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Mt Kenya with Mountain Madness

Third Time’s a Charm on Mt. Kenya

MM return client Per Ost­berg shares his sto­ry of his recent climb of Mount Kenya. For those of you who are look­ing for exot­ic new high alti­tude rock objec­tives, Mount Kenya is a great place to start!

Mount Kenya. Per Ost­berg photo

Umrgmmph,” I grunt­ed and shift­ed inside my lit­tle rock hol­low. I tried to move a stone from under my left shoul­der blade to low­er down the right side. I could hear my neck ver­te­brae grind­ing and protest­ing. My chi­ro­prac­tor would love me for this,” I thought. I opened an eye and squint­ed. The moon was so bright it almost blocked out the Milky Way! It was 3:30am, 13th of Jan­u­ary, 2014, and I was lying on the sum­mit of Nelion (5 188 meters / 17 021 ft.) in cen­tral Kenya. Fish­ing out a cig­a­rette and lighter from the depth of my cozy sleep­ing bag, I con­tem­plat­ed the last four days.

The team on an acclima­ti­za­tion hike. Per Ost­berg photo

I met MM Guide Marc Rip­perg­er and his client Dana Good­man in Nairo­bi six days ear­li­er. We had bumped north in a mini bus up to Naru Moru, did some last minute repack­ing and head­ed for Nanyu­ki and then the hills beyond. In Moun­tain Mad­ness’ last let­ter I was told my local climb­ing guide would be James Kagamb but lit­tle did I know that James is bet­ter known as KG”, a leg­end in African climb­ing and moun­taineer­ing. What an absolute treat to be able to climb with him again! See, this was not the first time I had met KG. When I attempt­ed Mt. Kenya the first time back in 2003, I had been for­tu­nate enough to climb with him then as well.

This time we hiked in along the Sir­i­mon Route. We crossed the equa­tor, and slept at Old Moses Camp (3 300 m/​10 830 ft.), Likii North Hut camp (3 993 m / 13 100 ft.), Shipton’s Camp (4 200 m / 13 800 ft.) and final­ly reached our base camp at Aus­tri­an Hut (4 790 m / 15 715 ft.) after a final scram­ble up Point Lenana (4 985 m / 16 355 ft.), which was locat­ed on the oppo­site side of Mt. Kenya . Our hik­ing route tra­versed the moun­tain in such a way that it gave us an inter­est­ing per­spec­tive of the many faces of Mt. Kenya, the val­leys lead­ing in and the var­ied cli­mat­ic zones. From lush rain for­est, via the high­land heath zone into a bar­ren rock and glac­i­er strewn alpine zone.

Marc and Per hik­ing in. Per Ost­berg photo

On arriv­ing at our base camp, instead of doing a train­ing and acclima­ti­za­tion climb on Point John, we decid­ed to take advan­tage of the good weath­er, our feel­ings of strength and go for the sum­mits the very next day. 

That morn­ing we awoke at 4am and had some break­fast. We had a slow cross­ing of the Lewis Glac­i­er, a gru­elling walk up a scree slope that took us up to the base of South-East Face Route and final­ly on to Nelion’s sum­mit. It had turned into a bliss­ful­ly hot day with lit­tle wind and clear blue skies! A per­fect day for climb­ing. The crux pitch, the 5.8 De Graaf’s Vari­a­tion, was climbed more with brute strength than style and tech­nique. All in all it took us just under 5.5 hours to climb with approx. 28lbs in the pack. Once on top, the mist came in and obscured the view of Bat­ian, 270 meters from Nelion across the Gate of Mists.

When Marc and Dana arrived a cou­ple of hours lat­er, we looked at each oth­er. Sev­en peo­ple in the lit­tle tin sar­dine box called How­ell Hut, designed for four, would be a squeeze. I gave up after three hours and found my lit­tle rock hol­low under the stars! What an improvement!

Look­ing across the Gates of Mist at Nelion. Per Ost­berg photo

With sun­rise came the wind. While munch­ing down on yet anoth­er Snick­ers bar, we mulled our options. Down or across? Marc and Dana decid­ed to go down. KG, David (a Mt. Kenya ranger and climb­ing guide) and myself fol­lowed oth­ers across the Gate of Mists to the sum­mit of Bat­ian (5 199 meters / 17,057 ft.). The exposed scram­ble up to the sum­mit ridge was easlily one of the high­lights of the trip. This, along with the view down the steep snow field towards Shipton’s Camp and the 60 – 70 degree snow slope up towards Nelion from the Gate of Mists, were images I would not eas­i­ly forget.

Steep snow in the Gates of Mist. Per Ost­berg photo

Lat­er that evening, after half a bot­tle of cel­e­bra­to­ry Jame­son, I col­lapsed in my tent back at Aus­tri­an Hut with a hap­py glow of suc­cess on my face. Now all we had to do was walk out via the Naro Moru route, pass­ing Mackinder’s Camp, the Ver­ti­cal Bog and the Met Sta­tion. Fol­low that with a bus ride back to Nairo­bi and a final flight home to South Africa! This was my third attempt at climb­ing Mt Kenya; third time lucky, indeed! 

~ MM Climber Per Ostberg

On the sum­mit of Bat­ian. Per Ost­berg photo