A true adventure trip of a lifetime, the journey to hike Mt. Kenya quickly became a goal for me after spending time this summer in the southern countries of the African continent. Mt. Kenya is the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second tallest mountain on the African continent with three discrete peaks (Batian at 17,000 ft, Nelion at 17,000 ft and Point Lenana at 16,400 ft). Of the three peaks, only Point Lenana can be summitted without technical climbing skills.
Mt. Kenya is known for its lakes and varied landscape, a sharp contrast to Mt. Kilimanjaro which stands at 19,350 feet and is the tallest mountain on the African continent and located in Tanzania. We chose to ascend Mt. Kenya via the Chogoria route, chosen for its beauty and longer path. This route provided a higher success rate to summit as well as an opportunity to camp and fish each evening at an equatorial lake.
Our journey started from Niarobi by private charter flight to Nanyuki and then by car to the Rutundu Cabins (10,000 ft), two rustic log cabins nestled next to Lake Rutundu and made famous by Prince William’s proposal to Kate Middleton. Known for its remote beauty and fly fishing, we spent two days acclimatizing, taking day hikes to Lake Alice and surrounding areas, fishing and checking our equipment.
On our third day, we began our ascent to Lake Ellis, our longest day of the trip traveling over 11 miles and climbing to 12,000 ft. before descending to 11,400 ft., where we camped for the evening. Fresh rainbow trout were bountiful and a welcome addition to the hearty stew and quinoa prepared by the amazing staff from Summits Africa (Summits-africa.com), who set up and broke down our mountain camp each day and night on the climb and provided all safety and medical assistance as well as porters, food, equipment and other supplies.
Our two intrepid guides throughout the trip, Finlay Marrion (www.everwildafrica.com)and Shaun Mousley (www.nomadic-africa.com), are both passionate about fly fishing, conservation and adventures. Their knowledge of the indigenous plant and animal life as well as their sense of humor and fabulous fishing skills made for hours of entertainment.
The next morning, we hiked approximately 7 miles and ascended to 14,000 ft. through rocky terrain before descending the Gorges Valley to Lake Michaelson (13,000 ft) which is a glacial lake surrounded by cliffs on three sides and filled with rainbow trout. This was probably the most picturesque spot on the climb, and we were gifted by a rising full moon over the lake as the sun set on the cliffs behind us. Some of us were daring enough to plunge into the lake but most of us opted for a warm tent shower and “bush baby” in our sleeping bag that night.
On our fifth day, we began the slow walk up to Simba Tarn camp, testing all of our willpower and patience. As we left Lake Michaelson behind us, we ascended through a field of giant lobelias and groundsels and into the alpine zone, composed primarily of glacial moraine and a short scree slope. Our early afternoon arrival at Simba Tarn, the highest lake in the world due to its proximity to the equator, was well-received by climbers and porters alike as it gave everyone the opportunity to spend warm hours in the afternoon sun, making last minute preparations for the early summit the following morning. Many of our porters were from the Maasai tribe and they shared with us some of their traditional dances and robing. Our attempts to participate in the “jumping” custom left us quickly winded with no apparent exertion on their part.
We were blessed with spectacular weather throughout the climb. Bright blue skies by day and clear evenings blanketed in planets, moons and stars were all visible to the naked eye. Our last night in camp at 15,500 feet was both cold and short! After a delicious dinner of Kenya coconut chicken curry and a detailed briefing of the morning ascent, we all turned in early in anticipation of a 4am wake-up call and 4:30am departure.
Up well before dawn, we began the final ascent in the dark with headlamps, multiple layers, and a sense of uncertainty as to what to expect. Our goal was to be at Point Lenana before sunrise at 6:30am and watch the equatorial sun creep over the clouds and cover the surrounding peaks in its rays of light. Scrambling over boulders, patches of snow and short scree fields was new to many of us and the relatively short distance of just over 2 miles (1,400 feet in elevation gain) was not for the faint-hearted. Our group was tenacious and steady and we all successfully summited and sported grins from ear-to-ear (some behind face masks protecting us from the freezing cold temperatures and wind).
After the sunrise and several rounds of hugs and pictures, we began the descent. A large number of our group chose to helicopter off the mountain upon return to Simba Tarn Camp (30min helicopter ride down to Nanyuki and short drive to the much appreciated hot shower and delicious lunch at Soames Hotel) while three of us elected the long slow walk out (10 miles) savoring every moment of an incredible journey and personal achievement.
Kelly's Packing List for Mt. Kenya
Vuarnet $340, Tibi plaid overshirt, $895, Alex Mill expedition pant, $125 Mammut anorak, $499, Ganni beanie $100, Dr Sturm ski cream for Perfect Moment, Kule striped socks$100, Corroon nylon Go Bags, set of 2, $30, Patagonia Nano Vest, $149