The alarm went off at 5.45am, I was not going to miss this Mt Kenya sunrise ey? Then I realise I’m all alone in the tent. Abraham is not there, goodness where could this guy be? Wait, could it be rained and I’m floating in the lake? I bump the ground and I could feel the hard grass stumps. Okay so I’m not floating, where could this guy be? I check the tent door for forced entry. The zipper looks fine, though not completely zipped up. Surely if he was to be abducted by aliens (I know I know, I may have watched too much UFO diaries when I was still young and impressionable), they would not have taken the sleeping bag as well yes? So I relax and quickly dress up, wash my face to wake up and put on my headlamp and head out to the beach. I need to be ready for this moment, especially now that the struggle of the climb is so fresh…. The grass is filled with dew which is cold, I avoid it as much as I can. When I get to the beach, I can see trout jumping up out of the water. I think I need a camera with faster shutter speed to capture some of these spontaneous moments. As I wait for the sun to show up I’m also meditating about life and some key decisions I need to make in my life some which may be very unpopular with the people closest to me…
If there is one thing that will make me go back to Mt Kenya, it is not Lenana, not Batian not Nelion, it will be to see this beautiful and breathtaking sunrise on #LakeMichaelson again and catch trout for breakfast. Nothing else, everything else will be details…. For those fifteen minutes of absolute peace and serenity, all noise blocked out, you are just floating in your own world for those moments albeit few. Orgasmic #Breathtaking #Sunrise #MtKenyaChallenge2017 #MtKenya2017 #TeamXtrym #Hiking #MagicalKenya #Kenya #Adventure
The sun rays start peeping at the edge of the lake, as the light penetrates the darkness the effect is magical, it’s art! One of the guys making food for us comes to check his hooks; they have caught fish, sweet! :-). Habbakuk joins me and we start goofing around in that moment of astonishing beauty. Brian also comes around and the more the merrier as we do jumping jacks. Those moments were like therapy, getting the yarn balls in your head untangled. Breakfast is ready and we start finding our way there, we find pancakes which I took and went to eat at a stone further from the dining area. I could not cross my legs so I needed some elevated ground, Jeremy notices I’m not with the rest and comes to find out if everything is okay, see when I said this had become a family, I meant it! Guys leave to go for the beach but I had seen it all I go sit where Robert and Jeremy were perched a few moments ago basking in the sun. The lake looks serene from this point with the now brightly shining sun illuminating its surface. It is so calm it appears almost wave less, a wave less lake, this would be close enough. When the guys finish their beach visit we start packing and preparing to leave. Peterson also starts disassembling the tents. We take a photo and start our trek to Mt Kenya lodge, finally we will get to have a hot shower! A hot shower after four days of wet wipes, the thought alone would make me giddy inside, I could not wait for the smoky hot water running on my skin.
//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsThe slopes encompassing Lake Michaelson are steep, we start slow and go up carefully since the ground is wet as well. We would make stops for a breather and just to look back one more extra time.
At the top of the slope there are these intriguing looking rocks which are as a result of erosion and other weather elements. There was one I liked that looked a cathedral. Maybe it was the altitude but it looked like a cathedral to me.
Habbakuk has now become our group photographer and would be taking pictures like a pro. Altitude starts hitting Abraham and Brian helps with his bag as we slowly descend the mountain. About midday we are at the lunch point. We have pasta for lunch and refill our flasks with hot water. It seems like it could rain so we also put on our waterproof pants and ponchos, our prayers to counter Duncan’s prayers for rain seem to have worked actually. Ever since we started Duncan would say how the elements seemed to be favouring our team and would pray for rain, Beatrice Tanya and I formed another prayer group to counter those prayers, we did not need rain for this, despite being prepared for it. Vegetation starts to re-appear the lower we get. And soon enough we have forests lined up. It’s getting to dusk and Mt. Kenya lodge is visible from quite a distance. Kendi hurries me up to catch up with Ken, Robert, Brian, Ivy, Wabbie, Rachel and Bonnita who are being shown hyena paws by Charles. Wabbie tells us that hairy shit is a sign of carnivorous animals around since they feed on the whole of other animals including skin.
