Posts Tagged With: Chogoria

Day 4 and 5

(Continued from Day 3, Day 2, and Day 1)

A little after one in the morning, I awoke to the sound of whistling, blustering wind whipping around and blowing our tent.  “Oh no,” I thought, “Wind means more cold, more misery.  It could be stronger up there . . . I could get blown off of the side of the mountain. I could be on some slippery ridge and get blasted, lose my balance and fall.  Yes, I do believe I’m at a legitimate risk of dying. This is not good.  What would my mother say?”  I worried, fretted, and prayed over this for at least fifteen minutes before I firmly told myself just to sleep and worry later.  When our cell phone alarm rang out the alarm at 2:00AM the next morning, my first thought was “Oh NO! I am supposed to climb the mountain now. How am I going to do this?” The day before, Maina pointed out on the mountain face the route we would take to the top and I had looked on with some disbelief.  As I fought out of my sleeping bag, the cold air pricked me alive and sent my adrenaline pumping.  “One foot in front of the other Whitney,” I thought to myself repeating the motto Scott and I had discussed on the previous days, it would be the rule we would live by on this day.   I rallied myself as I hastily rolled up my sleeping bag, “You are so going to do this.  You’re at the top of the roller coaster and there’s now going back now.”

Scott moaned loudly as he rolled sideways out of his open sleeping bag.  He sat up on his knees and for a full minute violently rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, a sign that he was very tired.  “G’morning,” he mumbled ever positive and sweet.

In twenty minutes we had everything packed up.  Five minutes later we had on our fourth, outer layer of windbreaker pants, our winter coats and ponchos making our fifth and sixth top layers, and I was fiddling with a scarf.  Five minutes after that, we had both ventured outside our tent to relieve ourselves, shivering bared in the frozen-over, wind-whipped, ink black world outside.  With that, we were ready and went over to the kitchen tent for chai and popcorn, the energy that would sustain us up the mountain.

As we prepared to embark, Moses, our sweet cook, gave us each a juice box to carry and instructed us to “drink it in victory” on the way down.  It would just be Maina, Scott and I going to the summit.  The rest of the crew would climb up, 200 meters short of the summit, circumvent it, and meet us down on the other side for breakfast around 8:30AM.

At 2:55AM we slipped on our hats, tugged on an outer layer of gloves over our freshly opened hand-warmer packets, readjusted my day pack over my poncho for the third time, and flipped our head-lamps on.  We were ready.  We followed Maina out of the tent dimly lit by a kerosene lamp into utter darkness.

A small section of the immense, super black sky

The moonless heavens above gaped back at us infinite.  Stars and galaxies were flung far and wide in dense concentrations.  Though tired and scared, this outlandish display of cosmic beauty calmed my nerves as I remembered my sovereign God.  “He determines the number of the stars and calls each by name.” Ps. 147:4 rolled through my head as I glanced up in awe.

You care so much for your creation God that you name each star? Thank you for making it so beautiful!  It always brings me joy when I take the time to look. Sometimes I think it is a love letter.

“When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?  Human beings that you care for them?” Ps. 8:3-4

Ooh!  I need this verse today! Indeed, your creation and power is BEYOND, is separate, utterly other, or “holy” as they say in Hebrew, as evidenced by the sky above and the mountain shadow before me, yet, YET, big, giant you stoop to care passionately for . . . me.  Will you please keep me safe up this mountain?  Will you give me strength to climb the mountain?  Thank you.  Thank you for your beauty, your Word, your strength, and your protection of this little lamb.

For an hour we walked on a slight incline, Scott and I occasionally talked and shared observances in fortified positivity.  Though I couldn’t see anything more than five feet in front of me, I knew from the route Maina pointed out the day before that we were crossing in front of the mountain, from the left to the right, during this one hour stretch.  Once that hour was up, we would start climbing up, and only up, on the right side of the mountain where the Lanana peak stood.

We crossed over paths of frozen water and I found the positive and thanked God that we were up early enough to cross them when they were frozen solid.  Wet shoes and socks were tolerable on days 1 and 2, but on this day they would be dangerous.  As we started our ascent up, I thanked God for the darkness, if I had been able to see, it would have been overwhelming.  Due to the steep slope, feet flexed up constantly were a must.  As I lifted a leg forward, gingerly planting my flexed foot in front of me on a hundred loose pebbles, my front leg would sometimes bend 90 degrees at the knee as I pushed up a vertical distance of a foot and a half and a forward distance of a foot.  Not every step was that steep, but all were steep enough that I had to be both careful and firm in all of my steps because otherwise the scree beneath my feet would roll and I would slide down the mountain.  Indeed, I didn’t see how it would be possible to safely make one’s way down this slope with all the loose pebbles.  When I asked Maina how people take the Naro Moru route down, he said they had no choice but to run down the mountain and slide skillfully on the scree.   I thought that was insane, giving me another reason to thank God, glad that we were not going down the Naro Moru route because I would surely break my neck.

We slogged slowly and steadily along, Maina setting a very deliberate and doable pace.  Silence reigned as there was not much to talk about and small talk would take our breath.  Time wore on, and despite our measured pace, we became tired, our breathing growing louder.   After what seemed like 45 minutes to an hour of our vertical climb, Maina finally stopped for a break.  Too scared to sit down and try to get back up again, we stood.  The break only lasted for a minute and no more, just long enough to catch our breath and slow our pulse, but not long enough to become cold.  Maina turned to face the mountain again and we continued crunching our way up the gravel, slow and steady.

