In an effort to do something a little more active than sit in a minivan, we decided to hike Mt. Kenya. After a short stop in Nairobi to stock up on ramen noodles and tuna fish and to exchange our very cheap tent for a slightly upgraded cheap tent, we headed to Nanyuki, the closest town to the Sirimon trail head.
Together with a nice Italian chap, David, whom we had met on one of the many legs of our Masai Mara safari, we hired a guide and headed out for the first stretch of the journey. We made it to our first camp (Old Moses, 3,300 meters) just as it started to rain, and were feeling pretty positive about the hike ahead of us until we met up with several groups on their way back down from the mountain who were making comments along the lines of "hardest thing I've ever done in my life" and "I cried on the final hike to the summit". They all had porters and cooks and were staying in beds in the huts, whereas we were carrying our own packs and food and sleeping in tents, so it made us a little apprehensive about what we had gotten ourselves into. Still, the sky cleared up and the sunset over the valley was glorious, so we had faith the views would be worth all of the hard work.
The next day we trekked over the first pass to the Liki Valley (3,900 meters). The trail cut through some beautiful alpine landscapes, and although it was a bit wet, we made good time and arrived early enough to set up camp before the afternoon rains started. Unfortunately, we discovered that our slightly upgraded cheap tent was not as waterproof as the package had promised, for we soon had a several rivers flowing through it. We took refuge in the tiny hut by the river, a box no larger than 6 feet by 10 feet with missing floor boards and several furry and feathered friends calling it home. For the next 8 hours we sat in the hut and stared out at the rain, rejoicing when it eventually turned to hail with the hope that our tent might fair better against solid precipitation. It finally cleared up around sunset, which gave us a little time to take in the beauty of the glacial valley. It was a very special place, made even more memorable by the fact that we were the only hikers at the camp - in perfect seclusion from the rest of the world.
We spent the night huddled together inside the little hut, desperately praying for the below freezing night to pass quickly. The next morning we got off to a bit of a slow start, as it took time to thaw out our frozen bodies, as well as our hiking boots, which had turned into icy rocks. In the cloudless early morning hours, we got our first views of snow-covered Pt. Lenana, our final destination and the third highest peak on Mt. Kenya. It looked down upon us ominously and we climbed excitedly to the top of the next pass to get a better view.
The landscape we passed that morning was magical - an icy wonderland of still waterfalls and crystalized rocks gave way to a scene straight our of a Dr. Seuss book, full of cartoon-like plants and furry trees. The altitude was wearing on us and the last push up to Shipton's Camp (4,200 meters) was tough, but on arrival we were rewarded with clear skies and amazing views of the highest peaks. We treated ourselves to a warm bed in the hut and our guide, Charles, scavenged a hot meal for us from the other groups, so we were able to rest well that night for the summit and long return back down to Old Moses the following day.
Awakening before 5 am, we started our ascent to Pt. Lenana (4,900 meters) in the dark. The trail was steep and relentless and it took all of our the remaining energy to push to the top. The 360 degree views from Pt. Lenana were truly inspirational - certainly ranking high on our list of the most beautiful sights we've ever seen. We could see Mt. Kilimanjaro to the south and the last remnants of an ancient glacier spilling down the mountainside. Glossy, blue-green lakes and deep, dark gorges infiltrated the expanses below us. It seemed that we were millions of miles away from civilization- exploring an undiscovered land or visiting a far away planet. That was, until the phone rang. Our guide got a from his cell phone right at the summit! Oh, technology... I love you, I hate you.
The trip back down the mountain was less enjoyable than the journey up - we covered almost 30 km the day we summited and it was cold and raining for much of it. On our 5th day we finished up the final 9 km and headed back to Nanyuki for a much needed hot shower and some deep, deep sleep.