A Week in Kenya

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March 3rd 2012
Published: March 3rd 2012
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We only allocated one week of our itinerary toKenya, and the Kenyans seemed a bit insulted by this. We were told that most visitors toKenyawould divide their time betweenNairobi,Mount KenyaNational Park, the Maasai Mara National Reserve, andMombasaon the coast. Our itinerary merely had us spending one night inNairobi(at the beautifulFairviewhotel, called an “oasis in the middle ofNairobi” for a reason) before being picked up for a 5-day trek upMount Kenya. Our reasoning was that we had already seen landscape and wildlife very similar to what could be found in Maasai Mara in the Serengeti, and that coastalKenyawas supposed to be very similar toZanzibar, where we had spent a week. This being said, I would love to go back and spend some more time inNairobi. We had been warned that this was one of the most dangerous cities inAfrica, but we were pleasantly surprised. We arrived mid-morning after an overnight bus ride from Kampala (again with Kampala Coach) and quickly did a load of laundry at the hotel before taking another taxi to a nearby mall to pick up some essentials for our trek (fleece mittens, toilet paper and snacks). The streets that we navigated were wide streets with big trees and
Laundry day at Fairview Hotel in NairobiLaundry day at Fairview Hotel in NairobiLaundry day at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi

It used to be a nice hotel room....
green medians, and there were city employees watering the plants and tending the lawns. Our taxi driver expounded on the virtues of the city and the shopping at the mall was as high-end as we’d seen inSouth Africa. As with any city, it depends on where you go and if you are careful to follow general travel guidelines, you should be fine.

The next morning (after a decadent buffet breakfast at theFairview) we were picked up by our driver and started the four-hour drive to Chogoria, where we would spend the night before starting our trek. Chogoria is slightly at altitude (2000m), so the afternoon spent there is meant to start the acclimatization process. I was very worried about altitude on this trek as I had had some problems with altitude sickness on the Inca Trail inPeru. I ended up having only minor symptoms, however, because the acclimatization process was very gradual and we didn’t hike for more than 4 hours during the ascent. The mantra of the trek was “Pole Pole” which means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili, and I definitely followed this advice!

The first day of the trek started with an hour-long drive in a Land Rover up a rutted dirt track. We had become accustomed to these drives during our time inAfricaand we didn’t mind the jarring “African massage”, although I was anxious to start hiking! Our group consisted of a guide, two porters, a cook and ourselves. Having porters was a luxury and I only had to carry my little day pack with water and snacks. Chuck insisted on carrying his big pack the whole way, much to our guide’s chagrin. I don’t know if the guide felt that they weren’t earning their fee if they didn’t carry our stuff, or if he was truly worried that Chuck would burn out and not make it to the top, but we had a little argument every morning about Chuck’s insistence.

Eventually we were dropped off at a point where the road became even more rough. The trail that day was all along the dirt road. This was a bit disappointing because we’d been expecting back-country, but it meant for Chuck’s unanticipated treat of having beer with dinner! The accommodations that night were at theMountMerubandas at 2900m and my unanticipated treat was a hot shower! We also had beds and a fireplace in our little cabin (bandas) and we were the only hikers there! This fact alone made us extremely happy with our decision to do a Mount Kenya trek instead ofMount Kilimanjaro. Our other reasons were that Mt Kenya is not as high (4985m to Kili’s 5895m) and is supposed to be more beautiful. We were to discover that this was the case as well!

The second day was only a 9km hike to Roadhead camp, at 3300m. I was still feeling fine so after a huge lunch and a nap, we spent an hour hiking to a remote waterfall nearby. By this time we were into a new “vegetation band”, having climbed above the bamboo forest. There was lots of heather and wildflowers, which were just starting to recover from a forest fire that had spread all the way around the base of the mountain about 3 years before. Our guide said that it had likely been set by poachers trying to flush out the zebra, Cape Buffalo and antelopes that live in the Park. In fact, he told us later that day that we would have to change our descent route due to another forest fire that was burning on our planned route. We could see the smoke from this fire as a haze over the mountain in the distance.

