Thursday, April 8, 2010


We made a change in our itinerary and decided to stop in Kenya for a week seeing as we had airline ticket vouchers to use from the Tanzania forgotten tickets incident. We flew from Kampala to Nairobi and timed our visit, lucky enough, to meet up with our friend Sarah Judkins who also happened to be in Kenya. Marc Bloch, a friend who lives and works in Nairobi coordinating the east African efforts of Caritas, a swiss NGO, helped us organize a cheap hotel in a nice part of town, and helped make a big city much smaller and more manageable. Our intentions were to climb Mt Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa and we were feeling pumped up from our big climb in the Rwenzoris several weeks before.

Mt Kenya is, like most east African summits, a massive extinct volcano. It is a mountaineer’s mountain with the possibility of multi-pitch technical rock and ice climbs on massive granite pillars and walls. Since we had no gear, we chose to climb the highest non-technical peak: Point Lenana. We made arrangements in Nairobi with porters and a guide, Dickson. We were to hike the Sirimon-Chogoria route. The route starts on the northwest side of the mountain, climbs up to the summit circuit, over Lenana point and down the eastern flank. The hike is supposed to take about 4 days and covers about 10-32 kilometers per day.

The trail meandered through varying ecosystems and alpine zones as we ascended into the clouds. We stayed at huts each night and, although we were blessed with very good weather, given that it is the rainy season, we were glad to have the shelter most afternoons when it dumped rain while we stayed dry inside. After spending our first night at Old Moses camp (3200 meters), we trekked through a beautiful glacial valley, meeting up again with some of the pre-historic flora that we encountered in the Rwenzori Mountains. That afternoon we arrived at Shipton’s Camp (4200 m), the staging ground for Pt Lenana. The camp, set at the base of the glaciers and high peaks of Mt Kenya, afforded gorgeous views of the summits when the clouds cleared, and we got a chance to gawk at the monster walls of the mountain’s peak who’s highest point clocks in at over 17,000 feet and involves a 2-day technical rock/ice climb to reach. Our more modest goal was Pt Lenana, at 4985 meters (16,300 feet) and we were hoping for a clear night with no rain as our ascent was to start at 4 am the next morning.

Our wish came true and we awoke to a clear and star filled sky. Huffing up under shooting stars, we jammed up Point Lenana with our guide Dickson and one of the porters, Abu. The hike took us through scree fields, crystalline ice, and rocky scrambling and couloirs. We reached the top just as the sun was rising in the east for stunning 360-degree views of the mountain landscape. On a clear day, it is possible to see Mt Kilimanjaro (250 km away?), but we were not so lucky. We spent a bit on the top to celebrate and take pictures and then got out of the freezing wind and descended almost 8000 feet over the course of the day through still mountain tarns and along the rim of a massive glacial gorge, the largest in East Africa. The landscape on east side of the mountain was dramatic and pristine and the valley below opened up into vast green hills. The day’s end brought us to the park edge at 2700 meters and we spent the night at the simple Mt Kenya Lodge, complete with a fireplace. Our guide Dickson and Guy went foraging for stinging nettles, a Kukuyu treat, and Dickson taught us to cook them and had us drink the broth (to strengthen the joints for the next day’s descent).

Our last day was a massive downhill slog on a jeep road through rainforest that covered about 20 miles. The forest is home to tons of wildlife and we saw buffalo, monkeys and evidence (very fresh poop and massive footprints) of mountain elephants, hyenas, jackals and duikers. With sore legs and many tsetse fly bites we made it down to the town of Chogoria where we spent a night in a too local hotel and caught a matatu back to Nairobi the following day.

Because the mountain took less then we thought we had 4 days to kill in Nairobi before our flight to Egypt. We celebrated Sarah’s birthday with a tasty Italian dinner and saw her off to her adventure at Tenwick Hospital in Western Kenya. We spent time in coffee shops, playing on the internet and catching up on errands. We had the privilege of attending the Passover seder with the Kenyan Jewish community that is made up of a whole mish-mash of members, Israelis, Expats, and Jews whose families have been in Kenya since the early 20th century, many of whom came in anticipation of the formation of the state of Israel in east Africa, as was almost the case. When this didn’t materialize, they stayed.

In all we spent 10 days in Kenya. The thing that struck us most about the time there was how different Nairobi (and even rural Kenya) is from Uganda. Nairobi is big, cosmopolitan, modern, and developed with a diverse population and despite having the reputation of being the most crime-ridden city in Africa, we found it safe. While there remains plenty of economic, political and social problems in Kenya such as rigged elections, crime, and tribalism, Kenya appears developed, people seem purposeful, more educated, and more worldly then its neighbor to the west. The roads were paved, commerce ticking, and industry seemed everywhere. Electricity reached deep into rural areas, and there was an overall feeling of more order and less chaos. There were noticeably less children, even in rural areas, no hordes of naked babies running everywhere. As mzungus we were not as much of a novelty, but we didn’t get to witness slum life as intimately as we did in Uganda. We both agree that we feel lucky we got to spend time in Uganda, a county that feels like it is more in the throes of development then more established Kenya.

We are now in Egypt, making our way up the Nile from Cairo to Luxor, then to Hurghada on the Red Sea and by ferry to the Sinai Peninsula. Stay tuned for more stories and adventures.

check out all the pics at Mt Kenya adventures


  1. Wow! Psyched you were able to climb on Mt. Kenya! How did the technical routes look? Worth making a trip out there for the technical routes?

  2. Wow, Guy. That's the most colorful yamakah I have ever seen. Have you ever worn bright yellow?!
    Is it worth buying a bunch to sell back here in the States?