Monday, January 08, 2007

Well Dayn and I are finally back from our last round of big adventures. In case you haven’t been keeping track of my travels (and I wouldn’t expect you to be keeping track), Dayn and I ushered in the new year by climbing Mt. Kenya. We left Nairobi on Sunday, December 31st and drove for about 3 hours. We stopped at Batian’s View, where we would camp for the night before beginning our journey up the mountain. Batian’s View used to be the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) base for Kenya. It closed down in 2003, but the camp is still running. It was a beautiful place to stay, and in the morning we even got a view of the very top of the mountain.

On Monday (Jan. 1), we packed up all our gear and drove up to the gate of Mt. Kenya National Park. We went up the mountain with two guides (Patterson and Kamau) and a cook (Joseph), which was something I have never done before. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without them, and I’m so glad we did it this way. Apparently most people climb the mountain and have porters carry their stuff. This seemed an unnecessary extravagance to me. I mean, I thought having a cook was extravagant enough. There were 4 of us climbers - Dayn, a fellow teacher Stephanie, her fiancĂ© Kungu, and myself. Kamau (one of the guides) said that normally a group of 4 people will bring 8 porters to carry all their stuff. I felt like my bag was pretty light since I wasn’t carrying food, a tent, or a sleeping pad.

Our trip was laid out so that we would take 4 days. The hike on Monday was a nice, gradual uphill. The forests surrounding us were beautiful, and things weren’t too muddy despite all the rains we have been having. We arrived at Old Moses camp in the early evening. The camp had two buildings with bunk beds for hikers to sleep in. It sat atop a hill overlooking part of the Rift Valley (I think). Whatever we were looking at, it was gorgeous. Joseph and Kamau got to work cooking our dinner, and we enjoyed some nice hot rice and a vegetable beef concoction that tasted so good. We went to bed early to prepare for the long day ahead of us on Tuesday.

After we ate our hot breakfast on Tuesday morning, we began our hike toward Shipton’s camp. This was to be the longest and probably the most challenging day of our climb. The 4 of us came prepared with gaiters, which went over our pants and our boots to keep the mud out of our boots. It’s a good thing we had these because it was a very wet and muddy day. Dayn and I stayed with Patterson (our head guide) for the first part of the day, and as we hiked he gave me Swahili lessons. I can’t say I was the best student, but I’m glad I learned a little more.

We stopped at a nice cliff area for lunch, and while we sat I think the weather changed at least 18 times. The sun would come out, the clouds would move in, the wind would blow, then it would all stop. And this kept going and going. I’ve never seen the weather change so quickly and so often. When we started hiking again, the clouds had fully rolled in and it began to rain on us. Luckily, it wasn’t a torrential downpour, but it was consistent for about an hour and a half. The trail was already muddy, and this only made the hiking more challenging. I tried my best to just watch where Kamau placed his feet. If I followed his footsteps I was fine. At some point, of course, I had to use the little girl’s room. The guys kept walking and I caught up with them. Since I was so focused on catching up, I didn’t pay attention to where I was putting my feet. I stepped in some unsuspicious-looking mud and ended up sinking past my knee. I thought I was going to be stuck for a while, but luckily my other foot only sank a little, and I was able to pull myself out. I laughed so hard at my baggy, balloon-like pants, now covered in mud. This accident came at just the right time because I was starting to feel nauseous and achy from the fatigue and the elevation. But when I fell like this, it took my mind off the way I was feeling, and I was fine after that. I thank the Lord that He can use my clumsiness to help me get up a mountain.

The vegetation changed drastically on this second day of climbing. As we got higher, there were no more trees. Instead there were huge tufts of long, tough, multi-colored grass sticking out. And there were these lobelia plants that had huge green leaves sticking up in a circular pattern kind of like a cabbage. But so much more beautiful than a cabbage. Then where were these weird looking trees that were kind of like joshua trees except they had big green leaves sticking up. They were so cool. The plant-life was like nothing I have ever seen.

We finally made it to Shipton’s camp early in the evening. We could easily tell the difference in elevation where we were. We began the day at 11,000 ft and ended the day at 14,000 ft. Dayn and I could both feel our hearts beating faster than normal, and it was quite a bit chillier here. We waited a little while for Stephanie and Kungu to catch up, and as we waited, we could hear all the Kenyans chattering away in the kitchen. It was the most amazing sound. They were busy cooking for all of us, and I’m pretty sure they were having way more fun than those of us who were resting. They were speaking Swahili and Kikuyu (a native dialect), and it was this amazing symphony of sound. I wish I could describe it better. The word loud comes to mind.

