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Guiding our guide

Posted on 20 Sep 2015 | 10 comments

Mount Kenya is the second highest peak of Africa and as it is just around the corner from us we were keen to get to the top. We were promised a more beautiful and scenic route than Kilimanjaro and fewer crowds, and Mt Kenya certainly delivered.

Bjørn flew over from Denmark to join us, but unfortunately Dorthe couldn’t as she was (very) pregnant. We had decided not to use porters for our Mt Kenya hike, and we had found a guide who was happy to carry everything himself too, the only thing he didn’t have was a tent. So the 3 of us would sleep in Bjørn‘s 3-man tent and Jackson, our guide, would use our 2-man tent.

preparing the dehydrated food for the hike

preparing the dehydrated food for the hike

Leaving early, Pascal, our driver as Bernard was on holiday, drove us to the start of the Chogoria trail on the eastern slopes of Mt Kenya, picking up Jackson along the way. Having a driver meant we could be dropped-off at the Chogoria trail-head and picked up 5 days later on the northern side at the end of the Sirimon track. We are certainly making the most of our expat life style here!

having a look at the first topo map we have seen of Mt Kenya

having a look at the first topo map we have seen of Mt Kenya

After paying the entry fee to the National Park and devouring our pre-packed lunch, we started on an easy trail to the point where we turned off to head up to Lake Ellis, just after a little river crossing. Little did we know then that we should have not crossed this little river… Trusting our guide with 25 years of experience on Mt Kenya (and a map!) we let him take the lead. The trail we were on soon disappeared and we were pretty much bush-bashing with full packs. The clouds came in and visibility rapidly dropped to about 50m. In the rain we continued until we decided to query Jackson about the direction and time it would take to get to Lake Ellis. It was getting late and soon we would be hiking not only in the rain, but also in darkness, something we were keen to avoid.

crossing the little stream we should have never crossed...

crossing the little stream we should have never crossed…

Instinct (and a rough idea where we were heading after having seen Jackson’s map earlier) told us we were not heading in the right direction. Jackson tried to convince us he knew where we were going, but we decided to consult with our gps, and it was lucky we did. He didn’t want to believe the gps (which showed us he was nearly 180 degrees off), but as the 3 of us did trust the box of electronic tricks, he had no option than to follow. Only when we were finally on the ridgeline looking down over the lake we were heading for did he admit that ‘maybe the gps was right…’.

our guide didn't believe the gps, but we did and off we went in the correct direction this time

our guide didn’t believe the gps, but we did and off we went in the correct direction this time

We pitched our tents and cooked dinner, luckily it had stopped raining by now. The next morning, whilst drying our wet gear in the blazing sunshine, we could finally admire the beautiful setting of Lake Ellis before setting off to Lake Michaelson. Lake Michaelson is supposed to be the most beautiful lake of Kenya and it certainly is spectacular. We still have to visit quite a few lakes before we can compare it with all Kenyan lakes, but so far it is a winner.

Jon and Bjørn getting water from Lake Ellis in the morning

Jon and Bjørn getting water from Lake Ellis in the morning

hiking through the big tussocks of grass makes for a lot of zigzagging

hiking through the big tussocks of grass makes for a lot of zigzagging

our first glimpses of the peaks whilst on the walk

our first glimpses of the peaks whilst on the walk

Bjørn with one of the amazing Lobelia Telekii on Mt Kenya - they grow for several decades, flower once (soft looking green / purple / blue when in flower) and then dies.

Bjørn with one of the amazing Lobelia Telekii on Mt Kenya – they grow for several decades, flower once (soft looking green / purple / blue when in flower) and then die.

Jude looking out over the valley we just came up

Jude looking out over the valley we just came up

Jude in the distance

Jude in the distance

Jon taking a picture of a mountain chat

Jon taking a picture of a mountain chat

stunning Lake Michaelson

stunning Lake Michaelson

We got to Lake Michaelson after a day of easy hiking in beautiful sunshine. There were 3 girls camping here already so we moved further out towards the lake for some privacy as the 3 girls came with their entourage of 11 porters plus a guide. The sun was still shining when we got there so we quickly stripped off and went for a dip in the nippy waters. Bjørn’s thermometer later confirmed our suspicion of a single digit water temperature – it was 7 degrees.

Lake Michaelson from a different angle

Lake Michaelson from a different angle

yep, we all went in!

yep, we all went in!

our camp site next to Lake Michaelson

our camp site next to Lake Michaelson

the sun was out again at breakfast

the sun was out again at breakfast

After our experience on the first day with Jackson we made sure to keep a close eye on the track and consulted his map regularly (the problem with Kenya is that we haven’t been able to find a topographic map of Mt Kenya yet, so he had the only map of the area between us). We decided we would take a more direct route from the lake towards the summit, rather than backtracking to the main path. We were rewarded with a beautiful hidden valley before hiking up through the falling snow to get to Lower Simba tarn, where we joined the main Chogoria route once more.

looking back towards Lake Michaelson

looking back towards Lake Michaelson

the valley ahead

the valley ahead

Bjørn next to a giant groundsel

Bjørn next to a giant groundsel

amazing giant lobelia (before it grows the huge cone) - it captures water in its leaves, which freezes overnight, but doesn't seem to bother it.

amazing giant lobelia (before it grows the huge cone) – it captures water in its leaves, which freezes overnight, but doesn’t seem to bother it.

the scenery is amazing on the Chogoria route

the scenery is amazing on the Chogoria route

walking in the sleet, a little higher it was snowing but it turned to sleet lower down

walking in the sleet, a little higher it was snowing but it turned to sleet lower down

hiking up to our next campsite, the sun came out and steam started raising from the cold ground

hiking up to our next campsite, the sun came out and steam started raising from the cold ground

We had agreed to camp at Kami Tarn but managed to change our minds a few times before finally settling on Kami Tarn after all. This meant a detour down through heavy falling snow to Shipton’s Camp and back up to Kami Tarn instead of traversing there directly from Lower Simba Tarn. Again we realised Jackson had probably never done this exact route. Nonetheless, we made good time and had the tent pitched well before nightfall and chatted to other groups who were setting out to do technical climbs the next day.

breakfast at Kami Tarn Camp

breakfast at Kami Tarn Camp

Jackson decided to stay at Shipton’s Hut and would meet us in the morning on our way to Point Lenana (the highest point on Mt Kenya that can be reached without some serious climbing).

