While at point Lenana, I looked down at the vastness of Mount Kenya, and at how high up the trek had brought me. I had gone from pointing out the mountain peaks to guests on road safaris to standing nose to nose with the clouds pointing out the places below.
Our first hike ascended and descended the Sirimon route in 2 Nights 3 Days. It was a good forerun to the second trip 2 months later that saw us ascend via Sirimon and descend on the Chogoria route in 3 Nights 4 Days.
Sirimon entry itineraries required us to travel from Nairobi to Nanyuki. This 5-hour journey was then extended by another 30 minutes of travel from Nanyuki to the Mount Kenya National Park – Sirimon gate entry. Nanyuki is one of the towns where the equator line passes, also passing through Mount Kenya just a short distance from the Sirimon gate.
The change from tall dense tree cover to the short spread out heather vegetation is clear-cut towards the end of Sirimon to Old Moses stretch. Sirimon – Old Moses is a 9 km tarmac road that we hiked at moderate pace oft-times stopping to look around since Old Moses was after all the overnight stop.
The dung I saw on the forest lane was that of elephants and buffaloes. It is said that it is possible to find these animals on the lower part of the mountain. Someone pointed out ‘corner mbaya,’ a point somewhat halfway on the Sirimon – Old Moses leg, where these animals may be found drinking water at a small river. Some rustling on the trees got some hikers jumpy only to realize that baboons, and black and white monkeys having spotted us, were retreating from branch to branch deeper into the forest. I was able to photograph the colorful Hartlaub’s Turaco that was flying over the forest.
From Old Moses camp we could see Nanyuki, Timau, Lolldaiga hills, and the big flower farms below. As it got dark the towns around Mt Kenya lit up. The surrounding was still stunning as we left Old Moses for Shipton the following morning. We went through moorland with no trees, and, on a road with quite some stones that also heads to the Global Atmosphere Watch Station.
Away from the direction of the station, we got to the sign ‘asking us to decide’ whether to go to Shipton directly or to go to Shipton via Liki North. We took Shipton. The brisk porters passed us at this juncture as I took step by careful step on wet ground. They went as if they were carrying no luggage at a place where water was coming out from ‘everywhere’ – upstream, underground, somewhere…It is from there that I got into the habit of filling my water bottle with the mountain’s crystal clear water. On Mount Kenya, such water is also found in several places like the scenic Liki valley and Mackinder valley that we headed to next. Generally, the mountain has many rivers and streams and is a wellspring of water for the surrounding regions.
A steep descent ushered us into the scenic Liki Valley. A well-situated wooden was just the perfect location to have a photo session. Farther on a shaded picnic table invited passers-by for a stopover. The path up Liki valley is marked with big basalt rocks. A fire happened in that area in the recent past.
Mackinder valley is big. There is a viewing point to look down into Mackinder after the Liki valley ascent. We traveled at the edge of Mackinder as we descended into it, passing some small caves on the way. Inside the valley is a fast-flowing river or wide stream perhaps. After 6 hours of hiking, I struggled on the last rocky climb to Shipton.
The mountain peaks did a hide and seek thing as we went high and low. After leaving Old Moses, peak Sendeu and peak Terere were visible. As a first-time climber, I quickly concluded that they were the major peaks – they are not. Inside Mackinder, they were the burnt volcanic walls on the left with peak Batian emerging right ahead.
A Rock Hyrax sat on a rock watching us head to Shipton. A scarlet-tufted sunbird extracted something from the Ostrich Lobelia as another rested on a Giant Lobelia plant. These plants are the dominant flora in this zone. I was sure that I saw the droppings of a carnivore on the way to Shipton – I guessed that it was a leopard’s.
Frozen loose soil made certain that every step was crunchingly audible as we departed from Shipton camp. Spotlights helped pinpoint trekking neighbours in the 3:00 am darkness. The headlamp such as I had was the better option for those who had walking poles as we went slowly up the tough ascent. I could see the lights of surrounding towns down beneath and also of other towns quite far. We were all traveling light on this last stretch, all unnecessary baggage having been left somewhere at a junction. Cold pierced through my layers of clothing. The ground remained frozen even as orange sunrise replaced the starry sky.
Trudging on snow and rock just before the summit, my energy said ‘this far is good enough,’ but because point Lenana was ‘simply’ up ahead, I kept in step with the rest of the group. I had never walked on snow before. At about 6:30 am, I stood at the top of Kenya, on the 4,985m point Lenana, soaking in the sunrise. It was really like being above the clouds – a very worthy accomplishment. At peak level point Batian seemed to be ‘just here.’ The ground, however, told a different story. I could see Lake Ellis, and Lake Michaelson, and places far below. I even saw the Kilimanjaro!
Mt Kenya National Park:
Mount Kenya National Park is surrounded by forest in the lower zone. The park was established in 1949. The park and the forest reserve were declared as a World Heritage Site.
Mountain Kenya Routes:
The most frequented routes are Sirimon, Naro Moru, and Chogoria. There are Kenya Wildlife Service/ticketing gates, accommodation quarters/camps, and defined paths on these routes.
Other routes are: Burguret, Timau, Kamweti, and Meru. These do not have as defined paths as the others and also do not have camping quarters. Mt Kenya National Park officials are best placed to advise regarding climbing on these routes.
It is possible to do the first leg of the Sirimon, Chogoria, and Naro Moru route using a vehicle. The Sirimon – Old Moses stretch is tarmacked but the latter are rough roads. A 4×4 vehicle is what will mostly do for the Chogoria route. On our Chogoria descent, a vehicle picked us up at Lake Ellis – at altitude 3,455m.
Mountain Kenya Peaks:
Lenana 4,985m is the peak that most Mount Kenya climbers have ascended. It is the third highest peak. Batian 5,199m is the highest peak followed by Nelion 5,188m. After point Lenana is the Coryndon 4,960m peak. There are several others. The peaks are more or less in the middle of the mountain top.
Away from the central peaks are Terere 4,714m and Sendeyo 4,704m, and a few others.
Mount Kenya Accommodation:
The 3 most often hiked routes have places to stay. The camps have bathrooms/toilets, cooking/eating areas, and sleeping sections with beds and mattresses. The camps are shared establishments that can be used by anyone but are best reserved before the visit.
On our first trip, we used Old Moses and Shipton camps. On the second trip, we pitched tents at designated camping locations – Judmaier camping site, Shipton camp (not in the cabins), and Lake Ellis camping site. This kind of arrangement requires one to pay camping fees in addition to park fees. Mount Kenya climbing/park fees and camping fees are verified at the official park gates – cash payment is not accepted.
Mount Kenya Guides & Porters:
The mount Kenya guide’s and porter’s fees vary, although not widely. Booking them early enough helps the planning. They offer itineraries depending on your need, budget, and experience, although no major experience/expertise is needed to reach point Lenana.
The guides know/have porters to work with. The packages they offer usually include, park fees, porter services, camping equipment where necessary, and meals. One can have own meals and camping equipment but climbing without a guide is not advisable. Traveling light is possible although for first-timers especially when the going gets tough even the lightest luggage can seem unbearable – you will appreciate the porters at this point.
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