The third day took us through stunning landscapes that I appreciate even more in looking at the photos. At the time, I was focussing on putting one foot in front of the other, Pole Pole! We arrived early afternoon at Mintos Hut at 4200m and by this time I had a bit of a headache and was moving quite slowly. We lounged around reading and journaling. Chuck had climbedMountAconcaguainChilein February of 2011 and that had been about a two-week ascent. He said that this is what mountaineering is! Hiking a bit, then lying around to let your body acclimatize. The rocky peaks that surrounded our campsite were beautiful, but I wasn’t sure that I really had to climb to the top of them to enjoy them! This altitude seemed like it was high enough for me, and I was a bit apprehensive about pushing my way to the summit at 4985m.

That night was extremely cold. We went to bed at around 8pm and were to be woken up at 2am for a light breakfast of popcorn and tea, before hiking about 3 hours to summit at sunrise. I didn’t get much sleep as I couldn’t get warm in my sleeping bag rated at 0 degrees Celsius. I thought longingly of my -10 bag in the closet at home! When we got up in the middle of the night, there was frost crackling on the tent and we could see our breath in the air. We set out under the canopy of bright stars and Chuck was in his element. I felt like the Little Engine that Could, just putting one foot in front of the other into the pool of light cast by my headlamp, saying to myself “I think I can, I think I can…”.

When we got close to the summit we began to see the glow of other hikers’ headlamps coming up other ascent routes. I believe we were the second group to reach the summit that morning, although it’s all a bit hazy. We didn’t spend long up there as the wind was freezing and I was short of breath and had a pounding headache. The sight of the sun coming over the horizon and extending to the edges with no other land mass in sight was definitely otherworldly, but I’m still not sure if I need to see it again on some other summit….time will tell I guess. We watched the sun gradually illuminate the true summit ofMount Kenya, called Batian, at 5199m. This summit is only accessible by technical climbers and the ice and snow blowing off the craggy cliffs definitely did not look hospitable! The summit that we had reached was called Point Lenana and it is the only one accessible by foot.

The descent down the gravely scree slopes was actually the most difficult part of the trek. We had to take a shortcut to reach our alternate descent route due to the forest fire, and it basically involved putting one foot at a time into the steep gravel and then sliding until you came to a stop. It was extremely tiring and at this point it had been about 5 hours since our measly popcorn and tea! We finally arrived at Shipton’s Camp (I think that’s what it was called) for breakfast at about 9:30am and were rewarded for our summit success with a huge spread of porridge, eggs, corn pancakes, fruit, hot chocolate and tea.

The rest of our fourth day was quite beautiful as well, although very different from the previous day. We hiked along a long valley through forests of strange alpine plants like Giant Groundsel and Lobelia. We saw a whole bunch of rock hyraxes, whose only predators in this area were hyenas. When we looked back at the peak we’d been standing on at sunrise it was slightly unbelievable. It had also snowed on the peak since we’d been up there and we could see huge drifts blowing off the summit into the clouds. This was a long day and I was definitely stiff and sore by the time we arrived at Old Moses Camp. It was still very cold after the sun went down, even in our bandas, and Chuck was gentlemanly enough to lend me his sleeping bag for the night. I had my first good night’s sleep since we’d left the Chogoria Transit hotel and I was sure looking forward to a hot shower the next day!

The last day was only a couple of hours on a dirt road to the park gate and we were finished our trek! We were picked up in a minibus and driven to Nanyuki, where we had a delicious curry lunch in a local hotel before saying goodbye to our guide, cook and porters and being picked up by our driver to take us back toNairobi. I was tired and sore and we had only allowed ourselves a few hours at the Kenya Comfort Hotel in Nairobi before flying to Lalibela, Ethiopia at 3:30am the next morning! This was the most ill-planned transfer in our itinerary and I was not sure that my legs would be up to starting another trek inEthiopiain just two days. Especially since we were to discover that our Ethiopian trekking company’s motto was the exact opposite of “Pole Pole”….stay tuned!

Additional photos below
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Look at all of the fresh food!Look at all of the fresh food!
Look at all of the fresh food!

One of the many benefits of having porters!

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