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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Trekking to Point Lenana, Mount. Kenya

KENYA | Tuesday, 10 August 2010 | Views [2154] | Comments [1]

Before you read on, let it be known that we never intended to get to the top of this one; you need to be a highly skilled and experienced climber to reach the topper most summit.  For us mere trekkers Point Lenana is the limit.

We’d been in Kenya for 5 days before embarking on this latest mountainous adventure but pre and post Mount Kenya exploits will arrive in the fourth and final East Africa Revisited travelogue.  Once again we’d pre-booked everything and had to hope that we’d plumped for a good and reliable trekking company.  From the hundreds of companies to choose from we went with Mount Kenya Climbing Expeditions; and were reassured and delighted to find a welcome note waiting for us when we checked into Parkside Hotel.  The boss, Daniel, said he would meet us at 8am the following morning to double check the arrangements.  This duly happened and it was all organised very well and once again we were introduced to some lovely people – an auspicious start.

Day 1 – Moses Camp 3200m   

There was no point hanging around as we had a mountain to climb so we jumped in the vehicle for the first leg of the journey.   The roads were good so we reached the town of Nanyuki in good time.  From there the roads are anything but good so, trekkers, guide, porters, food and gear had to be shoe-horned into a 4x4 to negotiate the track to the park gate.   Luckily the whole entourage was nowhere near Kilimanjaro numbers and: All = 1 guide + 3 porters.  At the entrance there was the usual faffing about and paper work to be done, so our guide prepared a picnic lunch for us.  Soon enough it was time to actually start doing some walking.

The Simiron Trail starts at the gate at 2650m and the first leg takes you to Moses Camp at 3200m.  The walk covers a distance of 9kms so it is a gentle way to ease into the task you have set yourself.  The first part of the track is very wide and even navigable should you have a decent 4-wheel drive.  I’m pleased to say vehicles don’t use this section so it was easy and peaceful walking through forest.  We could hear a few birds but didn’t see any wildlife.  Not very far away from camp the vegetation changed to tall heath and moorland – yippee, no jungles!  As per usual I drifted off into my own little world and hadn’t realised that I’d left Steve and our guide, Benson, behind.  Obviously I stopped and waited for them to catch up and Steve tried to get Benson to scold me.  However, he said that since we were below 3000m I could go at my speed today but tomorrow he’d be setting the pace.

Moses Camp is not particularly big and it was already full to the rafters by the time we got there.  The bulk of the trekkers consisted of a huge school party and, on talking to some of them, it transpired they were on the same itinerary as us – oh bother!  Luckily they had a couple of bunks (well, planks of wood!) spare for us to sleep on but all the porters had to kip on the floor in the communal eating area.  There really wasn’t enough room for everyone and we found it difficult to settle or organise ourselves.  At least with a tent you have your own space and a modicum of privacy – never thought we’d be longing to be under canvas.

Day 2 – Shipton’s Camp 4200m

Not surprisingly we were up early the next morning – the surprise was that we actually managed to get some sleep!  Although we were bemoaning the lack of tent the previous evening, to be fair walls and a mattress result in warmer digs. With so many people squashed into a tight space there will always be movement and sounds through the night but midnight to 5.00am passed reasonably quickly.  By 5.30am people had begun to give up hope of anymore shut eye; so headlamps were on and bags were rustling.  The queue for the toilet was never ending and why they only built 2 cubicles is a mystery.  It seemed to take all morning just to be able to have a wee!  Yes, us old gits were still being grumpy and mumbling something about more room in the next camp!

Breakfast was a monumental feast and there was no way we were going to be able to make even the slightest dent in it.  How is anyone expected to pack away; fruit, bread, eggs, pancakes, porridge and then go for a long walk up a big hill?  If you eat that lot all you’ll want to do is have a good lie down!  We tried to make it look like we’d made inroads into the bread and fruit and popped the pancakes in our bags up for snacks along the way.  The porridge was studiously ignored!  Benson was very upset to hear that we’d eaten, what he would term nothing, but we assured him that we’d be happier eating little and often.  We showed him the carefully wrapped pancakes and that seemed to appease him.  Apparently we just needed to speak up if we wanted to stop for any ‘bitings’ - another of those lovely little turns of phrase.

Benson did indeed set the pace and very pole-pole it was too.  Remember that phrase?  Basically it means slow and steady will win the race or some such thing.  To be honest it was way too pole-pole, even for Steve ( Hey, I’m not that slow!), but who were we to argue, so we diligently followed behind.  We knew the day’s distance was 16kms and we would gain a further 1000m in altitude – again nothing too strenuous.  The path meandered up through the valley and the heath quickly turned into boggy grassland.  It wasn’t too wet but it did get a bit tedious picking our way through mud – you think we’d be used to that.  We gradually worked our way towards a weather station that we’d seen lit up the night before.  Hey!  How come that had electricity?!  Once there, the path continued over a ridge and descended into a small valley where we crossed a bridge over River Liike and climbed up into Mackinder Valley.  It was a bit of a climb but nothing too arduous thanks to Benson’s super pole-pole pace.