There is not much to think about in a world that is dark, doing a task that is mundane, physically demanding, and yet requires a lot of focus with each step.  Due to the necessary focus and my tired body’s reminders, it was hard to think about anything else besides climbing.  As more time wore on, we began to see the outline of the ridge that we were climbing to before we would turn left and ascend to the summit.

We would climb, climb, climb, and then take a break when Maina heard our breathing grow loud.  Our brief, 30-second to a minute breaks became more frequent the higher we climbed and the thinner the air became.  Each break I would look up at the ridge and to my dismay, it never seemed to be getting any closer.  “When are we going to get there?!” my mind cried.  My mind and body were tired, all I could sustainably think about was climbing, and how it was hard.  When I did not steadily transfer my weight from one foot to the other, my foot would slip out from underneath me, rolling on the scree, and I would land on my hands and knees.  This happened a few times to all of us when we lost our focus.   In between the occasional slip or stop for a breathing break, silences grew long and my mind was left to wander to tired self-pity.  To make an effort to “think happy thoughts” and distract myself, I started to hum Amazing Grace in my head.  To my frustration, I consistently mixed together the second and third verse, could not recollect any of the fourth, and often jumped straight from the first verse to the fifth, which is my favorite.  This confusion of not being able to sing the song through correctly from start to finish actually helped to pass quite a bit of time, though I never did think of the fourth verse.

We followed Maina up, occasionally making five-foot wide zigzags when the incline was too steep.  We followed him through deep patches of loose scree that reminded me of the difficulty of trying to run or jump in loose, soft sand.  For every step forward, we slid a half a step back.

Eventually, I stopped trying to mark progress by looking at the “forever distant” ridge we were climbing to.  Instead, I would turn around and see how far away, way down below off to the right in that mammoth valley, would be the tiny light from Mackinder’s Camp, where we started that morning.  When that distance became too great and no longer tangible, I started look to the left, at the Batian and Nelion peaks, the two highest peaks of Mt. Kenya, and at Point Piggot and Point John, solitary lower peaks of Mount Kenya.  Slowly I could see gains of height on the peaks to my left until we seemed to be almost level Point John and Point Piggot.

Finally, after hours of climbing only up, we made a branch to our left crossing over large rocks at a relatively horizontal slope.  It felt amazing to leave the verticality and the scree behind!  Once the Austrian Hut (the hut technical climbers stay at before ascending the two tallest peaks) was in sight we knew we had made it to the top of the ridge!  We made a beeline for the hut, eager to take a more extended break and readjust our packs and outer layers.

Inside the hut it was dark and empty.  In fact, it was down right eerie to be at the top of a wind-whipped, snow-capped mountain in a hut that felt dark, abandoned, and so alone.  Despite the slight “haunted” feeling of the hut, Scott and I were able to relax.  We talked, shared our feelings and emotions thus far and thoughts on what was to come, and encouraged each other.  By the time Maina was ready, we were pumped up and ready for the last 200 meters of the 785 meters (2,576 feet) we would climb that morning.

We left the hut at 6:00AM when the first stripe of amber orange split the navy sky from the black earth.  The scree we had been battling on our way up was replaced with solid rock and ice-covered snow.  I was quite nervous to cross the snow in my worn running shoes that lacked traction. The first patch of icy snow we had to cross only had slight slopes down on either side, which made it somewhat less intimidating.  I took a deep breath and told myself that I am from South Dakota, thank you very much, and by golly I am a wicked good, snow walking pro.  I also told myself to be very careful because that is what my mom urged me to be the last time I had spoken with her.

I crossed the patch of snow with finesse and nary a problem.  Once Scott, who had taken the rear to watch out for me, had crossed we continued on across a dry patch until we reached a place that sloped more sharply down on either side of us and the only way to go was up, across rock and snow.  A cable drilled into the rock had been provided for climbers to hold onto in case one slipped.  I did as Maina demonstrated, loosely holding the cable in one hand as I made my way relatively easily over to him and Scott followed.

Daybreak approaching over clouds

Doing ok so far! Stopped to take these three pics before continuing on.

Mt. Kenya’s highest point, Bastian Peak, rising out of the shadows of night.

The next part was all over snow and you had to walk on a narrow ridge that was less than my foot’s width wide abutting a vertical rock face.  Clenching the cable this time, and using my free hand to grab onto any rock crevices that I could find for added stability, I made my way across the 15 foot long ridge.  I watched to make sure Scott made it safely and then I turned my attention back to what Maina was doing.   Next was another horizontal snow crossing, this time without a rock face to hold onto, with a cable, and a steep, maybe to your death-if-you-slip-drop, on the left side.

Oh dear, this is nuts.  Good thing my mom isn’t here to see this.

