You need special shoes for hiking and a bit of a special soul as well. I was soon about to find out that Emme Woodhull was right! On Sunday 10 September 2016, a group of 20 of us embarked on a charity challenge to climb Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in Kenya and second highest in Africa, on behalf of Riziki Kenya and Kibera Kids. This was by no means the start of our journey, however, as we had been fundraising and training for a number of months beforehand. Raising funds to educate the needy children in kibera, provide clean water & food, raises the awareness of the importance of the work Kibera Kids and Riziki Kenya do and the positive difference it makes to the people of Kenya & U.K alike.
What used to be a week-long hike to Point Lenana and down can now be done in three days if one is properly acclimatised and very fit. Having taken advice from friends and our guides, we chose to do it in four days, starting from sirimoni route. The Sirimoni route takes you from the cultivated lowlands, through unique glacier-sculpted alpine heath and up to spiky volcanic peaks and glistening glaciers.
On Monday, we were all eager and charged to start the climb so off we went. We had barely walked 30 minutes before it started raining. Thank goodness for our ponchos and water proof bags otherwise we’d be walking in wet, cold, soaking gear. The best months to climb Mount Kenya are traditionally January to March and June to October but it can be climbed all year round. The rainy seasons tend to be in April, May and November but nowadays climate change has made it more difficult to predict.
We hiked for about five hours only to set up camp at old Moses where we were to rest for the night. John, one of our guides, kept telling us fascinating yet horrifying stories about animals that lurk nearby. He mentioned that if we are keen at night, we can actually hear the animals. Clearly that did not sit well with a couple of us since our only source of protection were the tents. Needless to say we safely made it through the night and I’m still not sure if he was joking or not but we managed to get a couple of laughs during the night when some of us were too scared to get out and refresh themselves.
We were up by six am the next morning and after a hearty breakfast we set off. We hiked through the rolling moorlands of the mountain. The slope is gentle and full of unique flora. We saw some of the wildlife, the elands. The views of Mount Kenya in front and the valleys behind were breathtaking. There was barely a cloud in the sky and we could see for miles. The vegetation was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
On day 3, we departed for shipton’s camp which is at 4,200m (13800ft) arriving in time for lunch. We did altitude training before trying out for the summit on day 4! The giant groundsels occurring along this route are some of the spectacular views on the mountain.
On Wednesday morning the team was up & ready to hike to the summit at 6:30am. We were initially supposed start the attempt of the summit peak at 04.30hours so as to take photos with the African sunrise. Unfortunately due to the awful weather, we decided through the advice of our guides to set off at 06.30hours.
“Think like a soldier. You can do it. We’re only five minutes away.” These words of encouragement from our guides John, Shane and Alexander Kay were directed at me when I fought tiredness and altitude sickness at about 4,500 metres, three hours into the final ascent of the 4,985-metre (16,355ft) summit of Mount Kenya’s Point Lenana. “Dead or alive, I’ll make it to the summit.” Those are the words I kept murmuring to myself. We trekked through bitter icy winds and a very Rocky Mountain to finally reach the summit at 10:45am. Despite everything, it was easy to understand why we were all persevering. The views of the mountain were stunning. With good morale and motivation amongst the group we successfully reached the top of Lenana. Batian and Nelion were in our faces, looking imposing. Below us was one of the mountain’s few remaining glaciers, looking emaciated and clearly suffering the effects of climate change.
We celebrated with some pics and taking in the breathtaking scenery of the beautiful surroundings! What was even more magical was that we were alone and that everybody reached the peak. We had Lenana to ourselves. I do not think it gets better than that.
Like Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya is a solitary mountain. But while the continent’s highest peak resembles an upside-down pudding basin, Mount Kenya is more of a cone rising out of the country’s central plain, its spiky peaks dominating the skyline. The first reported sighting of Mount Kenya by a European was in 1849, by Johann Krapf, a German missionary looking for the source of the Nile. It took another 50 years before anyone reached the top. That honour went to an 1899 expedition led by Sir Halford Mackinder, a geographer and a founder of the London School of Economics, who named the highest peaks after Maasai chieftains who helped him. The magnitude of their achievement is highlighted by the fact that 118 years later only 50 people a year conquer Batian, the mountain’s highest point.
Arguably the most famous attempt was by Felice Benuzzi, Giovanni Balletto and Enzo Barsotti, three Italians who in May 1942 had been detained in a prisoner-of-war camp near the town of Nanyuki on the mountain’s north-west slopes. Benuzzi described his first glimpse of the peak from the camp in poetic terms: “An ethereal mountain emerging from a tossing sea of clouds, framed between two dark barracks: a massive blue-black tooth of sheer rock, inlaid with azure glaciers; austere yet floating fairy-like on the near horizon. For hours afterwards I remained spellbound. I had definitely fallen in love.”
I reached the peak of this trip, standing on the summit. That peak was gratefulness. I was hushed. I’ve never felt this way before. It was one of the few times when I realized I am a small speck in this grand universe. In all its wackiness, beauty, unfairness and dumb luck. I feel some type of way writing this. I describe my Mt Kenya experience as the best and worst experience of my life. Worst because it took everything in me to reach the summit. But really in a way, it turned out to be the most amazing experience of my life.
That had been an incredible achievement for the team and together we raised abit over £50,000/5m kes for the kibera kids. I am so proud of what the team achieved together and I can’t wait for the next adventure! Perhaps we could tackle Mount Kilimanjaro next?