Three time’s the charm. Hmmmm! Who said that? It was my third time to trek up to point Lenana. The questions asked are numerous about why, how and like seriously?? Well, yes, seriously, I went back up Mt. Kenya between the 20th– 24th of February. If you had asked me if I would ever do this again on the 24th of February, I would have said, ‘HELL NO!!’ but right now, less than a week later, ‘Yes. I definitely could’. You see the mountain for me ceased to be about getting to the highest point but rather I focus more on the journey. This trip, like any other was different and challenging on a number of fronts. Let me back track and start the story from the beginning.
This year we as Mountain Slayers- Kenya are doing things different. We are being intentional about how we interact with each other, the community and the environment. One aspect that has kicked off in earnest is ‘Relating with Community’. We as slayers have decided to interact with the communities in which we hike with the intention of positively impacting the community and also learning from them as well.
The trip to Mt. Kenya was going to take us up Sirimon and down Chogoria. We therefore identified a needy government school which we could commune with before the trip. Nkiria Primary School has 730 students and these numbers increase by the day. The school has numerous needs: ranging from classrooms, sports equipment to textbooks. The first time I made contact with the school they had 690 students. A week to our visit, the number had gone up to 730. I thank God that our social responsibility partners- Ahadi Trust- did not flinch at the added number and honoured their pledge of ensuring that all the students in the school would receive a new pair of shoes. The class 6 students were 80 in number and sharing 6 Social Studies textbooks amongst them, this situation spoke volumes to the mountain slayers group, who came together and pulled our resources and managed to buy a number of social studies books for the Class 6.
Our first stop before heading to the Mt. Kenya Sirimon gate was to fellowship with the students and teachers of Nkiria Primary School. Driving into the gate we were met by structures that are in need of upgrade. The head teacher, Mr. Njagi came bouncing out with a hearty smile to welcome the team of 9 slayers. Seeing that we were pressed for time, our plan was to be at the school by 11:00am and at the Sirimon gate by 1:00pm instead we arrived at the school at 2:00pm. Kenyan culture dictates that we could not refuse their warm hospitality of tea and bread no matter how rushed we were. Road trips usually have a way of stirring appetites so we dug into the refreshments with gusto before we introduced ourselves and shared a few words with the teachers. We then shared a few words with the pupils, sang with them before handing over the shoes and books that we had for them.
Their excitement and enthusiasm was palpable in receiving their gifts. As I was researching on which school to interact with, it was revealed that most guests in the area prefer to go to the high school due to proximity, and the reason I chose the primary school is simply because they are forgotten by the people who visit the area.
Starting off the hike by giving back was one major highlight of the trip. It made us realize just how blessed we are as individuals and the little things that we take for granted mean so much to other people. It also set the mood right for the trip because there was no room for luxury on this trip.
After checking in and registering at the Sirimon gate, we trekked for about 3 hours to our quarters for the night at Old Moses 3,300M ASL campsite. To say the night was freezing cold would not do the conditions we encountered justice. Safe to say we spent the whole night trying to get warm in order to sleep. As the entire camp was struggling with the cold we had one slayer who slept soundly and we could confirm this by the gentle snoring that rent through the camp. By morning we were up and ready to move on. This not being my first time on the mountain I was dreading ascending any further because I knew that if it was cold at the first camp then things were only going to get worse. I was pleasantly surprised when we got to lower Shiptons Camp 4,200M ASL- tents were pitched and I had the first night of rest after being lulled to sleep by the gentle stream waters that were running right outside my tent. This being summit night, the mood at camp was anxious with low appetites and almost no communication between the team members. Of course in any team you will find those who move on with life regardless of the challenges and therefore three of the team members happily scoffed down chapati, chicken and ugali for dinner to the dismay of those who were already starting to feel nauseated.
The plan was to depart for the summit at 2:30am and get to Point Lenana 4985M ASL by sunrise. Well, that did not happen. The nerves must have gotten the most of the people and we started off over an hour later than we intended. Less than 30 minutes into the trek, one of the hikers was overcome by high altitude sickness. Like on most BIG mountain treks, the idea is to keep the team together as much as possible and to walk at the pace of the slowest person and that meant we all stopped to ensure that the hiker was okay before proceeding. The thing about nausea is that once it is out you feel much better and are able to proceed with the hike. After the hiker had been attended to, we proceeded with the trek at a slow pace, the pace was so slow that every time we stopped to catch our breath, one of the guides would fall asleep. Not a good thing. Eventually after trying to keep the team together it became clear that the stronger hikers were being punished by the pace so an executive decision was made to split the group up. As we approached the summit we could hear shouts of exultation coming from somewhere near us. The initial thought was that it was celebratory shouts from those who had summitted, only to discover that there was a team of soldiers headed towards the summit. Team is to put it mildly because there were about 400 of them marching towards the summit. Luckily we got to the summit before the first group of soldiers but from there it was downhill all the way.
We both stared at each other in awe. I mean here we were decked out to the nines in alpine gear, trekking poles, headlamps, gloves the works! While the soldiers were minimally dressed and some were even in leather shoes! Isn’t it amazing how we can convince ourselves that we cannot do something because we think that we are not properly equipped only to discover that there are others who are worse off than you are but able to achieve more than you can? It would be easy to say that they are soldiers so they are hardier than most. That may be true to an extent but however in the team of 400 soldiers, 150 did not make it to the summit. I always say that the mountain is a great equalizer. The conditions on the mountain have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in all of us. It is the one place where we go and our titles, our relatives or influential friends, our bank do not give us an edge over the next person. It is a humbling experience to be on a BIG mountain trek and it has a way of changing your outlook on life.
At the end of the journey one of the slayers asked me whether being an avid slayer has impacted my life in any way. Before I responded I was curious to understand where he was coming from because he had clearly observed something about himself. He confirmed that after being regularly in the outdoors and at the mercy of nature, it humbles you and gives you a different life perspective. The little things that usually seem so important and life or death do not matter as much anymore. Yes my associations have changed and that is what happens in life, you need to allow yourself to grow as you go through the seasons of life. You are an evolving being and need to allow yourself the space to grow and change as life directs you.
The Mt. Kenya trip was amazing and challenging in many ways, camping on the banks of Lake Michelson was a major highlight of the trip. The beauty that we experienced cannot be matched by anything.
To team Kenya Feb 2017, thank you for being a part of the trip and Ahadi Kenya Trust you journeyed with us and impacted the young lives of Nkiria Primary School, thank you for your support.
If you want to be a part of our journey either through hiking or interacting with community please drop an email to email@example.com and we will be happy to welcome you into the Mountain Slayers- Kenya family.