“Please, don’t try this at home“, was a common catchy phrase synonymous with Tuesday Kenya nights when wrestling used to air on TV. Two friends of mine recently took this phrase to a whole other level… 4,985 metres (16,355ft) above sea level to be precise! PLEASE DON’T TRY THIS AT ALL!
Breaking conventions: Are rules are for sissies?
When Ephraim Kihia and Willy Sise told me that they were going to climb Mt. Kenya in one day, I was utterly gobsmacked! I’ve been up Africa’s second highest peak and, I must tell you that it is not only treacherous, it is deadly! If you read my post about the climb, you’ll see from my face that it isn’t quite a smiling game. Summiting such a rocky mountain, with steep cliff faces requires a lot of planning and preparedness, and nobody should ever be in a rush!
However, the duo was having none of that! They actually did a trip from Nairobi, to the mountain, and back in just about one day! To be precise, the climb from the base of the mountain to Point Lenana (4,985 metres) took them a record 14 hours 8 minutes, a total distance of 43.63 kilometers! Can I get a confetti explosion! Damn! These men are made of valerian steel! Thrashing all rules about mountain climbing!
Dare-Devil climbers: Who are they?
Well, my dare devil friends never shy away from a challenge. They are professional Mountain guides, sought from two different mountaineering companies. Unless disputed by fact, these two chaps are the first to ever summit the mountain in a record 14 hours 8 minutes!
And if you thought climbing Mt. Kenya in a day was the ultimate challenge, they say they still have Kilimanjaro and Rwenzori on their platter! Go for it boys! You can follow Ephraim on his facebook page, and Willy on his website too!
Conventionally, it is recommended that you shouldn’t climb higher than 300-500 meters/900-1500 ft per day. Doing a climb in a hurry carries its own share of risks. If you are an adrenaline junkie, here are a few reasons to shoot more adrenaline into you:
Acclimatization – Marked by headache (relieved by aspirin), irregular breathing at night, rapid breathing at day, increased urine output.
Altitude sickness – also called Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is marked by dizziness, vomiting, losing your balance, persistent coughing, sleepiness.
Lack of orientation/Awareness – Going through a climbing track too fast makes it harder for your to keep track of your path, and make it more likely for you to get lost.
Accidents – Rushing too fast up or down a mountain slope, especially at treacherous as Mt. Kenya, puts you at risk of slipping, falling and severe injury.
If you need plans on you next climbing expedition, reach out to these daredevils… with this achievement, you’ll always be in safe hands!
The hike in photos…
There you have it! Summiting Mt.Kenya in 14 hours and 8 minutes!
Get in touch with Ephraim on Facebook here and Willy on Facebook here!
The first time I spoke to Grace was on Instagram, someone had stolen my photos and was using them as his. Any creative knows how annoying and disrespectful that can be. I was struck by her kindness. Soon after, our paths crossed again, only in person this time round. She was one of the three ladies shortlisted for the CRBC’s SGR photography Contest. I was the official blogger for the competition. The week long competition with daily stops from Mombasa to Nairobi gave me a better interaction with Grace.
She comes across as soft and almost harmless, but do not be fooled, she is aggressive, tough, firm and a go getter.
She is a fantastic landscape,travel and wildlife photograher.
Here is how our interview went.
If you got to the Airport just in time to check in (heading to Himalayas), then you notice you left the pack that has you camera in it… would you still go?
Oh my God! Prophet of Doom! Please let this not happen on my trip to the Himalayas in April 2018. I can visualize myself pulling my hair at the check in terminal while making calls to the Uber guy to confirm that the bag was not left in the car. Yes, I would still jump onto the plane with the hope of buying a camera on transit or in Nepal. That’s what miscellaneous budget is meant for, for a mountain girl like me, not for doll shoes.
Not everyone appreciates the beauty that is traveling… has is ever been an issue in your personal relationships? Do you get Positive support?
