Mount Kenya is calling!

Saturday 25 January 2014

Its all an Italian’s fault that i am in Nanyuki right now:  During my Antarctic expedition a few years back i overheard a conversation about the best mountain books. The book mentioned was “No Picnic on Mount Kenya”. Never having heard of it, I read it myself:
It was written by Fabien Benuzzi in 1953 and describes his story as a prisoner of war on the foothills of Mt Kenya and his adventure as they break out of prison to climb the mountain, undernourished, equipment (crampons, axe, ropes etc..) made out of kitchen tools, the only map a picture on a tin can. An epic adventure. Having enjoyed the book and finding it really inspiring I gave it  my sister Maria as a christmas present – well she found the story also truly amazing we hence made hatched the plan to see and climb the mountain ourselves…..a few years later we are finally here!

After a painful flight via Qatar and an adventurous way too long car ride (it broke down at least five times on the way, well we are in africa now:) Maria and I have made it to Nanyuki, which lies at the bottom of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain and was also the location of Benuzzi’s POW camp.  Due to the troubles with the transfer we had to amend our original plan of an immediate start and instead used the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an African country town. Well, there is not much to see and what stroke us most was the almost total absence of  souvenir shops, trekking agencies or any kind of tourist industry… compare that the to the bustle of Moshi or Arusha (the towns at the foot of Kilimanjaro!!)
We used the spare time to reorganise our kit and also assemble the team – our cook Patrik and two porters Deva and Patrik 2. They will come with us up the mountain.
Anthropologists believe that the name of Mt Kenya comes from the Kamba or Wakamba tribe, who called the mountain Kiinya (mountain of the ostrich), because the dark rock and the speckled ice fields closely resemble the tail feathers of the male ostrich.  When the British started to colonise the land around the mountain the started to name it accordingly Kenya and hence the name has stuck for the whole country.
Like many other mountains, Mt Kenya is an extinct volcano, that was active around 3mm years ago. However instead of a nice cone (similar to Kili) the caldera collapsed leaving behind steep, craggy summit spires that don’t need to shy comparison to patagonia or the alps. Amazingly, despite being only 17km from the equator, Mt Kenya features a range of glaciers (that are however retreating as well!)
According to the guidebook Mount Kenya sees a big share of trekkers every year, apparently almost 25,000 (where are they?) – most of them circling the mountain or walking up to Point Lenana, the third highest point of the mountain.
Our goal however,  are the twin summit peaks of Nelion and Batian at 5,188m and 5199m high, which are climbed by less than 40 people every year. The route we want to follow was pioneered by Eric Shipton (the guy who was with Mallory on Everest) in 1929, and is quite a serious climb. 20+ pitches up to Nelion, then crossing the Gate of Mist followed by some more climbing up Batian. Once there its abseil all the way down to the Austrian hut (yes: Austria!:)
As I write this lines I am enjoying my last nice lie in bed, before its off to tent life, no showers and the cold once more! If everything goes to plan we should be back in seven days, with hopefully one or two stories to tell!  Hakuna matata!

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