High Expectations: Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya, the country’s highest mountain is an extinct volcano, where glaciers have tumbled over ancient lava for hundreds of years.

The two highest peaks, Batian (5,199m) and Nelion (5,188m) are almost vertical and classed as technical climbs. Our goal was Point Lenana (4,985m).

The climb is serious. As well as being pretty fit you need the right clothing and equipment for a variety of climates and terrain.

Mount Kenya Mount Kenya

There are a few classic routes but we forged a new way up via the little used Burguret trail and returned on the Sirimon route.

For two days before we left, our porters had been hacking back the overgrowth.

Added to the huge amount of equipment carried by our 27 porters, cooks and guides for 11 of us, were chainsaws and machetes.

Trekker on Point Lenana, Mount Kenya Trekker on Point Lenana, Mount Kenya

Our first camp deep in the bamboo was at 2,600 metres. Fires were lit, tents pitched and prepping began for the three course evening meal.

Huge great vats of water were boiled. Daily we were supposed to drink 3-5 litres of water, dehydration being one of the causes of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), commonly known as altitude sickness.

Afterwards, we all sat around the blazing fire, fuelled by an endless supply of bamboo. Later we lay in our tents falling asleep to the giggles of the Kikuyu porters.

A hive of activity greeted the next morning and after a breakfast of champions, eggs, bacon, fruit, pancakes we set off, crossing streams, and gaining elevation.

Over just a few days our journey traversed a landscape so varied that at times it resembled the Scottish Highlands and then suddenly it was barren and lunar in character. On the higher slopes the combination of the high altitude and being so close to the equator results in some unique vegetation. There’s the water-holding cabbage found in the tussock grasslands, the ostrich plume plant, an exotic looking fern and giant grounsel also found on Kilimanjaro which is approximately 400 kilometres south.

Mount Kenya, Batian Peak Mount Kenya, Batian Peak

The days are long but in a short space of time firm friendships are formed. Everyone at times needs encouragement.

When we leave to attempt the summit at 2.30 am with our head torches on, the dark rather comfortably disguises our daunting task - the final three to four hour ascent that lies ahead. There’s a slither of moon and a sky of stars. Snow crackles under our feet. To be on the safe side we keep our water inside our jackets so it doesn’t freeze.

Then it’s a slog: left right, left right keeping a steady rhythm, hour after hour.

We witness every second of the sunrise, the gradual definition in the shape of the rocks, dark turning to light and then a band of colour coating the shadows until a wave of golden sunlight stretches ahead.

As the sun starts to appear we almost race up the few shimmering boulders to the summit. There are a couple of fixed wires to negotiate and some medal rungs and there is the Kenyan flag billowing in the wind. The view is spectacular, a huge landscape with snow covered, sunbathed peaks piercing the sky. It’s a moment of joy and tears, and relief that everyone has made it.

By Nicky Holford, regular contributor to the Sunday Telegraph, who travelled on our Mount Kenya Ascent

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