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Kenya’s Greatest Peak

My husband’s contract in Kenya was finishing and he was trying to persuade me we should hike up to “the tourist peak” of Mount Kenya which straddles the Equator. 

The ‘Road’ up

This peak, called Point Lenana at 4,985 metres (16,300 feet)  is the most accessible of the three. The other two, Batian and Nelion can only be reached as an experienced mountaineer. I had heard stories of younger, fitter people failing to reach the top, because of the altitude and wondered if we were tough enough for that kind of challenge. After a bit of convincing I decided living at 1,700 metres in Nairobi was probably an advantage so we went for it. 

Through the Nature Kenya Society I found a small company that organises tours up the mountain.  We were recommended the Chogoria route, as it is the fastest and most spectacular way up. I arranged our trip with Summit Venture Tours and Safaris, and they supplied us with a guide, a cook and two porters, and reassured me we would be well looked after and fed three good meals a day.

On the climb

The day of our trip greeted us with blue skies as we drove up to Chogoria village and met our Guide John, Cook Joseph and two porters. They were all lean looking and not an ounce of fat on any of them! They packed our vast amount of luggage into all their packs and we then waited for our wheels to turn up. Our wheels turned out to be the most ancient looking landrover I had ever seen, but it performed amazingly well and our driver spun us up the thickly mudded tracks better than Colin Mcrae ever could! 

We knew conditions were worsening when he resorted to attaching chains to the wheels. On our way up we slid past a new Rangerover abandoned in the middle of the mud. The locals lovingly refer to these dirt roads as a “Kenyan Massage” and we felt decidedly pummeled afterwards. The vegetation of the rain forest, supposedly home to Cape Buffalo, Elephant and Lion, began to change as we ascended.  As we emerged into bamboo, we got out of the vehicle to hasten our route through the mud.  We peered through the dense high sticks but alas no wildlife appeared!  When we finally got to the park gate a welcome beer awaited us at the Meru Mount Kenya Bandas at 2,950 metres.

Our first night was spent in our small tent next to the Bandas. I found it difficult to sleep as I kept imagining us being trampled by an elephant with poor night vision, but thankfully they were a shy lot.  Joseph’s cooking marvelled us the following morning when he rustled up a full English breakfast and pancakes.  We then began our first days hike with just a day pack and left the guys to pack up our camp and follow us later.

We passed Rosewood trees covered in wispy old mans beard that flapped in the breeze and after a small bog the vegetation became sparser. A beautiful Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbird flew close to us, its feathers shimmering in the sunlight as it fed on a Protea flower.   As we reached our second camp at Lake Ellis at 3,450 metres, flocks of Chiff chats came close and nibbled at our peanut butter sandwiches.  It was sunny, warm and so peaceful with not another soul in sight. Later in the afternoon we went for a short stroll up to a higher ridge to acclimatise to the altitude. Here we spotted a springbok and found leopard tracks in the mud. 

The Peak

The night was extremely cold, and we wore everything we had.  I cocooned my face in my balaclava.  In the morning frost shimmered on the grass and a layer of ice encased our tent.  With one of Joseph’s hearty breakfasts inside us we trekked off to our final camp at Mintos Hut at 4,190 metres.  We walked through gorges where the scenery resembled the moon and passed masses of hairy giant lobelia and giant groundsel.  Looking down on these weird plants it looked like a desert of cacti – it was a fantastic sight!  We then started to see more people heading for our camp, converging from different sides of the mountain. The Mintos Hut is a shabby affair and only for the porters and families of mice.  However the porters are happy to sleep there for the night because of their fear of wild animals. The only other animals we saw were Hyraxs scampering around the rocks. Our tent was pitched beside Hall Tarn and we settled down for a rest as the equatorial sun set. 

We arose at 3am and John collected us for the final ascent on Point Lenana.     The pitch black sky was sparkling with thousands of stars as we headed off into the darkness. John shone the way and a porter followed behind us.  We found a bit of bog which I fell in, then the ground became quite rocky – it was a strange feeling stumbling in the dark over rough ground.  We then started ascending again, up a steep scree slope. John could see I was getting slower so he began hauling me up by the hand. We felt exhausted with each step and we still had a long way to go.

When the purple haze of the dawn sun framed the mountains we could finally see the outline of the top.  We reached the snow line and our spirits lifted. Once through the deep snow we staggered our way up huge rocks and then finally emerged at the top by 7am.  A little crowd of equally mad people had already made it and more followed behind us. The view was fantastic, and it felt unreal that we had actually managed it.

We practically scampered down as the air thickened up. Our porters bounded down the tracks in front of us like fell runners!  We reached our original camp 8 hours after standing on the top of the world!  We ditched the tent and had a comfy bed at the Bandas. Then the next morning we hurtled down in the landrover. Safely back in Chogoria we caught our taxi back to Nairobi. Worn out but elated we prepared to leave Kenya with lots of adventures to remember!

Summit Venture Tours & Safaris can be contacted at email:
Phone: +254 733937115 (mobile)

Recommended Read: Mount Kenya 1:50,000 map and guide
Author: Andrew Wielochowski and Mark Savage

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