“Just take the Diamox” L. Kane, 2015
One of the many enjoyable aspects of working in Kenya is the opportunity to explore the county. Climbing mount Kenya is unmissable as far as I’m concerned.
We chose to take the most straightforward route up Mount Kenya via Sirimon Gate to Point Lenana. The trip took a total of 4 days and saw us climb from 2650m to 4985m. As a result, altitude was a significant consideration, and given my previous experience at altitude (air hunger, Cheyne-Stokes respiration and an unpleasant resting tachycardia) I followed the excellent advice of a previous Global Links volunteer to, “just take the Diamox.” I’m very thankful I did as I seemed to acclimatise without too much difficulty on this occasion. The side effects were interesting: altered taste, tingling hands and feet as well as a preview of what life may hold in decades to come as I woke several times a night to go to the toilet.
Day 1 of the trip started from Sirimon Gate, and was a very relaxed walk through woodlands inhabited with monkeys, baboons, buffalo and even elephants to Old Moses Camp at 3300m where we spent the night. I had expected to be on basic rations for the days I was climbing but was very pleased to be presented with a 3 course meal that included butternut soup, fried fish and a selection of fruits and vegetables.
Day 2 was a significant step up in effort. It was a longer day with 1000m of ascent at modest altitude. The scenery took the edge off the pain though. Moorland gave way to the land that time forgot. There were bizarre looking giant lobelia and ostrich lobelia which covered the valley with the top of Mount Kenya visible in the distance.
By mid afternoon we were able to stop for lunch, some of which I shared with the very tame birds which ate from my hand! Before long we were on the move again and after long day we reached Shipton camp. Conversation was sparse, and we did little more than eat a soon as we could and then head to bed in anticipation of the 2am wake up call and final push to the summit.
And so 2am arrived. I was already awake due to a combination of excitement and diuresis. I changed into full winter kit in anticipation of the clear skies and subzero temperatures outside. It was a significant change from the shorts I’d been in up till this point. I got some coffee and biscuits on board and went outside. I was met with clear skies, a full moon and a hint of what the next 4 or 5 hours would hold as we made our way to the top before sunrise.
The steady plod to the top began, illuminated by the moon, and when necessary, our headlamps. The altitude effect was easily felt at this stage as we all rapidly became breathless, and one of our group lost the benefit of their breakfast. Having brought a pulse oximeter with me to Kenya, I did of course take it with me up the mountain. My saturations at Shipton had been 89%, with a modestly raised heart rate at rest of 80.
After 4 1/2 hours climb we reached the top. Special mention has to go to Kevin, who like the pioneers of the Western Frontier, made it to the top in a pair of Levi 506s. Without doubt though the star of the show was Robyn, who had never climbed a mountain in her life, and despite being vomited on by a team mate who will remain nameless, plodded all the way to the summit. We sat down and enjoyed being the first group on the top that day, and watched a most outstanding sunrise.
Within a couple of hours we were back at Shipton and sat down in the morning sun to a breakfast of French Toast. We then retraced our steps to Camp Moses where we spent the night before the final couple of hours walk out of the park.
Celebrations followed with dinner at Trout Tree, a tree house restaurant at a fish farm and a final overnight at Camel Camp, sleeping in grass huts with camels freely roaming the site. Friends from the DTM&H will appreciate my application of DEET in fear of soft ticks when I slept in my grass hut.
And all that was left of the trip was to enjoy the best breakfast in Kenya. Indeed, it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had. There were 3 rooms of breakfast. All for the price of a fry up at the Little
Chef Thief in the UK. It was at the Mount Kenya Safari Club. It turns out that the fact it felt like the kind of place that James Bond would visit isn’t exactly unfounded, as in 1976 an alliance of intelligence agencies called the Safari Club was formed there to fight the spread of communism. I’ve never visited anywhere like it in my life, and I’m never likely to again!
Altogether it really was a great trip, and will be one of my enduring memories of my time in Kenya.