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No picnic on Mount Kenya (part 3)

When I was unable to sleep during the night at Shipton’s Camp, all I could hear in our dorm was the sound of the mice scrabbling around on the floor. I did manage a few hours though, and was woken up by Jesse at around 3:10am.
I got dressed very quickly – tee-shirt, clean boxers, shirt, trousers, three pairs of socks, jumper, fleece, waterproofs, gloves and woolly hat. Everyone else, it seemed, was heading down via the Naro Moro route and so had to sort out all of their kit, which would be carried by the porters, while I didn’t have to bother as I would be coming back down the way I’d come. Which was just as well really, because I didn’t much fancy having to lug my kit all the way to the top, which I would’ve had to do as I was the only trekker who was too cheap to pay for a porter.
While getting ready, we all got a bit of a laugh at the expense of a group of Irish girls. They’d taken much longer than the rest of us to reach Shipton’s the previous day, and so their guide had decided that they’d better start before everyone else. By 3:20, though, one of them announced that they were running late. “Since when,” asked Jesse, “has 3:20 in the morning been late?”

After several cups of tea and some of my chocolate biscuits, Moses and I set off at four – after everyone else had left; he had reckoned that, given our pace on the last two days, we could still make it to the summit for sunrise. As we left the hut, I couldn’t see the gully we had to climb up, but I could see the pinpricks of light at various points from everyone’s torches. Sticking behind Moses, with my Maglite on and with the theme tune to Where Eagles Dare inexplicably playing in my head, I made my way to the gully.

Luckily, it wasn’t a scree slop and we made it up there with a steady, slow pace suited me at that altitude. Pole, pole – slowly, slowly in Swahili – is the unofficial motto of mountain-trekkers in East Africa. Well, I thought we were going slow but it wasn’t long before we passed the Irish girls, got out of the gully and onto the scree above it – according to Moses, another reason why the final ascent is always done before dawn is because that means you can’t see how bad the scree slope is. I have always disliked scree because you lose a pace for every couple you walk on the loose surface. Despite this, we still made good pace.
By around five, we caught up with Jesse and his guide, and subsequently we stuck with them and continued to make our way ever upwards in the darkness. By this stage, my hands were numb with the cold despite the fact that I’d kept my gloves on and had been constantly moving my fingers in order to help with the circulation. We couldn’t have been walking for more than forty minutes as an extended group until Moses stopped us. He explained that we were just below the final ascent, and that as we’d made such good time we needed to stop otherwise we’d get to the top while it was still dark! So we had a short break, during which I offered around some chocolate that I’d thought to put in my pocket back at Shipton’s. We sat facing east, watching a distinct glow appear on the horizon. The sun wasn’t up just yet, but there was enough light for us to switch our torches off – apart from Jesse, whose torch had died on him some time previously. It was in this grey pre-dawn that we made the final ascent.
We climbed to a saddle, from which we could see a glacier below – the same glacier that we’d seen when looking up from Shipton’s. Point Lenana itself cannot be seen from Shipton’s, from which it is obscured by an outcrop of jagged rock. This outcrop was now to our left, with Lenana itself to our right. And after a short scramble, we were on Point Lenana – 4,985m (or around 16,300ft) – and we truly felt that we had reached the top of the world.


The high-point itself is marked by a metal cross and a metal Kenyan flag, along with a couple of memorial plaques. Although my fingers were by now frozen, I got my camera out to take some photos – we could literally see for miles, although all that we could see for those miles was low cloud. But that’s missing the point – all that cloud was just so low compared to us! As we were on the peak itself, the sun rose – a fantastic experience, watching sunrise from the top of an African mountain. We all shuffled round so that each of us could get their photo taken on the high spot – and despite the wind-chill-induced sub-zero temperatures, everyone was really excited – sunrise at the summit! We’d done it!

