20 Mar 2008

Mount Kenya



We spent the weekend of March 7-11 hiking on Mt Kenya, about 150 km north of Nairobi. We left school after breakfast on Friday morning, got caught in Nairobi traffic, and arrived at the Mt Kenya park gates (about 2000m) in the afternoon. We hiked up the about 10 km trail to Met Station (3050m) and spent the night there. I had put moleskin on my heels and thick socks, but I still got blisters hiking up the hills. I walked with Karlah and we warded off some Sykes monkeys that were after my bread. Once we arrived at Met, I washed my hair in the freezing water. It felt good though. There was a really pretty meadow and stream down from the boys' cabin. I sat in the bamboo forest for awhile just enjoying the peacefulness. That night I slept in the same bed with Heidi, but we didn't sleep that well. I kept tossing and turning all night.
Saturday morning we took our day packs and hiked up a few hours to a rock, where we ate lunch and had a devotional thought. It started raining along the way and we stopped at the rocks, where the trees were really cool. Thankfully Lari had lent me a poncho that kept me and my stuff relatively dry. Hiking up we were surrounded by mist that occasionally made it hard to find the right path. But we all made it up and back down again. During the afternoon we just hung around camp talking and recounting funny stories from years gone by. The guys actually made french fries and we went over to test them. Heidi moved to the staff cabin that night so I got the bed to myself and slept a lot better. I hope she did too.
Sunday morning we ate breakfast, donned our big packs and headed out on the trail at 7.30. Along the way we saw bunny rabbits, Georges, the real poles and really pretty scenery. I even saw frost up at the rocks!! I felt right at home. We hiked for a good six hours: up the vertical bog, then across flatter land, that had really big bushes of grass and millions of little pathways, to where we got the first glimpse of the peak. At one place we stopped and I clambered up a nice rock to see the scenery. We then continued along the ridge beside the northern Naro Moru valley and cut down to MacKinder's Camp (4200m). I must have gotten high off of something, because I sang songs (with gasps for breath in between words) for a good half an hour while hiking down the path. After crossing the bridge we were passed by some dutch and italian climbers heading the same way. I stayed back to get some pictures of a little waterfall and when I rounded a corner I saw Shawn crouching down, motioning for me to join him. He was looking at the rock hyraxes sitting on the boulders. They were so cute and furry :) Coming into MacKinder's I met Andrew and Junel heading back to help others who were struggling behind us. The camp was on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley. If I would ever picture a perfect valley, this would be it. It was surrounded on nearly every side by high mountains. A little stream ran through it, splitting into little branches that sometimes ran underground, reappearing in unexpected places. The ground was covered in tufts of grass and hyrax pellets. I sat for a long time watching the hyrax climb around. The sky was overcast and a bit misty and the wind was chilly. Looking at the mountain I saw the clouds come in and surround it, then disperse, then surround it again. I could hear the wind blowing between the rocks up near the top. It was a place of perfect peace for the mind. I was crossing the valley back to the camp, when the sun came out. I laid down on a grassy area between two streams and basked in the sun. It was perfect, I couldn't have been happier.
The sunset was beautiful that evening with the mountain glowing red against a dark sky. Most people went to bed quite early. We had worship in the entryway and sang songs. It sounded heavenly with all the voices harmonizing. Ate Karlah and I went outside to watch the stars come out. Junel joined us later. At first there were just a few stars, but more and more came out until the whole sky was full. It was wonderful. The temperature too :) It's been awhile since I've been anywhere that cold; must have been somewhere between -5 and -10 celcius. That night I bundled up in my sleeping bag and stayed warm.
