A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.

Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Hairy Lemon to Doha

Thinking about the future – which wasn’t going to include running this !

We’re on our way back after a pretty successful trip to Uganda, with five runs of Day 2 – and I’ve now run every rapid upright at least once ! Unfortunately, after a swim-free 2013, New Year’s day might have gone better as I swam both below Kalagala and on Vengeance immediately after. By the bottom of that, I’d got one watershoe and no socks left, so I was a very loose fit in the boat for the rest of the day. The last day was a lot better, starting off down the (very) bottom section of Itunda, and continuing down Day 2 with my first roll- and swim-free run of Vengeance and continuing upright all the way back to Hairy Lemon. Holiday total, thirty two rolls, three swims (I got myself caught on the eddy line after rolling up on Superhole).

We were up (slightly gratuitously) at 5 a.m. to be ferried across the back channel from Hairy Lemon Island to meet our airport shuttle. The traffic was nowhere near as bad as on our arrival before Christmas, so we got to Entebbe a bit early (four and half hours before the flight). Currently in Doha airport, with a seven hour wait for our final flight to Manchester.

Should be home mid-morning. Probably won’t make it onto the river…

Dreaming of a white (water) Christmas

A run from Bujagali dam down to Superhole includes a lot of flat water, but did include some white water sections we hadn’t done on our previous trip to Uganda. Dead Dutchman was one bit to avoid – but this was easily done by going down Overtime. An actual drop, but low enough volume to have no nasty stopper.

Jostling with the water hyacinth for position on Overtime

After Overtime, there’s a bigger rapid called Retrospect. Michael and Anthony ferried across below Overtime to reach a more challenging channel further left, whilst I made the ferry then dropped down to the same line as the others…

White Nile – Day Two run

July 2012 saw the entire family out in Uganda to paddle the White Nile. We’d originally sketched a plan to paddle in Canada in aid of Sarah and Michael’s growing playboating habit, but really wanted somewhere with a bit of river running to keep Mary and I interested. Lowri suggested the Nile, which I was not entirely comfortable with – I really wanted some hardish, maybe steepish, but above all smaller rivers than this ! However, we went, we saw, and we paddled. The water was warm, the people were incredibly friendly, and however scary at first encounter, the paddling was brilliant ! Mary and I had taken the precaution of going on Chris Evans’ “The Bombproof Roll” course at Plas-y-Brenin, since we’d both struggled to take our perfectly serviceable pool roll out onto white water. A good investment which definitely paid off, but also, paddling the Nile was a perfect complement to the course, as we got plenty of real-life practice in warm water with very few rocks. I, in particular, just went out one evening near the end of the trip and rolled repeatedly in the current far more times than I could have managed at home in cold water, and I’ve really never looked back.

As well as playing on the Nile Special rapids from Hairy Lemon Island, and Superhole, nearer to Jinja, we did a couple of runs down from the Bujagali dam (mostly easy rapids) and twice ran “Day Two” from Kalagala Falls down to Hairy Lemon, on the 16th and 18th July. The first video was put together (and rather ruthlessly trimmed to the limit of four minutes) for the SOC Photo Competition, using footage from both our runs, with both Sarah and myself using headcams. There’s also bank and headcam footage from playing on the Nile Special rapid, which is at the end of this run, taken on the 17th.

The video was shot in HD,so watch it on youtube for the full 1280×720 resolution. The river is vast, and there is quite a lot of navigation simply to find a route down reaching the named rapids by the correct channel. Here’s a gpx track of our approximate route, on which I’m pretty sure I’ve got the line down the five major rapids shown correctly, but the line down the flatter bits in between is a bit speculative (the track has been put together by looking at the aerial photos not recorded on a GPS at the time). The lines there possibly aren’t that critical, but please don’t copy the track into your GPS and believe that it will lead you down a safe route on the river !!

