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