Mr & Mrs Turkey to be…. A trip up Mt Kenya
We were in Nairobi getting ready to leave to head up to Mt Kenya when one of the other overlanders at Jungle Junction asked “Where is Mr Turkey?” I cracked up laughing – Mr and Mrs Turkey! We are the two turkeys after all!
We drove up to Naro Moru and spent the weekend with some family friends the O’Mearas who have a fantastic house built in the forest at the base of Mt Kenya. The house is built in a clearing in the forest, surrounded by grand old trees with resident Colobus and Sykes monkeys and an impressive family of chameleons who live in the bamboo pot plants outside the front door. It’s very easy to slip into the Kenyan lifestyle here! Delicious three course breakfasts were taken on the table out the front amongst the trees, keeping an eye out for the monkeys keen to get their mitts on our mango pips. Breakfast is closely followed by morning tea with biscuits, then a big cooked lunch. We made sure we were back by afternoon tea time for freshly baked scones with cream and apricot jam. Our first afternoon was spent playing croquet on the back lawn (the O’Meara’s are pretty cunning with their croquet tactics!), which I came very close to winning but Rob pipped me at the post to claim the glory. After a leisurely afternoon tea we took the dogs up to the forest on the lower slopes of Mt Kenya in their old Land Rover where we saw a big bull elephant with some impressive tusks. Luckily for the moment he has managed to escape the poachers that are devastating the elephant and rhinos in the area. We wondered how much longer he would last.
The next morning we were up early on a morning guinea fowl-hunting mission with the O’Meara lads on a nearby farm. In the pre-dawn light the outline of Mt Kenya was etched in a delicate pink light, the slopes of this ancient volcano rising gently above us, the low dome pierced by the jagged peaks of the massif thrust straight up, like a grand old sentinel standing guard over the lands that bear its name. It was a fairly chilly drive down to the farm but we had the views of Mt Kenya behind us and masses of rhino on the nearby game ranch to keep us entertained. We were soon there with bows and shotgun at the ready. The bow hunting wasn’t the success it could have been but the guinea fowl stood no chance once we cranked out the shotgun! Unfortunately someone had attacked a rhino on a nearby reserve with a shotgun the night before. Poachers – horn hacked off with a panga (a machete), two more were to go that day. The poaching here is unbelievable, and its hard to imagine how rhino will survive at this rate.
Next on the agenda was Mt Kenya so off we set to try and knock the bastard off. The twin peaks of Bation and Nelion (5199 and 5188m), the highest peaks in Kenya (and second highest to Mt Kilimanjaro) are named after old Masai warriors, and are only accessible to rock or ice climbers. Mt Kenya is notorious for its bad weather and that morning’s view was the only glimpse we would get of the mountain from afar. Originally we had hoped to climb right to the top but it’s a fairly committing climb, with about 20 or more pitches in freezing temperatures, followed by a traverse of the icy Gates of Mist – the pass that links the two highest peaks, then a bolted descent of 14 pitches. Most people fail to get to the top and descend before nightfall, even with a 3am start…We decided to just climb the trekking peak, Point Lenana this time, but hope to come back at some stage and climb Bation.
We spent a night at the Met Station at 3050m to acclimatise before heading up the Naro Moru route to McKinders camp. In our infinite wisdom, we had decided to do the trip independently, which also meant we had to carry all our own gear, something we had been dreading for weeks as its pretty hard work walking at altitude! Nevertheless, we manned up, donned the packs and trudged up the 1200m, through the ominously named “vertical bog”, keeping a keen eye out for buffalo, elephants and snakes on the way through the forest. By the time we got to McKinders the mist had rolled in, it was freezing cold and had started to snow! Needless to say we weren’t too enthused about setting up our tent in the freezing wind! Things brightened up considerably after lunch, the cloud burnt off and we got some great views of the twin peaks of Mt Kenya and the pinnacle Pt John. There were loads of very rotund and rather cheeky rock hyrax hanging around the hut, launching co-ordinated attacks on the trekkers to scare them into dropping their food. I tried to take a photo of Kapai, our kiwi mascot, but every time I tried to put him on a rock, three hyraxes would dash in from different directions, teeth bared, ready to tear him from limb to limb.
We walked up to Two Tarns, a fairly steep climb 350m above McKinders, to acclimatise, nearly killing poor Brett in the process as he was struggling with the altitude. The walk was stunning, such beautiful light, walking through the alpine meadows studded with giant lobelia trees, rosette plants, tussocks and sedges, and with fantastic views of Nelion, Bation, the Gates of Mist, the Diamond Couloir and Point John.