The path wound its way up the valley and it was very pleasant following the river along the way.  As we neared camp we climbed up the side of a small rocky ridge to emerge at Shipton’s Camp.  Although the pace had been very slow (we felt) we still arrived at the camp at 1pm and according to Benson we’d walked at a good pace.  The rest of the smaller groups from Moses Camp were hot on our heels but the big school party were miles behind.  We couldn’t see them even though we could see a long way down the valley.  At this elevation the vegetation had changed yet again and the terrain was much rockier.  There was loads of lobelia around including the giant variety that I love to see, as it shows better than anything that we’re out of the jungle.  We were still low enough for there to be a few species of birds fluttering around and there were a couple of resident rock hyraxes.

While we were tucking in to our picnic lunch we studied the top of Mount Kenya.  We finally understood why you need to be a fully trained, experienced, technical rock climber to be able to reach the absolute summit.  We’d assumed that on reaching Point Lenana you would then continue round the rim before tackling a further steep slope.  But no!  To get to the very top you have to climb a sheer rock stack on a different face of the mountain.  Apparently it takes the best part of a day just to get from Shipton’s Camp, to the top and back down again.  All for an extra couple of hundred meters – I’ll find a different mountain to tackle instead thanks!  Basically when the volcano erupted donkey’s years ago it blew out a huge section of the mountain side so there is no pure crater rim.  The jagged edges that are left form the different ‘summits’ you can trek / climb.  I hope the photos show this better than I can explain.  We decided to concentrate on the area we’d be tackling and it was abundantly clear that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.  The first part of the walk looked very steep and that was just to take us to the ridge that leads to Point Lenana.  Perhaps we should have had lunch looking in the opposite direction!

We had intended to do an extra acclimatisation day, but on realising that we would be on the top at the same time as the huge school group, it was time for a rethink.  Luckily Benson shared our concerns and agreed that we didn’t need the extra day so we would summit that night.  At over 4000m we could only stay warm while sitting in the direct sun – still with all our layers on mind.  What were we going to do once the sun went to bed?  Join him of course and hide in our sleeping bags trying to get some sleep before organising ourselves for the push to the top.

Day 3 – Point Lenana 4950m

Not surprisingly we didn’t manage to get much sleep but at least we were warm through the night.  Mind you we’d gone to bed pretty much dressed and ready to go at 3.30am!  The guides are very good at assessing people’s fitness levels and don’t want there to be a long line of people getting in each other’s way in the dark.  The small groups were given a staggered start and we were delighted to learn that we’d been given the latest start time.  That should have meant extra shut-eye but the bag rustling started at 1.30am and continued until 2.45am when we rose.

A brew and biscuit were gratefully received and we soon had our stuff together and were ready for the off.  I would have loved to have kept my sleeping bag around me for a while longer but didn’t think I’d be able to shuffle up the mountain penguin style!  Once we got moving we quickly warmed up as the incline was as steep as it looked.  Often night hikes are a blessing as all you can do is concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and follow the guide.  There are times it’s good to not know how steep the gradient or drop-off is!

Benson set an excellent, realistic pace so that we stayed warm without pushing ourselves to the limit.  Even so, we were pleased that we’d kept on all our layers; including the thermal base layer.  Per usual within an hour I’d lost all feeling in my toes – it’s a wonder I still have all 10 toes to be honest.  We knew that the first part of the ascent went up a small, but steep, valley and then turned left onto a ridge.  We were surprised how quickly we reached the significant rocky outcrop.  On looking back we realised that we’d ascended quickly and left camp far below.  Our legs and lungs were feeling good as Benson had set a good pace.  Unfortunately Steve had developed an altitude headache by this point, however on stopping regularly for water he felt okay. 

While taking a short break we noticed that the skies were clear and full of twinkling stars.  Plus we could see the line of headlamps of trekkers who had set off before us.  It was good to get a feel for where and how much further we had to go.  It was time to get our heads down again and continue trudging.  Benson assured us that we were making good progress and we would definitely get to the top in time for sunrise.  However, he didn’t want us to get to the top too early as we’d just be standing around becoming increasingly colder.  The path continued along the ridge but the going underfoot was slippy due to lose stones and scree.  We were physically up to the challenge but it was frustrating at times to move one step forwards only to slip back down again.  You know we don’t give up easily so on we went and soon passed one of the groups who had set off before us.  The path became easier for the next half an hour and Benson made regular stops so that we would have plenty of energy for the top.  Before long we’d reached the last section of the path and it was time to tackle the tricky bit to the top.  Basically, we part rock climbed and part walked up a pile of rock and you had to choose your route carefully.  There is quiet a big area on the top and luckily there were only 15 people up there that morning.  The actual summit is tiny so it was a case of waiting your turn to take the obligatory photo.

