Same mountain, different team, different experience. Always. Guaranteed.
We set off for Mt. Kenya on the 6th of October- 9 eager and excited hikers. This was not my first time there and I am sure it is also not my last time there. We had two repeat hikers. One who had successfully summitted when he was younger and one who had made it almost the whole way up but had missed the summit by less than 300meters.
Roadtrips are exciting even without the promise of a mountain to slay. We were going up through the Sirimon gate and so after meeting up at Java, off we went. The banter in the van was pregnant with anticipation, expectation and nervousness. I love tuning out and listening to the chatter of the team. It wasn’t long before I nodded off to sleep. For the first time I got to see the slopes of Mt. Kenya from Karatina. Amazing that I have never seen this ever; and yet this is a route that I have taken numerous times. It helps when you have a Captain among your team, they have a comprehensive hold of geography and he was able to point this out and also give direction to those of us (read I) who are geographically challenged.
Day 1 is a 3 hour trek that covers roughly 10 kms from Sirimon gate to Old Moses campsite. Lunch was served at the gate- and that meal was just fingerlicking delicious! There is something about mountain food. It is just so tasty! But of course all props to Benson our chief chef for the trip. He really threw those meals down. The weather was favourable and the pace comfortable so the team kept up the banter while stopping to take in their surroundings as we moved along to Old Moses. We got there in the dark and quickly changed out of our hiking clothes and headed straight for the mess tent for our dinner. I remember some of the team October slayers discussing and saying how dinner would be a waste seeing that it was going to be served only a few hours after our lunch. Well! Nothing was wasted. We scoffed down all the food laid before us. Something about the mountain that works up an appetite- but I should add that this only happens at the lower altitudes. The higher up we went, the lower the appetite levels were for a number of the slayers.
Day 2- Old Moses to Shiptons- Mt. Kenya is still one of the most scenic mountains I have been on. It is a pity that the authorities do not take better care of the amenities on the mountain. Shortly after the junction that heads either to Likii North or to Shiptons, the heavens opened. It started off as harmless drizzles before the hailstones started coming down. The rain thereafter was heavy. Being pelted and rained on at the same time is what make these trips so enjoyable (well, I can say that now, but as I was being pelted and had to walk sideways to avoid getting the hail direct into my eyes, I wondered what I was doing back on the mountain!) We sheltered briefly while we waited for the rain to dissipate. When we realized that was an exercise in futility, on we trodded to the caves before the Mackinder valley where we were scheduled to stop for lunch. Thank goodness for Weetabix, their Alpen bars and Protein bars kept us energized from breakfast all through the hike. Thank you Weetabix!Now, I knew that the word cave was being used very loosely but the rest of the team had no idea what lay ahead of them. Shock on them when they were directed to a huge rock, it was actually amusing to watch the team struggle to find the ‘entrance’ to the cave. Poor guys. Lunch was served and we gobbled it down as the rain continued to pelt us mercilessly. If there was a point of giving up and turning back, this was it for me. I was frozen to the bone and thought that I was going to be sick-no doubt. Luckily our porters were also ‘in’ the cave so I was able to get out my summit jacket to keep me warm. After lunch, one of the slayers felt faint and had to be attended to. How the body behaves on the mountain is unpredictable so you always need to be prepared for any eventuality. She was quickly put in the recovery position and covered with a thermal blanket as the team watched and prayed that it would end quickly. Thankfully she recovered well and we were able to continue our journey to Shiptons camp. We took in the amazing views as we marched on to the base camp. We got there slightly after dark and thankfully we were able to change and dry out in the Shiptons bandas before heading to our tents for the night.
Day 3: Summit. The initial plan had been to attempt a night summit and then walk to Lake Ellis for the night. One thing I have learnt over the years is that I may have my plans and schedule however plans change according to the team dynamics. By the time the entire team was at Shiptons, one of the slayers was suffering from mild mountain sickness. It was time to make a decision about how we proceeded as a team. As we were doing the initial briefing before the journey begun at Sirimon gate; I had made it clear that the trips is all about the journey and not the destination. The peak is less than a 30minute affair but the struggle and pain to get there is where all the growth and bonding happens.
These were the options; begin our summit attempt at 2:00am as planned and be prepared to have a less than 100% success or a very prolonged and painful summit attempt. Or sleep in, begin the journey at 8:00am and give the entire team an equal chance of success. Group dynamics are so important because this is the point where the members decided that we would all sleep in to give the weaker members an equal chance at summitting; and that’s exactly what we did.
I think night summits are overrated. After summitting both during the day and at night, I believe day summits are so much more easier on the body. It is not frighteningly cold or windy. Off we trudged to Point Lenana- excited that we could take in the majestic views as we headed to the summit. Along the way we broke into three groups based on pace and ability. I was keeping a keen eye on the lady who had not summitted the last time because I knew that she would not make it without the group support. When we got to the first Harris Tarn we dropped our daypacks and waited for her to catch up with us. It is amazing how the team pulled together. We chatted and psyched each other up as we trudged up towards the rock of despair.
The last meters to the summit are the hardest, when you are almost there, it is like your body realizes how close to the end you are and just tries to shut down. It took team work to get everybody to the summit. When you are closest to your goal is when you feel the fatigue of the journey and want to give up. (This is also very true in life situations. Failure rate is highest when people are closest to their goals. It is important to have a supportive tribe that will cheer you on to your desired goal). The cries of jubilation, the war songs that were sang, the dancing, the sheer joy that was expressed by the team when we sat at Point Lenana made the struggle all worth it.
Each slayer in Team October was on this journey for individual reasons. After pushing your body to the breaking point there really is nothing that you cannot achieve. Mountain climbing gets you to a place where the physical body tells you enough is enough, if your mind believes your body then your journey is over. If you are able to break past your mental barriers then you will find the strength to push your body to the next level- this next level is within your reach if only you try.
This is one of the reasons that I keep going back to the mountain, I need to remind myself that indeed it is possible, no matter how bleak the situation is, it is possible to move beyond. It is also refreshing seeing people achieve that which they thought was impossible. It is like scales fall from their eyes and they are able to see the world anew. Believing that the stumbling blocks that they left behind are simply that, stumbling blocks that they can easily trample if they push deeper and further within themselves.
After the successful summit, we started our descent off the mountain via the Chogoria route, which is the windward side of the mountain. Our first stop for the night was Mintos campsite where we had a lovely celebratory dinner and turned in for the night satisfied and content by our group accomplishment.
Day 4 had us walk to Meru bandas. On the way we passed by Lake Ellis for a hot lunch. The landscape on this side are nothing that can be captured in word or picture- this you need to simply experience for yourself. Lake Michaelson and the Gorges valley are just some of the wonders that our eyes feasted on as we trekked.
Eventually we made it to Meru bandas where we finally had a hot shower and warm bed after days of being at one with nature. Thankfully we were still out of network range so we were able to talk and unwind without the interruption of our gadgets. As the expedition leader, it is always rewarding to hear the feedback from the team. That means that not only did they fully engage in the activity but are interested in more activities in future.
To Team October, well slayed! On to the next!