20 January 2011
Newbie mountaineer mistake: you do not conquer the mountain; the mountain conquers you. A hard lesson learned, 100 kilometers and 5000 meters later, having battled equatorial sunburn, AMS (acute mountain sickness), blisters, swollen fingers, chapped lips, aching quads, greasy hair, and damn, this Tusker lager and bar of Spruengli Grand Cru Criollo de Maracaibo I picked up from Zurich airport by the fireplace in my 1BR hut (Bandas) near the base of Chogoria gate (~2900 meters) tastes good.
Day 1 (16 January 2011)
Nairobi – Nanyuki – Old Moses Camp
Lunch of pepper steak and chips followed by greetings by trekking guide, Daniel, and technical guide, Kim. Team photograph (2 guides, 2 porters, 1 cook) in front of 4×4 before setting off in it to Sirimon Gate @ 2650 meters above sea level. Rearranged packs at Sirimon Gate, swapping out the 80 litre Lowe Alpine pack for the 35 litre Berghaus daypack that Tom gifted me some years ago (old lover, old backpack) to one of the porters. Handed one of my Black Diamond Women’s trail lite compact hiking poles to Daniel and started the trek to Old Moses, where we spent our first night on the mountain.
The Sirimon route leads up from the Mt. Kenya ring road some 14 kilometers east of Nanyuki. The route climbs over the northern moorlands. It’s renowned for wildlife with dry, green scenery and the most frequently trekked route up to Lenana. En route to Moses, I met a group of Bible study Norwegian youths, spreading the word of Christian God throughout Kenya, and a Kenyan-Danish couple. Admittedly, I totally had a crush on one of the Norwegian Christian kids (ok, fine, two – Rune and Gisle, who, incidentally, is from Iceland but speaks Norwegian). First night’s dinner consisted of fried fish, potatoes, and veg. Didn’t have much of an appetite after my big breakfast of muesli, eggs, yogurt, fruit and the peppersteak lunch but nibbled a bit. Finished up night with warm water wash and exfoliating cloths – luxury at its best.
Old Moses Camp (3300m) – Shipton’s Camp (4200m)
Early AM start through Ontulili River up Mackinders Valley via Liki North Ridge. Big breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, porridge, passion fruit, pineapple – far too much to digest at 630 Kenyan time! Trekking proved to be harder than I thought – already at this point below 4000 meters sea level, and I had to slow down my pace or my heart would not have forgiven me. The itinerary called for 7 hours but my pace got me there in about 9. Stupid endurance. Began to get annoyed with guide at this point, with his frequent mobile phone chats and somewhat disregard for my pace and frustration. When it was finally time to lunch circa 14:00 at the ‘lunch point,’ it couldn’t have f*cking come sooner; I was starving and exhausted and the ‘picnic lunch’ was well deserved. And certainly munching on my ham cheese and butter sandwiches and Ribena in a surreal Joshua Tree-like setting below towering peaks and glaciers, furry rock hyrax (think non-spiky hedgehogs) and sunbirds was appreciated. At 4,000 meters, one really begins to notice vegetation that exist only here and at a few other lofty points in East Africa as a result of the combination of altitude and a position astride the equator, for example, the ‘water-holding cabbage,’ ‘ostrich plume plant,’ (whose skeletal remains would make for fantastic silver grey goth bijoux) or ‘giant groundsel,’ seemingly designed by some 1950s science fiction writer when first encountered – surreal indeed.
Shipton’s camp: infested with bunk beds and rats – how is it possible that these f*ckers survive at 4200 meters when I nearly ripped off my head due to high altitude-inducing pounding hangover times hundred thousand headeache? Napped for about twenty minutes upon arrival, only to be thwarted by obnoxious, burping, snoring, farting Czech tourists. Learned how to play kickass Icelandic card game. Sympathized with Norwegians and Danish and Kenyan couple for their upcoming 3am assault on Lenana (4985 meters). I would get my taste only a few hours later…