Monday, August 17, 2015

Snow in Kenya - Mount Kenya Climb

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot again as I stepped through ice and snow. I concentrated on not falling off the cliff to the right, or at least what I thought was a cliff. With my small head torch in the pitch black of night I could not tell if the darkness to my left was a cliff or just a huge rock. My fingers hurt from the cold, despite the snow gloves I wore. My heart pounded against my chest and my breathing was heavy as I tried to obtain the little oxygen in the air. I was wearing two socks, thermal leggings under snow pants, two jackets and a hat yet I was still cold. I found it hard to believe that I was still in Kenya.

Old Moses Lodge

Before arriving to Kenya I never expected to be walking through snow shivering from the cold. On Wednesday I began my trek to the third highest peak of Mount Kenya at 4,985 meters (16,355 ft). My group loaded into a colorful matatu (small Kenyan bus/van) and headed down a dirt road to the Sirimon trail head. We had a quick lunch and walked 9km on a dirt/paved road to Old Moses Lodge at 3,400 metres (11,155 ft). Here we ate a hearty meal of fried fish, soup, rice and veggies. We turned into our sleeping bags in the room full of bunk beds.

Fun with Lobelia telekii
Next morning we woke to walk 14 km to Shipton's Lodge at the base of the three highest Mount Kenya peaks. Along the way we crossed many bridges, became familiar with the mount kenya flora and fauna and ate butter and ham (or some unknown meat) sandwich looking over a beautiful canyon. We reached Shipton's Lodge at 4,200 meters, just as it began to hail. We enjoyed a plate of popcorn and a couple games of hearts before turning in for another cold night of sleep in a room full of bunk beds.
Shipton's Camp with Mount Kenya in the Background

We woke up on Friday for our acclimation hike. We headed up a trail to a ridge just below the tallest Mount Kenya peaks: Batian and Nelion. We watched as the clouds rolled into the valley on the other side of the ridge. Above us loomed the daunting rock faces of the two tallest peaks, which are only scalable with rock climbing equipment. We headed back for more fresh popcorn and card games. It began to snow as we sheltered in the small lodge making friends with the other hikers. We formed a small united nations as we sat and chatted with the Chilean, French, Italian, British, Canadian, and Kenyan climbers. We went to bed early knowing that the following day would be the most challenging.

Enjoying the view for breakfast

Our guide knocked on our door at 2:30 AM signalling it was time to get up and get ready to summit. We put on all our layers, turned on our headlights and started for the trail that would take us up to Peak Lenana. It was nice that we could not see more than 20 feet in front of us, it was less daunting not to see the looming mountain above us as we climbed. We concentrated on the trail under our feet stopping every hour for a short snack and pee break. We continued to climb as the earth began to brighten around us. Soon we realized how precarious the trail was. Shimmying around rock ledges, we began to scramble up boulders, climb ladders and tread through fresh snow. The peak came into view, the small Kenyan flag and wood signs marking the summit gave us a boost of energy to finish the long trail.

Our team at the Peak
We made it up just in time to watch the sun rise and transform the sky into a rainbow. After many pictures we headed down the Chogoria Trail to complete the rest of the long day ahead. The summit day consisted of a 5 km assent of over 750 meters to Peak Lenana a 3km descent to breakfast with a view of the Gorges Valley at Minto's Hut. We then proceed to Mt Kenya Bandas for dinner visiting a beautiful waterfall and stopping for many pictures of the Gorges Valley. We walked a total of 29 km from Shipton's Lodge to Mt Kenya Bandas, but the amazing views around us kept us moving closer to the end.

Minto's Hut

We spent the night in luxorious bandas with a warm shower, a wood burning stove and a small dining room. The next morning we headed down a small dirt road in a old jeep to Chogoria Town. From here we were loaded into a matatu and then a taxi for a 9 hour drive back to Eldoret for some much needed rest.
View of Gorges Valley from the trail

Overall Mount Kenya was an amazing trek. Its a little known gem of Kenya. People in our group who had hiked both Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya said that Mount Kenya was hands down a more beautiful and less touristy trek. Not to mention its almost 1/10 the price.

I would like to thank our guides, porters, and cooks from Equatorial Star Adventure Safaris who made this trip possible for a student friendly budget. Find them at

What to Pack:
1. Warm sleeping bag (rated to below freezing)
2. Small backpack to carry water, snacks, rain clothes, camera
3. Large backpack for the porter to carry your other equipment
4. Good waterproof hiking boots
5. Rain top and Pants or a parka
6. Thermal top and bottom
7. Fleece or light jacket
8. Warm parka or down jacket
9. Three wool socks and 1-2 sock liners
10. Hiking pants and one long sleeve and short sleeve top
11. Warm hat
12. Warm gloves - snow-gloves are the best for the top
13. Walking sticks if that's your thing
14. Snacks and two 1L water bottles
15. Powerpack for charging camera/phone (there is no power in the lodges)
16. Camera
17. Roll of toilet paper
18. Toiletries

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