Finally the log cabins are clearly visible after a small climb. The smell of wood smoke fills the air and we are told that is for our showers, wow! I see a bar and make a note to come back for a drink. We grab our bags and get shown our cabins. I get into the bathroom and the water coming down the taps and shower is freaking freezing cold. I get out and ask Peterson about it and he tells me it should be working. I go and open all the taps and after ten minutes hot water starts flowing out, oh the joy, the sweetness it felt glorious to have the water run down your skin, skin which hadn’t seen water for four days now, the vapour which had a hint of wood smoke felt like a sauna as it filled the bathroom. That moment was absolutely remarkable. I get out and as Abraham, Ivy, Bonnita and Brian take turns in the shower I journal abit and they wonder what it is I’m ‘furiously writing down’ to use Brian’s words. Abraham realises he had carried more than enough snacks and suggests collecting all of them and giving them to our porters, since it seems we had over planned in that. We are called for dinner, and we all troop to the dining hall. Here in the mountain there is only vodka called chrome, and two brands of beers, tusker which I’m told is very popular with the mzungus who patronise the place regularly and all sops a pretty strong beer from what I heard… There are no fridges needed the weather of the mountain keeps the temperature low enough. So back to dinner we are all seated there round the dinner table we are all together once again like that first day at Old Moses, there is also the realisation that this is the last day of #MtKenyaChallenge2017. But everyone is happy there is tea for those who feel like and the alcohol that I mentioned as well for those who were thirsty depending on your palate. Robert is breaking our backs through some technique of applying pressure, all you hear form the guys on the floor are grunts and screams. During my turn I felt a bone make some noise, I guess it went back where it was supposed to be in the first place. Food is finally served and we have chapati, goodness wasn’t I happy. Chapati is life, I will leave this here before someone comes to tell me chapati is the cause of all the weight I was trying to lose. After dinner we are told that lights out will be at 11pm but we can have lanterns and continue without merry making. Brian rushes to the Banda and comes with bottles of champagne and champagne glasses. We make a toast to all of us, with special mentions to Rachel, team machozi, Bonita, Robert, Brian and Duncan, this had been an incredibly thrilling experience. Duncan makes an emotional, (I say emotional because I read people well, but he is one person who hardly reveals true emotion easily) he tells us we are by far the most resilient team he has ever had, normally guys summit at 6am, but most of us being newbies we did 9am but kept on until the top because our spirits were determined by all means…
Miriam takes up her role as head of Karaoke and the fun began, of all the performances there was one that intrigued so much, I felt like I was seven all again. As Brian was doing his cover for Ed Sheeran’s Shape of you he pulled a magic trick with these magic lights on his thumbs man and everyone went wild, he even did a sommesault! Dang! I was sold from now on he was no longer Brian, but Brian the Magician. I would later ask him how he did it and he couldn’t Olive would tease she knew but also couldn’t tell, it’s like they took an oath of silence…
So back you the Karaoke, Habbakuk and Jeremy did a couple of covers and boy they got the voices. They would sing and the ladies would get excited.
The amount of laughter in that dining hall that night writes off all the tears and struggle during the last four days. My stomach was hurting at some point.
People start retiring one by one and I soon followed. This had been amazing, I had learned so much about myself in the last four days. I am in deep slumber hearing crickets in my head when Ivy and Judy burst into the cabin arguing, my bed is nearly overturned and I wake up confused. Ivy was in Rambo mode and was chopping up Judy and Brian with kicks and blows. When I ascertain the coast is clear, I fall back into my cricket dream mode again, I only heard stories in the morning haha. Altitude plus champagne are not your friends, best believe that…
The trick I learned quickly is to preserve warmth you sleep with minimum rotations and movements as possible, that is why when we are woken up the beds are still tucked, if you tried to venture your foot to the corner of the bed the cold on the sheets was enough to quell the racket caused by the crickets in your dreams. We dress up and go to have our breakfast. Outside Beatrice is leading Zumba we join in and dance all the way to the dining hall. People are slow today, maybe it’s because it’s the last day, or could be because we are going back to reality whichever it is I cannot tell. After breakfast, we go back to pack and get our bags. We all congregate and Abraham gives a vote of thanks to our guides, chefs and porters and present a small token of appreciation and Charles also gives a vote of thanks on behalf of his team.
We do Zumba remembering Maryanne who couldn’t make it. We start our descend to meet up with our bus, this is finally it. We have a chat with Bonita who tells me how she is arranging the stories to tell, if you missed it, Bonnita is a travel blogger and you can find her here. We get to the Mt Kenya lodge gate and have the final group photo, there is a buffalo head which I pose with, I had no idea this thing was this heavy… We then continue going down as I chat with Olive, having no network access and in the bush reveals a lot when you are looking inwards and as I tell her this she asks me a question I will never forget, “BUT DID YOU LEARN?” nobody has ever asked me that apart from Olive, it gave me a new perspective of retrospection, the learning aspect, it is not enough to look back you also need to learn. We find Habbakuk in the bush taking on his new found love, photography by making memories for all of us. We find 1985 to 1995 Landrover Defender 110s waiting for us, I got to take a picture here, no way I’d miss this moment. We have our bags packed on the rooftop racks as we bid our new friends good bye and soon we are gliding down the mountain slopes on our way to Chogoria.
We get into the bus and off we go. There is silence mostly in the bus as we hang on to the whatever memory we have of the last five days.
We pass by Juddie’s family business the legacy business and everyone gets samosas. How lovely, next time there is a trip passing through Nkubu or Mlolongo and Judy is there, I’ll be there, you don’t pass up free food opportunities, though that could be the source of my situation but heck it’s free food, we can work it out later yes?
We stopover at Mwea where we have lunch at Nice hotel and get awarded with certificates of achievement; this was an achievement I kid you not. The proprietor of Nice hotel, Charles Njiru (Mkombozi) OGW tells us how he was once in a plane from Russia and had the passenger next to him ask him where he was from. When they heard Kenya, they ask him if he has been to the Mara, because the guy was headed there. Feeling like the spotlight was on him he says he has been to the Mara to save face. He congratulates us for taking the initiative to see what the world holds when you still have the energy.
We continue our journey and Duncan starts an argument about a Landrover that was at Mt Kenya Lodge, he says it was a KX number plate, Wabbie and Loyc maintain it was a UN number plate they place wagers but no one has a picture of the car with its place to the bet fizzles out. Someone says how the clouds are making a funny shape… We soon get to Nairobi and just as we alight my phone goes off and the taxi is on its way. Jeremy lends me his powerbank and after several attempts it lights my phone. When I get tot he house I am welcomed by the good news that Florence managed to summit a day after. Peterson had taken her up the mountain from Shiptons after she was able to get better from the altitude sickness; this was clearly an amazing experience for all of us.
So what lessons did I take from this experience?
