Glorious solitude on Mt Kenya

Writer Peter Elia headed to Mount Kenya in research of a significantly less crowded alternate to Kilimanjaro. He and his companions observed they had Africa’s next-maximum mountain absolutely to themselves.

Shivering is section of existence on Mt Kenya, primarily at 2:45am at substantial altitude. As I taken out my glove and guided my numb hand to my head torch, I could now see what lay in advance – a jagged massif of volcanic rock and a steep climb to a much-off summit.

Getting appear to Kenya to ascend this 5199m (17,057ft) mountainI was anxious to begin the climb, and my entire body was crying out for the heat that motion would deliver. The eerie silence was broken by the audio of scree rattling menacingly down the mountain facial area and the faint echoes of laughter from a pack of hyenas.

“We should really have long gone to Kilimanjaro as an alternative,” I joked to my trekking guides as they emerged confidently from our hut. But their optimism allowed me to tentatively start off to think about the impending African sunrise, a few miles above the Equator.

A lioness with Mt Kenya rising in the background
Mt Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the 2nd-optimum in Africa, following Kilimanjaro © Anton Petrus / Getty Illustrations or photos

Africa’s greatest summit, Kilimanjaro or “Kili” as it truly is affectionately recognized, experienced been my unique alternative for an East African experience. After all, what is the point in tackling Africa’s next-maximum mountain when you can stand proudly on the extremely prime of the full continent? On the other hand, Kili is famed – and where by there is fame, there will usually be crowds.

For me, a big amount of people today on a hike defeats the intent. On a previous climb up to Britain’s maximum peak, Ben Nevis in Scotland, I felt far more like a client than an adventurer. Experience isn’t something you can warranty, but you are a lot less most likely to discover it by following the crowds.

In addition, Mt Kenya seemed like an enjoyable proposition – a hike exactly where wildlife roams freely throughout a numerous, forbidding landscape. So when a close friend of mine asked me to join him and two companions to climb it, I made the decision to forgo the Kili bragging legal rights, and wholeheartedly agreed to the ascent of Kenya’s maximum peak.

Scenery on Mt Kenya at 4200m above sea level
Mt Kenya could absence Kilimanjaro’s epic profile, but the terrain is no much less spectacular © Kristof Kovacs / Shutterstock

Embracing solo journey in Kenya

I decided to travel from London to Nairobi a week previously than the relaxation of the team. Sad to say, just as I arrived in Kenya, I acquired that new Covid vacation constraints back dwelling in England meant the other folks could not sign up for me.

My thoughts moved from worry to disbelief to disappointment. Continue to, I was in Kenya and I was wanting for experience, so I contacted Benson Njoroge (aka Ben) of Trek Mount Kenya, our proposed climbing guideline, to persuade him to revive the excursion. “How many people today are coming with you?” asked Ben. “Just me,” I replied, hopefully.

In non-pandemic periods, a solo mountaineering journey would have price tag a tiny fortune. However, we both acknowledged our desire to make this trip perform in these unparalleled situations, so a compromise was achieved: I upped my financial offer you and Ben reduce his trekking crew down to three. I could not feel it. From the despair of finding myself on a team trip devoid of a group, I now felt like a lottery winner.

Writer Peter Elia and guides Joshua, Benson, and Samir at the the Equator line on Mt Kenya
Peter Elia, Joshua, Benson, and Samir at the Equator line on the way to Mt Kenya © Peter Elia / Lonely World

Crisscrossing the Equator

I remaining Nairobi the following working day in the pouring rain with Ben Joshua, who would be sorting out the logistics and equipment and Samir, who would keep us nourished via the hike. In Kenya, I was instructed, you get there when you get there, and it speedily grew to become apparent that our travel to the beginning of the trek was heading to get significantly lengthier than Google Maps’ prediction of three several hours.

But extensive journeys make for excellent introductions. We obtained to know each and every other as we inched by means of the Nairobi targeted visitors. Hrs afterwards, at a roadside image-op – a indicator marking where the Equator cuts as a result of the region – I figured out that our hike by means of Mount Kenya National Park would be weaving in and out of each hemispheres.

Green lobelias on the slopes of Mt Kenya
From the starting, the hike up Mt Kenya delivers epic landscapes © Zoomtraveller / Shutterstock

At Sirimon Park Gate, the starting position of our a few-day journey, we signed the rangers’ registration guide, which I observed was entirely blank. In all the earth, there was not a one soul who would be trekking in the park apart from for us.

The vacant web page was an embodiment of the toll the pandemic has taken on the tourism market here. In involving reflections on all the livelihoods influenced by the pandemic, an additional considered emerged: if no one particular else was in the park, who would listen to our cries for aid if a little something went incorrect?

The very first day’s hike was a gradual introduction to the mountain, teasingly revealing its magnificence. Mt Kenya is a assortment of sculptured peaks and ridges that are the end result of eons of erosion.

Tarns glistened in the large-altitude sun, sitting down at the bottom of U-shaped valleys. The terrain assorted hour by hour, from rolling heather-coated slopes to dense stands of bamboo and tropical rainforest. In advance of I knew it, we had arrived at Previous Moses Camp, a group of tin shacks with bunk beds. Samir had absent forward to cook dinner a big portion of chicken and vegetable pasta prior to we headed to bed for an early night.