Too soon, it seemed, we had to head back down, and it was therefore time for me to part company from the others, who'd be going down via a different route and then heading straight back to Nairobi. Jesse and I had exchanged e-mail addresses – though quite how we were able to write anything with our frozen hands I don’t know.
Walking down, and with my waterproof jacket now off as we were out of the wind, we passed the Irish girls who were still on their way up and looking as though they’d definitely bitten off more than they could chew (so to speak). I told them that they didn’t have far to go and that it was “totally fuckin’ worth it” – clearly I was still on some sort of adrenalin high as a result of reaching the summit – and the only one of them who had sufficient energy to respond called me a “bloody liar”.
Descending that scree was no fun at all, as I’d known it wouldn’t be, although Moses was most definitely in his element and I had a job to keep up with him – a job not helped by the fact that I had to stop to take my waterproof trousers off before the lower part of my body became drenched in sweat, as the sun was now well and truly up.
I reckon it took us an hour and twenty minutes to get down from Point Lenana. As soon as we got back, Moses went straight into breakfast-making mode (what a guy!) while I staggered into my dorm and tried to sort my stuff out. Breakfast was some sort of millet-based porridge which was great with plenty of sugar, followed by sausages, omelettes and pancakes. As well as being an excellent guide, that man was an amazing cook.
Over breakfast, I chatted to one of the Irish girls, who’d decided after about an hour’s walking that she wasn’t going to make it to the top, so she came straight back down to Shipton’s and went back to bed. Probably a wise choice in the circumstances.

After breakfast, Moses announced that as he’d now ran out of food he could carry some of my kit in his backpack. Just when I thought he couldn’t have gone up any higher in my estimation!
We set off at nine. Most people who trek Mount Kenya tend to take two days over the descent; I’d opted for one – from Point Lenana at sunrise, I’d be spending the evening in a Nanyuki bar with a well-earned bottle of Tusker beer. The trek from Shipton’s down to Old Moses took us just over three hours, and the pace killed off any lingering post-summit elation I still had. Nevertheless, I took great delight in telling anyone who I met going the other way that I’d stood on Point Lenana at sunrise that morning. One group of English students I encountered looked absolutely shattered, even though by the time I encountered them they were less than an hour out of Old Moses, and they had porters.
After lunch at Old Moses – I could’ve sworn Moses had told me he’d cooked all the food, so he’d obviously left enough behind to rustle up a vegetable omelette for our return journey – the walk back down to the park gates was fairly straightforward. I’d caught my breath back from the fast descent from Shipton’s, and after being fed and rested I flet good. Moses, by the way, seemed utterly unaffected by both altitude and pace  – but then, he did this for a living.
The final part of our walk became a bit of a nature trail. We saw loads of baboons, who seemed disturbed by some sort of predator lurking in the trees – Moses reckoned that there was probably a leopard nearby – along with several colubus monkeys and a blue duiker. There was also plenty of evidence of buffalo (hoof-prints), elephants (piles of poo) and spotted hyenas (more poo; hyena poo is easily identifiable because it’s white, from the bones of whatever animal they’ve eaten). Moses, who’d already admitted earlier in the trek to being an addict of wildlife documentaries, was a walking encyclopaedia as far as African animals and birds are concerned. Factor in his cooking skills and his expertise on the mountain, and I think that I’m not exaggerating when I say that I had the perfect guide for my Mount Kenya trek. Not bad considering that I met him on a street corner while he was touting for business!
We made it back to the park gates at four; I reckoned that, taking stoppages into account, I’d walked for nine hours that day, a fair amount of which had been at altitude.

Back in Nanyuki, I got my stuff back from the Montana Trekks office and checked into a room in the Jambo House Hotel where said office was located – on the grounds that I didn’t feel like lugging all my stuff any great distance. Even taking it all up two flights of stairs was a challenge in the circumstances though. After finalising the paperwork at the office – saying very nice things about them in their visitors’ book, generously tipping Moses and ordering my certificate (to be collected the next morning, I did what everyone had been talking about doing the previous evening. Still clad in my sweat-streaked walking-clothes, without even removing my boots in fact, and smelling like I hadn’t washed properly for a few days (because I hadn’t), I headed straight for the hotel bar and ordered an ice-cold bottle of Tusker. Beer has rarely tasted so good.

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