Unlike most people hiking to Point Lenana we didn’t get up in the middle of the night to get there for sunrise. We wanted to see our surroundings on the way up and were hoping for a clear morning and we were lucky. After a few hours of steady climbing we reached the top and had it all to ourselves in glorious sunshine! We spent a lovely hour at the top, admiring the views, including the imposing Batian and Nelion Peaks, 200m above us across the Lewis Glacier, before starting the descent and our circumnavigation of the peaks of Mt Kenya.

our hike to the summit, we wanted to see the views on our way up so didn't leave until 7AM

our hike to the summit, we wanted to see the views on our way up so didn’t leave until 7AM

getting close to the top now

getting close to the top now

Jude disappearing into the distance

Jude disappearing into the distance

Jude, Bjørn and Jon on Point Lenana - 4985m

Jude, Bjørn and Jon on Point Lenana – 4985m

This descent starts with a via ferrata, apparently the highest in the world, across a snow-covered ridgeline. Part of the via ferrata (the actual line) was also covered in snow and ice and we had to clear them before we could descent. So much fun! But I guess we were lucky that there was not too much ice and the descent was relatively straight forward – it would have been a different story with more ice.

Jon on the way down using the highest via ferrata in the world

Jon on the way down using the highest via ferrata in the world

Just after we reached the bottom of the via ferrata the clouds rolled in. The rest of the morning and afternoon we would be hiking in the clouds. Yet we saw every beautiful part of the walk as we were fortunate enough that the clouds lifted periodically. The circumnavigation crossed about 6 valleys and ridge lines and made for a very long  day hike, but was totally worth it. The scenery was spectacular and changed in each valley, each as photogenic as the last. And to cap it off, the whole route was deserted – we literally had the mountain to ourselves.

circumnavigating the peaks of Mt Kenya

circumnavigating the peaks of Mt Kenya

circumnavigating the peaks of Mt Kenya

the last lake and last hike up to get back to our camp at Kami Camp and complete the circumnavigation of the peaks of Mt Kenya

the last lake and last hike up to get back to our tent at Kami Camp and complete the circumnavigation of the peaks of Mt Kenya

That night we spent again in the same camp before heading out via the Sirimon track. We enjoyed the upper section of this track, but once we had dropped into the next valley we thought the track was a bit boring and were very happy we had chosen the Chogoria route to hike in as it was far more scenic. Around midday we reached Ol’ Moses camp where Pascal was already waiting for us. After seeing the now major road to the park gate we were even happier with our route choice as the hike up to acclimatise along the road would not have been great. We stopped for a big well-deserved lunch at the Trout Tree where the Colobus monkeys and the tree hyrax never stop entertaining us, before driving back to Nairobi. Mt Kenya certainly provided some fantastic hiking (and climbing) opportunities, hopefully we’ll be back one day!

the end - Sirimon Gate

the end – Sirimon Gate

10 Comments

  1. Thank you for the memories. I climbed it in the early 60s,
    when I around 13 or 14 years old. It is still one of my fondest memories.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the read! Climbing at that time must have been amazing! Take care, Jude

  2. Hoi Judith en Jon

    Wat een mooie avonturen weer kan me alleen maar aansluiten bij de rest.
    Echt mooi daar. Peet en ik willen naar Oostenrijk om daar te gaan hiken van hutje naar hut. Ben zelf alleen nog maar in Duitsland aan de hike gegaan. Dit zal dan ook heel anders worden. We willen dan trekken van hutje naar hutje. Samen met de hond die ook deze winter mee is gaan survivelen in de Ardennen. Ik wilde een foto van ons toevoegen maar weer niet hoe dat moet hahaha. zal het een x met Amy overleggen zodat ik je een x een foto van ons avontuurtje hahaha kan laten zien.

    Groetjes Liekje Peter amy beestenboel en veel genotsplezier tijdens jullie nog komende avonturen

    • Hi Liek, ja het is super mooi hier! En leuk om te horen dat jullie het wandelen ook leuk vinden! Alvast veel plezier in Oostenrijk! Liefs, Judith & Jon x

  3. Hey Jude, what an adventure! Im not online often but this was a great story to read, you both are seeing some amazing sights. Good thing you guys are experienced with Maps! Thanks for my birthday wishes. xo Jules

    • Thanks Jules!! It was definitely another great adventure! Hope you’re having fun on Tassie!! J&Jx

  4. Reading this magnificent story and enjoying the pictures, I have been there also, really the cheapest solution….;)
    Wonderful trip and story, enjoy and continue writing so also we can enjoy with your trips!!

    groetjes uit Alblasserdam

    • 🙂 glad you continue to enjoy the stories! plenty more to come. You can also just write in Dutch if you want 🙂 Happy new year and hopefully see you again in 2016!!?

  5. Ha, ha, next time you can save the money for the guide and just use your GPS.

    • yes, would have been a cheaper option… 🙂

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