No honeymoon on Mount Kenya

Well, actually, it was our honeymoon… We’d flown out to Nairobi, and had two nights at the Ark, during which we were really quite ill. It turned out that several people had been ill after our wedding reception at Redworth Hall, so we can’t blame it on African food, which was consistently good (apart from one notable exception at Nakuru where the wonderful-smelling stew turned out to be made entirely with chicken necks – it still didn’t make anyone ill). The plan next was to do an ascent in the Aberdare mountains, which would have been good acclimatisation. However, doing so required we take an armed guard, and one could not be provided, so we had to skip this bit of preparation, have an extra day at Naru Moru Lodge, and then head up Mt. Kenya.

21st January: Still not feeling perfect, packing. Breakfast. Dump gear at Mountain Office, money, passports etc. in Hotel safe. Set off to walk to park gate. Pass minibus but say we don’t need lift. Doing OK, but very hot.

Bus catches us up before Naro Moru. Offers very good price (KSh 200 each) for ride to park gate. Succumb and get treated to a tour of Naro Moru with additional passengers, then finally on to park gate for noon. Loads of paperwork, but park fees less than we expected and they only take for five days as they expect we’ll retreat because of weather. Walking by ~ 1pm. Soon see monkeys (Sykes’ ?). This is hard work – very hot. After big rest ~200m higher, we struggle on, having another big rest at bridge claiming to be at 9000′: less than half way ? But sign is lying and it proves to be over 9200′ on the map. Slower and slower trudge to get to Met. station and 4.30, knackered. Put tent up and lie down for an hour or so. Then cook. At least we can both eat OK today. Crash ludicrously early.

22nd January: Wake 6-ish to hear no-one stirring but there’s sounds of someone departing after 6:30 so we make brews and breakfast. Off by 8.50 – hell, this is hard work. OK to 3200m by Signals station, then off track onto slippy muddy path in patchy sun – very hot. Stop to discuss dumping the climbing gear, but Mary persuades me not to. The “Vertical Bog” starts off more vertical (but not too desperate) and less boggy, mainly rocky and wet in thinning trees. As it gets less steep, so it gets boggier, so put on gaiters. Now clouding over and cooler, going a lot better than before. It seems endless. Getting very knackered. Stop for pee. Very dark. Stop 35m higher (failed to catch Mary) for half litre drink. Put camera on tussock. Mary way ahead waits for me. Long rest. Finally set off and not too bad to where Mary is. Off another 30m or so then notice no camera. Hope it’s where Mary was ‘cos I can find that. Drop sack. Descend. It isn’t. Drop down to 2615m by altimeter and look rather hopelessly about. Manage to recognise specific plantain and on second sweep locate the spot and camera. Phew ! I can hardly believe that I could really find it. Back up to Mary, easyish without sack. Morale now boosted, so better progress. It’s still endless. Look at map and convince myself that the altimeter is under-reading (it wasn’t).

Finally reach shoulder onto north side of ridge and convinced we will now contour, but three times we round a small bluff to see another pink and white pole higher up. Desperately hoping for a possible camping spot, but no chance. Passed by local gentleman at 3.30 who set off at 1 pm, Hmmmph ! Soon reach real top at 4000m and shortly we can see where the trail crosses the river: camp there ! But our trail seems to stay high and continue endless. Now convinced we missed a junction, so hack down to where the trail crosses the river and make camp. Fix brew but both too knackered to eat, so just crash. This is at c3950m. Sleep surprisingly well.

Top of Teleki Valley, looking to Mt. Kenya. Batian and Nelion on the left above the iconic Diamond Couloir. The dominant peak in front is Point John. Point Lenana and the Austria hut are up the scree slope rising to the right out of the picture.

23rd January: Just thinking about a brew when sun hits tent. So up and into action, feeling much better. Stove getting even more badly behaved (doesn’t seem to like altitude when running on kerosene). Go for a freeze-dried meal for breakfast. Use a vegetarian one – not terribly palatable but we finish it between us and are off at 10:22. We make it to Teleki lodge (higher) in 1 hour 10 min, but then lose our way a little. Piccy Rock Hyrax at the lodge. Going better by the time we reach the river again and now seriously contemplate making Top Camp. Scree slope goes well, or so it seems, but proves to be double the length that it appears from below and steeper at the top than we had expected. However, route to Lewis Tarn looks horrendous, so we slog on. Last 150m is less steep, but again, map makes me think we are higher than we actually are, so again the bad psychology. Path seems to pick the highest and rockiest spot to cross the ridge, but we are finally here in just over four hours from Teleki Lodge. Guidebook time is 3½-4 hours so we must be getting better. It’s very cold here, we find when stopped. No one else here and desperate place for a tent, so we pitch it inside the hut.

