The Mountain Expedition
“This is going to be awesome!” I thought grabbing my jacket and heading to the door. “Come on guys, we are going to be late!” my dad shouted. “Will be down in a minute dad”, my younger brother Ali said. It was finally Saturday 28th June last year.
My dad and my younger brother had planned for this day for months. It was the day we were going to hike up Mt.Kenya for the first time. I had been bragging to my friends online about it since we arrived in Kenya for our annual vacation. We had everything needed for the hike up the tough mountain. We were on a 3 weeks holiday in Kenya and this was part of our itinerary.
It was said to be the God Mountain by the locals because it’s the only Mountain on the equator to have snow on its peaks. “Okay guys, this is going to be a tough one but we will take it slow.” Our guide, James said as we entered the forest. I always wondered what it would be like to experience a real jungle and here with us was on. Trees, as high as 20 meters, stood on each side of the track. Birds flew happily around this magnificent forest. There was elephant dung all over the track. At some point, I wished they would appear from the bamboo thickets for us to see. But I was also afraid of meeting untamed elephants, unlike the tamed ones in the zoo back home.
“Hey Abdy, look down at that scene” my dad said. “Wow!” I exclaimed. The plains below looked very beautiful. The track behind us meandered its way downhill and we could see the base town far behind it. I thought the people down there didn’t know what they were missing.
“Grab your rain jackets everyone. The storm is approaching”. James advised. He did not seem to be afraid of the downpour that fall on us. I cursed and almost wished I hadn’t taken the hike. The rain was so cold, almost ice cold. “Maybe the locals are doing great down there than we are” I thought.
After about an hour of ice-cold rain and mud, we reached the first camp, Met Station. It is short for Meteorological Station for the mountain and the surrounding areas. We were so cold I could only think of lighting a fire. “Too bad Hajji, Fires are not allowed in the park.” James pointed out. “You’ve got to be kidding!!” I said. We had no option other than light our stoves, prepare dinner and slip into our sleeping bags in our tents. We were all so tired from the trek we slept almost immediately.
“About 6 hours” said James, answering my dad about how long it was going to take us to the next camp. It was the second day and the sun was up and shining. I thought this was going to be better than the previous day, at least it seemed. The vegetation was changing as we continued to hike uphill. We had cleared off the forest and bamboo zone and now there was elephant tussock and lobelia everywhere. Well it’s not by my knowledge I knew that, I asked James of course. We could now see the ice-capped peaks from about 3750 meters above sea level, according to the altimeter we had. They looked awesome and tough at the same time. “So how come it’s the God mountain?” I asked James. He explained that the locals believed that the white snow on the peaks looked like the white feathers of an ostrich. You are probably thinking what an ostrich has to do with God. The locals call God Mwenenyaga. That translates to the Owner of The Ostrich. Now you know.
We ate our cold sandwiches at a point called Picnic Rock. It was a transition between the not-so short hard climb we had done and long but easy trek ahead. From this point, I was able to have a clear view of the base towns on the south-west, west and north-west of the mountain. “That’s the Mackinder’s Camp over there.” Our good guide told us. “We made it!!” my younger brother could not hide his joy. He was only 9 years old and I have got to say he was really doing great on this hike. The guide said the youngest kid to ever hike the mountain was 6 years old but he only reached Old Moses’ camp, 3010m above sea level, just like Met Station. In fact, Ali was the first kid at his age to reach an altitude of 4300m on the mountain. That’s quite an achievement, I thought.
It was a long 13 miles worth of acute altitude climb and although James advised for an early bedtime, we stayed awake for a little longer to chat with other tourists that had arrived earlier. There was this 78-year old American who really inspired me with his courage and determination to overcome his age and hike up Mt.Kenya. “I wish I make it to 70, leave alone climb a mountain at the age” I though.
“Only a few minutes guys and you will be at the top of Point Lenana” James told us. It was 6 am on the third day, the summit day. We had covered over 700 meters worth of altitude change for the last 3 hours. It is always good to climb slowly so that you get acclimatized with the altitude as James had put it. The sky was turning orange with the sunrise. I was sweating because of the tones of warm clothes I had on, but also knew I would freeze if I didn’t have as much. A few minutes later, we were taking photos on the third highest point on Mt.Kenya.
“Yeah! We made it!” I shouted, with the echo following shortly. The sun raised on the eastern horizon a couple of minutes later. That was the most beautiful scene I had scene on that trip. As a matter of fact I don’t think there is any other scene more beautiful than that I had ever laid my eyes on. The forest cover could be seen all round the mountain. There was a faint view of cars far down in the roads below. All the towns around the mountain could be seen laying lazily in the horizon. The Aberdares in the west seemed like a hill from up this gigantic mountain. More tourists followed and after a couple of minutes, the place was flooded with people, all taking photographs.
On the western side of the peak lay the highest points, Batian and Nelion. These needed technical rock and ice climbing skills to be tackled. Between them lay the Darwin’s Glacier with smoothly stretched downhill to the base of the giant peaks. ”That’s for another day” I said to myself.
The journey downhill was by far much easier than the uphill climb. It took us about 6 hours to reach Met Station and after a lunch bite we proceeded downhill for another two and half hours to the park’s entrance. We were so tired but happy at the same time. The car ride to the hotel was all we needed. Our clothes were covered with mud and for the first time I thought dirt is good, for the experience up there was one to last for a lifetime, unless I hit my head and suffer from amnesia that is. We thanked James for his guidance and support all through the 3 days of hiking. He was full of knowledge and information about the mountain and life in general. “He could be a cool teacher, just like mine back home” I thought. Teacher or not, it would have been hell if he wasn’t around especially the third summit day.
Well as we relaxed in the hotel swimming pool the next day, I had time to view the whole trip up the mountain. Achievement comes with a price, pain and determination. It was through those two that I made it up there. It was trough the same that my younger brother carries a record of the youngest Mt. Kenya hiker to make it to 4970 meters above sea level. That’s quite something.