May 302012
 

Mt Kenya Guide`s Diary:

It’s February and today is a hot sunny day with clear blue skies just like any other day in February.  I’m in Nairobi doing the final arrangements for a six day Mount Kenya climb using the Sirimon – Chogoria traverse.

Before going to bed, I make sure the vehicle is in good shape.  I also make a call to my helpers in Nanyuki (a town at the base of the mountain) just to make sure that things on that end are running smoothly.  I retire to bed early having organized my own climbing gear in my back pack.

 

May 302012
 

It’s an early morning start as I head to the hotel to pick up the climbers.  We meet at the hotel’s reception and introductions are made.  I brief the climbers on matters of safety, diet, health, drive time, weather, and generally what to expect on the mountain.  This discussion continues on the four hours drive to Nanyuki town where we meet the helpers – head helper, porters and cook.  Before leaving Nairobi I make sure I take enough fresh fish supplies from the city market.  On the way, I keep reminding the climbers to hydrate as much as possible as this beats mountain sickness.

During our drive to the mountain, the helpers on the other end are busy consolidating their gear and before long the head helper calls me to say they are eagerly awaiting us.  At 11am we cross the Equator and before long we are in Nanyuki town.  After introducing the helpers, I leave the climbers at the hotel where they take lunch.  In the meantime, I and the helpers go get our supplies and pack them in the vehicle awaiting the climbers to finish their lunch.

After lunch we drive towards the Mount Kenya Sirimon park gate. We are on tarmac for 16km before picking a dirt road leading to the Sirimon gate.  We continue for a further 9km to the park gate which has an elevation of 2,700m.  The porters quickly share out the luggage and head off for the 9 kilometer hike up the road so that they get to camp early enough to prepare soup, hot drinks and dinner for the climbers. I clear with the park gate after which I brief the climbers on the route to the Old Moses camp otherwise known as the Judmaier Camp.  This camp has an elevation of 3,300 meters. The journey from the park gate through the forest to the camp takes a little over 3 hours.

 This walk will help the climbers in acclimmatization. I control the hiking pace such that we hit camp by 6pm. On arrival , we are served with hot drinks as it’s already chilly.  We also get soup before being served dinner.  After dinner, it’s my time to debrief the climbers and to get an update of everyone`s physical and psychological well being, before retiring to  bed.

By now the climbers have settled into the routine and are more relaxed. It is different for every group. Even though I know my contact as we have emailed for several months it takes time for the others to feel comfortable, particularly if this is their first visit to Africa. For some groups it takes another day before they relax. I wonder what they are thinking? Often, at the end of the trip, they tell me that they were anxious on the first day or two. They wondered if we knew what we were doing, what the food would be like, would they be sick or constipated. When they realise that none of these happen they are fine. My email contact is always the most relaxed because he or she wants this trip to be successful and smooths out any difficulties without me even knowing about it. These climbers are starting to relax already. Big smiles, lots of hearty laughing, jokes about each other. It will be fine! After the climbers are through with the meal, it’s time now for us (the Guide, Cook and Porters) to take our fill, do the dishes and retire to bed.  The night however is a bit chilly and  windy. A good night’s sleep is always guaranteed at this camp.

May 302012
 

I wake up early and assemble all the helpers at the kitchen so that breakfast is prepared early enough as we are going to have a long day.  We set up the table and by 7 am breakfast is ready.  I wake the climbers and show them to the table.  It’s quite a meal comprising of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, pan cakes , cereals, sausages, eggs and fruit.

Our hike today will take us to the Shipton’s Camp for dinner and overnight.  The camp is 12 kilometers away and takes up to 7 hours to get there. Its elevation is 4,200 metres.  Before the climbers are done with breakfast the helpers fix something for themselves and me.  Meanwhile I brief the climbers on the day’s program. In a few minutes time the helpers are all set. Some of them come with me since this is a long day and some climbers might need assistance.  Before we leave, I make sure that the picnic lunch is well packed  and kept handy.