Cutting the Day Two video down to four minutes was enough work that I had watched too much of the footage too many times to make a good job of the full video showing more of the trip, so I left that job for later. I’ve been making more of an effort to catch up in spring 2013 (there’s a backlog of getting on for a dozen trips which will make videos) and the longer video is now complete (at just over 17 minutes). The intro was made from footage later on the trip when we travelled west and south close to the Congo border, but most of the video is paddling on the Nile.

Drakensberg: Giants Cup Trail

With both children at Barnard Castle school, we got a slightly longer October half term, giving us the opportunity to make a worthwhile trip to South Africa, with a five day walk in the Drakensberg, as well as various more touristy activities. The kids weren’t up for epic scale walks (and perhaps neither were we) so we chose a walk with fairly short days and huts for each night to keep the weight down. We invited Mary’s sister Chrissy and her partner David along too. We’d managed to book all the permits (and huts) from home, so there was no hassle finding offices or doing paperwork once we were in the country.

First day – Sani Pass road to Pholela Hut

The starting point is on the Sani Pass road (the same road we’d been to the top of yesterday on our brief visit to Lesotho). It took a while to get organised and get up there, so this was not the earliest start, but still earlier than we’d manage at home.

Thaba Tours drop us at the start of the walk – we should really have had an earlier start than 08:30

There’s a sign at the start which says “Giants Cup Trail, 60km” and the path starts to ascend, but very gently at first. Although the sky looks cloudless on the photo at the start of the walk, it had clouded over a bit at just the right time and was fairly cool as we climbed the steepest section of the 300m climb through Protea bushes and tree ferns.

There’s a steep climb up to the day’s high point, but it was still relatively cool

After the ascent, there’s a broad shoulder of land as we crossed to the Gxalingwena valley, offering lots of good views over the Mkomazana River to the Twelve Apostles ridge.

After an initial 300m ascent, we contour round for a kilometre amid splendid scenery

The path now throws away a lot of that hard-won altitude by dropping very steeply to the Gxalingwena River at iNgenwa Pool, where the river is crossed by a rickety log bridge with no handrail. This did give a bit of grief to one or two people, and crawling seemed appropriate to one of the group… After this trauma, we sunbathed and hung around for quite a while at the cool pool, which perhaps was an error as the days only get hotter and hotter.

Dropping down to the Gxalingwena River

Across the river, the path turns downstream, and ascends fairly gently up the shoulder of Ndlovini, passing a cave which we investigated (the guidebook suggests this as an alternative lunch spot if the weather is less clement). The grass was much longer and yellower on this side of the valley, which is not a slope effect from differential exposure to sun or wind, but is the result of the pattern of burning. The natural ecological pattern of this terrain is for vegetation to grow bigger over a few years and then burn periodically in the hot summers. If large areas burn at once, now that the wild land is hemmed in by agriculture lower down, it can take a long time for wildlife to come back, so burning is now controlled to ensure that a mosaic of smaller areas burn. This is apparently done by spraying a strip with weedkiller early in the growing season to establish a boundary, then late season when everything is dry, the enclosed area is deliberately burned on a windless day. The bare strips are wide enough to act as effective fire-breaks, but narrow enough to recolonise with vegetation quite quickly. The slopes we had descended to the Gxalingwena River were fresh and green, but the Proteas, which have evolved to withstand periodic fire, were all sprouting fresh growth from very charcoally branches – looks as though these slopes burned the previous year. On the Ndlovini side, the grass was about as long as we saw it anywhere on the walk, and was likely to burn later this year.

Above the Gxalingwena River, on a gentle traversing ascent.

There’s a long fairly level stretch as we contoured round Ndlovini towards the Trout Beck, as as we crested a minor rise, we saw that the slopes ahead were occupied by a large herd of Eland. We got a good view of these as we reached a small cliff which we had to descend by finding a scramble down in a little gully, during which time the entire herd sauntered away from our continuing path down.