Traveling is not for everyone. Just like any hobby or profession, you have to dream, visualize and actualize it. There is so much to see and experience from different continents, countries or even different regions of a country but I have learnt overtime that not everyone will understand. Some think it’s a waste of time, others think it’s a waste of money, others have just not been exposed to that kind of life.
To set you on a very tight spot, as an ardent hiker and a photographer, are there moments where you’d wish you just ditched the camera and got lost in the moment? Or are there times where you are really so caught up in a climb/hike and you’d wish there was another clone of you behind the camera?
This scenario is typical of many hikes/climbs that I have undertaken in the past. At the start, I am usually upbeat and full of energy to photograph each and every landscape beauty I see but as the hike/climb gets tough, it’s a struggle between a step at a time and a click away. At times, ardent hikers are not necessarily ardent photographers hence I find myself playing catch up when I stop to click away. My DSLR camera seems to get heavier as the hike/climb progresses. In 2015, when it was new I would ditch it and pass the baton to a fellow ardent hiker and photographer ‘Mits Kimiti’. So yes! I at times wish there was another me behind the lens but am glad to report that I have successfully carried it through for days on two major climbs I have undertaken this year – Mt. Elgon (Kenya – Uganda) and Mt. Rwenzori, Uganda.
Mt. Rwenzori, Uganda .
Lake Bujuku, Rwenzori National Park.
In your travel routines… are you the backpacker or the plan-it-to-the-second type?
I would say I am both. Back in the day, there were random trips out of town (including one that was to Dar, Tanzania in 2008) that I went with friends without major planning of hotels to sleep in or restaurants to eat at but with knowledge of sites to visit. However, in the last few years my kind of travel requiresmeticulous planning by me and by the travel/mountain guide. I am not a solo traveller, I always find a way of convincing others to join in but I have done a solo climb of Mt. Ololokwe in Samburu last year after potential companions pulled out due to the heat.
Everyone would love to travel, but the million dollar question is how they’d pay the costs. How do you manage to cover such an ‘expensive’ lifestyle?
Let’s demystify the notion that travel is expensive. Not necessarily, though at times it is. It’s possible to travel on low budget especially within your own country. It’s about planning and sacrifice, if you are passionate about travel then you can make it happen. It can be just that one trip you save for and take in a year but all worth it.
Have you ever been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Yes! Pre-election weekend at Mt. Ol Doinyo Lengai aka Mountain of God! I was astonished that it is harder to descend Mt. Lengai than ascend. I would describe it as a dusty, rocky, steep and slippery wall. It took us 5 hours to ascend but took 6-8 hours to descend.
In our bucket list of travel destinations… what remains, what’s achieved?
A lot remains! The bucket list keeps increasing while the hole gets deeper in my pocket. Top on the list is Everest Base Camp trek. God willing I shall embark on it next year as one of the epic treks in my life as a hiker. A lot has been achieved! I can’t complain.
Now that you are Queen of two Kingdoms, between photography and travel blogging, which – in your opinion – is more rewarding?
At the moment photography is more rewarding. I am still struggling with writing, am more of a verbal story teller. I am able to describe experiences in detail but putting words onto paper is a bit difficult for me. I know with a little more effort and practice I shall break into it.
There’s usually a whole lot of photography DIY kits/tricks online… Do you have something you spontaneously came up with while on your hikes/photo excursions? A useful hack or a challenge on the road maybe?
Try as much as possible to take pics during ‘bush moments’ and rest stops as ‘picture stops’ might not arise especially in a fast paced hike. The same applies at lunch points, click away first then sit down to eat, otherwise you might not get an opportunity to take a shot when fellow hikers are full and ready to move. Always remember you will not forgive yourself for missing a shot.
How was it the first time you went on a bungee… did u hesitate? Or were you all psyched up start to finish?