The sun is already getting hot and I have to get everyone moving before they get lazy!  Before leaving, I point out the main summits of Batian, Nelion and Lenana as they are now visible.  To get to Shipton’s Camp we are going to take the trail which passes through Mackinders Valley as it is easier. As of now I can already see an ant line of porters both from my team heading up towards Ontulili River.  Its 7.30am, and I now summon the climbers and we start our way up on a gradually deteriorating track.  After an hour I call for a short water  break.  After traversing over the next two ridges we stop at the top of the last ridge to have our picnic lunch.  We enjoy the breathtaking views of the snow-covered peaks as we take our lunch.

After lunch we descend into the spectacular Mackinder`s Valley following its eastern side for about 7 kilometers to Shipton`s Camp (4,200m) which is a  bunk-house directly below the peaks of Batian and Point Lenana.  On arrival I book everybody in and show them to their room.  As the climbers settle down, the helpers are busy setting up the table and in a matter of minutes hot drinks and soups are served.  After this I do a debrief on each of the climbers and exchange views on the day.  I also stress again that Shipton’s Camp is a good place to spend two nights and have a rest day to help acclimmatise.

I also  take this chance to emphasize again that eating right, wearing right and drinking right is the best medicine for mountain sickness.  After this  I request every climber to check their luggage to make sure all is in one piece. At this point, darkness is fast approaching and the weather is becoming colder and colder.  We need some warm layers at this point. I can see all the helpers busy in the kitchen with all the stoves burning at top speed, I eventually join them and make sure that dinner is ready on time.  For this night, dinner includes fish, mashed potatoes, green peas and lightly boiled vegetables. Before long, everything is set on the table and it’s time to enjoy dinner.  After dinner fruits are served followed by hot water for those who want more tea, coffee or chocolate.  As the climbers are enjoying their dinner the helpers are cooking their own local stuff.  Once they are through with dinner, water bottles are filled up with boiled water and when the temperatures drops further everyone scampers to  their bed.  Goodnight everyone!!

May 302012
 

We passed the night without disturbance, and rose with the sun.  Mount Kenya’s peaks glitterd superbly in the sky. It was a good night’s sleep except for a slight disturbance around 3am when another party headed off to attempt Point Lenena but I can’t really recall falling back to sleep to wake up at  7.00am!  I am out of bed quickly and wake up the helpers. Preparations for breakfast start immediately and by 8.00am breakfast is ready and the table is set outside the bunk house so that the climbers enjoy breakfast with a perfect view of the main peaks.  I then show the climbers to their breakfast table.  As they settle down to have their breakfast I get a health update.  It’s been a good night for everyone it seems.

The climbers hear about my sleep-in from the helpers and give me a hard time! It’s good fun. We have been getting closer as a group since yesterday. Lots of questions and answers about the Mountain and about Kenya. Everyone is interested in our political system and they want to know about my family and my people, the Kikuyu. I like that. They tell me about themselves and sometimes they share things with each other that other friends in the group did not know.

As it gets sunny, the rock hyrax start emerging from their hideouts and we see them all around camp although they keep their distance.  For better acclimmatisation we make this day a rest day.  For those who are interested we climb to Oblong and Hausberg Turns gaining an elevation of 370m before returning to camp for lunch.  Climbing high and sleeping low is excellent for acclimatisation.  However, lazing around camp and basking in the sun is equally good!

Before dinner I brief everyone on next day particularly the early rise to do the peak circuit traverse.  I make sure that everything is well consolidated and that the climbers maintain their psychological alertness and keep their motivation high. After dinner everybody retire to bed early.

May 302012
 

My team and I are up by 6.00am and we start preparing breakfast so that by 8.00am we will all be out of camp.  Today we are doing the peak circuit.  This is one of the most exciting trekking routes not only in Kenya but in East Africa.

This is surely going to be a demanding day but the spectacular views of the peaks and glaciers from all angles is more than rewarding. Breakfast is pretty heavy including eggs, cereals, fruits, toast, sausage, tea/coffe/hot chocolate. By 7.00am breakfast is on the table and the climbers are now taking their fill.

Meantime the helpers are busy fixing their breakfast which is always done with incredible speed and style after which they pack and share out their luggage.  By 7.30am some of them are already on their way to our next stop which is Austrian Hut. Once I’m through with my breakfast, I head to the caretaker’s room and check out everyone and pay all the relevant bills. By this time the climbers are through with breakfast and we are now  leaving Shipton.