We woke up at 1.30 and got dressed. I ate an apple and granola bar for energy. We thought Marielle was too sick to go with us, but she resiliently drug herself out of bed and climbed with us. We hiked out in a long line towards the Scree (not Screep or Screet, Eunice...) slope. A ways down the trail Raenelle and Denissa started feeling ill and Junel and Rester took them back to camp while we continued up. We crossed streams that were frozen :) that made me happy. It soon got warm enough to take off the top layer of pants. I walked with Ciku, using my flashlight to see the way. The faster people soon were a ways up ahead, leaving us stragglers behind. We climbed and stopped, climbed and stopped, climbed and stopped.... Each time we stopped I had to admire the stars up above us. I think I saw about seven shooting stars. It's the only time I've seen both the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper in the same sky. It was awesome. Up ahead we could see the lights of some people crossing the glacier, down below, the lights of Rester and Junel catching up to us. They soon caught up and Junel stayed with me and Ciku and helped us find the way. Rester stayed with Sharnie, LJ and John just behind us. We slowly made our way up from rock to rock with lots of rest breaks. Junel lost his hat at some point and nearly froze his ears. The Scree was okay when there were rocks to step on, otherwise it could be hard to climb in. We all slipped around a bit. Sunrise caught us nearing the top of Scree. First everything got lighter, then the highest peaks turned red and the sky turned pretty colors. Far away we could see the Aberdares and the shadow of our mountain in the mists below. I had to carry my camera battery near my skin to keep it alive. The night before it had begun to lose it's charge because of the cold, and I definitely did not want to be without a battery on the top. The sun was really warm once we reached the ridge. Austrian hut (4790m) was right around the corner and we stopped there. Some of our group had gotten sick and were sitting inside trying to feel better. We left Ciku there and Junel and I continued up the rest of the way. We passed most of the others and got to Point Lenana (4985m) at about 8 o'clock. It was windy up there, but nice. The surrounding scenery was quite like that of the moon's, barren and rocky. I had carried up the only Finnish flag I have :) a little one on a toothpick, and posed with it. Gradually the others got up too. The guys stripped their shirts off up by the flag and looked cold. I did mine off to the side, out of sight. The sun was rather warm and felt good.
Then we went back down.
Some ran down Scree, some tried sliding on their butts, I kind of skipped and walked. Going downhill for so long made my toes sore from hitting the shoes. At least my toenails were ok. When we got to the bottom, I took a different route down another scree slope and through the valley. It was nice, but once I got back to camp my feet were very very tired. All I wanted to do was to rest for a long time. We cooked lunch, I helped Heidi wash her hair and we packed up and left. It was all downhill from there and I know my feet weren't the only sore ones. Finally at the vertical bog Karlah and I went ahead of the others, finding pole after pole to stay on the right path. Every rock I stepped on, every drop in the path, made my feet hurt more. Below the rocks we came upon Denissa, who was not feeling good, and continued with her. She actually walked faster than us (poor invalids)..
It felt good to be back at Met and be able to sit down. I went to bed right after worship and slept like a log till morning.
Tuesday morning we got up, packed, cleaned and headed down the trail. It was easy without the packs, except that my feet hadn't recovered yet from the day before and the downhills were torturous at times. After about two hours the bus came up behind us and we got on. The roads out from the park were horrid. We leaned every this way and that and I think I lost all the peace of mind I had gotten on the mountain. We stopped by the equator and then headed back into Nairobi. We stopped for lunch around 3. A lot of us went for Indian. I had the best pizza ever! Not spicy in the least. I was happy with it.
The last 45 min in the bus was too much for some people. The whole back of the bus broke out in infectious giggles and fits of laughter. Some laughed so hard they cried, others couldn't breathe. They were rather amusing for a while.
I think we were all glad to arrive at Maxwell after the long bus ride.

That weekend was one of the better ones I've ever had. Everything came together perfectly. We were blessed with good weather, I didn't get sick, I had good friends to climb with, and I will never forget that valley up at MacKinder's. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

The only mishap that occured, I haven't quite recovered from yet. The night we got back I started downloading my pictures from the weekend. There were over 1000 of them. During the process the program froze and somehow I ended up losing 700 of the pictures. It was a rather hard blow. So anyway.. that's why there aren't more pictures posted here.