I’ve only done bungee once in 2014 and I can’t repeat it again at least not at Sagana. Adrenaline rush! That’s the best description of the experience that began with psychological preparation years before I took the jump. I had been to Sagana in 2010 while on a road trip and promised myself to go back to jump off the 60m high tower. I said a prayer, jumped off, closed my eyes and got lost in the moment of oscillation in silence. No screams! Spectators thought I had died of heart attack.
The hardest thing for the ‘working class’ travel enthusiast is to find and make time to travel and experience. How would you advise someone whose day job seems to always be on the way in finding time to travel?
I would advise them to create time. Make good use of your weekends, public holidays and leave days. In addition, take advantage of any work travel you undertake to visit a park or any attraction in the area. Don’t just work and write reports, spice up your life. Just like finances, if you are passionate about travel then you can make it happen.
What’s your lowest/most discouraging moment as a photographer?
Discovering photos are underexposed when displayed on a desktop. Sometimes the camera’s LCD screen misleads me on the exposure of photos in low light situations. That means I have to spend more time editing the pictures and I hate it!
Has your passion for travel/photography ever gotten you into trouble with the Authorities?
No. Thank God I have never been a victim. However, the laws and regulations of the country/city have made it very difficult for photographers to capture the beauty of our cities especially Nairobi. Photographers have faced harassment from various authorities including the police service and County Government officials popularly known as ‘kanjo’. We hope the new leadership at Nairobi County Government shall better facilitate photography in the city as already signaled by the Governor, Mike Sonko.
Talk to us about Gracia Photography.
Gracia Photography is about landscape, wildlife and travel photographer. About 13 years ago, I bought my first camera; a Kodak film camera to document my travel adventures. Since then, I have been capturing moments and preserving the memories I experience along the walk of life. Through the lens, I am able to share my stories and experiences and showcase earth’s beauty of landscapes, wildlife, cities, people and culture. Over the years, I have photographed the beauty of countless hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, parks and reserves within Kenya and its neighboring countries of Tanzania and Uganda. I am a passionate advocate of #TembeaKenya that promote local tourism. Gracia Photography aims to inspire the world to visit my beautiful country, conserve the environment and serve as an information tool to fellow travelers and photographers. You can check out www.graciaphotography.com, like the FB page Gracia Photography and follow on IG and Twitter @graciaphotos @gracawangu
For someone who has never climbed a termite hill… what, in terms of advice, would you tell them if their end game is to summit Mt. Kenya in 6 months?
I would warn them not to repeat the mistake I did in 2012 on my first Lenana Peak mission. I heard of a Mt. Kenya climb 3 weeks to time and jumped onto the bandwagon. Let’s just say I was ill-prepared of the summit night torture that I underwent. Join a hiking group. There are many today in Kenya with their presence on social media platforms. I have majorly climbed with Kwea Milele, Outdoor Circuits East Africa and Xtrym Adventures. Once you have tested your fitness, stamina and tenacity levels on different day hikes then pay up for Mt. Kenya. It’s doable!
Can you tell us of a near breaking point experience in your climbing experiences? Have you ever had any serious injuries?
Near breaking points are many. One of the most recent is on Mt. Rwenzori. Day 6 on this mountain is a day I shall live to remember, we were on a long descent from the highest camp (Elena Hut) to the lowest camp (Nyabitaba Hut) after a successful summit of 19 hours the previous day. That means we were to skip two huts! By the time we got to camp at 9pm I was kaput! I just lay on my bed and cried as my whole body was in pain especially my knees. It took the intervention of fellow climbers Sarah Kocko and Nyamzy Giati to help me stretch my muscles for me to walk and laugh again. Thanks people! Otherwise, I have not had any serious injuries during climbs despite many falls other than my knees complaining on descends.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever done while on climbing trips? For someone who has never climbed, do they even have toilets on top of Mount Meru? Or do you have to hold it till you get all the way down?