We follow the path west of the main peaks going up the valley to reach Kami Camp and then continue up a long scree slope to reach the Hausberg Col (4590m) followed by a long descent to Hausberg Turn and Oblong Tarn.  We then follow the path between the tarns, then up to the col between the summit of Authur’s seat and the western terminal.  We continue our descent via Nanyuki Tarn from where we cross  the Two Tarns Hut dropping further to America Camp.  The view of the peaks from Nanyuki is spectacular.

From American camp (4350m) we ascend on the Narumoru route via a long scree slope.  This is quite a long and hard climb as we scramble and switchback gaining an estimated 600m leading us to jumbled blocks and emerging at Austrian Hut (4800m).  This trek takes 6 hours.

Austrian hut is windy and temperatures can sometime drop to minus zero degrees.  On arrival soup and hot drinks are waiting and we take a rest and enjoy the view of the peaks.  Most trekking groups attempt Point Lenana from Austrian Hut and so do the technical climbers headed for the normal route on Batian/Nelion.

By early evening the winds are now quite fast and it starts getting chilly.  It’s time to change to warm and dry clothes.  A couple of layers of warm clothing is now a MUST! After changing to warm clothing, I’m now going to get feedback on every climber’s condition so that I can evaluate their potential for going up Point Lenana.  A lot of rest is required at this stage. That’s why I have to leave the climbers and return to the kitchen to make sure that dinner is ready early enough.

For this night we prepare pasta, beef stew, vegetables, and fresh fruits followed by hot drinks.  I also make sure that more water is boiled for the climbers to continue hydrating. I’m keen on checking out mountain sickness symptoms at this point.  After dinner it’s “Lala Salama” (goodnight) for the climbers as they retire to bed.

We now quickly fix our own dinner comprising of ugali (a type of corn meal) with vegetables, followed by black tea and then retire to bed.  As usual the helpers recount the activities and episodes of the day before we start dozing off one by one.  It’s a chilly night but with a full stomach it’s a goodnight.

May 302012
 

This is the peak assault day.  I and the helpers wake up at 4.00am and start preparing a simple breakfast of Tea and Biscuits.  By 4.30am the climbers are woken up  At this point I’m busy making sure they are all dressed  right and that they don’t forget their cameras!  For the peak assault, I’m going to need two helpers while the rest remain at Austrian Hut breaking camp by daylight and heading to Minto’s Hut to prepare a full breakfast for the climbers once they arrive from Point Lenana.

At 5.00am, I and two helpers summon all the climbers outside the Austrian Hut, and with  our flashlights on, we start the ascent which will take about an hour in order to reach the summit in time for the spectacular sunrise.

Once outside we trek up a steep ridge and then across the edge of the snow-covered Lewis glacier.  We trek as close to the ridge as possible as the other parts are very slipperly and one can easily glide away.  If the weather is not good in the winter and the climbers are not experienced in trekking in mountain conditions, then I have to cancel the climb. It seldom happens but it is better to be safe.

This moring though we get to the summit for a spectacular sunrise. From Point Lenana (4985m) Mt Kilimanjaro is also visible on the horizon.

From the summit we descend via Tooth Col to the head of the spectacular Gorges Valley crossing scree sclopes and down to Minto’s Hut (4,300m).  This descent takes  3½ hours.  After a substantial breakfast at Minto’s Hut, our next destination is the Meru Mt Kenya Bandas Lodge.  We continue down following the left side of the Gorges Valley finally joining a ridge overlooking the magnificient valley.

From here we continue down along the ridge for several kilometers to the Read Head.  We then continue further for another 2½ hours  past the park gate and to the  Meru Mt. Kenya Bandas Lodge where we enjoy  hot showers, a first-class meal and a good night’s sleep on a real bed!

By the time we get to the Bandas Lodge, my climbing friends realise why this route (Chogoria) is hailed as the most spectacular route on Mt. Kenya. After dinner we have a beer beside a log fire and recount stories and incidents that made this trip so enjoyable!

May 302012
 

This is our final day on the mountain.  After breakfast I go to clear everything at the park gate as the helpers pack up everything.

