Author Peter Elia headed to Mount Kenya in the hunt for a much less crowded different to Kilimanjaro. He and his companions discovered they’d Africa’s second-highest mountain fully to themselves.
Shivering is a part of life on Mt Kenya, particularly at 2:45am at excessive altitude. As I eliminated my glove and guided my numb hand to my head torch, I may now see what lay forward – a jagged massif of volcanic rock and a steep climb to a far-off summit.
Having come to Kenya to ascend this 5199m (17,057ft) mountain, I used to be anxious to begin the climb, and my physique was crying out for the heat that motion would carry. The eerie silence was damaged by the sound of scree rattling menacingly down the mountain face and the faint echoes of laughter from a pack of hyenas.
“We must always have gone to Kilimanjaro as a substitute,” I joked to my trekking guides as they emerged confidently from our hut. However their optimism allowed me to tentatively start to think about the approaching African dawn, three miles above the Equator.
Africa’s highest summit, Kilimanjaro or “Kili” because it’s affectionately identified, had been my unique alternative for an East African journey. In any case, what’s the level in tackling Africa’s second-highest mountain when you possibly can stand proudly on the very high of all the continent? Nevertheless, Kili is legendary – and the place there may be fame, there’ll at all times be crowds.
For me, a lot of individuals on a hike defeats the aim. On a earlier climb as much as Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis in Scotland, I felt extra like a buyer than an adventurer. Journey is not one thing you possibly can assure, however you’re much less prone to discover it by following the crowds.
As well as, Mt Kenya appeared like an thrilling proposition – a hike the place wildlife roams freely throughout a various, forbidding panorama. So when a buddy of mine requested me to hitch him and two companions to climb it, I made a decision to forgo the Kili bragging rights, and wholeheartedly agreed to the ascent of Kenya’s highest peak.
Embracing solo journey in Kenya
I made a decision to journey from London to Nairobi every week sooner than the remainder of the group. Sadly, simply as I arrived in Kenya, I realized that new Covid journey restrictions again dwelling in England meant the others couldn’t be part of me.
My feelings moved from panic to disbelief to disappointment. Nonetheless, I used to be in Kenya and I used to be on the lookout for journey, so I contacted Benson Njoroge (aka Ben) of Trek Mount Kenya, our proposed mountain climbing information, to persuade him to revive the journey. “How many individuals are coming with you?” requested Ben. “Simply me,” I replied, hopefully.
In non-pandemic occasions, a solo mountain climbing journey would have value a small fortune. Nevertheless, we each acknowledged our need to make this journey work in these unprecedented occasions, so a compromise was reached: I upped my monetary provide and Ben reduce his trekking crew down to 3. I could not consider it. From the despair of discovering myself on a gaggle journey with out a group, I now felt like a lottery winner.
Crisscrossing the Equator
I left Nairobi the following day within the pouring rain with Ben; Joshua, who can be checking out the logistics and kit; and Samir, who would hold us nourished via the hike. In Kenya, I used to be instructed, you get there whenever you get there, and it rapidly turned clear that our drive to the start of the trek was going to take for much longer than Google Maps’ prediction of three hours.
However lengthy journeys make for good introductions. We acquired to know one another as we inched via the Nairobi visitors. Hours later, at a roadside photo-op – an indication marking the place the Equator cuts via the nation – I realized that our hike via Mount Kenya National Park can be weaving out and in of each hemispheres.
At Sirimon Park Gate, the place to begin of our three-day journey, we signed the rangers’ registration e-book, which I observed was fully clean. In all of the world, there was not a single soul who can be trekking within the park aside from us.
The empty web page was an embodiment of the toll the pandemic has taken on the tourism trade right here. In between reflections on all of the livelihoods affected by the pandemic, one other thought emerged: if nobody else was within the park, who would hear our cries for assist if one thing went incorrect?
The primary day’s hike was a gradual introduction to the mountain, teasingly revealing its magnificence. Mt Kenya is a group of sculptured peaks and ridges which can be the results of eons of abrasion.
Tarns glistened within the high-altitude solar, sitting on the backside of U-shaped valleys. The terrain various hour by hour, from rolling heather-coated slopes to dense stands of bamboo and tropical rainforest. Earlier than I knew it, we had arrived at Previous Moses Camp, a gaggle of tin shacks with bunk beds. Samir had gone forward to prepare dinner an enormous portion of hen and vegetable pasta earlier than we headed to mattress for an early night time.