Hahaha! There are toilets or in most cases latrines at designated camps on all the mountains I have been to including Mount Meru which I climbed in 2013. However, along the way (between camps) you have to make use of the bush, we call it ‘bush moment’. I can’t think of any unusual thing I might have done that climbers don’t do. For e.g. it’s normal to take a nap on a cold rock at high altitude in the dead of the night, sleep walk to the summit and pee at the summit on arrival.
Connect with Grace on her social media and get to enjoy her journey as she quenches her thirst for wanderlust.
As I had previously mentioned in part one of my Mt Kenya experience, I suffered from a terrible stiff neck on the first night of the hike which messed my whole experience-ish. The nights were severely cold and at some point I felt like I wasn’t going to make it.
I was so tired of this mind game, the never ending rocky slope, the kilometers that kept piling and a tough journey that came with no title! I was done. Completely. I wished everyone the very best and decided to just make it to the T- junction that led us to Lake Michaelson; our next camp.
Several attempts to start summiting proved futile until something strange happened.Determination.
I started walking slowly following the other guys footprints. There was no one in sight. The only option I had was to keep going.
I was barely moving, but I covered some distance.
After about an hour, I saw the first lot from our group crawling back. They had summited!They had an accomplished look on their faces but the exhaustion was evident as well. They were not talking much.
Somehow discouraging but I never gave up hope.I kept at it. It was probably going to take me three hours to go up,come down and catch up with the rest.
They were not sure I’d make it back on time with the moody weather. I was not sure either.
As I made the second turn up behind a huge rock, I saw Abbas; the leading guide. He was carrying two bags and encouraged me to go up. I mean if Abbas cheered me on, it was doable.
I crawled, sat, walked, stood but pushed on.
As I made it to the second turn, I saw Charles.
Charles was the other guide. He gave me painkillers the day I could barely walk. When he saw me, his eyes lit and he gave the warmest smile ever, stretched out his arm took my bag and held me.
‘I have met a guide who’s told me they left you struggling to come up, but they are not sure you’d make it past the fifth step! That you’ve struggled to make it this far, I will take you to the summit. I don’t mind going up for the second time. You are truly resilient.’ He told me.
Who wouldn’t get renewed strength with such encouragement? I had to make it.
Surprisingly enough, I did remarkably well thereafter.
Charles was heaven sent. I don’t know how he did it but the next thing I saw was Lewis glacier which is the largest remaining glacier but is quickly receding, I could see the Austrian hut; the camp set up by the Austrian Alpine Club, clouds, Batian and Nelion peaks stood there majestically as well, then alas! a ladder that led to Point Lenana! I instantly forgot everything else. I no longer had the neck and muscle pain. I smiled sheepishly at myself. If only I was this patient with myself always.
At this point, I cared less about catching up with rest. I mean, I was at the summit, the view was breathtaking, Charles was there with me, I was the highest standing Kenyan in Kenya on both feet at that time and I had my camera! What more could I had asked for?
I went, I saw, I conquered. Victory tasted so good!
Were it was not for Charles, I probably I would not have summited.
There you have it! Summiting wasn’t easy, but I did it anyway.
Mt. Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa. It has three peaks namely Batian,Nelion and Point Lenana in that order.
Mount Kenya National Park receives an estimated 16,000 visitors per year. Apart from hiking and mountaineering which are the most popular activities at the park,game viewing,camping and bird watching is also common with both local and international visitors.
Hiking Mount Kenya is not easy and can not be taken on without preparation. You just do not wake up and decide you want to hike Mt.Kenya. It takes months of training and preparation.
A careful consideration has to be made when choosing a tour company for the important 5 day hike that might be a matter of life and death if not planned by an experienced tour planner.
I booked my hike with Xtrym Adventures back in January 2017 for the April hike. There has to be at least four mandatory preparation hikes,all adequately spaced out within the four months. It is during these hikes that you get to experiment with your new gear so you don’t get disappointed with improper gear and the discomfort that comes with new shoes and gear.
The cost of the hike was charged as follows;
Residents with work permits-Ksh 30,000
Non Residents-Ksh 25,000 plus KWS park fees of USD 260.