We scrambled our way to the top of Point Lenana at 4950m in a very respectable 2hrs 45mins from Shipton’s Hut; we certainly didn’t feel like we’d been tested or pushed ourselves.  Considering we’d spent the previous 4 weeks eating and drinking more than necessary we were chuffed!  Neither of us felt exhausted and Steve had shaken off his headache – Mount Kenya proved to be substantially easier than Kilimanjaro or Stok Kangri.  The sun soon began to rise and the views were spectacular in all directions.  There is still one small glacier hanging on but nothing like those left on Kilimanjaro – but then we were 1000m lower.  We tried to keep warm by pottering around taking photos from every angle but even so we didn’t hang around for long.  Anyway we had the toughest part of the walk to do – getting down.

Once we’d negotiated the trickiest part of getting off the top rock stack we had to retrace our steps for a while.  Since we’d not seen this section in daylight we weren’t sure how sheer / scary it would be but it turned out to be just fine.  Following a short biscuit break we realised that we’d not finished with the steep scree and we continued our descent via a different trail; the Chigoria route.  There was nothing for it – down, down we went with the promise of a big breakfast waiting for us at Mintos Hut.  An hour and a half later we were there and soon supping a warm drink and tucking into some well earned fodder.  Mintos Hut does what it says on the tin – you can camp here but other than that, this is where the porters rustle up breakfast for hungry summiteers. 

We didn’t rest for long as we knew we had a long day ahead of us down to the next camp.  The first section of the walk climbed a little way and thankfully worked off some of the over plentiful breakfast.  We emerged on top of a gorge and walked along the top of this wonderfully gorgeous gorge for the rest of the morning.  We’ve walked in some beautiful parts of the world, but this particular gorge is listed among the most spectacular and dramatic we’ve seen while trekking.  The skies remained clear all the way down and it was lovely looking back at the peaks.  As ever it was amazing to think that only hours earlier we’d been up there.  Not only were they looming large looking impossibly steep but they seemed miles away.

After 2 ½ hours we reached Chogoria Road Head where we stopped for lunch – yes, at times trekking sounds more like an eat-a-thon.  Unbelievably, we were actually ready for something (we felt over faced at breakfast so didn’t eat very much) and tucked into noodles, baked beans and cheese with gusto.  Again the rest stop was short as we still had at least 1 ½ hours of walking to do.  By this time we’d left the gorge behind and the hills were much gentler.  A Kenyan Peak District wouldn’t be an unfair description.  I was just about to point out the folly of calling this juncture a road head – surely it hadn’t been used in years – when a jeep rounded the bend.  How on earth it got up the very overgrown track I’ll never know.

We descended through tall heath and moorland until we re-entered the realm of trees.  We may have been up for many hours and taken in a long, long walk but it was truly lovely and well worth the effort.  In conclusion; we’d ascended 800m, descended 2950m and walked 24kms in 11 ½ hours –  and all a day ahead of schedule.   Plus; we were last to leave Shipton’s Camp and first to reach Meru Bandas, which felt like a luxury lodge after spending a couple of nights squashed into huts.  We’d had a fantastic day and there was a treat waiting for us at the end – our very own private banda with bathroom and hot water.  We were clean again while still on a trek – unheard of! 

Day 4 – the last leg

For once we arose after the sun and it was great not having to sort out all our stuff in a headlight beam while tripping over other people.  We assumed we’d sleep like logs, since we were actually in beds, but found ourselves chatting in the wee hours.  We don’t seem to have had an abundance of full night’s sleep but I suppose that shows that we’ve been busy.  We’d decided to get the tips dished out the previous evening as it is often a bit chaotic at the very end of a trek.  We were presented with the best breakfast yet so do we conclude that: a) the tips were acceptable and / or b) they were using the supplies that had been ear-marked for day 5?! 

We emerged from our banda to find it mighty chilly, we were still at around 3000m, but the skies were clear.  By the time we’d had our 3-course breakfast the mist had rolled in so we packed our bags, popped our coats on and readied ourselves for the last leg.  The first and last days always seem tedious but I suppose you have to get to and from these wonderful places and experiences somehow.  We knew we’d be using the dirt track that leads to the main gate so assumed the going would be easy.  How wrong we were – the track was a quagmire.  We picked our way through the ankle deep mud as best we could but there was no way we were staying clean.  Luckily this was the last day we needed the trek trousers for this trip.

