Friday, June 8, 2007

Mt Kenya

Mt Kenya: 6/8-14/07

We arrived in Nairobi at 4:00 in the morning and were immediately accosted by tour operators and scam artists. We took a nap at the hotel, and when we walked back into the lobby, they were waiting for us! We couldn't get away! Finally we shook everyone off and began looking for transportation to Mt. Kenya, our first mountain in East Africa. That is when we met Josiah, he was a nice, honest, and capable guy to organize our logistics.
Mt Kenya is a 5199m rocky mountain with two peaks, Nelion and Batian. Around the base of the mountain are 12 glaciers, but the one we saw, was small and getting smaller every day. It is well known that the glaciers on Kilimanjaro are disappearing, but the more immediate tragedy are the glaciers on Mt Kenya. Throughout history, many of the tribes around Mt Kenya held this rocky ice covered spire as sacred. The Kikuyu people deified it and still believe it's the seat of their supreme god Ngai. Some say it is the mystical source of the sacred Nile. Both summits are technical climbs, and Batian is best done in June and July, when Nelion is covered with Ice. We decided to climb the Batian North Face Standard Route, a 22 pitch rock climb with an overnight bivy about half way up.

Josiah hooked us up with transportation to the Sirimon Gate of Mt Kenya National Park, stopping for lunch in Nanyuki. From there we decided to take a chance hiking through the forest to the Moses hut that afternoon, instead of doing it in the morning as planned. It can be dangerous to hike the forest late in the day because of the elephants. When we asked what we should do if we see an elephant, they said, "well, elephants are afraid of smoke, so you can light a fire in the road." Yeah, right, an elephant is about to charge us and we just light a fire real quickly... "OK. What else can we do if we encounter an elephant?" They told us that elephants are very near sighted, so we will see them first... "So, drop your bags and run. Run downhill because elephants are slower going down." So with this great advice, and our 50+ pound backpacks full of climbing gear, we set out through the forest yelling "Hey Elephant!" every minute or two, and singing the Elephant Song (which we just composed!).

"we are Friends Of Elephant
Shelly and Rod are F.O.E.s
elephants are nice
elephants are beautiful
elephants have big ears
and elephants are wise
we are Friends of Elephant
letting our presence be known"

We made it to the Moses hut before dark, and just after a group of ~25 middle school kids on an end of the year field trip. They were so loud! These kids operated at volume 11 all through dinner, continuing until their teachers finally shut them up at 2 or 3 in the morning. Rod and I slept in our tent outside, but could still hear the giggles and screams well into the night.

The next morning, we reluctantly slugged our enormous packs (Rod’s was 62 lbs) onto our backs and started the grueling 19 km hike to the Shiptons Hut (4200m). As we walked up the long valley toward the distant peak, the scrub vegetation changed into a woodland of odd Joshua tree-like plants, and 'Cousin It' relatives.
With the rocky summit of Mt Kenya appearing through the clouds periodically, we trudged through this otherworldly alpine flora and felt like we were entering a mystical land.

Once at Shipton, we set up camp and went inside the hut to make some dinner. The kids were there again, and louder than ever. We hoped the long hike would tire them out, but no such luck. We made onion soup with spaghetti, and drank hot sugary milk. Tomorrow we will take a rest day and prepare for the climb.

We spent the morning napping and reading and chasing the cute curious Hyrax. These little marmot-like animals are the closest living relative to the elephant! Go figure. Then we walked up to the base of the climb to check out our route. The group of kids hiked up to Point Lenana, the highest point you can hike to. We thought for sure they would be quiet tonight, but no! Loud and boisterous as ever.

In the morning we woke early and headed to the climb.
Our packs were heavy because we had a full climbing rack and gear to bivy overnight (bivy sacks, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, water, food, some warm clothes). The first pitch was slow as we got used to climbing with the extra weight, but the second and third were faster.

When we got to the prominent corner, that leads to a slab traverse that will take us to 'the amphitheatre' (where we bivy), we were behind schedule. And then, the clouds started to move in; icy cold wind and quickly closing visibility. We were tired from climbing with the overnight gear, moving more slowly that we wanted, and it sure looked like something big was rolling in. Within 15 minutes, it started to snow. We reluctantly decided to turn around. We rappelled off and were shaking uncontrollably from the cold by the time we reached the ground. Good thing we turned around too, because it wasn't just an afternoon thunder storm, it snowed all night and put down about 5 inches. If we had continued climbing, we would have had a freezing night, and a climb covered with snow and ice in the morning. The next morning a rescue helicopter was circling the mountain. I guess another climbing team, on a different route, got stuck up there.

Well, this is another mountain I definitely want to come back to. Perhaps in the winter to climb the Nelion route. It is shorter and doesn't require the overnight bivy. And the weather is supposed to be more stable at that time. Regardless, the experience was great. And still, as my friend Paul said, "getting stormed off a 22 pitch climb in Africa is pretty cool."

The next day we hiked to the Mintos Hut and set up camp. All around this camp sight are beautiful lakes that look over the cliff edge of the Gorges Valley. In the morning we set out for the Chogoria gate. This decent was absolutely beautiful and varied. We started in the funky alpine flora, into grasslands, through bamboo, and into jungly wetlands. We saw (smelled first) a waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) as we entered the wetlands, and were careful about surprising the Buffalo as we crossed it. We made it to the Bantas in the late afternoon. We got a cabin, enjoyed a HOT shower, and even acquired beer with dinner!

Josiah met us there the next morning, arriving in a Land Rover to get us over the muddy jungle road and to Chogoria town. The Land Rover filled up with folks heading to town, including one riding with the bags on the roof.
Mt Kenya. Outstandingly beautiful. And the god Ngai sent us away with the mission of visiting this place again.

1 comment:

Parag said...

Point Lenana on Mount kenya africa, approximately 4900 meters, can be easily reached. In fact the majority of visitors go to the mountain to enjoy the walking and especially the high level hut-to-hut hike round the mountain with its humbling vistas.