Because the solar rose the next morning, we climbed steadily via the dusty lowlands into primeval forest. The additional we walked into the nationwide park, the extra private our conversations turned. “My previous boss by no means paid me,” stated Ben, as he recounted his days beginning out as a porter. “After months with out pay and counting on suggestions, I vowed to arrange my very own firm sooner or later.”
It was plain to see how his struggles had bred empathy: he actually cared about his employees and he did not need them to undergo tough occasions as he did, a tall order in the midst of a pandemic.
We could have been the one 4 people mountain climbing right here, however we weren’t alone. Though animal numbers have declined considerably on account of a long time of poaching, with the assistance of Joshua, we noticed many footprints alongside the path, together with these of hyenas, leopards, and elephants.
At one level, Joshua shushed the group, directing our consideration to a hissing sound coming from a close-by shrub. Joshua cleared the encircling foliage to disclose a chameleon resting on a department.
Our second night time’s lodging was at Shipton’s Camp, which resembled an previous military barracks that had seen higher days. Mountain buzzards soared straight above us, and sunbirds hopped across the scattered rocks encircling our dormitory. The tranquility of the scene made me really feel relaxed concerning the subsequent day’s summit climb.
However earlier than lengthy, the birds disappeared and heavy grey clouds moved in. Mt Kenya all of a sudden regarded menacing. I puzzled if I’d maintain my nerve for the ultimate push.
Early birds catch the dawn
I am a morning particular person – however getting a 2am alarm name at 4300m (14,000ft) above sea stage is a lesson in character-building. The altitude had lastly hit me. I used to be thirsty and disoriented as I stumbled out of my creaky bunk mattress. I felt like I used to be waking up after a blurry night time out in Vegas.
I take into account myself a wholesome and succesful hiker, however altitude illness is indiscriminate relating to these of us who spend most of our time near sea stage. “You want to drink loads of water and eat all of your breakfast,” Joshua stated with fatherly conviction. “You may be superb. No rush,” added Ben. They did not look like anxious about me; they’d seen all of it earlier than.
We slowly zigzagged upwards, the way in which forward illuminated solely by the sharp beams from our head torches. Ben dropped again to my place to announce that Joshua would lead the hike from there as he had extra summit expertise.
Solely then did I study Joshua’s story. He had been a mountain information chief for a few years, labored within the backbreaking lumber commerce, and commanded a place as an elder inside his group. As I heard this story unfold, slicing via the silence of the early morning, I spotted it was the type of story I seemingly wouldn’t have heard in a gaggle of climbers on Kili.
When our dialog stopped, I observed the depth of my heavy respiratory and my aching joints. I discovered myself slowing down as the primary shards of sunshine appeared, my eyes mounted on my boots, as if prepared them to maneuver. “Flip round!” bellowed Ben all of a sudden, and I twisted my physique 180 levels and felt a wave of pure pleasure. The japanese horizon had burst into flames and I used to be transfixed.
Issues hadn’t fairly gone to plan. The objective was to observe the dawn triumphantly from Mt Kenya’s peak. However such a checklist-worthy expertise would have been out of step with the improvisational nature of this journey. Catching it after I least anticipated it – exhausted and misplaced in my ideas – was, in its personal means, good. Not lengthy after dawn, I reached the summit and we erupted right into a refrain of thank yous and congratulations.
Because the clouds dispersed to disclose clear blue skies, I pointed to a mountain within the far distance: Kilimanjaro. I may have been there. I puzzled if I’d have been equally glad if I had been standing on that summit wanting in the direction of the place I used to be standing now?
A brand new method to journey
The knock-on results of the worldwide pandemic modified the narrative of our trek. In our bubble of isolation, the 4 of us shared our hopes and fears brazenly. From falling in love for the primary time to issues for susceptible members of the family, we coated a spread of matters not generally broached in your regular hike.
There’s something particular about mountain climbing away from the crowds. Time slows down, and nature offers a serving to hand to calm each thoughts and physique. Moreover seeing a shocking nook of the world for the primary time, this was a visit that pushed me down new paths of dialog and connection. Whether or not it was the tallest mountain in Africa or the runner-up was irrelevant.