– Whenever you hear stories of grandeur and conquest, remember there are untold stories as well of blood sweat and tears which you must always pry out;
– Sometimes in your journey, all you need is to keep going even when you don’t feel like
– You will always feel like giving up the most when you are closest to reaching your goal/ target (see number)
– Sometimes fear of the unknown will hold you back from discovering new experiences
– Whenever the universe presents you with an opportunity stop with analysis paralysis take it you will figure out things on the way
– Remember when you are feeling shitty, there will always be someone else feeling shittier be always ready to offer an helping hand
– This I am sure you have heard, if you want to walk fast, walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk with others… this is very true in the journey of life, you cannot be an island, we all need someone
– You can never underestimate the power of a coach, someone who helps you pool all your energies to achieve what you want most and walks with you through that struggle with the patience of a parent to a child (Duncan, Charles, Peterson and Kendi)
– Everyone needs someone who will spur you into action in the right direction (My cousin, Cece for introducing me to extreme even though she never joined me, Nick for telling his stories the way he did to create that curious bug enough to move me into action, and all friends who we would keep tabs on each other on how fit we were keeping in readiness for the mountain). Everyone needs a friend.
Just to add to this, Abraham had the following epiphany:
And like that the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 came to an end. Until the next mountain you have not heard the last of this mountain/ experience.
Just when the sleeping bag has got warm enough it was 2 am! “Guys wake up!” Peterson came to the dorms waking us up. It felt more like a nap than sleep. We all jump up, the day of Reckoning was finally here, the day we’d all been waiting, the summit was so near yet so far. It was expected we should summit before sunrise and get a glimpse of the magical rays at dawn. You could tell people were on sleep mode autopilot because we took a whooping one hour to prepare and pack our bags. We have some black tea and biscuits to reduce the probability of throwing up so I heard. The real breakfast would await us after the summit. About 3.30 we all go outside and Duncan tells us to make a single file, with the people who were susceptible to altitude sickness and crying being put in front. I was near the back with Abraham infront and Brian and Ken behind. Our headlamps glowed in the moonlit night, this was it. Peter came out to wish us well, this gent is used to this lifestyle clearly, because were I him, I’d be seriously zipped in my bag, wait, maybe he is one of those light sleepers who the lightest noise makes them wake. I would still sleep through the racket….
We start our ascend slowly up, we can only see a few metres ahead, which I later realise is a pretty good strategy to keep people going without them thinking about the steep challenge right in front. My toes are cold so are the fingertips but as we walk, the circulation helps. After about one hour Nnena and Rachel start having altitude sickness, Duncan, Habbakuk, Peterson and Ken stay behind with them to help out, true teamwork ey? I know. So up we continue and Charles is telling me how we are about to get it easier because I was starting to lag. Kuna tambarare pale halafu utaona tu Lenana tupande. My legs are completely beat Brian would be telling Kel twende tu, let’s go. Whenever someone saw my frustrated face and they ask you okay? And I tell them my legs are beat, they would be like keep pushing and go on. We all knew what to do when you got altitude sickness, drink lots of water, puke if you feel it, let the gas out, but no one had a clue about what to do with beat legs, that seemed not to have any solution. The mountain was telling me how my weekend preparations were not shit, they weren’t enough I needed more endurance, if we were batteries it seems I would be some Chinese variety when everyone else was Duracell they seemed to last and last and laaasssst haha. I’m trying to paint a picture here, anyway I think you get it. Then it happened, the sun started peeping on the eastern slope, the first rays kissed Batian giving it this beautiful amazing golden hue, absolutely breathtaking.
The guys who were ahead started to hasten up remember the sun should have found us at the summit. So it was me and Kendi and Charles. At this point it was clear that Rachel was having a tough time, but one thing I really give Rachel is her grit. You know how we are always told to never ever give up? She is the embodiment of this. It was her second time attempting to summit Lenana and she was pushing her limits to the end. Charles took her camera and told me he would make memories for her should she not be able to summit. And he did take awesome pictures…. Nnena caught up with us but she was crying, at some point she told us, “I did not get on a plane to come here only to turn back here, summiting is not an option but a must, even if I have to crawl up that mountain I will crawl but I have to get to the top!”. To be honest the determination that kept being shown repeatedly up this mountain was far greater than any of the description in management books, this was not theory it was the real deal. Olive tells us how Bonita, (oh Bonita is a travel blogger who you can view her posts here) was telling Yvonne
‘Wewe lia tu ukimaliza tutapanda’ (just cry it out, when you finish crying we will climb). Yvonne also tells us that Bonita was telling her “I know what you are feeling hata mimi nililia na saizi Niko sawa”. This is how we finally got to have a TeamMachozi the team of free flowing tears.
When we get to what Charles was calling tambarare I sat down and my legs just said I sit. It felt so good to sit. As the other guys started going I told Charles I would not be moving an inch, Olive comes and asks me if I am okay, I tell her I’m done and I’m going to sit till my legs get better. She takes the picture below, it tells what I was really going through. It is at this point I start thinking with cuss words every second, I start thinking how it wouldn’t be so bad if I just let this slide, how there will be another opportunity. But Charles as if reading my thoughts keeps prodding me and being ever so patient.