Our path lay straight over the hillside occupied by a large herd of Eland

The path now traversed to cross a stream quite high, where it was small, before descending to the Trout Beck, which it crossed above the confluence. This was just about jumpable (if you passed backpacks across), though some chose to wade. Further down, we had to cross the beck again, and found a point where you could just about keep your feet dry on a shallow rock, though Sarah then took her boots off and paddled as we waited to regroup with those who had taken boots off at the previous crossing.

There were several stream crossings towards the end of the first day

The views got a bit more restricted as the beck cut down on its way to join the Pholela River and the rich grassland lower down was home to smaller wildlife, with a serious taste for bling !

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Camouflage was not a major objective of these big grasshopppers

As the side valley opened out again, we could see trees ahead, and the Pholela River was crossed by a substantial, though rather makeshift-looking suspension bridge. As a result of our less-than-crack-of-dawn start and the time we’d spent at the iNgenwa pool, it was now quite hot and we were pretty tired and dusty after 13 km on the trail, so the shade of the trees and the Pholela hut were very welcome.

The first day ended with a more significant river crossing – this was one of the better-built swing bridges

The hut (formerly a farmhouse) was open, with no warden, or anyone to check that we had the required paperwork, so we settled in quickly. We cooked a meal fairly early, since there was no source of light apart from candles and our own headtorches.

The Pholela Hut

Second day – Pholela Hut to Mzimkhulwana Hut

We were stirring at first light, and got breakfast fairly quickly, but were still a bit disorganised and took a while to get going, as we knew that the second day was the shortest on the trip. The correct trail was not immediately obvious, but a strategically placed marker stone pointed us the right way as we left the network of paths around the hut, and there was no mistaking the trail after that.

Breakfast as soon as possible after sunrise to get going before the heat

Initially, the path climbs steeply above the Pholela River, then more gently up to Tortoise rocks, a group of outcrops which do indeed look like giant tortoises from a distance.

Tortoise Rocks

Beyond Tortoise rocks, the gradient becomes quite gentle to a high point of about 1800m on the shoulder of eSiphongweni. At this point, we were looking for a detour path leading uphill, and were able to drop the big packs for a short climb up to Bathplug Cave, a big rock shelter with a stream cascading through the middle. There was supposed to be Bushman rock art here, and we spent some time looking before we eventually spotted it. Unlike some of the North American native art we’d seen, chipped out of desert varnish, or European cave paintings protected from the weather and even calcited over, the Bushman art here is very readily eroded by the wind and rain and is fading, despite being only a century or two old. You can see the ochre colours in small depressions in the rock, but it has already gone from the more raised parts of the rock and is quite hard to spot.

Andy on the path near Bathplug Cave

The weather on our arrival in South Africa had been very wet indeed, so we were fortunate that it had improved for our walk. One benefit of the wet spring weather, though, was the quantity and variety of wildflowers everywhere. Groups of pink everlastings in particular grew close to or even on the trail and we often stopped to photograph a group that was in some way more attractive than the last one which had caught our attention.

At this time of year, we passed wild flowers almost at every step

From Bathplug Cave, after we’d dropped back to the main trail and picked up our sacks, the way on descended gently and curved round into the Mzimkhulwana valley. Off to our left we could see where the river ran into a small reservoir and agriculture penetrated quite close to our route, leaving only a fairly narrow strip of wild land between the farms and the escarpment.

Starting a gentle descent to the Mzimkhulwana Hut

As the path curved away along the valley side, it followed a terrace formed along the top of a harder bed of rock, often crossing slickrock above little kloofs (eroded mini-canyons sheltering lots of vegetation). The open slopes above had many Proteas, the ones here in full leaf suggesting that this area had not burned for a couple of years. Ahead we could see a terraced ridge which had clearly not burned for much longer – at the foot of this spur was the hut we were heading for.