I took a deep breath, shot up a two-word prayer of “Help me!” and crossed to where Maina waited.  Next we turned to our right and climbed up rock and icy snow using a series of cables.  This proved to be very tricky and nerve-racking for me because nearly every time I placed my foot up on a rock or snow ledge to step up my poncho would get caught underneath my foot.  If I continued up with my poncho underneath my foot I would not be able to stand up straight (and you want to stand up straight when you are climbing steep, precarious rocks) and the poncho could also cause me to slip and fall . . . down.  Thus, with nearly every step I’d have to let go of the rock crevice or cable I was holding onto, reach down as calmly as I could, and tug my poncho out from underneath my foot.  The tension in my body and worry in my mind battled against the calm fortitude I was struggling to hold onto.   Meanwhile Scott below me was keeping a careful eye on me, silently panicking every time I stepped on my poncho.  There were no good places to stop on this stretch because each foothold necessitated taut muscles for stability so we had to continue monkeying our way up from one cable to the next.  I fought hard not to think or worry about anything but the simple, step-by-step, one move at a time, tasks in front of me.  If I had let my mind stray, my courage might have left me and I needed to stay calm.  By the time we reached a resting point, my mental strength was sapped and I was breathing harder than ever.

Oh. My. Goodness. This is nuts!  Did I say that already?  This is nuts.  But here I am.  Other people have done it.  I have to finish this now.  I cannot turn around and go back down what I just came up.  What happened to being able to walk up to this peak without any technical climbing?  I should totally have some sort of carabiner clip attached to a cable and myself right now. This is nuts!!  Breathe Whitney.  This is a chance to catch your breath, not hyperventilate.  Besides, you’ve never been a drama queen so don’t start acting like one now!  This really isn’t the time for that.  Put on your Tough Tomboy Whitney face one more time for just a little bit longer. You can do this. Channel your inner Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider confidence and show this mountain who is boss with style!

With a more calm, almost clear head, I (ahem, Lara Croft?) continued on after Maina with Scott following behind.  I got better at keeping my poncho in check and the climb became slightly less precarious with less ice-snow and bigger and better rock ledges to rest on.

Finally, my head popped over a rock and on the other side of it I saw not another rock, but the sunrise.  Eeeeek!  I was at the top!!  Clambering up I squealed to Scott that we had made it!  Oh what a relief!!!!

The view on the other side. Glorious!

Too pretty not to post two pictures of the same thing, right?

The view to the left, gray rock glowing red in early sun.

Further to the left

Bastian Peak aglow

Once he was up we made our way over to the very tippy-top point of the peak (where we were dismayed to find that one other person on a different route had just beaten us!) to declare our victory.  We had done it!  That morning had been the hardest climb that we had ever done, but we had succeeded.  Our bodies and our minds were pushed, but we overcame.  The sunrise view was a glorious recompense as we stood on top of mountains and worlds below.

We’re here!  Alive! At the top of Point Lenana!

Hello Sunshine!  Yippy!!!  I’m alive!

King and Queen of the World!

What? We have to get down now? I could do this all day!

Victors and champions we were.  We praised God for our safe journey thus far and were awed by the golden splendor stretching out before us.  His creation sang praises to our hearts (Psalm 148:1-5) and He was magnified as we stood on His mountain overlooking His earth.

In memory.

The softly lit beginning of Nithi Gorge on the Chogoria Route that awaited us.

The valley to the right, golden, pink, then purple clouds below.

Nithi Gorge silhouettes

After awhile it was time to start our trek back down and we had a lot of distance to cover.  In one day we were going to speed walk down the entire mountain, what took us three and a half days to climb up, we would go down in one.  The way off the summit onto the Chogoria route was much less scary than the Naru Moru route up, partly because there was no snow on the north face.

On our way down.  See the Nithi Gorge in the distance, slightly right of center?  Our breakfast point was just in front of the blue lakes on top of the cliff on the left of the valley.  We had a lot of ground to cover!

To my dismay, I did find that we would have to scamper down some scree.  The first few lengths Scott and Maina would run down and I would slowly, slowly pick my way down slipping and flailing every now and then.  I was so slow that I gave up on the scree, and just climbed down bigger, solid rocks to the right of the gravel.  It was faster, but not as fast as Scott and Maina running and sliding.

Maina on the small scree pebbles and me on the bigger, more stable, rocks

Slipping, sliding, flailing, and gasping!

A high, mountain lake

Nithi Gorge, slightly closer to breakfast!

We then came to big expanses of scree that would take me forever to get down so I knew I had to find a way that did not make me think I would slip and crack my head open on a rock.  So, what I did was crouch down over one foot (this way if I did tumble, I would not fall more than 6 inches to the ground) and place the other foot out in front of me as a guide/path smoother/balance keeper.  With that, I pushed off with my hands and down the mountain I skied!  A la this guy.

I had seen pictures before of handicapped Adaptive Skiers and took inspiration from them. Mimicking their style got me safely down the mountain with speed, I even passed Maina!

To turn to the right or to the left I just leaned and dragged my gloved hand in the ground on that side.  I don’t think Maina had ever seen anything like it because he looked at me with happy wonder as I passed him on my way down.

Barren, lifelessness at high altitude

Eventually the scree stopped and we walked on.

Life again! Plants, grass, and streams!

At this point I was a stream/creek/brook/river crossing pro.

Finally we stopped for breakfast and a much-needed rest around 8:45AM.  I think we stayed in that spot for at least an hour and it felt so good.  Scott and I stripped off two to three layers of clothing and reclined in the sun happy, relieved, and tired.

