jeudi 18 août 2011

Mt Kenya

I'm getting on a flight back to the states in just a few hours. It's hard to believe that my three months in Kenya is already up! It was a really great summer and I feel lucky to have been here.

Last weekend I climbed Mt Kenya, which, at 16,000+ feet, is by far the biggest mountain I've ever climbed. It was spectacular! See fbook for photos.

We started on Friday around 2 or 3 pm. The first leg of the hike is pretty interesting, as you're walking through a high altitude rainforest (around 3,000 meters). It was raining some and we got kind of wet (a reoccurring theme). There was some cool fauna: birds and baboons. We saw evidence of elephants and buffaloes (dung and tracks, respectively), but no actual animals. We arrived at the first camp at around 6 pm at 3,300 meters.

There, my guide and cook made me dinner. Yes, a guide and cook. It was pretty ridiculous to have meals prepared for me at a mountain camp, but it made the experience a lot more pleasant. Also, since we were staying in these little camper huts, I didn't have to carry my tent. Most people also had porters to carry all of their stuff. I guess labor is cheap in Kenya and it's not that much more expensive to have such luxuries.

Saturday we got on the road at around 6:30/7. I was hiking with this young British guy and he quit about an hour into the hike. He had never done any hiking before! I can't imagine trying to tackle such a big mountain with NO experience. I knew he was doomed from the moment he had to rent hiking boots for the hike. That's like begging for blisters. We were able to go a little faster without him. The second day was the biggest altitude change: we ended at 4,300 meters. Most of the flora was scrub grass and bushes. There were some cool plants/trees that I took photos of, although I've yet to find their names. A lot of the hike was through this massive valley, with the summit at the end. Once we arrived at the camp, it started snowing! The weather was surreal...I thought I was on the equator! That second night was the hardest as I arrived pretty soaking wet and had a tough time warming up. I think the altitude was getting to me as well.

I didn't have it as bad as my hiking parters, though. A 19 year old Dutch girl and 23 year old Belgian guy hiked most of the way with me. I didn't know that people could be less prepared, gear-wise, than me, but they were. They did not bring enough cold/wet weather clothing and really suffered because of it. They also carried their tent and slept in it. The second night was very cold and I don't think they slept more than a few hours.

The third day we woke up at 3 am to summit. The peak is 4,950 meters, so there was still a lot of steep climbing to go. Luckily, it was a full moon and a cloudless night, so we were able to hike without torches. Really beautiful. I tried taking photos in the moonlight, but mostly failed as my camera isn't good enough for such low light. But imagine walking through bright snow with jagged peaks shooting up all around. The last 300 meters or so were kind of difficult as we navigated boulders, ice, and the like. We got to the top at 6:30, just in time for the sunrise. It was spectacular to watch the light change. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Indian Ocean from the summit, but by the time we were there the clouds had come out. Although they were a few thousand meters below us! Surreal to be that high. Given that Mt Everest is some 29,000 feet, I can't understand how people make it that high! We were at 16,000 and it was quite the trek, with decreasing oxygen. I guess using oxygen canisters would make a big difference.

Taking just 20 minutes at the summit, we started down. We ended up hiking all the way down to the bottom in one day. Normally people take another night, but we were wet and feeling good enough to continue. The last 2 hours we were in a huge thunderstorm, getting totally, totally soaked.

It was a great culmination to a great summer. Going back home gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm excited to go home and see friends and family. I'm also excited about my classes and work that I'll do this year. On the other, I really loved Kenya! The work was great, the country beautiful, and the people amazing. I also feel that I was just starting to scratch the surface in terms of understanding what's going on here. I just finished reading this enlightening book: "It's Our Turn to Eat," which I highly recommend. It has some good insights on the country and I wish I could keep learning. I can't help but compare my experience here to my 2 years in Morocco. After two years, I really thought I understood Morocco (or at least the small part of Morocco that I lived in), whereas there is so much in Kenya that I'm lost on. Nairobi, in particular, is such a cosmopolitan, crazy place. Maybe I'll get to return. I'm very grateful for my time here! See you all stateside!

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