Writing Portfolio


No picnic on Mount Kenya (part 2)

I was amazed at how warm I was on my first night in a Mount Kenya bunkhouse – especially as I only had a lightweight, two-season sleeping-bag. If Old Moses was anything to go by, the bunkhouses were evidently of better quality than I’ve been led to expect from reading my guidebook.

On the morning of Day Two, Moses excelled himself with a breakfast of omelettes, sausages and pancakes – by far the most substantial breakfast I’d had since leaving England. Jesse and Laurie seemed very jealous of this, until they got the same served up by their guides.
We set off at 7:20am, about ten minutes after Jesse, Laurie and their assorted guides and porters – I, evidently, was the only hiker who was cheap enough to want to carry his own backpack. We’d be walking a total of 14km (just over 8½ miles) and ascending 900m (just over 2,900 feet) up to Shipton’s Camp, the departure point for the (very) early morning assault on Point Lenana.
We were above the tree-line. Moses pointed out several different types of plants to me as well as birds; of the latter, we saw starlings of the slender-billed and red-winged varieties, and a female beautiful songbird. There were also several mountain chats, who get very close-up to you; Moses says that they are nicknamed ‘friendly chats’ because of this. I felt lucky to have ended up with a guide who is as keen on birds as I am.
For much of the morning, we walked along with Jesse and Laurie. At one stop, we had a clear view of the peaks of Mount Kenya – Lenana to the left of the two highest points, Nelion and Batian, which can only be climbed by mountaineers with the proper skills and equipment. We stopped at this viewpoint, and took some photographs.

The walk then became an exercise in contouring for the most part, rising by Shipton’s Caves and then becoming steeper as we made our way up to the camp itself. We arrived at 12:30 – not bad at all when you consider that the guides had all estimated that we would be there at 2! I felt tired but felt much better after a cup of tea (some things don’t change, even at over 13,000 feet). Even so, I had during the course of the day’s hike decided that if I was going to attempt Kilimanjaro after this I would definitely arrange to have a porter carry my kit.

That said, the only kit-related problem so far was that Moses had asked me this morning to help him carry some of the food – including an avocado. I wouldn’t have given this much thought, but the confounded thing split during the walk, meaning that part of the inside of my backpack got covered by a green slime-like substance. Luckily I kept all my kit in plastic bags, a trick I learned in the Scouts, but I still had to use some toilet-roll to clean the backpack out.
In terms of layout, Shipton’s Camp was similar to Old Moses – a collection of huts with separate accommodation for the guides and porters. The bunk-rooms were smaller, and there were a lot more mice, who all had black-and-white stripes on their backs.
In the afternoon we went on another acclimatisation walk, climbing a further 900 feet up, although we didn’t go up the gully that is the route up out of the camp towards the summit. Moses, who was still able to smoke at altitude (I’d decided to leave my cigarettes back in Nanyuki) reckoned that this would stand us in good stead for the following morning, and he even insisted that we stay up for at least 20 minutes so that I could get used to the extra altitude. 900 feet may not seem like a lot but there was a definite difference in the air compared to Shipton’s; I found my pulse racing and I was very short of breath.
Back down, Moses told me that we would have a 3:30am start the next morning; he reckoned it would take 2-3 hours to get to the summit, which has to be reached at sunrise because that’s the time of day when it’s least likely to be cloudy at that height. Looking up as he said this (at around 5pm), we couldn’t see anything for the clouds, in contrast to the clear skies we’d enjoyed on our earlier walk. In fact, on our acclimatisation walk we’d gone up the the cloud level, more or less.
I wished I’d thought to take a book with me, or at the very least a deck of cards, which would have been a great way to pass the time before dinner. All I’d brought was a Mount Kenya map-guide that I’d purchased in Nanyuki, and Moses has more or less convinced me that the information on the map is somewhat less than reliable. That said, I was the only trekker who had a map and everyone else wanted to have a look. Dinner was be served at around 6:30, and after that was an early bed-time for everyone. Only one man has bought a book with him, and it was a true story called No Picnic on Mount Kenya. This was written by Felice Benuzzi, an Italian who was taken prisoner during the Ethiopian campaign in the Second World War and sent to a POW camp in Nanyuki. There, he persuaded two of his comrades to escape with him, their only purpose being to attempt to climb Mount Kenya and then return to the camp.

There was plenty of conversation to be had over dinner, initially at how big the portions were. The guides – Moses was by no means the only one who doubled up as a cook – they had all carried fresh food up with them, and we ate very well. One bloke, a New York-based Englishman, even had a table-cloth laid out for him before his meal was served!
No-one stayed up for very long though – we would all have an early start the next morning. Before going to bed, the New York Englishman apologised to me in advance; my bunk was right next to the toilet, and as a result he was convinced he’d wake me up during the night.

To be concluded...

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