There were a lot of climbers at Shipton’s Camp, and it was fun to talk with all of them. One couples we met was form Yorkshire, and we had a lot of fun talking to them. After eating another warm meal, we headed to bed. The rooms here were bigger and had more beds in them, so we shared the room with a lot of the climbers. Dayn and I decided that we would like to summit Point Lenana in the morning, which was supposed to be about a 4-hour hike in the snow to get to the 15,000 foot mark. I was nervous about this, but was looking forward to the challenge.

It was probably just below freezing when Dayn and I woke up in the morning. We put on our cold, damp hiking clothes to get ready for the climb. Dayn had not slept at all the night before because of the elevation. His heart kept racing, and for the first time since he was 5 he felt like he was going to throw up. I did not feel well either. I kept waking up feeling dehydrated, and it was hard to go back to the sleep. By the time we began climbing, I felt OK. Unfortunately, Dayn did not. Each step he took made his heart race, and altitude sickness began setting in. We made it about a quarter of the way up to Point Lenana and then decided to turn back. Patterson said, “Better to come down on your feet than on a stretcher.” And with all the fog and moisture, it was hard to see anything. I was disappointed to not make it to the top, but the people who did make it said that they could not see anything because of the clouds. And it took them over 7 hours to reach the summit and come back. Dayn and I still had an entire day of hiking ahead of us, so though we were sad to not make it to the top, we were glad to have more energy for the hike back to Old Moses.

Dayn, Stephanie, Kungu, Patterson, Kamau, Joseph and I all left Shipton’s Camp around 9 in the morning. As if to smack us in the face for not making it up to the top, the clouds cleared and we could see the very top of the mountain. It was so beautiful, and I was so glad to have the sun shining down on my face as we left. My pack felt so much lighter going downhill instead of uphill. Plus, I happened to be wearing most of my clothes to keep warm, so there wasn’t much left in my bag anyway.

In case you’ve lost track of the days, we are now on day 3 of the hike, which was Wednesday. This day was not quite as eventful as the previous day. I had told Patterson about my fall in the mud, so all morning he was trying to get me to reenact the scene, telling me to step in piles of mud. But I didn’t grant him the pleasure of seeing me fall. Too bad he missed it the first time. I managed to stay fairly clean all day.

We had the best dinner of our lives at Old Moses, and that left our tummies very full and our bodies ready to sleep. That night we all slept so well. We were warm, we were exhausted, our hearts were beating almost at a normal rate. It was lovely. Simply lovely.

The next morning (day 4, Thursday), it was pouring down rain when we woke up. It was sort of a good omen for our last day of hiking in Mt. Kenya National Park. We ate a quick breakfast and then began our hike to the park gate. It wasn’t the most difficult hike, but because it rained all day, it was extremely slippery on the path. I am quite proud to say that I did not fall the entire time, but I can’t say everyone had the same luck. I can say, though, that everyone was soaking wet. No matter how much waterproof gear you may have, no matter what REI tells you about waterproof-ness and breathability, at some point you are just going to be wet. And wet we were.

It was a relief to make it back to the parking lot. The climb was beautiful, incredible, beyond words, but we were all tired, stinky, ready for some warmth and dry-ness. After we packed up all our gear and crawled into Stephanie’s car, we headed to the Trout Tree Restaurant for lunch. It was delicious. After dropping Kamau off at Batian’s View, the place we began the trip, we began our drive back to Nairobi. Coming back to the polluted city was a little more on the depressing side. It still is a little more on the depressing side, but when my mind starts to think about the pollution, the dirty city, I go back to the beautiful landscapes of Mt. Kenya where the Lord revealed His glory through His creation. I am thankful for this experience, and I am thankful for the beauty of my everyday existence in Nairobi. It’s a different kind of beauty, and I will continue to adjust to it. Thank you for reading. May God reveal His glory in your everyday existence as well.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Well Dayn and I are back from Mt. Kenya. I will post a more detailed blog in a few days, but i wanted to post a picture from our safari. The picture files are so big that I can only post this one for the time being. See the elephants in the background? More to come later...