Our breakfast overlook. So nice to rest!

The view behind us. Bastian and Nelion peaks just to the left of center, and Point Lenana to the left of them. (The peak on the right of the picture looks like it might be as high as Lenana, it’s not!  It just looks that way because it is much closer than Point Lenana.)

After breakfast, Maina set a pace of a very swift walk and down the mountain strode.  He was so fast that we barely had time to take pictures and enjoy the ridiculous views of the Chogoria gorge with Lake Michaelson.  Since the path on Chogoria is often used and there actually is a path, we just let Maina go ahead of us whenever we needed to snap just one more picture.

Hello gorgeous.

Us and the valley, camera angle compliments of our guides artistic sensibilities.

Our first “up close” (as in, not from the top of Mt. Kenya) view of Lake Michaelson.

I swoon.

Oh la la! C’est Magnifique! (When I can’t express myself enough in English, I switch to French, I think it gives extra “Ummph” to what I am saying.  What do you think?)

Mt. Kenya makes an appearance (back right), clouds dapple the hills and valleys, and we walk on.

The valley downstream from Lake Michaelson. Cue Enya music.

This is my favorite flower in all of Kenya! Our guide said it is called Mackinder’s Flower (like the name of our campsite the night before) and it is his favorite too. You may also remember this flower from our Mt. Longonot hike.

Us! And God’s crazy-beautiful earth behind us!

Mmm. Mt. Kenya, Lake Michaelson (you can see just a slip of it), and the waterfall (Gates Falls I believe?) downstream of the lake.

Gates Falls

After another few hours, with no breaks to be had, we left the gorge behind and now below us were rolling hills.  Maina continued his impressively fast pace and my legs, though long, could not keep up with him and for the first time on the whole hike I became grumpy.  I was tired, my feet had blistered, my knees hurt from stomping on them as my body’s momentum carried me down and forward, I did not have the time to rest and take in all the views, I think my adrenaline had crashed, and I was tired!  Still, I was glad that day would be our last day of hiking and we hadn’t decided to split our descent up into two days because I really wanted to shower the next day and sleep in a real bed the next night!

Rolling hills, a different beauty

Finally around 1:30 we made it to our lunch location where I fell asleep on the grass and had to be woken up by Maina when it was time to press on.  Only two more hours of walking to go, and this time we would be walking on a dirt road, which made me really feel like we were close to the end.

On the bottom left of this picture you can see the dirt road we were walked on.

Beauty still reigning

This next part of our walk went well because Maina walked slightly slower and I could keep up with him and the scenery we passed through appealed to my eye and had me imagining different movie storylines being filmed there.

Walking through Time Keepers. These old trees, laden with moss/lichen, reminded me of a “Gone with the Wind” or “Pride and Prejudice” (Mr. Darcy’s grounds specifically) movie, or maybe a movie about a rich colonialist living in Africa at the turn of the century.

Around 4:30PM we made it to the Chogoria gate entrance and our campsite for the night.  We had hiked 50 miles over our four-day climb.  We had climbed to the summit at 4,985 meters (16,355 ft) and back down.  Exhausted, I went straight inside our tent and with the remaining sputters of my energy and undid our mats and sleeping bags before passing out until dinnertime.

At dinner, awed by how Moses and the crew were still working after a long day and carrying huge heavy packs the whole climb, I asked them if they were tired.  They assured me they were very exhausted and I was relieved not to feel inadequate, as I would have if I were the only one tired.  After dinner was done at 7:30 we went straight to bed as we had done the night before.  We slept all the way through the night and in the morning we just had chai as our gear was loaded on the car and then we were on our way.  Or so we thought.

Load ’em up and get ’em out!

All set to go! Complete with “thumbs up!”

As we drove away we finally spotted a live elephant! (red circle) Still glad we didn’t run into one on our hike though!

The road was beyond terrible. We had been told many times by our guide that this was The Worst Road and that proved to be the case when bumped along and smacked the earth breaking the metal bar that made the car turn left.

The driver and his co-driver tried to fix the problem, here they are going for a “test drive” while the rest of us follow behind on foot.

The “test drive” failed here when the car really had to turn left again. And so here we waited and waited for two hours.

Scott played games on our phone to pass the time.

While Scott was on our phone, I took random pictures to pass the time. Here is a picture of flower number 68.

Finally, our drivers’ colleagues arrived with another car! Let’s go! I want to shower soooooo bad!

Packed and ready! Complete with another “thumbs up!”

With this Land Rover we finally made it out of there and arrived in the town of Chogoria an hour and a half later.  Here we met our awesome driver Antony who had waited patiently for us.  We sped back to Nairobi, checked into the Hampton House, Scott let me have the first shower, and there I stayed for a very long time. The end.

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Day 3

(continued from Day 2 and Day 1)

Tent door glistening with sparkly frost in morning light.

The next morning I had to tug extra hard as I unzipped our tent door crackling though bits of ice and frost that had formed across our tent overnight.  The sunlit, sparkling, frosty tundra that met outside was beautiful though, and its stillness gave me a sense of peace and reassurance thereby boosting my will and strength and subduing my anxieties about what lay ahead.