Let nobody lie to you, the climb is not always easy. Your grit will be tested to the limits. You will reach your “why did you get into this Kel” and “fuck this, this ain’t my struggle” and “I’m not moving one more inch” moments. #MtKenyaChallenge2017 #MtKenyaEaster2017 #TeamXtrym #tembeakenya #Hiking #mtkenya #adventure #grit
I remember I still have two calls to make at the summit and I wake up and trudge on. It is about 7.15am when we get to lake Harris, just when we get there the other guys start going up. There are two ladies who are coming down from Lenana, and they are walking fast, clearly these are pros. They tell us to keep on going as it is amazing up there. The I notice there are a couple of bags and Charles puts his bag down. I ask him if we would be coming back the same way, he says yes. I ask him again and he answers in the affirmative. I put my bag down and tell him twende. He asks me what about my water and snacks. Kama wewe unaenda hivyo hata mimi naenda hivyo, Chenye ingetokea kama haijatokea hadi sasa haitatokea. Plus I realised I had carried these snacks which I was not even eating, I made a note to give them all away, since we were being fed, water and juice for me were the only key things. He looked at me and realised I was dead serious and just left me to be. With ten kilos off my back I felt very light and I started to catch up with the rest of the the team. As we went higher pockets of ice were hidden on the rocks.
At 9.15 we get to the summit, there is this cable and a board saying Lenana is the highest Via Ferrata in the world. I have no clue what a via ferrata is but I make a mental note to check it out later. We climb some steps and there we were. 4985m asl. I felt peace, like a load had been taken off my chest, this was it. I was tired yet excited, I went round the peak just taking it all in, this was the moment we all had been waiting for. I call my mum and told her I was actually up there. She thinks I’m crazy for doing some of these things she tells me to take pictures and she awaits the stories. The next person I call is my grandfather who asks “so did you go as part of work?” I tell him no the umpteenth time. So you decided to just go and climb a mountain? I tell him yes. He asks if I am at the top of Batian. No, I tell him Batian needs experts with ropes and picks and a board of other specialised equipment. He tells me it’s good that I’m doing these things when I can, because when I become old as he is, there will be many things you desire to do but your body says no.
We start taking photos at the peak, Habba has become our designated camera man for the summit portraits. Wabbie is broadcasting live, this was her second time here with Loyc, then guess what? They change into black dresses and take pictures with all that cold. Wow! Well these ones were having the time of their lives. “Do you have network?” Mimie asks, “I have Airtel”, “Hotspot me, I need to post something”. The network was 2G up there I put on my data and start searching for a stronger network, if you looked at me I looked like Rafiki when he was presenting Simba to all the animals in Lion King. When you want something it’s when it starts playing games yes? Murphy’s law? Mimie goes to a higher point on the peak and lands on some good signal. I notice Yvonne is seated tears rolling down her cheeks.
You should go and have a summit photo, this is your story now taken for posterity
No, I’m not going there, actually I want to start going down
But have you had your picture taken?
Yes, when we came someone took them with their phone
Why are you crying, how are you feeling?
I don’t know
Do you feel pain?
No, but there is a slight headache from a far. I actually cannot explain this feeling I am having
Can you describe it?
Is it an overwhelming feeling?
The world crushing you
Lungs lacking air
Brain as well
Like some force sucking the breath out of you and you are fighting to breathe back
Well if that is what it is, then I don’t know what it is.
We have a summit photo and start our descent, this is finally over, so quick like an orgasm. There was this caldera full of ice. The ice is somewhat dirty which I am meant to understand is because of global warming and changing weather patterns.
As we get to the point where we saw the first pockets of ice, you will not believe this, Bonita, whom everyone had thought had quit the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 is coming up from a far, she is coming up fast and furious. Wow! This is the determination the mountain taught us. We cheer her as much as our lungs could allow. This was grit on another level. Charles is cheering her on, this guy is a true coach, walks with you along the way.
When I get to the point I had left my bag we strip down, it is getting hot anyway. We rest for a few minutes and start our trek to Lake Michaelson. I am doing my sweeping duties with Kendi, Ivy and Abraham, at this moment and time nothing else seems to matter. Our faces though tired are glowing with contentment, we done did it! Kendi shows us where Shiptons camp was where we had left, to be honest if we had left when there was light, there would have been many who were not going to finish. It was a really smart idea to go under the cover of the darkness. We start seeing so many lakes in our way to Lake Michaelson, this is pure natural beauty, pure joy to be experiencing. The Mountain slopes make these intricate shapes that I cannot seem to be having enough of. I ask Kendi why I keep seeing piled stones in our path, she mentioned that is how the guides have marked the paths. The path had loose gravel and we kept on skidding, Ivy decides that will not be her struggle, she sits and slides all the way down, find the video on my day 3 pictures.
We are hungry and are thinking about getting to the campsite and having something to fill up. At about 5.00pm we finally see the lake, it is so serene, undisturbed by intensive human activity. The water is so clear you can see the bed of the lake with the deeper parts having a green hue as a reflection of the vegetation around.
We finally get to see tents, finally I will sleep in a tent, this was a trip of many firsts clearly. Duncan is clearly excited to see us, his face hides many things but this moment he was beaming he was truly happy we could tell, we get high fives for a a job well done. And are shown our apartments haha. We take our breakfast at 5.00pm and boy was that food delicious. My taste buds were back in action, sometimes I’d think, instead of shedding few kilos I might put on a few. It starts to drizzle and we get in our tent ⛺. We chat with Abraham until we fall asleep, then Ken comes calling. Their tent is leaking so he needed to occupy the one that had our bags. We quickly pick up the bags and brainstorm how we would all fit in with our bags and keep dry as well. After we arrange them I take another nap until we are called for supper. We had fresh trout for our proteins, and that fish was awesome. Inasmuch as we didn’t want to take off our gloves because of the cold the fish was good. Yes we are fish with forks and spoons, and threw away most heads shoot me lol.
