Tales from the snowcapped Mount Kenya

Mick Warwick, recounts the tale of three friend’s footsteps across Mount Kenya…

As most great adventures do, this one started on a bucket list.

I’m not a big fan of bucket lists but everybody has personal goals and challenges and to take this journey on the majestic mt kenya was something i could help make happen with the professional assistance of the amazing team at Rift Valley Adventures and our guide from Jaribu Outdoors

The group was only three of us.

Small but perfectly formed.

We knew each other well and had met, and now work together, on the Flipflopi Project in Lamu. We’ve been on expeditions on the world’s first 100% recycled plastic dhow so were kindred adventurous spirits.

This time was different though; we were swapping the ocean for the mountains.

Preparation is always key for a journey but this one in particular was going to need some serious consideration.

After much calendar deliberations we set a tentative date; later than anticipated but i wasnt surprised (we were all busy people). i set about sorting out some of the basic needs for our five day sojourn onto the hill; route, cost, menu, equipment, logistics, support, risk management and key of course – safety. acclimatization was carefully thought about although luckily all of us were already in Kenya.

Then it was April.

Five short days to go and we committed to go for it.

Success in itself.

As i was already in Nanyuki i set about finalising the logistics and doing the food shopping – the story of my glamorous life . the day before departure the rest of the team joined me in Nanyuki having had a scenic journey up on the train from Nairobi.

Reunited we could set about essential preparations which initially involved getting some food and catching up. kit lists, essentials for surviving the trip and packing took a hiatus as we spent an evening chatting.

But then we had to get down to the serious business of kit.

I love kit and have more than enough for every eventuality. Now i found out how useful it was in ensuring we were all as best prepared as possible.

I’m lucky to have a spacious flat and its always fairly tidy but the term ‘like a bombs hit it’ seemed an apt description as we all spilled out the contents of our bags and started to wonder what would really be needed.

‘Are four t-shirts enough for five days?’

‘How many long sleeved tops do I need?’

‘Should i take my motorbike gloves?’

Eventually, at late-o’clock, we were sorted.

My soft, warm bed called me, the last time for a while, and I slept the sleep of an adventurer. dreaming about another opportunity to learn, grow and experience the beauty of nature in all her magnificence

Our transit journey on the first day took us up to Chogoria gate; one of the main entry points onto the mountain. We had decided on this route as its often described as the quietest and most scenic on the mountain. what better way to experience this journey.

Daysacks were hoisted onto our backs and we set of excitedly for the short hike to ‘special camp’. it was an afternoon filled with joy to be embarking on this long awaited trip.

The foothills of Mt Kenya didnt disappoint and we were greeted by lush green grasses, vegetation, blue skies and sunshine.

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Enroute from Chogoria gate to ‘special camp’ ‘special camp’, was sited in a small forest that is ancient.

Camping in a living, breathing forest felt like a real privilege as we enjoyed the hospitality of the support team sustaining us through the afternoon and evening. Retiring into our warm tents for our first night under the stars we drifted into stillness and sleep as the soft patter of rain accompanied the snoring from the tents next to mine.

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‘Special camp’

During the night we had been treated to some steady showers. our excellent tents from Rift Valley Adventures did the trick and kept us warm and cosy. We awoke to a bright, sunny day with the birds and camp was alive with the sounds of a hearty breakfast being prepared. A simple morning routine rhythm was easily adopted by our team of experienced adventurers and in no time at all we had struck out for the day.

The incredibly beautiful Nithi Falls was on our route today and she showed up. the rains, that had arrived recently in the area, meant that the falls were in full flow making them ever more spectacular. Wildlife abounded and we met Dave the chameleon on the way. Much to the delight of the rest of the group encounters with wildlife would be found all across this forest zone as we started our climb upwards.

For the rest of the day we made our way steadily to lake Ellis – our spectacular camp for the night. With tents established and kit packed away we had plenty of daylight left. Now it was time for us to have a swim to cool off from the days excursions. exhilarating, refreshing and breathtakingly cold is the only way to describe this but I would recommend it to anyone as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Another hot, hearty meal followed before darkness fell, the stars came out (and were magnificent) and we retired for more sleep (it seemed that the snorer had followed us up the hill).