The fresh morning air and sun on my skin brought new appreciation for this place.  I wandered with my camera, before anyone else had yet woken, and I found this guy slurping nectar. I snapped this picture and crept quietly up to him.

There you are. Gotcha! How is he supporting himself anyway?

After a full, warm, breakfast, we left our camp mid-morning and started climbing our way up through the basin of a wide valley bordered on our right by tall rocky cliffs.  Moving quickly, we worked to outpace the steadily encroaching clouds as they filled and engulfed the valley below us.  We had not yet even seen Mount Kenya and if we could beat the clouds, then we had a chance of seeing the top of Mount Kenya that morning.

Way down below us, off to the left, around the cliff, was our camp the night before. On the right you can see a layer of clouds climbing below the patch of blue sky.

Following various stream beds until they meandered off or disappeared into the earth at their source, we made our way up.  The land seemed to be barren tundra.  Every now and then we would cross over animal droppings belonging to a mountain cat or see a bird flit by.  As we continued on, the feeling that you were crossing over to inaccessible isolated land, where only few species could live, increased.  We were alone.  No one had been here for over six months.

Halfway to the top of the ridge we finally got our first view of Mt. Kenya.  Finally, our destination, and in some senses our foe, was revealed.

There she be!!

Super zoomed-in. Wow.  Our peak, that we would climb, was still hidden behind the two you see here.

Scott, with a giddy grin that didn’t leave his face the whole time Mt. Kenya was in view.

At the top of the ridge, looking back over where we had come from. I love the light on the slope of the far ridge in this photo.

At the top of the ridge I huddled next to Scott for warmth as we rested our legs, Mt. Kenya now obscured by a cloud, we could only peer down into the next valley before us.  There we could see strange plants that we had never seen before.  The most peculiar looking ones were Giant Groundsels that started as round bushes and then grew up into the sky with up to a ten-foot stem/trunk beneath the original round bush.  From that bush and stalk of “flowers” would shoot up another two and half feet.

Giant Groundsels galore!

As we traversed down into the valley we felt like we were aliens on a foreign planet.  The air was quiet and the landscape bizarre.  We passed under the old Giant Groundsels, over the young groundsels, around two to five feet tall feathery plants that looked like a green version of Mr. Snuffleupagus’trunk on Sesame Street, and across giant lobelia with gorgeous symmetry.

The Giant Lobelia that reminded me of Mr. Snufflupagus’ trunk or a fuzzy smurf. As Scott and I discovered, these also had Bozo Clown qualities to them because you could hit the top of them, and, if they were fresh, they would bend slightly over to the side and then vibrate/sway from side to side. Behind us was a trail of swinging plants. 🙂

“Snuffleupagus” close-up

Another variety of Giant Lobelia exhibiting it’s symmetry. This photo is from National Geographic because I, sadly, was too scared to take a picture of these not wanting to waste camera battery. All of them were filled with water that had condensed on it, like this one, so you had to be careful when you used these as a place to step on to avoid marshy ground because you could still get your feet wet if you weren’t careful!

Still had to traverse lots of water on this day, BUT I never slipped, fell, or did anything to get my feet wet the whole day! Victory!

For lunch we stopped at a high mountain lake where we got another view of Mount Kenya.  The crew had set up the kitchen tent for lunch so we could have someplace warm to eat, and after the previous day’s freezing lunch-in-a-cloud I was very appreciative of this.

Brief glimpse of the mountain at lunch.

Scott at the lake at lunch. The clouds behind him conceal a tall cliff and Mt. Kenya beyond. The two porters on the left were on their way to go fishing. They ended up catching a trout which the crew enjoyed for supper that night.

After lunch we helped the crew dismantle the kitchen tent and then we were on our way up another ridge.

It shows itself again. . .
Scott here is wearing his hat with Viking braids!

A dense growth of Giant Lobelia and Groundsels. Definitely felt like we were in Star Wars on an alien planet having never seen plants like this before.  Also, my friend from the morning is perched atop a stalk of “blossoms.”

At the top of this ridge, we would be able to see our base camp for the night, have a straight-on view of Mt. Kenya, and hike downwards the rest of the day.  Yippee!

TaDa!!  Sadly, our peak was still hidden on the right where you see the snow disappear into the cloud.  This valley leads to Mackinder’s Camp and the Naru Moru path is down below in the bottom of the valley where you can see the stream. We wouldn’t connect with this path until right before we reached camp.

Happy to be almost done for the day! Just another hour of walking downhill! To the right, a fully grown Giant Groundsel, so odd.

We reached Mackinder’s Camp around four in the afternoon and for the first time in three days we saw other people outside of our group.   Our crew pitched our tent right away and Scott and I clamored inside to stay warm and get ready for the next day’s summit.  First we lightened our day bags, leaving in only what was necessary.  Then we carefully laid out each and every article of clothing that we would wear stacking them in the order in which we would layer them.  Since we had to wake up at 2:00AM to begin our climb promptly at 3:00AM, we would wear these outfits to bed and leave them on, topped with additional outer layers, for our ascent.  Taking a deep breath and gritting my teeth, I stripped off my warm clothes and started layering on the cold clothes in my pile.  After a bit of coaxing, Scott did the same, shivering and repeatedly gasping, “I’m so cold!  I’m so cold!”  When we were finished we had on gloves, hats, three layers of pants, three layers of wool socks, four layers of long-sleeved shirts and jackets.