The above cost does not cover tips for the guides, cooks and porters. It also doesn’t cover for the prep hikes. While budgeting, it is also important to set aside enough money for buying hiking gear which costs an arm and a leg. The easiest way out is renting. Duncan of Xtrym adventure hooked us up with Chris Tembo who rents out mountain gear at the best rate in town.
With more than sixteen organized group trips to Mt.Kenya and countless others to Mt.Meru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Ruwenzori at the border of Congo and Rwanda plus a host of many other mountains, Xtrym adventures was the most suitable candidate for the job.
The last prep hike was at Ngong Hills, which is approximately twenty two kilometers from Nairobi city centre. It was during that hike that we got to meet the entire team(popularly referred to Team Xtrym Adventures Mt.Kenya Easter 2017 Edition) and have a final pre-departure meeting. From the onset, a whatsapp group was put in place for ease and convenience of communication.
It takes a total of five days to hike Mount Kenya starting from Sirimon gate and finish at the Chogoria gate.
We set off on Thursday 13th April and finished on the 17th of April 2017 as follows.
We departed from Nairobi at around 6:00 am. Everyone else kept time apart from me. It was a bit embarassing to hop into the bus and everyone is settled waiting for you.
There was anxiety in the air. I was scared too. The horror stories, altitude sickness and trekking for an estimated 80km in total wasn’t something to look forward to. We made two quick stops for breakfast and the other one in Nanyuki at the Equator.
Shortly after leaving Nanyuki, Duncan made it so clear that if there was anyone who wasn’t so sure about the hike, then Nanyuki would be the best place to turn back…There was a piercing silence there after. Stuff suddenly got real.
Arrival at Mt.Kenya National Park…
We arrived at Sirimon gate at around half past midday. When we got there, it was straight to business, off loading the bus, taking lunch, introduction to the porters, guides and cooks. So for the twenty five of us, there were twenty five porters . Your porter is in charge of your main bag.
After a brief introduction, the porters and the cooks left quickly with our luggage for the first camp.
With the lighter day bags, a nine kilometer tarmacked stretch to Old Moses camp,a full tummy and a not so hot sun wasn’t a bad idea after all.
Sunset at the mountain was magical! However, as soon as the sun sets the weather drastically changes and temperatures drop sharply.
We arrived at Old Moses camp at dusk. The camp sits at 3,300m high. It is basic, dunk beds, benches, two washrooms and a tiny common sitting area. The frigid cold at night was out of this world. Popcorn, biscuits and hot black tea came in handy! Remember, showering is not an option during the first four days and your core business is walking.
The cooks did remarkably well with the food. Their consistency with quality and variety and serving meals on time gave me something to look forward to at the end of each day.
The day started at around 6:00am. Sunrise was spectacular and the peaks could be seen from the camp. I wondered why we needed so many days to finish this hike. I mean the peaks were just there.
Breakfast was quick, so was the stretching/workout session. However, all was not well with me. My chances of summiting began getting slimmer because of a stiff neck from the previous night. So painful was my neck that the thought of going back home crossed my mind. There were strict instructions not to take any form of medication and the pain balms and ointments were not working. Tough times.
Plan of the day was to walk to Shipton camp which is at 4,200m high. The hike was an estimated 17km and was to take any where between 6-8 hours.
We crossed Likii valley and Mackinders valley.The crystal clear rivers, streams and plants I got to see for the first time. This was the first time in my life I drank directly from a river.
The never ending slopes were a mix of steep and gentle. The pain in my neck was growing and having my day bag on my back made it even worse as the pain radiated to the back of my head and my shoulders. I missed every laughter and joke. This was the time I started questioning the choices I make in life.
I was there physically but at home emotionally. However that did not stop me from taking photos of the enchanting landscape and the obviously tired but cheerful friends.
Wabbie,Judy and the magician.