The “Austria” hut on Mt. Kenya – the rocks just behind are higher than Mt. Blanc

24th January: Now 3:24 am. Both drinking Dioralyte. Mary feels very dry but still urinating. Both slept a tiny bit. Both heady. Cold and windy outside but OK in here. My pulse down to 94, must have been 110 earlier and really thumping.

“Woken” by sunrise at 6 and again just as a guide and two Brits drop in. Guide has altitude so sends Brits up Lenana on their own. Sounds of popping pills from next room. Apparently I slept quite a bit after our dioralyte, but now have bad head and pulse back to 100. Brits return after 1 hour 20 mins, but fester here for 20 mins while I get up and start lighting the stove. Eventually have it going after party have gone. About 5 cups of tea later, plus one headache pill and two paludrine. No food, its 10 am and my pulse was down to 90 but my head hurts.

The ridge rising to Point Lenana – the “walker’s” peak

Disturbed in toilet by first of another Lenana party who arrive shortly. They inhabit hut while we are getting organised. We finally leave for the top a couple of minutes before they do, just as the fog starts to drift in. Nice Névé for kicking steps most of the way up. Sounds of their guide cutting steps behind us – very Victorian. Bit chossy just below the top, then up. 45 minutes and not out of breath, must be a BIT acclimatised. Fractions of a very good view drift in and out. Wait half an hour to avoid congestion with the other party. By the time they are all up, there is no view at all.

Mary on top of Point Lenana, with bits of a view among the clouds

So, down. In 12 minutes. Can’t be bad. Party of doctors/medical student/wife (all Brits in Kenya) arrive. Most saunter off up Lenana while I fight with stove melting snow to ensure we have loads of water (even if it does all taste of paraffin). They eventually descend and then decide to stay at Austrian Hut rather than go to Minto’s which is much filthier. Jolly evening ensues, we jealous of their heavy food (banana cake, eggs, whiskey…), they jealous of our freeze-dried hot meal (Burgundy beef). We eat well for a change, lots of brews too, then crash fairly early.

25th January: A fairly good night, maybe three lots of 2-3 hours sleep. Up just after five, can’t face world without a brew, but nearly burn the place down with malfunctioning stove. Mary has to fetch snow to dump on it. Still, water just about hot enough for us to have our brew. Finally off, in the dark, just on six. Rope up on moraine, by the time we are on the Lewis Glacier I don’t need my head torch. Glacier a little steeper than I expected, but no problem. Any crevasses are very well covered. Dump cagoule, dachsteins, axe on moraine, then slog up poorly marked route over very loose scree and talus to foot of route. Arrive 7:03. Change coils: about 18-20m of double rope between us. Scramble up 1st pitch, bring Mary up in O.G.Jones style, saunter along ledge for 2nd pitch. Third pitch harder as gully somewhat snowed up and I take less than easiest line up rock on right. Felt a bit thin in boots at 4800m with no protection in. Ten minutes per pitch so far and obvious way right on next stepped pitch. Soon find an awkward move round a corner. Find good protection for Mary, then a 2½m descent, below a chimney. All seems OK, as per guidebook; Good protection, polished holds, fine. Mary arrives.

Next pitch is “right 6m and up rib on right”. Have to descend some more, then a very awkward move round a corner and into a little gully. Up this, bring Mary up. Can’t climb a rib on the right here, so try to traverse some more. Pegs round corner, but move across looks very hard to retreat. Now spend about ½ hour fannying around mis-identifying features and reversing the second awkward corner. Still don’t twig that this is the awkward corner and we should have dropped down, then right. Finally climb a ‘rib on the right’ which is really a flake in wholly the wrong place. Bring Mary up on poor belay, then look for One O’Clock Gully. Above is a steep corner which definitely does not fit the route and which I’m not climbing. Waste more time finding belays, then Mary leads down easy chimney to where we were 1½ hours ago. I follow. Only now realise where we are, but by now thoroughly stressed up, too much time wasted, and we are already psyched up to descend so don’t investigate the way on. Will regret this eventually. Descent slower, much more protection used. I’m now starving ! Avoid thin moves by having Mary lead down snow in gully, she protects it extremely well for my descent. Along ledge and scramble to base of route. Now almost 11 am.