Once we were set we went over to the kitchen tent where we had chai and popcorn for snacking and then a three-course dinner including fried chicken.  We reasoned the meat was still safe to eat after three days because it had been frozen, maybe?

As soon as we were done with dinner at 7:45PM we said goodnight to the crew, Moses gave us back our water bottles filled with freshly boiled water (each night we always put these in the  sleeping bag to help stay warm), and got ready for bed so we could try to get in as much sleep in as possible.  Learning from previous night’s experience, Scott and I slept better that night and shivered less thanks to our warm outfits.

To be continued. . .

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Day 2

(Continued from Day 1)

Throughout the night my body kept rolling to the right due to the uneven ground, around 3:00AM I had a great sensation to pee begin, tree hyraxes (large fluffy rodents) made loud calls all through the night until 5:00AM, and then at 6:00AM the birds started.  Once I heard the birds start, I knew it was dawn and eagerly wiggled out of my sleeping bag cocoon and promptly relieved myself behind our tent ready to be done with that awful night of sleep.  Over breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, porridge, and chai, Scott told me that his night hadn’t been any better.  His mind was plagued with worries of elephants the whole night and one time he thought he heard elephant footsteps and grumblings, which caused him to freeze perfectly still and scarcely breathe for a full half an hour as his sleep-deprived brain reasoned that if he moved the elephant would surely be startled and charge the tent.  His worries proved to be unfounded though as the guide confirmed in the morning that no elephants had been near the camp that night.

Scott, sleepy-eyed, at breakfast

DAY 2

We left camp around 10:00AM and hiked up and up through the hills of Spanish Moss draped trees, turning to bamboo forests, changing again to a bare, burned forest with rocky and soggy ground underfoot.

Up through the forest on the other side of the valley. Notice the lack of a trail. When I say Kamweti is rarely used and you really need a guide, I mean it!

This is my second favorite flower on the mountain. I don’t know its name, but I call it the Flame Flower. These were quite common. Upon further research, it looks like they belong to the Kniphofia Spec. family.

The “macro beauty view” from our morning break stop. We waited here for the crew to catch up (they had stayed behind to disassemble the camp) and to make sure they hadn’t gotten lost on their way up the hill. Notice how it seems like we’re level with the clouds already!

The “micro beauty view” from our resting spot.   I can count at least ten different species of plants/fungi in this picture alone. Also, notice the water, that is the wet and over-saturated ground that we are walking through, very squishy.

Here Scott is holding flower number 30. I started counting species halfway through Day 1. I ended with about 70 different species of flowers, but I am sure I missed many because I started counting late and I missed all the plants that do flower, but weren’t blooming while we were there because it wasn’t their season.

Scott and I chilaxing.

Farther up, the vegetation changed to tall grasslands with chest-high yellow and green grasses. We walked on and on, combing the grass between our fingers, until we finally reached the top of a steep ridge where we would have lunch.

The beginning of the “grasslands,” end of the burned forest.

We walked through fields of tall grass. . .

. . . and fields of shorter grass. Scott discovered that these grass blades were hollow inside and used one as a straw to drink his water just to see if it would work.  It did.  Maina looked at us like we were nuts.

See that fleck of white in the center-right? That’s a waterfall. Hidden waterfalls like this, that no one ever sees, remind me of Lost or Jurassic Park or like I stepped into a time-machine and went back a few thousand years. Are you reminded of the same?  Do you think like me?

Scott and Maina. At the top of the ridge to the right would be our lunch spot. . . in a CLOUD!

From this lunch point until our campsite for that night we were in the clouds.  The air was cold, wet, and rather miserable inside the cloud.  The land we were crossing was over-saturated with water and one had to quickly jump from one small clump of tall grass to the next to avoid sinking into the wet ground.

This is us walking in a cloud. Scott is up there, with his poncho on now, and Maina further up, to Scott’s immediate right in this picture. Scott is looking back wondering where in the world I’d disappeared to. I think these plants are related to the Giant Lobelia, of which we would see many varieties.

Of course, one can only accurately hop to so many clumps of grass and eventually I took a spill and ended up knee-deep in cold, muddy water.  Uggh!  For the second night in a row the porters and Maina would be drying my shoes and socks around the fire.

When we reached our campsite it was raining.  My body was cold and soaked from both my fall and the rain. While I’d had my brave, “tough-girl” face on for the past few hours, when we reached camp I was so thankful to see that the porters already had our tent set up that I immediately dove into it delighting in the dry, wind-free shelter.  I quickly changed into fresh, warm long johns and wool socks, leaving my soggy wet pants and socks in a heap at the corner of our tent.  Ahh, so much better!

Eventually, Georgie beckoned us out of our tent with “Tea is ready.”  Once seated in the kitchen tent, I took off my wet shoes I had worn over to the tent and Scott brought them, and all my wet clothes apologetically over to the crew around the fire outside so my stuff could dry.  The crew gamely rigged up a drying method, hanging my shoes from sticks stuck in the ground and hanging everything else on a multi-branched limb, which they stuck in the ground and occasionally took up and “roasted” over the fire like nyoma choma.

Maina being awesome. He undid my laces, pulled the tongue of my shoes out, and hung them on sticks to dry. Very effective.