We go around a campfire and Beatrice is coordinating Zumba sessions with our headlights as the spotlights. Guys start retiring one by one and when I get my hot water bottles I am off. Tomorrow at 6.00am I need to be up to see the magical sunshine of Lake Michaelson. I get into my sleeping bag and go into sleep as quick as I got in. The following day would be another day for the #MtKenyaChallenge.
#MtKenyaChallenge2017 Day 2: It’s about 3.00 am, the wind has become gentler but it is still whistling through the cracks, a snore here another one there, the room is also a bit warmer than a few hours ago. I jolt up because I hear people talking outside the Banda, I open one eye thinking, “could I have overslept?”, being a night owl rather than an early bird waking up is something I struggle like my friend keeps telling me “sleep is the cousin of death” then death is…. I digress. I check and see Ken is soundly asleep and tuck back in my sleeping bag and wonder what is Olive doing up this early? Even if I had a bathroom break I could not see myself leaving that bag. It’s good there were voices because in paranormal activity I saw there are sleepwalkers haha. I fall back into deep sleep as quickly as I jolted. Five minutes later, at 6.00am Olive comes round tugging our sleeping bags, clearly we had an natural alarm clock. I start my morning debate, “Kel wake up, no just sleep for two more minutes it will make your day better” Then Peterson, our lead guide walks in and shouts “alright everybody wake up!”, “Aye aye Captain!” I shout in my head and jump up. I dress in a flash the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 is on! And head out to see if I can catch the sunrise, my nostrils feel cold and wet with the hairs stiff I cannot help but keep rubbing it every minute. Tanya comes out and says, wow we should warm up! And goes to get Robert. We do burpees and on the 50th I’m done, I’m beat I go inside to have breakfast and leave them going on.
After breakfast Duncan checks our heart rates and notes them down. “Did you warm up?” he would ask, seems the altitude had some relation with increased heart rate which would mean you would need close monitoring.
We fill up our water bags and go for a proper warm up as a group. Remember what I said about day one? That same warm up is what we did. We set off to Shiptons camp. The vegetation now has changed from forests to bushes with tiny leaves. The valleys of Mt Kenya become bare for us to gawk at. What I loved the most was the fact that you needed not look up to see clouds, they were on your level…
My knees started acting up and even the knee support was not helping and was actually becoming uncomfortable. In the morning I had forgotten to apply some ointment I’d been given and since I’d been warned about using it under sunlight I had to wait till I got some form of cover. My strategy to beat this was to join Charles our guide at the back to sweep. I loved how he was easy and patient even with the slow pace than most hikers. About midday the vegetation again changes to these funny looking plants. Clearly the higher you go survival belongs to those who can utilise minimum oxygen as possible and go on, man, animal and plant alike.
During the last stop over just before lunch I am so beat I am wondering what in heaven I was thinking. And whenever you’d ask how far before the other camp? Ni pale tu, tukifika kwa tambarare na mawe utaona Shipton. Charles was not just a guide, he was a coach, he knew how to work on your will to ensure you would self motivate until you reached your goal, summitting, the patience and little white lies to get us going, this man was God sent. The area having plenty rocks on the corners I made peace with myself and stopped counting and so did everybody else. Speaking of rocks, Robert had this knack to find the hardest piece of rock and perch on it like an eagle, I would reach where he was look at the rock and just pass height is still an acquired taste for me. Miriam, Habba and Olive would be like, let me try this as well.
We find our catering team has prepared lunch in the middle of nowhere. I am famished, I jump on that pasta with relish especially since I didn’t know when we would get to tambarare. There clouds start caressing the mountain, they would come up the valleys like a blanket and cover everything. The chill would be immediate when the sun rays got swallowed. Robert advises I take opportunity of the cloud cover and apply the ointment which I do, get a few twitches here and there and then it feels way better than before. Tanya had come with this portable solar panel charger and I had given her my phone, now it is almost full and since the sun had started playing hide and seek I switched it off after all there were two calls that I needed to make at the summit after that I would be good.
We resume our trek in search of the infamous tambarare we really needed to get to Shiptons and rest…
Just a few hundred metres Yvonne starts to retch but nothing is coming out. She is crying hard tears rolling down her cheeks, her cries remind me of Muliro wanje the song. Duncan is at that moment looking for enough, something that would make her throw up quickly. Olive, Abraham, Ivy and I stand there stupefied for a minute, I don’t know what was in everybody else’s minds but I was wondering “are we all going to shed tears at some point? What if someone takes a picture of me crying? How will I be able to explain that to my children and children’s children? That it is okay, sometimes as a man you need to cry? But then wouldn’t that dilute the stories of blood, sweat and tears? Surely if this is what happens there has to be a way to not let it happen through all means possible.” Duncan urges us to go on because if the sun went down, we would bear the brunt of the mountain’s chill. Sometimes I would feel like we were the opposites of vampires, always running away from the night.
There is an animal that starts making cackling sound like a chicken in the bushes. We asks what they are and are told they are hyraxes, they look like fat big moles… (See them in my days photos). We catch two who are mating (how do they even do it in this cold? The weather on this mountain is enough to give you a permanent ED) and making a racket about it, hello hyrax, can’t you do your business in peace? Then one come to the path and just stares at us, with this weird gaze, you couldn’t really decide whether it was curiosity, awe or aggression behind the look. Robert who once got attacked by a baboon tells us that it bites, I mean the man was attacked by a full grown baboon and he had to jump on bushes like Tarzan and to escape, when he tells you it bites you believe him, he should know right? Especially if you don’t know what goes in an animal’s brain, you leave it to the experts.