Traversing above kloofs on a very easy piece of the trail

The last bit of the path drops fairly steeply down to the Siphongweni river where there is a well tucked away bridge to get to the far bank and the Mzimkhulwana trail hut where we arrived before midday. There are small cliffs to the left of the path, and similar ones facing them, left of the hut. Both of these seem to be favoured by baboons, and we were kept entertained most of the remaining hours of daylight by their calls and antics.

The Mzimkhulwana Hut and the bridge which would start the third day’s walk

Third day – Mzimkhulwana Hut to Winterhoek Hut

Up well before dawn – the valley mist had burned off by the time we finished breakfast and set off

By now we were getting the idea that the afternoons were unpleasantly hot and the best time for walking was early, so we managed to be up well before dawn for the longer third day. I had chance to wander around a little as the kettle boiled observing how the clear sky had led to a thermal inversion and valley mist. This burnt off very quickly and skies were clear and sunny by the time we were walking.

The path up the ridge towards Crane Tarn

The path crosses a suspension bridge over the Mzimkhulwana River almost immediately, and then goes up the valley just a short way before climbing steepish slopes on to the ridge leading to Mvuleni Hill. Once on top of the ridge, as usual, the gradient eases, and we had gained most of the height whilst it was still fairly pleasantly cool. We did get a bit strung out along this path, Sarah and I well ahead at this point, but the path was very clear all the way up to Crane tarn.

Many wildflowers everywhere around Crane Tarn

At Crane Tarn we had reached our high point for the day with views ahead opening out towards Garden Castle. Although there were no Cranes in evidence, footprints indicated that this was a haunt for wildlife, and that baboons had been around very recently. The unburnt grassland round about was also full of wildflowers between the odd-shaped rock outcrops.

The white everlastings were not quite as common as the pink, but every bit as attractive

The path now crosses the ridge and starts a descent to the Killiecrankie Stream (not only are place names a mix of native and colonial, but even the latter are a curious mix of Scots and English – after Trout Beck on the first day, why isn’t this one Killiecrankie Burn ?) Where the path crosses the stream, we took advantage of some deep pools for a swim. The trail then leaves the stream and crosses a couple of gentle rises (David and Chrissie managed to disturb a snake basking on this section, but fortunately with a walking pole, rather than a foot. Puff Adders have a reputation for not getting out of the way in a hurry, and having a very poisonous bite). The third rise was a little steeper and then we found ourselves dropping out of the wild country, past a kraal and onto the road. At this point we could see the Winterhoek Hut just across the valley, looking quite close, but the route followed the tarmac for a mile or so, before meandering directly over a hill (and past a grumpy looking bull) and seeming to take a very long detour to reach the welcome shade.

The Winterhoek hut in the trees looks close, but it was a very hot and weary two or three miles yet

Dropping off the hill and away from the cattle, the last bit of path to the group of rondavels did restore our spirits somewhat, and the shade of the trees meant that the “hut” was quite cool, and well away from signs of civilisation.

Last bit of path before the shade of the Winterhoek rondavels

Unlike the other huts, this was not a single building, but a group of half a dozen round thatched huts, most with four bunks inside, but one with toilets and a bigger more open one with seats. Like the other huts, there was no-one else around, and no-one to check we had the right paperwork.

Four bunks in each rondavel, and a big shady shelter with seats. All to ourselves

Fourth day – Winterhoek Hut to Swiman Hut

The fourth day has the longest and steepest ascent of the walk, starting with a 350m climb directly from the hut towards Black Eagle pass dominated by the rocky ramparts of Garden Castle. We were off soon after first light and well up the climb before it started to get hot, scolded by a large troop of baboons on the higher rocks. From this initial high point, the path wanders across fairly level terrain, but another couple of fairly short climbs lead to a high point of almost 2000m with a good view of Rhino Peak and a steep descent off the end of the ridge.