The stick with the rest of my wet gloves and socks.

Inside the kitchen tent it was warm and the hot tea and accompanying freshly fried mandazi were quite welcome.  Since I couldn’t move without my shoes, I just sat and stayed in the warm, but smoky, kitchen tent for a few hours watching Moses prepare our dinner of oxtail stew (made from a seasoning packet), ground beef and vegetables (fresh vegetables which he chopped by hand with a cutting board in his lap) with spaghetti, and fresh fruit.  After a while it stopped raining and the sky cleared.  Georgie gave me his sandals so I could get up and walk around.  Once outside, I looked around more carefully and realized that though the place was a bit barren, it was beautiful in its own way.   The fact that we were some of the very few people to ever see this place magnified its untouched beauty and lent us a feeling of being explorers on a maiden trekking expedition.

This babbling brook was our source of water.

The kitchen tent, crew around the fire, and cliffs overlooking.

Barren, solitary, untouched, rugged, beauty

Me posing for Scott.  After he took this picture he have the camera back to me and then crossed this creek to try to find a private place to go to the bathroom.  Unfortunately, he slipped on a rock and fell in the stream!  Scott’s clothes joined mine around the fire to dry and I apologized to our crew as they set up more sticks for Scott’s hiking boots.

After dinner, I retrieved our now dry shoes, socks, and pants from the campfire and we retired to bed.  Despite waking up several times that night shivering and having to jab my icicle fingers into my armpits, between my thighs, or inside my clothes on my warm belly, I always fell right back asleep as I was on level ground and exhausted from not sleeping well the night before.  Scott on the other hand, whose sleeping bag’s zipper we could not get to work, became very cold and shivered miserably most of the night.

To be continued . . .

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Mt. Kenya: Pre-climb and Day 1

On September 14th at 7:05 AM I was scarfing rhubarb-apple-crisp-oatmeal out of a bowl I carried as I hurriedly wound my way through the dukas surrounding Tenwek Hospital until I arrived at a small green and white one.  The woman I was to meet there at 7:00AM hadn’t yet arrived.  I relaxed, taking a moment to enjoy the last bites of my oatmeal, and trying to relax my mind with its whirling To Do! list and instead relish the still quietness of the early morning as the sun lit the colorfully painted dukas around me.

Yes! The guesthouse kitchen garden had rhubarb! This Midwestern girl was DE-lighted when she saw this on her first day at Tenwek.

It was our last morning at Tenwek.  We would leave this beloved place today for another one of our “Kenyan Adventures,” but this time we wouldn’t be coming back.  The adventure in front of us was the biggest yet.  We planned to climb Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa.  This was the reason I was outside of this small duka at seven past seven in the morning.  I had an appointment to get my hair braided with “lines” across the top and braids down the back.  I figured perhaps, with my hair braided, I wouldn’t feel quite as gross as I would otherwise after five days without a shower.

At 8:55AM, with two-thirds of all my thick hair stretched into tiny tight braids across my skull, my anxiety became too much and I told the woman braiding my hair I was very sorry, but I had to go, we did not have time to finish.  Scott had been left with empty suitcases and piles of stuff on the floor to pack and our driver was due to arrive at 9:00AM.  As I ran back through the dukas with my empty cereal bowl and my hair partly braided, I got a call from the driver saying he and his co-driver were nearly there.  And so it was that we left Tenwek that Friday morning in our usual style, a rather stressful rush.

We did our best scrambling and managed to get all of our stuff together and on the road with our driver friends, Antony and Isaac, reasonably on time.  We drove through Nairobi, dropped off the majority of our luggage, and proceeded to Mount Kenya with two bulging duffel bags crammed with sleeping bags, sleeping mats, winter coats, long johns, pants, long sleeve shirts, ponchos, hats, gloves, and lots of wool socks.

Arriving at Castle Forest Lodge on the south side of Mt. Kenya, we took a cup of chai at the lodge’s restaurant with our drivers before they left us and wished us the best of luck up the mountain.

Castle Forest Lodge. We had chai with our drivers on this veranda and dinner that night was inside this old, historic house.

As it was not yet dinnertime, Scott and I retired to our bungalow to make sure we had everything we needed to climb the mountain packed as efficiently as possible and sort out what needed to be in our light-weight day packs and what the porters could carry.  At dinnertime we feasted on an intensely green, pureed spinach soup that was so good it had me wondering if this Kenyan-trained chef hadn’t added some truffle oil to it.  The coconut curry chicken that followed was equally as impressive and you can bet that before we departed on our five-day hike the next morning I had in my possession a handwritten copy of the chef’s chicken curry recipe.  The elusive sweetness turned out to be mango chutney.  Now you know, go add it to your curries!

Anyway, back on track as there is much to cover . . .

DAY 1

After a much-needed great night’s sleep, we woke up the next morning at 6:00AM giddy, excited, and nervous.  We had breakfast at the restaurant, and met our guide, cook, and porters who would be taking us up the mountain.

Our crew, trying to fit everything into their giant backpacks the morning we left. This was done with much haggling about what I assumed to be the weight of some items compared to others.

