A picnic on Nelion – and an epic climb up Mt Kenya!

Sunday 2 February 2014

What an adventure! Its a week since we left Nanyuki to climb the highest mountain in Kenya and it has been a true experience. We had lots of sun, rain, hail, snow, fog…..and overall it was cold (well, definitely colder than expected!). Already the hike towards the mountain gave fantastic insights into the flora and fauna of tropical Africa – we started in rainforest, moved into moorlands which got more and more covered in giant Lobelias – amazing palm-like plants and ended in the rocky spires of Mt Kenya. There were Dik-diks (deer-like animals) and Hyrax (fury guinea pigs, but apparently the closest relative to the elephant). We also found traces on of Buffalo and Elephants, mainly marked by giant heaps of dung on the trail. As we got higher in elevation the two main peaks of Mt Kenya- Nelion and Batian – started to lean more and more above us, steep rock faces reaching into the sky…. while clear in the morning they were cloud covered at latest by midday. Before we could aim for the main summits though we climbed Pt Lenana (the third highest peak and most often trekked peak of the massif), where we lost our guide on the descent (yet another story that can only be made in Africa) and made a test climb up the rocky spire of Pt John. After two days lingering at the Austrian hut (!!! yes -indeed Austrian, as it was built with support of the Alpenverein) and making great friends with an Alaskan family and a legendary Swiss climber, we were ready for the big one – what followed was an 18hour epic!
We started our ascent to Nelion in the early morning hours. A wonderful 14 pitch rock climb, twisting through the east face. The crux – a very exposed twenty meter traverse…. where you literally can see down 400 meters between knees, right down to the Lewis glacier. And if that wouldn’t be difficult enough, my mountain boots started to dissolve midway through the face, as the sole came off. As return was no option I decided to continue in my sneakers (thankfully some durable Scarpa approach shoes). We reached the first peak, Nelion (5188m high) just after lunchtime. To honor Benuzzi’s adventure, we had a quick picnic (he sadly never made it up Nelion), but there was more to come. Batian, with 5199m, the higher one of the twins is connected with Nelion through the gate of mist…and instead of great rock it is a daring mixed snow and ice climb. After a 50 metre rappel into the gate, we traversed a few snow fields (I needed to switch back to my mountain boots to use my crampons – try to change your shows on a very exposed little rock ledge without dropping anything!!). By now the clouds had fully covered us and it started to snow… nevertheless we made it to the main peak – what a success!!!
The way back was an adventure indeed, as we had to climb back towards the lower peak – not an easy exercise- and then abseil down the whole face of Nelion… As we started that daylight started to fade. The last few rappels were done in full darkness. Thankfully Maria is a very diligent  and made sure that no errors on the multiple rope clip-ins and knots happened. Exhausted we managed to get back to the hut by 11pm, where a late night meal was waiting for us (in all the excitement of the tour I had totally forgotten to eat:) . However there wasn’t any real time to sleep as we trekked the 22km to the park gate the next morning – finally a shower and two days of rest before the adventure continues in Uganda!

Some lessons to take along:
– Chapeaux to the champion climbers of the 20s – amazing what routes they found on this mountain
– You are never to old for a climb! (Our friend “Hombi” from Switzerland climbed Nelion with 74!)
– Ordering beer in Kenya would be very convenient for my mum – they are offering beer cold AND warm
– Relations dont depend on size: Hyrax are just 30cm in size but are the closes relation to the 20x bigger elephant!

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