Starting up the slopes of Garden Castle heading for Black Eagle Pass

The Swiman Hut is very obvious at the head of the valley, along with the Garden Castle Forest Station, among a large group of trees, mostly the alien Eucalyptus which the land managers seem to be trying to eliminate, with limited success. They are fast growing and come back from felling or ringbarking – burning out the stumps seems to be a favoured tactic. The Swiman Hut was surrounded by the biggest group of Eucalyptus we saw on the walk (although there were far bigger plantations lower down on our travels). The last section of the path follows slickrock above a small stream to reach this outpost of the road system, seeming a lot less wild than the other huts along the way – it even had electricity and lights !

The path follows slickrock towards Rhino Peak on the last mile before the Swiman Hut

Fifth day – Swiman Hut to Bushmans Nek

The next morning we achieved our earliest start, despite the night having been cloudy with a heavy dew and needing us to wear jackets for the first part of the day’s walk. Looking left to a large area of grassland, there was so much dew that the low sunlight glinted off it and it looked almost like a reflecting rippled lake in the distance.

Low angle early morning sun glinting off dew on the grassland

Since the Swiman Hut was higher up than our other overnight stops, the initial ascent to cross into the next catchment was less – just 150m past rocks, flowers and tree ferns (but not many Protea) before starting a descent to the Mzimude River.

Each group of rocks provides run-off water for groups of flowers

The descent was quite steep, and lost most of the height we had gained in the first couple of kilometres. The stream was quite big, and crossed by quite a chunky bridge (the guidebook said it would be a suspension bridge, but this seems to have been replaced by three spans of heavy planking on concrete piers).

The Mzimude River

From the far side, as the skies cleared and the day started to warm up, we were faced with the main ascent of the day, climbing up open slopes onto a ridge.

A substantial bridge crossing the Mzimude River as the skies started to clear

This initial ascent seemed bigger than we’d expected and we were getting quite hot already by the time it levelled out and we were able to find some shade behind rocks and a big tree for a bit of refreshment.

Finding shade by a Protea and some big rocks towards the end of the last major ascent

From here we lost a bit of height before walking along slickrock above the valley, this section having excellent views back over our previous day’s walk, and having less ascent than we’d expected. There was also a bit of a breeze from time to time.

Looking back down a tributary stream towards the Mzimude River and much of the country we’d traversed

We joined the stream for the ascent over rocks towards the top, still surrounded by flowers, even in the most inhospitable of spots.

Even high up in the rocks, flowers abounded

The best rock art of the trip was supposed to be in the large rock shelter of Langalibalele Cave, which was a slight detour to reach, but proved well worth the effort. This was sheltered from the outside world by collapsed rocks and was much more of a cave than a mere rock shelter. Inside was a pile of grass and droppings indicating recent use by nesting baboons. The cave itself was characterised by wind-eroded sandstone fretted into intriguing shapes.

Langalibalele Cave

Like all the other Bushman rock art we saw, this was faded, but was indeed much clearer than the barely detectable art at Bathplug Cave.

The last Bushman was seen – and duly shot, for the tribe had been officially classified as vermin – in the Giant’s Castle area just before the game reserve was proclaimed. The little man in question was of special interest, because around his waist he carried a belt of antelope horns, containing all the powdered colours used in Bushman rock art. This death was tragic beyond belief, for this last lonely survivor of an essentially peaceful and graceful culture which had been destroyed by greed and intolerance, was probably one of the world’s great anonymous artists. What a chance was missed here, for had he and his fellow hunters survived just a few more years they would certainly have found refuge in the new reserve, and continued their old ways, sharing with us their wisdom of nature. With their passing the spiritual giants of the Drakensberg disappeared into the realm of legends.

Fading Bushman rock art in Langalibalele Cave

After lunch at the cave, there was a little more ascent and then a long, hot descent to Bushman’s Nek. This was another large area which hadn’t burnt for some time, with tall yellow grasses and perhaps fewer wildflowers than on much of the rest of the walk.

Andy, Michael and Sarah at the end of the walk

I gave a slide show on the walk after our return, and the slides (a lot more than are on this blog entry) can now be seen on a dedicated page.

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 🙂