Remember To Look Back

7 March 2017 | East Africa Travel |

Mike promised to take our readers up Mt Kenya and this delightful account of his mountain adventure will leave you longing for thin air and those big views...

I looked back to where I was. Back to Nairobi. To where I was looking at where I am now: standing at Lenana Point, Mount Kenya’s third-highest peak.

Mount Kenya Peaks

At the beginning it felt like an easy climb. We hiked for a total of one hour to Chogoria Gate (2950m), where we entered the Mount Kenya National Park. When climbing a mountain it’s baby steps, to combat the altitude. So we spent the afternoon lying in the sun, reading and playing cards. The next day we hiked for three hours through beautiful forests to Chogoria Road Head where the drivable road ends. The afternoon was spent hiking into the hills and more acclimatisation. Drink water, rest often, let your body mould into what it needs to be, we were told. We could see the peaks within our reach. Never trust distances on a mountain, it’s always further than you think.

Walking towards Lenana Peak on Mount Kenya

Suddenly these smaller hikes were child’s play, as we strapped our bags on the next day and hiked the length of a ridge, constant uphill for six hours, to Minto’s Camp (4200m). The vegetation became increasingly sparse, grasslands to rocky lunarscapes. The earth here is dead, another hiker told me. Now the thin air was taking its toll. Just standing up too quickly gives you a light head. The surroundings were dramatic. We rested at the end of the Temple, a grand cliff face that juts out into the valley. Above us the mighty Batian and Nelion peaks. Below the valley stretched out, and we could see the path we had taken. Our legs ached, our heads light.

Hanging out at Shiptons Camp on Mount Kenya

From here, we emerged on the third morning barely prepared for the climb (and I mean a climb) to Lenana. The path wound through the last of the valley, rising up into the rocks where nothing exists. The silence of the place surrounds you, the wind the only living thing, and your footsteps on the loose gravel cracking like glass. The last push is an individual experience. No one speaks. You watch the person in front of you and step where they step. Each metre you rise feels like an effort. ‘Pole, pole’, the guides keep saying – take it slow. I imagine myself in slow motion to get the right pace.

Walking among the clouds on Mount Kenya

And suddenly we are there, at 4900m (higher than Mont Blanc). Over-looking the earth, we cannot go up any further. I stand with a strange mixture of awe and disbelief. Take pictures, record that you are here. A biting wind cuts into me as I sit and think about my wife, who I know is thinking of me now as I think of her. I look in her direction.

Mount Kenya Road

Climbing a mountain, I’m sure, is never easy. No one tells you that one of the biggest obstacles is sleep. With the freezing temperatures and uncomfortable conditions, good sleep is a rare and elusive prize. I learned that sleep finds you, you do not find it. The hardest part, perhaps is being left to your own thoughts for the long hours of the night. I consider myself luckier than most: my wife is carrying our first baby, and I found both peace and sleep thinking of meeting my son for the first time and my wife’s face when that happens.

Mount Kenya Views

Then day breaks and without sleep, you climb and climb. Another sleepless night and you climb more. I learned another lesson here: Remember to look back. Enjoy the progress, feel proud. Don’t watch the destination. Even looking down is better than looking ahead. A road is easier when you don’t know what is exactly around the corner. Be in the moment and look at the view. See how far you’ve come.

And was it worth it? As I stand here looking over Africa, the gentle, patchy colours of the distant landscape, contrasted with the rough, dramatic contours of the mountain, I know that it is. I look up to Batian and Nelion, standing alongside Lenana, the two highest peaks and, to the Kukuyu, the majestic throne of their god, Ngai. I feel like bowing down.

Morning after the summit on Mount Kenya

Every moment of doubt; every stumble on the path; every time I did look up to feel my heart sink at the gradient ahead; every moment of sleep lost; and every quiet second that I missed my family has come to this. I know that my family, my wife, are prouder of me than I am of myself. Soon I will see them, and I feel myself well up at the thought.

But I remind myself, as with climbing the mountain, not to try to look too far ahead: I still have to get down.

Editors note: In Mike’s January blog ‘Cows in the Clouds and Other Tales’ he promised to take our readers up Mt Kenya and this delightful account of his mountain adventure is best read in conjunction with his earlier story. Otherwise his opening lines will keep you baffled.

AUTHOR: Michael Boyd

Michael Boyd is a peripheral member of the Angama Mara family. Mike has worked at various film festivals, including Telluride and Sundance, and in the acquisitions department at Dogwoof Pictures. He is the former director of the Cambridge African Film Festival and Communications Manager for Take One, the official review publication for the Cambridge Film Festival, where he worked for seven years before returning home to Africa to teach high school English at Lebone II. Most recently, Mike has assisted the Angama Mara team in curating our DVD library of over 100 African films – from hard hitting African documentaries to The Lion King and everything in between.

yvonne yohe
March 7, 2017

Good climb, Mike!

March 8, 2017

Loved this blog on so many different levels:) Romantic not the least of them!! Congrats on the climb and the son:):)

Jane Harwood
October 17, 2017

Thanks for a great read and a wonderful memory. I climbed Mt Kenya twice, to Point Lenana in 1980. It was breathtaking, especially hiking through a short blizzard at one point.

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