Mt. Kenya Hike 2021: Gachoya Family
Many of us are afraid to conquer the second highest single standing mountain in Africa. The uncertainty of what lies ahead, what to expect, how to prepare for the ascent, what to carry, the right gear and many other concerns the endless list can be overwhelming.
Nonetheless the Gachoya family led d by Mr.G. decided to take the challenge head-on, more so the teenage boys who were going to Mt. Kenya for the first time. It was an exciting and unsettling time given that the family had hiked the Aberdares two years ago experiencing no so pleasant cold weather well below 0degrees that was still very fresh in our minds. A date of the climb was decided to be during the school half term break.
Our training began from first Saturday of May which was hiking Ngong Hills. The first hike was of course tiring especially due to laxity in active exercises. We set out early in the morning and by 11am we were on the other side of the hills. We were tired but happy that we were done with our first hike. The following weekends we did Longonot then Ngong Hills again and rested one weekend.
We left Nairobi on the 30th May for we were meant to start our hike the following day. We drove to Naromoru where we met with the staff of KG expeditions, the company that was to be our guide on the mountain. They confirmed that we had the right hiking gear and provided what we did not have at a small hiring fee. We then proceeded to the Hotel where our guide Mr. KG had made reservation for the night, it was exciting with a good dinner and a good rest. We were clearly aware that the next time we lay in a bed would be the Thursday night after summiting and trekking out of the park so we savoured the luxuries. We rose early for a 7am pick up and left the Hotel at 7.30am for a 3-hour drive to the Chogoria gate from Nanyuki.
Mr. KG is a well-informed tour guide with vast knowledge of the area and later discovering his knowledge of botany, geology and zoology is amazing. He clearly loves what he does and has great passion and care for nature.
The drive was quite interesting with KGs guided tour. We saw expansive farms and a beautiful landscape.
At Chogoria we met the team we were going to go up with which comprised of 10 people-potters, guides and a cook for the four guests.
Day One: Chogoria Gate to Lake Ellis
The hike started at the Chogoria gate where we did registration, had a briefing by KG on what to expect on the mountain and of course the rules which are quite simple while hiking. We had packed lunch which was quickly put together by our amazing chef Kamunya. I remember the salad and guacamole being very refreshing. As soon as we were done with lunch, which was around 12.30 pm, KG started his favourite instruction/question #drink water. We were expected to drink between 3.5L to 5L a day.
We started the trek at around 1pm. The first day trek was quite relaxed with occasional stops for water, short notes on botany and of course photography. It was a cool afternoon in the forest with sunshine which was welcome. It took us about 3 hours to reach the lake.
Lake Ellis an amazing water body. It is the last accessible point while driving on the mountain to those who choose to skip the 3hour trek. We found other campers some of whom had driven to picnic and others were on their way out after summiting.
The lake has cold water fish which campers are allowed to fish for consumption while at the mountain. There were basic facilities including a toilet which was provided by the KG expeditions and is flushable. Tents were put up some for sleeping, the kitchen, and common room which would serve as our lounge area & dining room.
Dinner was ready by 7pm but we actually had tea and snacks before then which was a surprise, there was an assortment of popcorn, biscuits, tea, coffee & chocolate. Still we continued drinking water to meet our day’s target. Dinner had a starter of butternut soup with scones then followed by tilapia with roast potatoes and mixed vegetables. Our chef was very amazing i must say if felt like we were at a 5star restaurant on the mountain.
After dinner we had our debriefing with KG and the expectations for day two soon after we were dismissed to go to our tents to rest for the second day of hiking at 7am. The night was cold but manageable, we slept fairly well with some of us having rather weird dreams.
Day Two: Lake Ellis to Lake Michaelson
We were up at 6.30 am and breakfast was served at 7am. We started with wimbi uji then sausages, banana fritters, fried eggs, pancakes, deep-fried matoke and fruits accompanied with the choice between coffee, lemon tea and chocolate.
The hike kicked off at 8am with us going ahead of the porters who were bringing down the camp, and were carrying our back packs allowing us to carry day bags which were only approx.7kgs essentially half the weight of the hiking bag that Mr. G an avid mountaineer insisted on carrying through out the hike . We were expecting to hike for approximately 7 hours to the next camp, it was quite enjoyable with a lot of learning on our way with lots of photography by the waterfalls.
Lunch was a picnic in the bush ham sandwiches, apples, boiled eggs, packets of delmonte juice and potato crisps. The trek continued soon after lunch with water refill and drinking breaks. The vegetation changed from mash grass to scarce shrubs and lobelia. KG told us on the difference between giant lobelia which is only found in Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro and the lobelia found in other parts of the world.
We arrived at Lake Michaelson at about 4pm after 6 hours of trekking.
We were welcomed by our chef with the ever pleasant niceties and we settled into our tents. We prepared for dinner which was served at 6.30 pm. Dinner was rainbow trout which was fished by KG and our boys and was taken straight to the pan. We started with zucchini soup, trout fish, rice, mixed vegetables and fruits. We had a hot drink and our bottles were filled with hot water for the night. KG always urged us to drink water whenever we woke up even in the middle of the night. Of course that meant getting up and going out of the tent to pee which was not welcome.
The night was cold and warming up took long so when one got out, the cold wind blew all the warmth away. The tent opening process would graciously sprinkle one with ice getting in and out meaning warming up took another 1-3 hours Brrrr*. With KG’S water prescription, it meant one had to get out at least twice in the night. We ensured we were well dressed the next day, leaving no part of our body exposed including our noses. Lighting in our tents in absence of KPLC was our head lights which one had to keep within reach so as to get it easily whenever one needed to go out for a pee. We were fortunate to have extra sleeping time on day two as our day three hike started at mid day.