After climbing the rock with mating hyraxes we finally get to see Shiptons! The happiness, goodness, it felt like seeing the finish line after running the whole day, this was it. Finally, wooop wooop. Guys now just Subaru with the new found energy to get to the camp.
As the sun ⛅ disappears on the other side of the mountain slopes we get to Shiptons. We can see Batian now very clearly. I remember how Old Moses let’s cold air in and quickly go to bed hunt, when I get to the dorms I realise Shiptons has no cracks between the wooden walls, I begin wondering if Old Moses had done that intentionally, clearly this mountain is selling experience nothing more nothing less, just forget about comfort, and with what you are able to take in through the experiences so will be the stories you will tell. I remember how out of place I would feel during prep hikes people would talk about things to do with the mountain and I would tell them “I have no idea what you are talking about, but I can imagine”. Especially Nick, he had a way of telling his experiences vividly and telling you, “oh man you should try it” and the curiosity it me would just get fuelled. Now I was on the path of building my own story and that felt super good than anything I had ever done before.
I set up my bed and clean up in a flash because the chill on Shiptons is twice that in Old Moses. I them go out to look around. The ground is swampy and I go stepping in the wet grounds to see how waterproof my shoes are, which is very silly remembering I did not have a spare pair. Then I hear it, cue Muliro Wanje iiiiii iiiiii iiiiii iiii mulirooooo waaanjeee…. I go to find out. It’s Yvonne again, she is now able to throw up and the tears are freely flowing accompanied by the wails as well, Duncan is there helping her out. Duncan really had work with our team.
Jeremy also seems to have been hit by the altitude sickness; clearly this altitude was not anybody’s friend. I look him in the eye to see if he has any glistening to signify crying, his eyes are dry just a bit withdrawn from his bubbly self, there was hope we could survive without tears… Well today everyone is chill, the energy levels are low. Florence also seems to have been hit by the altitude, now I’m wondering what if we sleep and get altitude in bed? Whenever someone opened the door to the dining area the room temperature would drop instantly.
Did I mention we found Peter here? He had reached during the day, this guy was clearly a ninja and he was carrying all his weight, this is the true mountaineering on pro mode.
Food is served and Duncan is urging everyone to feed. At this point nobody seemed to have appetite, I even was surprised by myself, here there was food and I did not feel like eating! The rice and chicken looked delicious but when you took a bite it felt bland, I cannot find something that felt so bland, it was like chewing sawdust, but we had to force it down our throats, the body would figure out how to convert the sawdust to energy as long you swallowed and urged it to stay put in your stomach. Yvonne and Jeremy are the ones struggling feeding, and Yvonne still has tears rolling down her cheeks. Brian sits between them and takes it upon himself to urge them to feed. Which they painstakingly try to finish. As our hot water for hot water bottles is being boiled Beatrice discovers the jiko warming up souls in the kitchen, as I go to check on my bottle I also join in to warm up. And it feels good. A small rat comes to smell my toes, everyone is pointing at it and I check to see this tiny rodent fearlessly playing under my seat! How did they come up this high?
I get my water bottles and go to the dorm and retire. It is pretty cold and few hours away the summit awaits. The third highest peak in Kenya and the highest Via Ferrata in the world… The #MtKenyaChallenge2017 continued…
The last preparatory hike was Ngong hills now we were ready to take on the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 and the team had already firmed up. This was going to be a laid back affair since Ngong ni hapa tu…
As usual our meeting time was 5.30 so that we leave at 6.00am. I was in town about quarter to six and meet other members who were ready for the challenge. It looks like it might rain and Nnena our newest gang member needs to get a few items for the day that will be. Some random guy passes by with his rain cover, Brian the Magician swings into action and starts chatting him up to convince him to sell his rain cover since we’d be out there in the wild and Nnena would need one talk of team cohesion… The guy is adamant and refuses, it was a nice shot though, Nnena is in luck as Duncan has pochos and she gets sorted.
Everyone is finally assembled and Yvonne is not yet here, on calling her she is still at home, at 6.00!! Now it is playing delaying tactics to see how much time can be bought but long story short she caught up :-).
We get to Ngong town about 7.30 am and wait for Rachel who was to link up with us there. After refilling a second time with breakfast we start our hike. We get some armed escort for the hike and after warming up where Jeremy pulls an unforgettable toe stand move I should get a camera with quicker shutter speed to get some of these moments…
It is all foggy and you could not see more than a few metres ahead of you. I would hear lots of noises only to be told they were windmills. On getting closer is when you got to see them but with the fog that was there you could not paint a proper picture. What I liked about the Ngong hills was that there were so many people who were there hiking and especially older mature coupes, how beautiful is that? When you are probably in your sixties you take the love of your life out there to take a walk as you try to keep fit, life does not sync more than that does it?
Ngong hills has this amazing view that cuts across Kajiado and Narok Counties when the mist clears up you want to keep going round to take it all in and register those memories. One thing you get to notice is that it is very windy. And not just any wind, strong winds that will blow sand into your face that you actually feel pain, it is like someone stinging you with toothpicks, aha, this then explains why even Kengen decided to put up the wind powered generators.
We have our lunch and get briefed about what to expect during the #MtKenyaChallenge2017. Thereafter we have a session of Zumba with Beatrice and Maryanne leading the team. People got turnt like real turnt, this team has just reached new levels of team cohesion… You can see the bush zumba video below. The #MtKenyaChallenge2017 continued….