By the time we were stopping for lunch at Likii river, I was so beat and out. A quick estimated had me thinking of wherethe energy to finish the other half of the hike was going to come from. If we were to cover 17km, and we were halfway it only meant we had about 9km to go. I couldn’t eat. Everyone was so supportive and I remember Robert removing stuff from my bag to make it lighter. A quick nap as over lunch, painkillers and a hot water bottle did the magic.Somehow.
The long walk after lunch wasn’t as bad because of the diminishing pain. The scenery, plants endemic to Mt.Kenya, cute mountain rodents and the now very conspicuous peaks made it more exciting.
The long after lunch walk to shipton was quiet and uneventful. Vegetation was beginning to thin out as we started the rocky terrain. The higher we kept going the colder it became and got worse when the sun went down. Day two was tough.
When we got to the camp, there wasn’t as much excitement as the first night. This was the same night we were supposed to summit. We had four hours to freshen up, eat, overdress , sleep and get ready to summit.
I was not ready. I was scared and weak.
Day 3.(Summit Night)
No sooner had I closed my eyes and zipped up my sleeping bag than I had the wake up call. How now?
I grudgingly woke up, packed my bags then went for tea. The temperatures outside must have been minus a thousand degrees! My hands were freezing despite the two layers of my sub zero gloves.
On the summit day, the hike is meant to start at exactly 2:00am especially if it is a big group like ours. There were some delays but we eventually set off. Biting cold, lack of enough sleep, a throbbing head and a weak body was the story of my life.
The unspoken rule of hiking has it that the weakest hikers lead the pack. The first one hour of trying to get to 4,985m at sunrise from 4,200m was just ok. My body was pulling me back in as much as my mind was all made up for summiting. The breaks became too frequent and the rest of the team slowly but surely widened the gap with permission.
We were left lagging behind with Racheal; who had a bad case of altitude sickness that only got worse the higher we climbed. The only way she was to helped was to get to Lake Harris then start heading down to the next camp. On the other had, I was so weak with a slight headache. I could not even lift my own legs.
If there was that one time I felt so helpless in my entire life was summit day. Thank God for Habbakuk aka Haba Haba who helped with my day bag, held me by the arm and practically walked with me. Bless his soul. Duncan was there for moral support and entertainment and watched over Rachael together with Ken. He even labeled us ‘Team Machozi’.
The ascend was the toughest part of the entire hike. Steep rocky slopes with some eroded sharp edges and loose gravel and feeble legs.
The intention was to get to the peak at sunrise but that proved impossible because even the leading pack was moving with difficulties.
Sweat, tears, doubt and a possibility of not making it the summit was frustrating. The only thing I wanted was to get to lake Harris then figure out my next move.
The next hour was very quiet. Soon after we were at Lake Harris.
At this point, Duncan had to release Habakuk and Ken. I wanted them to go summit as well.
The leading lot was about 45 mins away, I thought I could make it to go up with Habbakuk and Ken, but I was so weak.
Point Lenana was so near yet so far.
They say nothing is impossible to a willing heart. I removed two layers of my clothes, drank water; lots of it, took sultanas and an energy bar then sat for a while. I felt a bit energetic and decided to follow the rest of the guys. However, there was a problem. There was no way I was going up alone. The options I had were to wait for the other guys to come down after two hours then request one of our guides to go with me or to go down with Duncan and Rachael. Sitting next to the very cold breeze of Lake Harris for two hours at such high altitude was a recipe for a slow death. I did not want to die slowly.
The more time we took to reach to a decision the more Rachael worsened. The only solution was to go with Duncan and Rachael without summiting. Well, there went another ‘machozi’ moment.
As I absorbed what just happened and what was about to happen,something miraculous happen,a hiker and his guide showed up from Shipton and Duncan requested them to tag me along to meet my group.
No sooner had Duncan disappered than the guide told me they were in a rush and they needed to rush. Wow. Anyway, I released them but decided to take a step at a time to the top.No going back.
Check out part two of this series and find out whether I summited on not.