OUR PLAN & BETA ON THE CLIMB
It is worth noting that it was very difficult to get any straight answer about route conditions or much else about climbing Mt. Kenya. The one thing I had figured out was that if you want to climb it between December and March, the route on the Nelion is in condition, and if you climb it between June and October, the Batian is in condition. Both can reach each other via the Gates of the Mist, assuming all the rest goes well.
We felt good that we had enough to pull it all together, and the sense of uncertainty added to the experience. For example, in communicating with the Kenya Mountaineering Club, the only beta we got about the climb was, “Expect Ice.” Considering that Kenya had been in a monsoon and received the most rain in the last ten years and we were climbing the route in the earliest possible suggested time-frame (the route starts opening up around Christmas), we thought we were in for a real doozie. So much that I started stressing because I only brought one GM ice axe and thought I might need my Cobras to get after it in all the snow and ice.
There are many ways to approach the climb to Mount Kenya. Our initial plan was to take the most direct route into base camp and to plan for some acclimatization days along the way. After some discussion, we analyzed the possible routes and decided on the most scenic route which would also serve our acclimatization needs.
The intended ROUTE to climb Mount Kenya was as such.
Day 1: 10 K Park Entrance to Camp One (Old Moses) at 10,000 feet
Day 2: 14 K to Camp 2 (Shipton’s Camp) at 14,000 feet
Day 3: Acclimatization hike to 14,700 feet and back to the same Shipton’s Camp
Day 4: Up to the summit of Lenana (the trekkers summit) at 16,355 feet and descend to 15,000 to the Austrian Hut Camp.
Day 5: Cross the Lewis Glacier, climb to the Summit of Nelion on Mount Kenya at 17,057 feet – Bivy overnight. Potential climb across the Gates of the Mist to the other summit of the Batian on Mount Kenya and back.
Day 6: Descend to the Austrian Hut and trek to MacKinders Camp.
Day 7: Out of the park by 1:00 and back to Naro Moru by dark.
Day 8: Nairobi
As the plan began to take formation, we realized that if all went well with weather and acclimatization, we would be spending Christmas Eve on the Summit and waking up on top of the world on Christmas morning. It would be a special day for me, and even though Josh is an atheist, it would be special for him too!
Food shopping. Check. Gear packed. Check. Final Blog Post with intended route. CHECK. Locked and loaded. Show time – go time. Just before we headed out, Michael reminded us of one minor detail. Park Fees. In Kenya the park fees are charged per day, and at Mount Kenya, the fee is $55 a day. We had forgotten to calculate that minor detail of $300 for each of us. Stop at the bank for USD so we wouldn’t get hammered by the exchange rate at the park entrance: Check.
MONKEY IN A CAGE AT THE GATE
Finally we were on our way. At the entrance to the gate an interesting thing occurred. There is a garbage pit near the entry and Jeffrey told us to come take a look at what had happened. A huge mountain monkey had been trapped in the pit under the boards and was fighting to get out, banging his head on the boards and bleeding. A few locals stood around thinking the right thing to do would be to take off the boards and let him out. The only problem with that is that when the monkey, which is typically non-aggressive, comes out of the pit, he may be confused and think that the person freeing him was actually his captor. You can imagine what the monkey might do to someone he thinks has enslaved him. We arrived on the scene just in time so see one of the locals lift the board and the monkey explode out of the pit. He charged frantically and swerved just past the innocent bystander and off into the jungle. Holy crap. Thank God that thing didn’t target one of us. There would have been virtually no way to protect against the fury, speed and strength of a confused and angry big-ass monkey.
Sweet. Let’s start the hike!
Without belaboring the story of hiking in Mount Kenya, I’ll let the photos do the talking and just say that the terrain is beautiful. Open fields to valleys filled with wild cactus and surrounding mountains. The hiking was perfectly moderate and enjoyable and the gradual approach helped with the acclimatization in preparation for the climb.
Shipton’s camp is one of the coolest base camps I have been in and is directly below the start for the North Face of the Batian, which is the next technical route on the list!
The climb up to Lenana was quite enjoyable, except all the litter along the way. We had some fun with an alternative scramble to the summit. This was also the point where Josh and I got into our first argument because I wandered off without telling him to solo scramble up some ridiculous exposed face of the mountain to the summit. Sorry again Josh!
It is worth noting that Lenana really does make for a great objective and nice summit for those who are trekkers not into technical climbing. There’s a nice summit flag and everything.
FINAL BASECAMP – SURREAL FEELINGS and AMS
We arrived at the Austrian Hut feeling great initially. The entire mountain was in the clouds and completely covered in mist, so we could not look at the route. We had a nice hot lunch and almost within minutes of finishing lunch, both Josh and I started to act a little weird. I wanted to go set the tent and lie down immediately. He wanted to stay put and drink tea and not move. We both were edgy for the first time on the trip.
Twenty minutes later we were laying down to rest and I had a surreal feeling. I had trouble catching a full breath and definitely felt nauseous. I told myself it was normal and that a little rest would be all I needed. Josh laid in the tent feeling relatively incapacitated. We rested for a few hours hoping it would all just go away and we would feel normal again. Although I didn’t sleep the rest was much needed.
The clouds lifted and around 6 pm and I got the first glimpse of the wall we were to attempt the next morning. After a few gulps of WTF I slowly I began to piece together what I expected to be the route. We could tell the general flow and the bottom half looked relatively clean of snow and ice. Sweet!
However, we both felt like total crap and it only got worse.
THE NIGHT BEFORE OUR ATTEMPT and PROJECTILE VOMITING
Josh kept feeling progressively worst and as I sat down to dinner Josh went the other way out the door for some good old fashioned projectile vomiting. Yep, Altitude Mountain Sickness was rearing its ugly head and threatening the entire expedition. We had decided to not take diamox for the altitude and go au natural because we had taken enough time to acclimatize, at least we thought.
Well all sorts of thoughts started running through my head. First it was disbelief, but it was hard to deny that darn vomiting thing. Then it was empathy for Josh and acceptance of the situation. Then we just took the, “lets just plan like you are going to be better in the morning” approach and packed our bags.
I pulled the classic “cut the route description out of the book maneuver (Gary I can see you rolling your eyes!). Jeffrey our guide commented on the tactic. “So I guess you will be buying your friend a new book.” “Well, yeah if I can’t tape it back in.” Yeah Gary!
We headed to the tent and crossed our fingers. Remarkably, it worked. When Jeffrey shook the tent at 4:40, Josh sounded like a regular human being, I was giggling, and it was go time.