After my first hike on Kiima Kiu in preparation for the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 I realized I was a mess. Let me take you back a bit, I don’t know if I mentioned this, but the real motivation behind hiking was, because, iwastiredoffatshaming, “you have grown so big”, “you should be having a family at this size” gosh is this you Kel?” “Naona maisha inakupeleka poa”… Something had to give and it had to be the fat. What I needed now was to do something I had never done before to shed weight like I had never shed before. It had become apparent what I used to do before was not taking me anywhere especially since I did not want to divorce some simple pleasures of my life like my daily dose of chapatti… So I join the weight watchers club with my main activity being hiking at least once a month.
On top of nearing 90 kilos here I was not able to maneuver a small hill without panting like a donkey. I had got fed up of the mandatory wardrobe changes every four months. As we were coming back to Nairobi Yvonne mentioned Karura, I had heard about it but never had it occurred to me I should try it, so this time I jumped in on the idea. It was quite some distance from where I live but they say nothing easy comes easy right? Saturday and Sunday mornings would find me there either cycling or running my ass the longest track I could find. The bicycles provided me with the flexibility to change my route and take as many detours as opposed to running, you feel like you will drop dead when you thought you had finished your circuit only to realize you are on the Limuru gate and you need to get out of Kiambu road one, that is a cool 8km.
The magic started happening and I would take to my instagram page to brag about it. I am proud to say from nearing nineties at the beginning of the year, I managed to hit the seventies in three months and still get my chapos, I know I know had I dumped gluten I would have lost even more, but for now, I will have my cake and eat it. Each weekend the circuit felt easier and easier, I would push so hard that my knees would start squirming. In my mind this was only a sign I was getting ready for #MtKenyaChallenge2017 but only time would tell. At that point and time I needed to start working on a better method of running and landing to avoid more injury…
The #MtKenyaChallenge2017 started to take shape after Nathan and Kenton Hills, people start evaluating whether climbing Mt Kenya is something they want to pursue or let go, Elephant hill was what was going to tell you if your body was ready for a thrashing. I confirm the second time, after all I promised myself to take up on all challenges and take up all opportunities that pass my way this year. It is better to look back and say you tried something and it didn’t work out than think how you were too scared to even try, comfort zone is an ass…
The Mountain Gear Checklist is provided to all of us who were interested, and boy oh boy when I went to Nairobi Sportshouse it was costing a small fortune, my friend and colleague, Chris would joke I did not need to break a bank, I needed two banks to get all the gear! I created wishlists which I would cross out whenever I got cash. The beauty of Xtrym is they informed us where to get gear at affordable rates. For the frugal like me we were given Gikomba and Toi market options. We had a Gikomba date and I hopped in on the first call, last minute purchases have left me high and dry before and I would rather have enough time to weigh my options, I know you are seeing the planner in me STOP. In Gikomba we spent half day there and got much of our gear at 1/8 of the price, it was unbelievable. I got most of my gear and whatever remained was a few items that I could get from Chris of Tembo wear or Toi. Before I forget, if you do not know what to look for, Chris is your guy, he has everything you need under one roof.
Elephant hill stands at 3600m above sea level and this was what would tell you if you were ready or not for the #MtKenyaChallenge2017. Here is where you would get to dance with altitude sickness, the stories we were told were just scary. So we needed to have atleast our shoes and rainproof gear ready for this one.
The meeting time was 5.30am so I assumed we would leave at 6.00am in the morning as always, as my boss always says assumption makes an ass of you and me haha. I assumed bad. I had stayed up until 2 am which was not an excuse so when I leave the house at that 5.30 I get a call 15 minutes later from Duncan asking me where I am, I tell him Muthaiga he says I should have been there at 5.30am, utawachwa Kel tu. I laugh a nervous laugh because I have been stranded several times but on different and unrelated occasions. Anyway I make it 5 minutes to six on the nick of time just as the bus was about to leave. I board and find my seat next to Brian the Magician (I will explain this on a later post). As we talk he realizes I got late because I cannot leave the house without breakfast, he remembers he had packed his and shares his juice, free food fam fee food we don’t say no to free food, the coffee in my stomach has not settled and I add on that juice on top…
I fall asleep on our way to elephant hill, so to this day I cannot for the life of me tell you what direction it was. We arrive at the foot of the hill at around 8am, we had been given a target to make sure we summit the hill by 2pm. I have been praying hard for no rain for inasmuch I have the gear I do not find the idea of walking around drenched in mud very enticing.
The hill looks like an elephant and we are told that it is located on the migratory path for elephants and other wild animals and they had passed through about a week before we got there. We start at the rainforest which is pretty easy to walk through, next we go to bamboo where the steep climb begins. Geography classes come alive as we go alive as we cover more distance going up. We had been told that if we could not be able to make it to the point of despair by noon we would have to come back. The thought alone of not being able to finish was painful so I huffed and puffed panting like an overloaded donkey on that hill. The Flora changes beautifully the higher you go, I am in total awe and every so often I would stop look around and take it all in. It felt like therapy.
Altitude sickness starts to hit at around 3300m asl Ivy gets affected and Dedan help out with her bags, we struggle slowly and finally we make to the summit of elephant hill, 3600m asl. It is 1.30pm and we take many pictures smiling which make Duncan mad, he feels we have cheated, the gods of favorable weather seem to be on our side and he wonders how, he wants a repeat, repeat HA! Never ever! Ask Floyd Mayweather if he would accept a repeat with Manny Pacquiao after he beat him… Not going to happen.