All the other people at the hut were getting up at 3am to climb up to Point Lenana for sunrise (as a day trip from McKinders), but we wanted to do the summit circuit and camp at one of the tarns, so didn’t fancy getting up in the middle of the night, packing up the tent and lugging all our gear up there… just yet. So we got up at 6am and headed back up to Two Tarns, walking the summit circuit route clockwise. Always suckers for punishment, we opted to take the “short-cut” over a high pass, rather than the slightly longer route via a much lower pass – rooky mistake. We got to the top of the pass and far, far below were two iridescent green tarns we had to pass before climbing up the mammoth scree slope opposite to the next pass. What a mission! We were absolutely exhausted by the time we had made it to the next pass, by which time the midday mists had rolled in and it was pretty hard to find the route, so we dropped down to this lovely wee tarn called Kami Tarn, nestled in close to the cliff with Nelion and Bation almost directly above. We set up camp amongst the boulders, giant lobelias and hyraxes and sheltered in a rock bivvy for a tasty lunch of popcorn, soup and crackers. Before long it started to hail, then it started to snow, then it started to snow a lot! We piled into the tent for an afternoon kip, the snow tinkling against the side of our Macpac tent, and building up on the roof. By 6 o’clock the snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared, the stars were out and we were treated to an awesome snowy view of Mt Kenya while cooking up some delicious treats for dinner.
We got up at 4am to head up the mountain to Point Lenana. It was a beautifully clear, still (and cold) morning! There was about two inches of snow covering the ground, which made route finding fairly challenging, especially in the dark! We layered up with our Icebreaker undies, leggings, t-shirts and jerseys on to keep us toasty and warm and comfy, and off we set. We had our Ay-Up head torches which are pretty powerful, but even so, it was pretty hard to find the cairns amongst the jumble of snow-covered rocks and we kept losing the route. Eventually we gave up and just cut across the scree slope to meet up with the main track shown on the GPS. I struggled to keep upright on the incredibly steep, frozen, snow-covered scree slope – the track (if you could call it that) pretty much went straight up, it was hard work to say the least! At altitude you have to walk very, very slowly and try not to get out of breath, just put one foot in front of the other. Eventually the gradient eased slightly, thank goodness as it was a bit scary. The sky started to lighten and we were treated to an incredible sunrise. To the east the vibrant orange sky silhouetted a saw-tooth ridge, while on the other side the pre-dawn glow lit up the volcanic rock faces of Nelion and Bation with a beautiful pink light. The lower slopes were swathed in thick cloud, so the display was reserved only for those who had made the effort to climb the mountain.
On we went, up, up, up, passing Harris Tarn – a pretty inhospitable and cold place, we were pleased we didn’t camp there – and onto the final ridge leading up to Point Lenana finally arriving at the top about 8am, not another soul around. Point Lenana is 4985m high, situated pretty close to the equator and is one of the highest points in Africa. The views were incredible! Bation and Nelion looked close enough to touch, and certainly looked quite challenging to climb! I remembered I had Kapai in my pack, our wee kiwi mascot that my nephew had given me. I had strict instructions to take him on adventures and feed him grubs, so we took a few pics at the top. It was pretty cold up there and I was getting chilled, so I said to Brett I think we should head down. He was milling around, clinging on like a wee limpet and started rabbiting on about all the awesome times we’ve had together over the last six years (this was certainly up there with the best) and before I knew it he was down on one knee asking me to marry him! Of course I said yes! I was completely blown away, it was very romantic, and I totally wasn’t expecting it. He asked if I was sure, and I said yes, but I did ask him if I had to spend the rest of my life with a furball, and he assured me the ginger beard would go, at some stage… Brett whipped a bottle of whisky out of his pack and we had a wee dram to celebrate, and to warm us up, Kapai indulging as well (although it was hard for him to drink it with his long beak). We took some more photos and Brett did his obligatory handstand, then started the long descent down to Rodders, who was waiting patiently nearly 2000m below us. We were both buzzing, grinning from ear to ear, it was an incredible place to share such a special moment.
The route down the ridgeline towards Austrian Hut was pretty treacherous, but we took it slowly and made good progress, skirting the Lewis Glacier, past the hut and down the long scree slope to Mackinders Hut for a quick bite to eat before continuing. The cloud came in and it cooled down considerably, it had been raining quite a bit on the lower slopes and the route through the knee-crunching vertical bog and the forest was very slippery! We finally made it back to the car at 3.30pm and zipped down the road to the park gate, managing to get out without having to pay for another day’s park fees. We went back to the O’Meara’s where we had some celebratory drinks, dinner and then an early night! It had been a magical and very special three days and we were exhausted, but very happy! So, Mr and Mrs Turkey it will be!
Tips and Tricks
Mt Kenya is one of the only high peaks in East Africa that you can climb completely independently, without a guide or any porters. It’s also the only one that you can climb relatively cheaply. Our trek cost us $150 each for the three day National Parks pass, which includes camping. The vehicle fee into the park costs KSh300/day. Friends we know who have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro have paid £1200 for an all inclusive package. Mt Kenya is also a much more interesting trek than Kili, with incredible scenery and wildlife, and relatively few people.
We parked Rodders at the Met Station (3000m) where he was looked after by the caretaker. People without transport usually get dropped at the park gate and walk up to the Met Station (10km, about 800m altitude gain). Its still possible to do the trip in three days, but its unlikely you’ll be able to do the summit circuit, which is highly recommended! There is a backpackers near the park gate who can pick you up from Naro Moru, then drop you off at the park gate, making it a bit easier for those without transport.