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Through our second night it rained. again. this time past the dawn. but oh was it worth it.

We were treated to the most spectacular double rainbow across the campsite any of us had ever seen…truly a memorable sight.

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The support team were doing an amazing job and fed us another wholesome breakfast of wimbi, beans, bread, fruits and copious amounts of chai. They dismantled camp two in record time as we set out for what promised to be a day of river-crossing, hill climbing and high ridge walking. Promises were truly kept.

Highlight of the day, for me, was having to wade across a knee deep river carrying boots and socks whilst whispering a prayer that the lighter amongst us didn’t get whisked away down the swollen river and over the falls. Thankfully it was maneuvered with panache and the balance of seasoned explorers and we continued on our way upwards to camp three.

We arrived at Mintos camp late in the afternoon after the longest day yet. We had arrived at 4200m today. Moving quickly through the mountain heath-land zone and finding ourselves for most of the day in the Afro alpine zone. Vegetation was much sparser, predominantly consisting of giant Lobelia, and the ground much rockier along the route.

Temperatures here were markedly colder and the air was thinner and drier but the team were coping well with the altitude. Credit to our preparation.

Our afternoon routine of exploration continued here; albeit less extensive due to the altitude and length of the day. Anticipating the next day’s push upwards, we also replenished and recuperated with chai, equipment preparation and some horizontal contemplation. The views at Mintos became more spectacular and, as the skies cleared, we could see the three major peaks of Mt. Kenya: Point Lenana; Batian and Nelion on display in the sunshine.

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It won’t be a surprise for you to read that the night, although starting clear and cold, continued on the rain theme. this time it didn’t stop. At this altitude, we were well and truly in the clouds and now reaped the benefit of a misty, dank, grey, cold, drizzly day. It looked set for the duration of the day with steely determination.

Our destination(s) for today were to summit at Point Lenana, via Simba Tarn, around lunchtime and then descend for an overnight stop at Shiptons Hut. The weather conditions had a different plan.

Leaving camp, in drizzle and mist, we traversed across rocky, shale expanses to then join the main track from Lake Michaelson to climb upwards to the first decision point – Simba Tarn. It was apparent from the get go that the weather, and conditions underfoot, were going to be the predominant challenges today. We had been blessed by the weather gods so far to have had sunny days and good walking conditions but they left us today. a solid day of mountain weather.

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Despite the weather we were managing well with the altitude and fatigue. Adopting a ‘pole,pole’ speed was valuable advice, which we heeded, from our guiding team along with frequent breaks for rehydration and snacks. despite the grayness and mist the scenery continued to impress. Eventually we regrouped at Simba Tarn for an update on our ‘next steps’.

The route from the Tarn to the summit at Lenana has an element of technical scrambling which in these conditions was going to be a ‘step to far’. To carry on without specialist knowledge, experience and equipment was not sensible for us.

Despite our enthusiasm to push ever upwards for the point Lenana (we were only around ninety minutes and three hundred meters of climbing from the top) when the factors and conditions were scrutinized we made the collective decision to descend down to Shipton’s Hut.

For the team, the summit was a goal and each day felt like a progression towards this. But as this, and many other journeys have unfolded, plans had changed, routes were amended and expectations change.

And it wasn’t to be Point Lenana for us.

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The descent proved to be slow, slippy and tricky underfoot – reinforcing our wise decision to turn back when we did.

In my thoughts, and I suspect the rest of the team, was the disappointment of not reaching the summit. But I knew that higher up conditions would be much more challenging and increase our risks.

Coming down provided an opportunity to reflect on the trip and the experience to share, learn and grow.

Mountains live, breathe and influence thoughts, emotions and feelings in us that change by the second. For me that’s the inherent beauty of each time I place my feet onto a mountain. its never the same so the summit remains to be completed by the team.

Another time.

Another plan.

Mick Warwick – April 2024

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