We have our lunch snacks and begin our descend, the toes bear the brunt of steep hill, they keep bumping the front of the shoe you just want to sit remove the shoes and throw them away. I mean there were high school girls who we meet going up barefoot!!! Others were wearing bata ngomas. How do they manage that with those?!!! I have nothing but much respect for them.
When we get to the edge of the bamboo Ivy realizes she has dropped her phone. We stop and James our guide asks if we can go and start looking for it. I am beat but if she says yes we are going. She thinks for a moment and thinks through the hustle and decides it is too much work it can stay. Miriam offers her a phone until she gets hers as long as we don’t have to go back up. That is how gruesome the climb was. Luckily we meet Tsuma who works at KWS and he assures us that we would get it, since the hill is well secured. With that assurance we continue our way down. Many a times Olive and I would wonder if we were on the right path because we never seemed to be getting back to the bus. After many many minutes maybe hours we got to the bus. Someone called Tsuma and told us that the schoolgirls we had met going up barefoot had found Ivy’s phone, what better news than that?
We begin our journey back to Nairobi, I sleep most of the way, I hope I was not farting in my sleep, we had been told burping and farting help you alleviate altitude sickness, so you should not hold it in. We get to Nairobi some minutes to Seven, it was a good day. Third preparatory hike, check, the #MtKenyaChallenge2017 continued…
After Kiima Kiu I realized my fitness levels were pathetic and Karura forest became my friend every Saturday and Sunday, this was not going to be an option if I was to complete the #mtkenyachallenge2017. I would try to hit a minimum of 8km either cycling or running. Let me tell you every week I would shed a kilo or more, I was dropping weight like it was hot… haha.
The second preparatory hike would be the Kenton and Nathan hills, these are named after the early settlers in the Kijabe area. We are picked up early in the morning, Duncan the CEO of Xtrym has become synonymous with “The bus leaves with or without you” so I do not try my owlish habits the night before hikes…
We pick up other hikers along the way and head on our way to Kenton. We get a small break at the escarpments and get to take pictures with all smiley faces ‘the calm before the storm moments’. Our trip starts just before you get to Maai mahiu and boy oh boy is that hill steep.
I am wearing leather boots because in my head I am thinking they should be able to do the job, that’s what boots are for right? Wrong! Anyway I will tell you about them later. Our initial climb is gradual, since I know how crappy my fitness level is I am at peace sweeping guys from the back. The hill after the SGR gets very steep and thorny and just as you think you are about to get to the top you encounter another steep climb! The #MtKenyaChallenge2017 is not for the faint hearted, clearly!
This time I am already well acquainted with how Xtrym hikes go, and they do call for grit and resilience and in my head I have decided before I give up I would need to have fainted and totally immobile. I have fainted once when I skipped breakfast and lunch a long time ago and since that day I hardly play around with food, especially breakfast, let me get there late but I am not missing that, do not dare judge me!
We finally manage to get to the top of Nathan hill and we start to descend to start our ascend on Kenton hill, we meet a couple who have come to paraglide. The Wind seems strong enough to sustain a flight, we joke with them how they are crazy jumping off a cliff with that contraption, they retort how we are the crazy ones walking the whole day when you can fly and have all the view in 15 minutes *laughter*. We wish each other well and head on our way.
Going down the hill that is when I start bearing the brunt of my misplaced shoes. I curse myself for being so silly but then again, since choices have consequences I decide to carry my cross without bitching and whining about it. I don’t take “I told you so” very well…
We pass by Kijabe Mission Hospital and boy wouldn’t I love to work in such a serene environment, if I could make peace with needles I would become a doctor and find how I could get posted here. There are huge quarters with big windows on the balcony and living room which I presume must belong to guys working in the hospital.
Right after Kijabe town we begin a climb that takes us to our lunch point. When I have finished gobbling my snacks I pull my socks and fold them under my soles to get more padding. I can feel blisters forming and I don’t want them to start forming because at the end of the day I know I will get them.
The view is very scenic as we proceed the hike, we meet this old guy:
Him: Habari yenu?
Us: Mzuri sana!
Him: Mnaenda wapi?
Us: Tuko hike tunatembea
Him: Kutoka wapi?
Us: Kutoka huko Nathan hio barabara ya Narok sasa tunaenda huko ile pande ingine ya highway
Him: Na si mmechoka sana, mmekula? Kujeni mpewe ngwaci mpate nguvu kidogo.
Us: Asante sana, labda ile wakati ingine kama hatuna haraka. Bakia salama
Him: Pia nyinyi muende salama na muje kutusalimia tena.
Further up we meet a group of five to eight year olds, who look excited to see us and greet every single one of us. People out of Nairobi are really friendly, you need to reset your Nairobiness when you go out there, people are more trusting and friendly, which I find very refreshing every single time I go on a hike. The last climb must have been on a 700 incline. I would take five steps then rest up, the residents would pass us and tell us how they are used to the hill by now, I think to myself how fit they must be. If I lived here and forgot something say like my wallet in the house which was down that hill, there would be no way I would go back for it, I would have to pass by Njoro’s shop and ask for a soft loan till I retrieve my wallet.
When we finish the climb my legs are screaming but then again the ego tells my mouth to shut up! The remaining part before we get to the bus is fairly level ground and I am thankful for that. We finish earlier than usual and I get home when there is still light. When I remove my shoes I swear never to wear the wrong shoe for a hike, I was a fool so that you can learn. Wear the appropriate shoes for the appropriate occasion… The #MountKenyaChallenge2017 continued…