Andy eats, drinks and witters. Then back down scree. Find gear (just), and onto glacier. A knackered. M leading across glacier getting psyched out by complete white-out as cloud has moved in again. Back to hut by midday, really more shagged than we should be. Don’t remember much about the afternoon. Brewed and ate sometime I expect. Andy feeling worse, but weather nasty so no motivation to go down early. Leave it too late. Bedtime:- Andy breathless. As night progresses, I can’t ignore the gurgling in my left lung – I have pulmonary oedema. I reason that the deterioration is very slow, so no immediate panic. Resolve to leave at first light, Mary carrying all the climbing rack. Long, rather unnerving night. Definite deterioration.

First light hitting the tops – we were already some way down the scree slope by headtorch

26th January: Wake at 5.10 as small Lenana party pass through, and Andy is motivated but coughing badly. Get packed up – no brew – ready to move as it gets light. Mist has just cleared, but 1-2 cm of fresh snow. However, we can plod slowly, following fresh prints of ascent party. Crossing high boulder field rather anxious, but much happier once we start on the descending path. Steadily down, with a few rests, steep bit is quite hard. Meet (French?) party coming up very heavily laden, walking with ski poles.

Probably more than halfway down the snow-covered scree slope by the time it’s light enough for photos

Bottom of scree slope, feeling better. Rest. Cough. Mary tries to lead to Teleki Valley floor path, but it’s not very well defined. Andy gets very demoralised. Another hour (?) to the Ranger Station, reached off-track by ascending their open sewer. Long rest at Ranger Station. Coughing up small quantity of blood-stained sputum. Very slow plod up gentle hill takes ages with desperate coughing to Teleki Lodge. Another long rest, but feel better this time, so plod to Naro Moru River crossing with only two rests. Now 10.15 and really can’t face climb up to the top of the vertical bog.

Decide that 800m of descent will be enough, and Mary puts up the tent. Have brew, feel better, sleep some, lungs seem OK. Certainly less coughing and reduced gurgle. Have meal. Very nervous about crashing out, but do so and sleep.

The same camping spot looks very different in early morning frost!

27th January: Not motivated to start. Heavy frost on everything. Mary impatient and obviously worried. Manage brew and set off. Slow but steady up rise and eventually pass our previous high point on this path. Cross ridge and start descent.

Climbing back out of Teleki valley to reach the top of the Vertical Bog

It’s about here that we spot the first Leopard footprints. Big moggy ! Must be heavy too … Henceforth very nervous about walking along little gullies in rocky areas. Bog/boulder hopping very tiring. Andy demands long rest somewhat below the camera losing point. Starts to rain – quickly get cold and have to wrap up in cuddlies and cagoules. Only about half the descent to the Signals Station at 3200m (where the track starts).

Starting to descend the Vertical Bog – it quickly got cold again!

Start moving again, now warmer. Immediately steeper and more rocky. Lose another 100m quite quickly – good morale boost despite the rain. Descent continues well, keeping right of the marker posts, where it’s drier underfoot (a relative term). Still seeing occasional Leopard prints. Pass germanic group going up with brollies as we reach the forest. Andy now taking photos too. Mary finding the going harder and getting very demoralised that her montane forest photos weren’t going to be successful because of the rain. Must mean that she has stopped worrying about me full-time ! Very low while changing film and batteries at the signals station, then both somewhat happier on the track down to the Met. clearing. Here before 2, should get down OK. Probably a mistake not to take a rest here. Main track very slippery and Andy having trouble maintaining a grip, though Mary doing better than at the start of the forest. Andy finally loses it and sits down very hard. Much profanity. Mary told she should laugh. Rest at bridge ‘halfway down’ and less clothes after. Rain easing and getting much warmer with height loss. Andy gets slower and slower as gradient gets less. Must be about an hour for the last mile, and really struggling with the little uphill bits. Park boundary at five. Andy horrified to find Mary suggesting we don’t need a lift down until tomorrow !

Andy determinedly looking cheerful at the last rest before exitting the park

Next offer of ride is for KSh 1200, so we say ‘800’ and settle for 900. Pay remaining park fees; usual slow haphazard affair. Then about an hour’s drive on incredibly slippy wet dirt track. Loads of baboons at park gate, various other beasts in Forest Reserve. Dropped right by the door at Naro Moru River Lodge. Book in. Get gear carried to cottage 24. Bath. Meal. Crash.

The rest of the trip went very well by comparison 🙂