Day Three: Lake Michaelson to Simba Tarn
Our hike started at mid-day after the 9am breakfast of sausages, eggs, pancakes, deep-fried sweet potatoes and deep-fried nduma. There was oatmeal porridge and our usual choice of a hot beverage.
The elevation was sharp and there was very little vegetation cover as we trekked through rocks and scree most of the way. There was lots of learning throughout the day, names of the birds, their adaptations and amazingly KG could identify the birds by their melodious chirping even before he could spot them. Of course by this time most of us were lost deep in thought which KG would interrupt when reminding us to drink water or giving us titbits on birds, plants and the periodic photography sessions. At this point we were accustomed to trekking for hours on end, suffice to say our sons had realized that the only way to get out of the mountain was to keep moving forward to the next camp, the summit and then out because the alternative would not have been an easier option either.
Simba tarn is 4390m above sea level. It is quite cold, rocky, windy and has a spectacular view of lower peaks. Because of these conditions, we did not get there until 5pm to reduce exposure time. The usual happened where we got our snacks on arrival, dinner was served at 6.30pm. Our dinner was beef stew with spaghetti, ugali, greens and mixed vegetables. We of course started with a hot bowl of butternut soup and scones. We got our night bottles refilled with hot water and a debrief with KG. He meticulously inspected our summiting gear and advised us on how to layer. We were expected to sleep early so as to rest because we would start hiking at 4am to the summit.
Simba tarn being cold and windy we were expected to increase our water intake which would make us make several trips out of the tent making getting warm a mission impossible loop not to mention the anxiety for summiting was building as the hours went by and before we knew it, it was time to get up.
We woke up at 3am and were supposed to have a hot beverage at 3.30am to proceed to the hike at 4am. KG gave us a quick brief on what to expect and advised us to drink water and report any head ache or breathlessness. He also helped us with donning with gear which most of us had managed before but for some reason we were unable to wear our gaiters which we had worn on a daily basis. There are those of us could not even zip up dawn jackets- very strange and other minor things which KG was patient and kind enough to help with. Suddenly our survival depended on KG and the other guide. We needed our head lights to light our paths since it was dark.
Day 4: Lower Simba Tarn to Pt. Lenana
We set off at 4.20am with our small day packs, head lights. As soon as we stepped out, the very cold wind gusts had numbed our fingers and toes in just an hour which had the teenagers fretting.
As we ascended the oxygen levels dropped which brought on exhaustion and altitude sickness. It was difficult to get to Lenana. The sun seemed to drag itself that morning, one of the boys asked bitterly and impatiently why the sun was taking too long to come out. The only hope we had to warm up was sunshine as we neared the peak. We had occasional bouts of refusing to walk, extreme cold and tiredness. KG and the other guide kept urging us on and we summited at 7.10am.
Of course we were all happy to summit but we all wanted to get down as soon as possible. We had hoped to pose for a family portrait photo at Lenana but I don’t think what we got is photo we would like to frame haha. We had long smiling faces. KG tried to encourage us for a photo but at that time we did not see the point. At point Lenana on a clear morning one would see Mt. Kilimanjaro, Indian ocean and many other far places. It was a bit misty so visibility was poor. The glacier sadly has reduced. We had speckles of snow.
Our descent began soon after summiting. It was a sharp descent through scree and rocks. Falling became a regular occurrence. We got to Shipton just before 9am and were served a sumptuous breakfast. The sunshine was welcome and the temptation to lie on the ground was irresistible. The 2Ominute power nap did us good. After one hour at Shipton we soon set off on the walk to Old Moses camp.
That was the longest trek. We walked from 4am to 5pm it was scenic, stopped for short water breaks while the walk through Mackinder’s valley along the river was long. The vegetation was mostly moorland. We hoped, skipped and jumped as we climbed up and soon went down.
We had a short stop by the river to have lunch and then continued with our trek. When we were able to see Old Moses Camp at a distance which was a little discouraging because it was so close yet so far, but we finally got to a concrete road at 5pm. We could see the land cruiser that had picked us from the hotel and we knew we had made it, quickly took some photographs at the gate and thanked our team who were very kind, helpful, friendly and who were our lifeline & motivators during our stay at the mountain. A short ceremony to award achievement certificates was conducted by KG. We soon left for the hotel.
KG expeditions was a great team to have on the mountain. They made what would possibly be most difficult time to be enjoyable.
Mr. G was a good sport, being guided keeping in mind that he has climbed Mt. Kenya over 18 times, the Ngong Hills & Longonot countless times and this was my second climb to point Lenana with Mt. Kilimanjaro under my belt as well.
KG is the founder of KG expeditions and is a senior mountaineering instructor for National outdoors and leadership school, both locally and internationally. He has worked in Africa, Chile and the United States of America as a backpacking, climbing and mountaineering instructor. He has guided on Rwenzoris, Kilimanjaro and Kenya mountains since 1990s, and today trains search and rescue teams on Mt. Kenya, Rwenzoris and Kilimanjaro. KG’s longtime contribution to the field of rock climbing and mountaineering in Kenya have led to recognition and honors in Kenya.
Notably he has love for nature preservation and respect for life in nature no matter how tiny a plant is. He occasionally goes to the mountain to collect trash.
We were honored to be the first group with KG as an honorary warden.
With such qualifications we felt safe and confident to hike. His calm demeanor is admirable. We never saw him worked up or out of control. It was an honour to have KG as our guide.