Just beyond the bandas we saw a small herd of wild buffalo.  Since we were still quite high I’m pretty sure they were the forest buffalo subspecies; a new find for us.  The mist was still dense but Benson spotted an antelope in the distance.  On nearing it we could see it was a bush buck and a first sighting for this trip.  The trek down was basically a slippy, muddy trudge and not particularly enjoyable as we didn’t get chance to look around us.  The vegetation was interesting and having seen a couple of animals we were hopeful of more – monkeys to be precise.  We’d concluded that we’d have to walk the entire length of the track out of the park as there was no way a vehicle could manage such shocking conditions.  Then out of the gloom a Landrover appeared and better yet – it was our chariot to the gate and on to Chogoria town.  We didn’t need to wonder how a vehicle could get through the thick, oozy mud – we were going to experience it.

The driver was excellent and obviously highly experienced in such conditions.  There was many a time he went into a controlled skid or used the banks on the edge of the track to direct the Landrover.  I’m sure people pay good money just to experience what was simply part of our trek.  There was only once when the co-driver had to dig us out while the porters pushed.  We’ve done some great road trips and this one goes down as one of the most fun.  In the end we reckon we squelched our way along 10kms and 4x4-ed a further 10kms.  Just to make the whole experience even better it turned into an impromptu game driver too.  On a log by the side of the track a monkey was sat trying to dry off - apparently it was a Sykes monkey and very beautiful it was too.  Another first for us, as even though we’ve seen Sykes monkeys in the past, we’d not seen this species.

All along the track we could evidence of elephants in the area - where they’d slipped down or scrambled up the banks and of course lots of fresh dung.  As we skidded along we couldn’t believe our luck when the driver spotted an elephant on the edge of the track.  Luckily it didn’t flee into the forest and we all got to see it plus her calf.  For years we’ve hoped to see a forest elephant and finally we have.  It was heart-warming to see all the lads not only interested but excited to see the animals too.

Once we got past the park gates the roads improved to super highway standard – I jest of course!  We were dropped at the Transit Hotel, Chogoria which to be fair turned out to be much better than we expected.  The room was clean with hot water (2 showers in 2 days – unprecedented!) and we had a small balcony.  It would have been nice to sit out there watching the birds flitting about but we’d put all our filthy, stinking gear out there.  We thought we’d be in town but it transpired we were in the middle of nowhere.  With all the roads being muddy and wearing the last of our clean clothes we had no ambition to go for a wander.  If it had been dry it would have been perfect pottering territory as we were in a lovely rural setting on the fringes of a tea plantation.

The most difficult part of the day was trying to work out how we were going to fill in the afternoon other than supping celebratory beers.  Luckily the service was spectacularly slow so lunch filled in an hour, then we found a boot washing spot.  At least we wouldn’t be getting in the car for the return journey to Nairobi caked in orange mud.  Managed to delay beer o’clock until 5pm but didn’t manage to stay awake later than 9pm – we’d run out of beer tokens and anyway, couldn’t keep our eyes open!

If you have any experience of trekking over 4000m, know that you’re okay at altitude so don’t need the extra acclimatisation day; then Mount Kenya is definitely only a 4-day trek.  To be honest using the route we took you reach Shipton’s Camp in plenty of time to do a short acclimatisation walk that afternoon.  Mount Kenya is set in a breathtakingly beautiful park and the walk is very achievable; but for our money, if you’re only going to do one mountain in Africa, choose Kilimanjaro.

Travel Information

We organised our trek through:

http://www.mountkenyaexpeditions.com/mountainclimbing/sirimonchogoriaroute.html

They were excellent and we highly recommend them. We did find a company a $100 dollars cheaper, but we also found companies that charged twice as much. We thought that we got value for money. Most companies make you stay overnight in Nanyuki town on the first day, but this is totally unnecessary as the walk from the gate to Moses Camp only takes a couple of hours. Other trekkers complained of hanging around in Nanyuki and then at Moses Camp.

Daniel, from MKE answered all my emails quickly and they even provided some trek poles for us without charge. He came to the hotel to check everything was ok before we set off and we even had a ‘mountain liason officer’ who came with us to the mountain to check all the porters, guides and equipment, supplies etc was ok. Finally, we changed our plans without any problems or extra fee – fantastic service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

1

pics were good, I assume Emma was in charge

Tree climbing lion wins I think
Honourable mentions to the LSD Lizard, the daft looking black & white faced monkey - and the sunset.

  Dave Nov 3, 2010 11:50 PM

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