He said YES. After Mount Mulanje, Chris had all but sworn off hiking. I was shocked. And then the panic set in. We had been sitting on our asses in the car for the past three months. We most definitely were not prepared to climb the second highest mountain in Africa. We had just 12 short days to get in shape—nothing like cramming.
We were welcomed to Nairobi with freezing temps and heavy rains-cue to check the mountain weather report. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the tiny snowflake symbol with numbers on the negative side of the number line. We were definitely not equipped for this!
Fortunately, we found a company to rent out proper boots, jackets, and pants on our way. Hopefully that would be enough. We spent the night at the base of the mountain in the comforts of Kisima Farm. We sipped a nice glass of red while snuggled up next to the fire. Scenes of this cozy night would soon run rampant in my memory as we trekked through the blizzard of 2016.
Day 1 was a very easy 9K hike up to Old Moses Camp at 3300 meters. After raining all day, we were lucky to have the skies brighten up for most of our walk. Mountains are always unpredictable, maybe our luck had changed and the weather would turn right. Maybe not.
We woke up the next morning to clear skies and a cool breeze. We put on some light pants and rain jackets…just in case. The clouds began rolling in within the first 30 minutes of the hike. Uh oh! A few drops of rain fell but the sun was still fighting to shine, resulting in a beautiful rainbow glowing over the valley.
Our guide was certain that the rain would pass so we pressed on deciding to keep our other rain gear dry for the summit morning. BIG mistake! We quickly learned that our “waterproof” jackets were not so waterproof. We were soaked. Still hoping to keep our warmer clothes dry for the following morning, we decided to push through. The light rains turned to a downpour, which then turned to sleet, and finally became a full on blizzard. We were now trekking through a winter wonderland. Except it was anything but wonderful. The previous night around the fireplace seemed like a distant memory.
The idea of “Pole Pole” (slowly slowly) quickly went out the window. With less than an hour to go we decided to put the hammer down. We were adamant on keeping those warm clothes dry. As we gained altitude, the temps began falling rapidly. Scenes from Everest played in my head; were we going to freeze to death on the mountain? We kept on trekking and finally made it to Shipton’s Camp at 4200 meters above sea level. We stripped off our soaked clothes and put on every single item of clothing we had. We battled to get warm for over an hour. Finally the uncontrollable shivers came to a halt and we felt human again.
The sun decided to make an appearance late that afternoon, giving us incredible views of the three peaks (Batian, Nelion, and Lenana). Truly inspiring! Our spirits had lifted and we were ready for the challenges Mount Kenya had to offer.
After a terrible night of sleep, we were up at 2:30 AM to get ready for our summit push. The altitude had gotten to us as we both woke up with pounding headaches. Chris was also suffering from nausea. We bundled up, wrapping our feet in plastic bags to help protect from frost bite. Ten minutes into the hike and I was cured by the fresh air; however, Chris was still feeling lousy. Although a bit nippy, the conditions were looking pretty good. Light cloud coverage turned to clear skies giving us a glimpse of the steep, glacial hike ahead. Overhead, the moon was brightly shining; perhaps we would be fortunate enough to watch the sun rise from the crown of Africa.
The clouds began rolling in and the wind picked up. More snow. The ascent was incredibly difficult. It was a steep scramble through deep snow. Towards the peak, we were lucky enough to catch the sun rise for five minutes before the sky was completely blanketed in thick clouds. We came around a bend approximately three hours later and there it was: the end was in sight! We could see the Lenana Peak sign just above. Our hike ended with a small ladder leading to the top. I got a bit emotional and Chris came back to life; we had made it! What an accomplishment, 4,985 meters in tough conditions. Chris removed all of the ice from the Point Lenana sign and we took our “on the top” photos. Due to the below freezing temps and high winds, we immediately started the climb down.
As we went downhill, so did the weather. I could only describe the descent as attempting to walk down a black diamond ski slope without poles. Challenging to say the least! More than half the time was spent on our backsides. We arrived back at Shipton’s Camp around 8:30. Again, we battled to get warm. Everything was soaked. After tea and a short nap, we headed back down.
Because of the terrible weather and lack of dry clothing, we opted out of the scenic Chogoria descent (an additional 59 kilometers). Instead, we headed back down the same trail we had taken up. Finally, the weather played in our favour. The clouds parted ways above the highest peaks. The 18 kilometer hike back down to Old Moses camp was extremely enjoyable. We trekked through beautiful valleys covered in lobelia.
We eventually reached Old Moses Camp and headed back to the warmth and comfort of Kisima Farm. Through wind, rain, sleet, and snow, crossing the equator twice, climbing to an altitude of 4,895 meters, we had made it. Although both of us has sworn off hiking on holidays during the toughest hours of the trek, we’d recanted our words. The natural beauty that surrounded us on this last day had us wanting more.