From here we then descend leisurely through the wild bamboo forest for two hours to the 10km mark. We see buffaloes and elephants on the way.

We then catch a vehicle for transfer to Chogoria town where the climbers say goodbye to the porters and travel back to Nairobi with me as I make sure that all is well till they get back to their hotel safely.

 

From here it’s kwa heri (goodbye).

May 302012
 

At 8.30am, we were collected from our hotel by Evans Mwangi (our guide), Frances (our cook), Frederick (the driver of our 4×4) and a couple of passengers to drop off en-route. The journey involved a quick stop at the equator (sign marking this at the point) for photo opportunity and puncture repair! We also stopped for a long lunch at Nanuki, a small town at the base of Mt. Kenya. Meanwhile Evans and Frances collected supplies for the climb and our porters, FIVE (!) wonderful men who would carry the food and our heavy rucksacks! Once all the introductions had been made, all packed into the 4×4 and headed for the Sirimon Gate to Mt. Kenya. 

Not including the stops, it was approximately a three hour drive from Nairobi to the Sirimon gate (2,500m). From here we were meant to walk to the first camp but, as we were a bit behind schedule, we drove most of the way and walked for 1/3 of time allocated for that day, i.e. one hour. Starting our walk at 2,800m it was a gentle climb through rainforest on a beautiful sunny day to Moses Camp (3,300m).

Moses camp has the largest suggestion box we had ever seen though none of us contributed anything to it. Important features of the camp (hut) include:

 

  • the most amazing views up the mountain to the summit and down over the Aberdare plains;
  • a number of dormitories with bunk-beds;
  • a long corridor with tables for dining;
  • 2 indoor flushing loos (with large gaps in the wall to the outside elements);
  • washing facilities in the form of outside basin with freezing cold but clean mountain water;
  • note – no electricity;

Frances and helpers prepared us a delicious dinner of steak, vegetables and roast potatoes. As there is no electricity for lighting and we were exhausted, we hit the sack at 9pm. We had a dormitory to ourselves, which was just as well as we got a fit of the giggles a couple of times and hooted with laughter on a number of occasions. Part of this was due to the fact that it was freezing cold (-10C) and we were swapping suggestions about keeping warm.

 

RECOMMENDATION: BRING THE WARMEST SLEEPING BAG, KNOWN AS A 4 SEASONS BAG, WITH HOOD; REAL THERMALS, INCLUDING HAT.

 

Another moment of hilarity ensued after one of our party informed us of one of her travel tips – knotting used underwear so that you know you have worn them!!

May 302012
 

Breakfast at 6.30am, none too soon if you went to bed at 9pm (extremely healthy appetites became a feature of our climb and the food was great). It was another glorious day. We departed for what was to be a long day but it was fine. Most of the walk consisted of gentle climbs through valleys but there were 2/3 very steep climbs (all short). Evans is a fantastic guide, calming, confidence inspiring and very sensible about encouraging walkers to go slowly.

 

(Most important, to avoid getting altitude sickness, walk slowly and drink lots of water.)

 

 Evans is also most tolerant of constant questions and lots of giggling.  All kinds of flora and fauna spotted this day (e.g the bird ‘mountain chat’, the rock hyrax, amazing rivers, views of the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya etc). Our lunch spot was by a beautiful river, where we ate more delicious food and rested.

We arrived at Shiptons Camp about 3pm that afternoon. This is a bigger camp looking up at the Mt. Kenya peaks. There are 2 large dorms with a flushing toilet in each. There is a dining area with long tables. This is a great place to sit and share adventures with other climbers.  We sat and drank tea until dinner arrived: chicken curry and amazing banana fritters (another Evans skill). If we thought it was cold in Moses, this was another story altogether. Once night came, it was freezing (Bed at 8pm!!) You cannot be over-prepared for this. Our porters very kindly filled a water bottle for me which greatly facilitated the sleeping process.

 

May 302012
 

This day was spent climbing higher up to acclimatize for the following day’s climb to Point Lenana. We climbed 300m to a height of 4,500m and then back down again for another night in Shiptons camp. Unfortunately, one of our gang got very bad altitude sickness and was bed-ridden with terrible headache and nausea. Remember to bring tablets for this just in case.