I’ve been walking for fifteen minutes on a lightly sloped uphill road and I already feel a little dizzy. I adjust my day pack and attempt to make friendly conversation with the porter who is saintly carrying my backpack filled with all the warm clothes I could scrounge from friends in Nairobi. The problem is that when I talk I lose my words because I’m trying to breath at the same time. So I settle for walking quietly, admiring the clear sky, the foliage, and ignoring the slight strain on my calves and my deep breathing.
This is the beginning of Day One of the four day Mt. Kenya trek.
Myself, Sam, our friend Nur, and a fourth climber the agency Let’s Go Travel connected us to, Kevin, were going to climb to the top of Pt. Lenana. The third tallest point of Mt. Kenya, and the highest you can go without having to be a technically savvy rock climber (and seeing as the only things I have ever climbed are counters in the kitchen when I’m trying to reach items in a top cupboard) Pt. Lenana was my destination. And at 4,985m above sea level she would prove to be the most physically challenging feat of my life thus far.
A little mountain info – Mt. Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa, falling second to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The all-hailed highest mountain in Africa, Kili, stands at 5,895m above sea level. Mt. Kenya’s highest peak, Batian, stands with jutting rocks at a height of 5,199m. The second highest point, Nelion, is at 5,188m and also requires rock climbing expertise. The highest point a person can hike to on Kenya is the third peak, Pt. Lenana.
After battling the Nairobi morning traffic, we drove out of the city and towards Mt. Kenya National Park. We stopped at the equator along the way, and witnessed a demonstration illustrating how water flows counter clockwise south of the equator, clockwise north of the equator, and is stands still on the equator. I enjoyed playing tourist and took too many photographs of the scene.
Looking across the road, in the distance, rising up over the landscape. Mt. Kenya. My challenge, my mountain. We arrived at the main Sirimon Park Gate and met our guide, Paul. This was the man with 17 years guiding experience who was going to lead us to our summit destiny. After a sandwich lunch, a photo to mark our before appearance, we unceremoniously began to hike.
And 15 minutes in I was breathing hard.
We started at an altitude of 2,650m. I was on Diamox to prevent altitude sickness. The climb at this point was not at all difficult, but I found my breathing haggard as my body adjusted from the Nairobi altitude of 1,700m.
About an hour into the climb Paul caught up with us. He had sent us ahead to start walking with the porters and we had set a quick pace. We needed to go “pole pole” (slowly) Paul said or else the altitude would be sure to affect us. Pole pole would get us to the top.
So we finished that first 9km pole pole and reached Old Moses, our first night stop, in the late afternoon.
We were served hot drinks with a platter of popcorn and cookies. I was warm during the four hour hike, but now the mountain air began to creep under my leggings, and I doubled layered all my clothing and put my newly bought hat and gloves on.
No longer cold, we went to explore the camp surroundings, display our jumping finesse, and watch the sunset as we waited for dinner.
Full of chicken, mashed potatoes, and veggies, I brushed my teeth for bed, marveled at the flushing toilet in a one floor building with no electricity, and climbed into my sleeping bag. On the list of things I was told to bring one of them was a -10.C sleeping bag. My sleeping bag wasn’t -10 proof. My sleeping bag didn’t even have a temperature range. I bought it at the Nakumatt the day before because I didn’t want to invest in a super expensive, super warm sleeping bag, and I didn’t actively search for someone who could lend me one. And now I was lying in my sleeping bag at 9pm in an un-insulated building separated from the elements by a thin wall, trying to sleep because I would need that energy to walk 16km the next day, especially when I didn’t really train or physically prepare for this mountain climb, and I was freezing.
Day One Lesson: When climbing a mountain, bring a properly insulted sleeping bag.