Climbing Mt. Kenya – Day 2/4

I woke up at midnight. The cold was biting through my sleeping bag. I pulled my water metal bottle, which had been filled with boiling hot water at 9pm that evening, to my face. Warm relief. I was supposed to get up at 6:30am, breakfast at 7am, and leave camp for the second day of climbing Mt. Kenya at 7:30am. How was I going to sleep for another six and a half hours? I hugged the water bottle to my chest and told myself I wasn’t cold, I was actually too hot, and too comfortable. Within another five minutes of this reassurance I fell back asleep. The next time I awoke it was after 6am.

Day 2 of Mt. Kenya Trek had us set to hike for 16km and rise 900m higher in elevation. It was going to be a full eight hour day of walking.

I dressed for the day, two pairs of pants (one layer I could easily remove once we started walking), a tank top, t-shirt and fleece, and packed my (or Jess’s rather – thank you!) rain jacket into my day pack. Once all our bags were zipped and ready to go, we walked out of our room and sat down in the dining areas to a power breakfast of eggs, toast, pancakes (that are like sweet chapatti), with coffee and jam. An egg breakfast person through and through, I was delighted.

Day 2 Morning - Elevation: 3,300m. Destination elevation: 4,200m.

After fueling up, I stepped outside the building and into the mountain morning air. The breeze from 3,300m up touched my face and I breathed deeply. The sun was already bright in the sky and the air smelled cool and clean.

We faced the direction of the mountain we couldn’t see the peak of, and started to walk.

These trees live to 100 years and blossom flowers at 50.

The first day we walked on dirt roads. Today, we started walking on dirt paths in a hilled valley, up and down (or that’s what it felt like), passing plants that live for 100 years and blossom at 50, wheat grass, tall cacti and stumpy looking cacti.

Nothing like drinking clean mountain water.

We brought our own water supply for Day 1, and asked how we were to replenish on Day 2. The water boiled to keep us warm in the evening was used for drinking in the morning. Paul, our trusty guide, told us that within a couple hours of walking we would come to a stream where we could fill our water bottles with clean river flowing mountain water.

When we stopped at the first stream I went to the riverbank and dipped my water canister into the clear water. The water was freezing! And delicious.

We continued on, and soon were back the top of a hill. In the distance, Mt. Kenya rose up and we could finally see Pt. Lenana.

Now serving - Pt. Lenana! That's our destination peak!

It seemed ridiculous to me that in about 20 hours we were going to be on top of that point. How was that even possible? I didn’t know if it was possible, but I did know that it was beautiful and I was thoroughly enjoying traversing along.

Looking back at where we came from.

We stopped for lunch around 1pm at a different riverbank and relaxed with soup, sandwiches, and a quick nap in the sun. Moving onwards, we followed the river (no more hill climbs) for basically the rest of the afternoon. As the wind picked up, we put on our rain jackets and I focused on my breathing and taking in the landscape.

Around 4pm we reached our Day 2 destination: Shipton’s Camp: 4,200m above sea level.

Shipton's Camp - Elevation: 4,200m. Resting place before summit time!

I was told I was going to get from the spot of where I took this photo, to Pt. Lenana, just out of the picture frame on the left hand side. In 3 hours. Hmmm....

The building faced Mt. Kenya. I starred at this monstrosity of a mountain and I saw no viable path to use to climb to Pt. Lenana. Paul was telling us how we would walk by pointing his walking stick in the air and navigating the mountain course. I didn’t understand. If he thought I was actually going to be able to climb this gravel beast then he knew something I didn’t know. It was steep. I have trouble walking on flat ground and am known notoriously for bad balance. My god, what if I fell off the mountain? I starred at the mountain. I marveled at the mountain. And then I stopped thinking about the fact I would have to climb the mountain and simply enjoyed being in the shadow of the mountain.

Two points of interest regarding my time at Shipton’s that evening:

1. High on mountain air,  Sam and I sang the “Nikona Safaricom” song (even though I’m an Airtel girl), took less impressive jumping photos and then drew portraits and landscapes. Because when I’m on a mountain I feel I can be whatever I want to be, I decided to be an artist, and was perfectly happy being terrible at it. When I have a scanner, I will put up on my drawings.

2. Somewhere during this time we dropped our bags in our bunk bed room and were told the four of us (Sam, Nur, Kevin and I) were sharing the room with another gentleman as well. When we were outside drawing and chatting, we see the man who’s supposed to be sleeping in the same dorm room bring his sleeping bag outside and set up shop under a cactus tree without a tent! We moved in and he moved out to face the elements rather than sleep in a room with us!

Having strategized from the night before, before dinner I put on almost all of my clothes. Four pairs of pants, three socks, tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, and jacket. Scarf around my neck, hat on, gloves on. I was saving my sweater (thanks Soraiya!) for when I actually went to bed. I know I am Canadian and I’m supposed to be used to the cold or something, but in Canada I would be in an insulted heated house. I love winter, I don’t like being cold. My name is Wanda and I am Canadian.

As evening came closer, clouds moved in and made the mountain look more ominous.

We would be leaving the camp at 3am to climb the final stretch and summit on Pt. Lenana before sunrise. Climbing in the dark. As the sun fell from the sky and the shadow of the mountain was lost in the dark that blanketed the camp, my climbing comrades and I loaded up on carbs (spaghetti) and beef stew.

Water bottle hot to the touch, I put on my last sweater, and was in my sleeping bag before 9pm. Wearing all of my clothes, head underneath the covers, water bottle clasped between my hands, I was freezing. “I’m not cold, I’m not cold, I’m not cold,” I thought over and over. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t focus all of my energy on trying to be warm because at the same time I was thinking, “Tomorrow you won’t fall off the mountain, you won’t fall off the mountain, you won’t fall off the mountain.”

Day 2 Lesson: When climbing a mountain you should do regular training for a least a couple weeks prior. I went for one 5km run the week before.

A note on Day 1 and Day 2 lessons – They’re both things I was told to do before climbing. So I guess the real lesson I learned thus far was to follow the advice I was given. At dinner a couple of nights before I mentioned my apprehension over my lack of training (I may not have trained for the climb, but it’s not  because I wasn’t aware of how difficult it would be) and said that I was relying on my mental game. And my mental game got to sleep on Night 1, failed me Night 2, and so I figure I had a 50/50 chance it would win out on Day 3 – Summit Day.

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