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