A guide on the trail to the summit of Mt Kenya with clouds behind
The ascent of Mt Kenya is a trip into the clouds © Peter Elia / Lonely Earth

As the sunshine rose the subsequent early morning, we climbed steadily as a result of the dusty lowlands into primeval forest. The additional we walked into the national park, the extra personal our conversations turned. “My aged manager in no way compensated me,” stated Ben, as he recounted his times starting out as a porter. “Following months with no pay out and relying on recommendations, I vowed to set up my possess firm 1 day.”

It was basic to see how his struggles experienced bred empathy: he actually cared about his staff and he did not want them to go by means of challenging periods as he did, a tall purchase in the center of a pandemic.

We could have been the only 4 people hiking here, but we had been not by yourself. Although animal figures have declined noticeably because of to many years of poaching, with the assistance of Joshua, we spotted numerous footprints along the trail, which include those people of hyenas, leopards, and elephants.

At just one level, Joshua shushed the group, directing our consideration to a hissing seem coming from a close by shrub. Joshua cleared the bordering foliage to reveal a chameleon resting on a department.

Writer Peter Elia and guides at Shipton Camp on Mt Kenya
Shipton’s Camp is often the last end in advance of the summit of Mt Kenya © Peter Elia / Lonely World

Our 2nd night’s lodging was at Shipton’s Camp, which resembled an aged army barracks that had viewed greater days. Mountain buzzards soared specifically over us, and sunbirds hopped all over the scattered rocks encircling our dormitory. The tranquility of the scene produced me really feel at simplicity about the up coming day’s summit climb.

But just before long, the birds disappeared and hefty grey clouds moved in. Mt Kenya instantly seemed menacing. I puzzled if I would keep my nerve for the closing push.

Writer Peter Elia and guides, Benson and Samir pause for breakfast on Mt Kenya
A filling breakfast is a important phase if you approach to conquer Mt Kenya © Peter Elia/Lonely World

Early birds capture the sunrise

I am a early morning individual – but having a 2am alarm connect with at 4300m (14,000ft) previously mentioned sea stage is a lesson in character-creating. The altitude experienced finally hit me. I was thirsty and disoriented as I stumbled out of my creaky bunk bed. I felt like I was waking up immediately after a blurry night time out in Vegas.

I think about myself a nutritious and able hiker, but altitude illness is indiscriminate when it arrives to all those of us who invest most of our time close to sea degree. “You need to drink lots of water and take in all your breakfast,” Joshua reported with fatherly conviction. “You can be great. No hurry,” added Ben. They did not seem to be nervous about me they experienced observed it all prior to.

The mountainous landscape on the main route toward the summit of Mount Kenya
In comparison to Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya can truly feel completely untouched by people © R. Bociaga/Shutterstock

We slowly and gradually zigzagged upwards, the way ahead illuminated only by the sharp beams from our head torches. Ben dropped back again to my situation to announce that Joshua would lead the hike from there as he had additional summit working experience.

Only then did I master Joshua’s story. He experienced been a mountain guidebook chief for numerous many years, labored in the backbreaking lumber trade, and commanded a position as an elder inside of his group. As I read this tale unfold, reducing as a result of the silence of the early early morning, I understood it was the kind of story I very likely would not have listened to in a group of climbers on Kili.

When our dialogue stopped, I discovered the depth of my hefty respiration and my aching joints. I identified myself slowing down as the initial shards of mild appeared, my eyes mounted on my boots, as if ready them to shift. “Convert about!” bellowed Ben out of the blue, and I twisted my body 180 levels and felt a wave of pure pleasure. The eastern horizon experienced burst into flames and I was transfixed.

Writer Peter Elia and guides Joshua and Benson at the summit of Mt Kenya
Peter Elia, Joshua and Benson at the summit of Mt Kenya © Peter Elia / Lonely World

Points hadn’t very gone to program. The objective was to check out the dawn triumphantly from Mt Kenya’s peak. But these a checklist-worthy experience would have been out of move with the improvisational mother nature of this adventure. Catching it when I minimum predicted it – fatigued and shed in my thoughts – was, in its very own way, great. Not prolonged soon after dawn, I reached the summit and we erupted into a chorus of thank yous and congratulations.

As the clouds dispersed to expose clear blue skies, I pointed to a mountain in the considerably distance: Kilimanjaro. I could have been there. I questioned if I would have been equally glad if I had been standing on that summit seeking towards the place I was standing now?

Peter Elia hikes with Nithi Waterfall behind him on the slopes of Mt Kenya
The writer trekking in the vicinity of the Nithi Waterfall © Peter Elia/Lonely World

A new strategy to journey

The knock-on outcomes of the world pandemic improved the narrative of our trek. In our bubble of isolation, the four of us shared our hopes and fears brazenly. From slipping in really like for the to start with time to worries for vulnerable relatives users, we coated a variety of matters not normally broached on your typical hike.

There is a thing unique about climbing absent from the crowds. Time slows down, and nature presents a serving to hand to quiet each intellect and physique. Apart from seeing a gorgeous corner of the earth for the initial time, this was a trip that pushed me down new paths of discussion and relationship. No matter if it was the tallest mountain in Africa or the runner-up was beside the position.