there were those who livened the evening up with songs and conversation but everyone was in bed early and we had a comfortable night.

 

May 302012
 

Normally the day would have ended with the drive back to Nairobi. However, we chose to spend our last day, after a very comfortable walk, at a local hotel where we arrived before lunch-time. We had a glorious shower, a couple of beers, a great lunch and we crashed for the afternoon. The next day we drove back to Nairobi.

It was a great trip, and in our recall it has stood the test of time.

Asante sana, Evans.

Thank you very much, Evans!