In our party there was Scott and myself, our guide Maina (My-na), our cook Moses, a porter/cooking assistant/waiter/vocal, opinionated jokester Georgie, the head porter Bruno, and four other porters who would help carry everyone’s tents, gear, water, and food.  In total, we made a group of ten.  These Kikuyu men had grown up on the south side of the mountain and were some of the only people in the world who could show us the way to the top of Mt. Kenya using the Kamweti route.  The Kamweti route is a string of elephant trails and it is rarely used; in fact, the last time someone had used it was in February.  Due to this, we were guaranteed to see no one else outside our group until the third night at our base camp before the summit hike where we would join with the popular Noru Moru route.

We started the day’s 17 kilometer trek by walking through 8Km of forest on an old logging road before reaching a morning break stop for chai.

The only time on the Kamweti route that we would follow a visible trail.

Going up!

We knew that a year and a half ago a charging elephant had killed a woman hiking around the Castle Forest Lodge area, so our heads were constantly on a swivel.  Our eyes searched behind trees, through bushes, and up and down hills looking for the looming elephant.  God heard many prayers and appropriate scriptures claimed to help calm our nerves and put our trust in Him who puts breath and life into everything and can calm stormy seas—aka stop an animal from charging us in the name of Jesus!

One of the many elephant turds we crossed over. As you can see, they are very uniform with a cylindrical shape. This one looks like it’s a day or two old.

This is my “I’m slightly nervous there might be an elephant behind me” smile

Where we breaked for chai was the old village grounds of our guide, Maina. He had lived here as a child but the villagers were asked to leave by the government since they were inside the Mt. Kenya park lines and the government felt their living there might damage the natural habitat. Sad.
About the bags, they are my attempt to keep my feet dry! My porous running shoes would let water in, but my hope was the plastic bags would keep my socks dry. By Day 3 I had two layers of socks and two layers of plastic bags, worked wonderfully on that day!

After our chai break, we left the logging road and continued on through a bamboo forest using elephant paths and occasionally a machete to help hack our way through.

Bamboo forest, not sure why Scott is waving like that. UPDATE!  Scott has told me that he’s holding up five fingers because we had walked five miles at that point.

This picture illustrates well the “path” that we were on. Clearly, we would have been totally lost without our guide!

Almost to our lunch spot.

Our prayers for safety continued as we climbed higher up and over hills leaving the bamboo forest behind entering our first bit of bog where you had to be careful where you stepped lest your shoe get soaked through with water.  We rested here for lunch enjoying tomato soup and tomato and cheese sandwiches.

The afternoon portion of our hike took us through indigenous forest with beautiful trees covered in Spanish moss and others that had clusters of pink flowers on them resembling clusters of red grapes hanging all over the branches of the tall trees.

Tree draped with moss.

Pink “grape cluster” flowers on the trees above us.

We passed through more bogs that had “meadows” of Forever Flowers and purple thistle-like flowers.  It was all new to us and very beautiful, but we hardly had time to take it in or stop for pictures because Maina, our guide, moved so quickly through the forest and the bogs.

Forever Flowers

Scott and Maina standing on over-saturated ground

Afternoon break. Loudmouth (I mean that affectionately) Georgie is front and center.

I had a more difficult time making my way through the bogs in my old, porous running shoes. (They were all I had!  The hiking boots I could have borrowed were too small!)

A bog filled with Forever Flowers, tall purple thistle flowers, and grass clumps.  Beyond the bog is one of our porters and Maina heading down into the valley where we would camp that night.

After stopping to take the picture above, I hurried to catch up with Scott and the guide who had continued on.  I hopped and jumped from one clump of grass to the next and in my anxious haste I slipped off a clump of grass.  As I slipped, I reached out to catch myself and my hand got all cut up by a Devil’s Horse Whip plant.  With my hand bleeding and my shoe soaked, I felt thoroughly sorry for myself as I plodded along after Scott, who’d stopped for me, and the guide, who had continued his swift pace down the hillside and was now far in front of us on the way down to our campsite.

Me, holding my cut left hand up, walking after Maina down to the river we would camp by that night. Scott had taken the camera from me after my fall. Maybe he was trying to help or maybe he was worried I would ruin the camera, probably both.

At the bottom of the hill, we crossed over a small river and Maina actually helped me (which helped to end my brief pity party) across the river and then it was just a couple hundred meters to our campsite in the river valley.

Look what we found at our campsite! This horn belonged to an African Buffalo. Also a very dangerous animal, especially when they are alone and not in a group. Our tent is behind Scott.

The view out of the front door of our tent.

The view from our bathroom, a.k.a. the open area behind the back of our tent. Tehe. 😉  Up above you can see some of those pink flowering grape cluster trees.

Our camp. The crew’s tent is the green one in the foreground. (Still not sure how all 7 guys fit in there. I couldn’t have done it, that’s for sure.) The kitchen tent is to the right and our tent is in the back left.

That evening for dinner, Moses made the best fish and chips we have ever had, along with popcorn, a platter of fresh, tropical fruit, and chai, of course.

The dark kitchen tent in the evening.  Moses is on the right working his magic preparing our dinner over two kerosene burners.

During dinner, the porters and Maina sat around a campfire and dried this poor mzungu’s wet running shoes.  We retired to bed that night happy to have survived the first day and nervously excited about what the next day would hold.

To be continued . . .

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