Guiding our guide
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.
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!
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.
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…’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!