It was with great excitement and anticipation that the Year 8s met at school, bright and early on the morning of Sunday 7th June. Having completed their Common Entrance exams on the previous Thursday it was time for a challenge of a different sort and the Mt. Kenya expedition really is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the end of exams, cement the camaraderie of years together and challenge body and mind. The build-up to this trip had been a little tense as parents worried about bad weather forecasts; indeed based on the rain that we had experienced in Nairobi some even questioned whether the trip should be cancelled. Mountains are fickle places, especially when it comes to weather and it is important to keep a close eye on conditions. However, when safely in the hands of experts like Rift valley Adventures and with appropriate mountain kit we were confident of a successful trip.
A dry start and uneventful drive to the Sirimon gate got the trip off to a good start. Menacing clouds loomed during our final kit check and lunch but we set off in good spirits, willing the clouds to move off in the other direction. The weather Gods favoured us and we made the slow trudge up to Judmair camp, just below Old Moses. This is a strange climb now, as the road is being built for a new lodge. To be honest it somewhat spoils the first impression of the mountain, but plans for a forest path sound promising for the future. This was the first taste of steady exertion at altitude and some struggled but most found a good pace and we arrived in camp proud of our first day. A hearty meal and a good night’s sleep followed with a filling breakfast in the morning before we started our real mountain adventure.
Due to the cold temperature and the regeneration of Liki North, the decision was made to go straight to Shiptons and the relative ‘comfort’ of the hut. This was a long day but everyone found a good rhythm and we all made camp in good form. To reach Shiptons is a significant achievement in itself and everyone was proud to arrive there. More excellent food refuelled aching bodies and everyone tried to get a good night’s rest.
The following day was an acclimatisation walk to gain some altitude experience. Some were already struggling with sickness and headaches but those who listened carefully to their bodies and the advice offered, soon realised that they could overcome some of the nausea. Interestingly many were experiencing a form of sickness that didn’t reflect the normal symptoms of altitude. Kenton College had experienced similar symptoms the day before and unfortunately, due to logistical complications had failed to summit with any of their children.
That evening we discussed the logistics of summiting with the children and several felt that they had pushed their bodies to the limit on this occasion and, proud of their achievement at reaching Shiptons, would not be able to summit. This is a very difficult decision for an individual to make and equally hard for a member of staff to judge. The last thing anyone wants to do is force someone to attempt something they genuinely fear, or make them carry on, despite exhaustion, so that they end up hating the mountains and never want to go back again. After a good chat some were encouraged to give the summit attempt a go and others were reassured that they had done an amazing job so far and should be proud of themselves.
An early supper was followed by early bed and a couple of hours sleep before the call to rise at 1:30am. Every layer possible and a cup of tea with biscuits slowly got bodies and minds working and the head-torch lit procession up the mountain began. This final stretch really is very steep and every step saps you of energy. Once again the Year 8s were amazing, pushing themselves to their very limits. Due to excellent logistical organisation and close communication between RVA and Peponi staff we were able to allow one group to descend from the half way point and another from about two thirds of the way. These children had gone above and beyond their physical limits and knew that to continue would put themselves and the rest of the group in potential danger. They made the personal decision to turn back understanding the importance of remaining safe and the potential impact of their actions on the rest of the group. This reflects incredible, personal decision making skills considering the age of these children and the desire to summit.
A final ascent group of 21 made the summit and although they were well after sunrise, they were treat to truly stunning views from the rooftop of Kenya. A bitter wind blew as we posed for photos and heartily congratulated each other on our success, mindful of the wonderful effort that our friends had made and we wished them safe return below us.
The walk, slide, skid down the scree face to Shiptons is somewhat quicker than the trudge up and, whilst rather painful on the knees, is great fun. We arrived back at Shiptons to find the others had made the very sensible decision to set off on the long walk back to Judmair. We quickly refuelled and repacked and set off in great spirits once again. Saheel led the way and set a blistering pace for us to follow. We were doing well until the weather finally caught up with us and the obligatory drenching happened just as we passed over from Mackinder’s Valley. This slowed us down somewhat but no amount of rain could dampen our spirits and we finally marched back into Judmair camp, in the dark to an amazing welcome from the rest of the group.
A final sleep and a steady descent to the Sirimon gate on Thursday morning marked the end of a wonderful trip and amazing experience that will long be remembered by all who took part.
A huge thank you to the staff of RVA for exemplary planning and leadership, particularly Dan, Bernard and Elijah. An equally big thanks to the excellent support of the Peponi staff; Mr Hoy, Miss Bewers and Mrs Virjee. But most of all a huge congratulations and thank you for an awesome trip to the Year 8 Leavers of 2015.