Posts Tagged With: climb

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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