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She dared to climb Mt Kenya

Most peaks on this second highest mountain in Africa have been conquered for centuries by adventurous forefathers of Central Kenya residents and later by European explorers and mountain climbers, so I learnt as I began a perilous climb to Austrian Hut, recalls Wairimu Nyingi

Mount Kenya, estimated to have once peaked at almost 6,706 metres, now stands at 5,199m (17,057 feet) above sea level. It’s nearby nearest neighbour and competitor, Kilimanjaro, is located 325km to the South East but gets all the attention in Africa, at 19,341 feet (5,895m) .

“It’s only a couple of thousand feet higher,” shares one of the guides as we plan to hike up Mt Kenya (local name, Kirinyaga). He’s quick to point out that Kili, as it is popularly known, doesn’t offer nearly the climbing challenge and alpine character of Mt Kenya.   “It’s just a big hill,” he adds.

From where I was seated, Mt Kenya seemed an impressive and very, very big hill. At that point, I didn’t even have the strength to trek to Ngara from the Nairobi CBD. I thought of crawling into a crevice and waiting for an air rescue, but Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

When all you have to show for mountaineering experience is Mount Satima at 4,001m (Aberdare Ranges), Mount Longonot at 2,776m and Ngong Hills at 2,460m (8,071 ft) above sea level, then the stunningly severe Mount Kenya, with its sharp, jagged peaks jutting into the sky, is quite a challenging  expedition.

And while our climb would only take us to Point Lenana (hopefully) at 16,355 feet, the third highest peak on the mountain, it was still no easy fête.

The two tallest peaks on the mountain – Nelion (17,021 ft) and Batian (17,057 ft) require the use of ropes and high alpine climbing experience. No, sir!

There are three principal summit routes, namely Sirimon, Chogoria and Naro Moru. These can either stand alone, or together as variations with other routes. The easiest route and most direct to Point Lenana is the Naro Moru route.

Given the short number of days (only three) we had, it was our only option. The route ascends the mountain from the west and it is one of the steepest. It also features the famous ‘vertical bog’ as well as an extremely steep trail on loose gravel.

DAY 1

After pick-up in Nairobi, we drove 175km to Naro Moru River Lodge, where our team of eight got their climbing gear ready. Drop-off was at Mount Kenya National Park.

From the gate, we trekked up through magnificent montane forest, bamboo and giant heather zone before reaching the high altitude moorland and our first camp, the Meteorological (Met) Station for dinner and overnight  rest.

The trek took about three to four hours. And while it was difficult, it was quite captivating. We came across birds of rare species, water bucks, Columbus monkeys, baboons, springs and a bamboo forest. Met station is at 10,000 feet (3,048m) high!

DAY 2

Day two saw our group and the porters head to Picnic Rocks (approximately 12,000 feet above sea level) — very cold, tough moorland terrain (with mud, many streams, bushy thicket, flowers and rocks). The view of the mountain peak is beautiful from the Picnic Rocks site where we had a light lunch.

Unfortunately, one of the team members suffered altitude sickness and as a result, emerging onto the alpine heath and following the Teleki Valley to MacKinder’s Camp (4,200 metres) — the 1,200m ascent took over 12 hours. We finally made it to camp at around 9.30pm to the disappointment of the resident leopard, who was on a night duty prowl. 

Day 3

Call time was at midnight, and after a light breakfast, we began the predawn summit attempt.We trekked for about  three to four hours, breathing hard,  across bare rock and scree slopes characteristic of the alpine region before reaching Austrian Hut/Top Hut (4,790 metres (15,715ft ).  Austrian Hut is the highest hut on Mount Kenya, with the exception of Howell Hut on Nelion peak.

It is a good base to mount an attack on Lenana peak, or for exploring the surrounding area. Other peaks that can be ascended with Austrian Hut as a base camp include Point Thompson, Point Melhuish and Point John. It is also the starting point for the Normal Route up Nelion, as well as other routes up to the summits. This hut is located just to the East of point Lenana.

Already, I felt unwell. So while the rest of the team proceeded to Point Lenana to catch the sunrise at 6:30am, a guide and I had begun our descent to Mackinder’s Camp after I was unable to proceed with the hike due to exhaustion and fever. 

While I certainly haven’t seen every mountain in the world, I have seen quite a few. Mt Kenya is hands down the most spectacular I’ve ever come across. Why not try it for yourself during the next dry season?

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