I’ve managed to hit 4 continents in the past few weeks. It’s 5am and I’m up writing – the jet lag from Africa to Utah has well kicked in.
Obie and I arrived from NZ on December 18. Scott had gone ahead to film an Animal Planet shoot about bears. After a merry Christmas week I dashed off to Kenya to guide my friend Michele Gilbert up the sunny, south facing Nelion peak. Mt Kenya has three main summits – Lenana at 4995m, is the trekking peak, Nelion at 5188m and the slightly higher Bation at 5199m.
Michele and I have talked about Mt Kenya for years. We’ve been climbing together since 2001. Michele has had an unfair share of injuries and illnesses in recent years so was game to seize the day.
US guide friends linked us with James Mwangi at Alpine Trekking Kenya. He provided super outfitting services – top trekking guide Antony Kibaki and an entourage of cooks and porters. We embarked on a gentle acclimatization schedule. It served us well as we saw zebras, waterbuck , baboons and a tortoise as soon as we entered Mt Kenya national park at the Equatorial Sirimon gate. The trek wandered through ancient volcanic valleys, some undeniably scribed by glaciation from the last ice age. The initial jungle gave way to many types of giant lobelia plants and surreal Suess-esk landscapes. The closest living relative to the elephant, the rock hyrax, appeared at around 4000m. They look like big rodents – like the marmots common at 10000feet and above in North America. But they are pachyderms! Go figure! We stayed at trekking huts and enjoyed the sunrise on New Year’s Day on top of peak Lenana.
Summit day arrived on Jan 2. I awoke with the queasy feeling that I’d eaten something disagreeable (nothing to do with our cook, who was excellent)! A complex stroll across the dying Lewis glacier to the base of the technical climbing , gave me some fresh air and we enjoyed a pleasant 16 pitch rock climb to the summit of Nelion. Other parties were on the route as well. Since they were Kenyan guided parties, I respectfully let them go ahead and Michele (who is a strong technical climber) and I cruised along behind. We arrived later than anticipated to the pointy summit. The cloud had moved in but we parked up next to the tiny Howell bivouac on the summit and enjoyed the views to the plains.
I began to dry retch on the rappels. It made things tiring but not dangerous. By the time we arrived back at the Austrian Hut, I was really pukey! That continued through the night, much to the concern of poor Michele, who is used to me as robust. The following morning we packed and made the dash to lower altitudes – 25km and a nice 1800m descent via the spectacular Chogoria route with red rock gorges and speccy waterfalls. It was a fantastic walk and as the air thickened, I improved until I was good for a beer by the time we arrived at camp.
Michele and I spent the next few days on safari. It was a pretty fancy affair with nice hotels and our own driver, the very knowledgeable and low-key Michael. Initially visiting the Ol Pejeta wildlife sanctuary, my highlight was the sunset viewing of a family of elephants bathing in the river. Elephants hang out in matriarchal family groups and they are fun to watch as they are so social and take such good care of the young ones. The poor old bulls lurk around the edges on their own. Our second safari took us to the Samburu area north of Mt Kenya. Much hotter and drier, this wildlife park was more rustic with rougher roads. Michael took us on a long drive to a place called Buffalo springs where, during the second world war, the British accidentally attacked a herd of buffalo thinking they were an Italian camp. There’s a spring created from the bomb crater and I went for a swim in the clear water. My only swim for the NZ summer! We glimpsed a few ostriches on the way. The males look like frilly, fussy ballet dancers on thick legs. The females, like most birds, are way less glam than their male counterparts. Another highlight, the “Giraffe breakfast” – was a take away breakfast eaten in the safari vehicle as we watched a family of Samburu’s ‘reticulated’ giraffes. Giraffes are silent creatures and very graceful. Michael told us that they communicate by sign language.
Because I am now an elephant fan, the final highlight was visiting the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi. This was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and a fantastic money spinner for elephants. The babies jog out of the forest to meet the keepers who hold out two x 2 litre bottles of formula. The littlest elephants drink their bottles in about a minute then go to play (and get petted – see Michele all covered in mud!), much to the entertainment of all of us watching. The second group of elephant orphans are older like 2-3 years – they can hold their own formula bottles with their trunks. The head keeper gives a talk about the history of each elephant then the crowd disperses to go and sponsor these cute charismatic mega-fauna babies.
Michele then headed to Uganda to see the Mountain Gorillas and Golden monkeys. I headed home via Amsterdam, a city I’d never visited. Heading downtown at 6am, I entered a ‘coffee shop’ for a coffee, only to be escorted out without coffee. It turns out it’s not a coffee shop, it’s a smoke shop and I don’t smoke – “no coffee without smoking,” I was told. Not exactly Utah!
I’m now back ski guiding for Utah Mountain Adventures and am soon to begin an AMGA Ski Guide Training course. Obie is back at his school here in Salt Lake City and is on a local ski team. Scott is trying to ice climb as much as he can in between film shoots for Animal Planet. On the agenda after the AMGA Ski course is another exciting opportunity – I’m heading to South Georgia Island as a climbing guide on the Polar Explorer. The plan is to cross South Georgia Island in the footsteps on Earnest Shackleton. It’s big year – the centenary of his legendary survival and crossing of South Georgia Island.
Watch for the reports. They’ll be late – but interesting!