Mount Kenya – Part 3 – The summit….?

I woke up at about 1:15am; 40 minutes before my alarm was due to sound.  I didn’t feel too bad, but took some preemptive ibuprofen to be on the safe side.  I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I started packing away my things.  At 0200, David checked that I was awake; oh ‘eck, it looks like I’m going up the mountain.  A flask of Magic Tea and a few biscuits were waiting for me on the table.  The tea didn’t seem as potent as the night before, but I was up now so there was no point backing out of the challenge.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the next 4 hours were absolutely horrible.  This was the toughest few hours of walking I have ever done.  Climbing up and down Peak District peat hags is hard work, but at least you can breathe.  This was a long steep climb, mainly up scree, and my lungs seemed to have packed up and gone home.  I had to stop every few steps and my breathing was reduced to rapid, shallow panting.

David had obviously allowed plenty of time for his very slow client.  As I got higher up the hill, I could see other head-torches setting off from the camp; I reckon I was the first one on the hill that morning.  At one point, after a couple of hours, I was ready to give up and told David that I didn’t think I was going to make it.  His slightly hurt look, and response of “I am committed!”, made me pull myself together; it would’ve been daft to give up now.

I was wearing an Icebreaker long-sleeved top, a T-shirt and my Paramo Velez.  I was cold, so I put my windshirt and waterproof trousers on as well.  Usually, this level of extertion would have warmed me up, but this was hard, cold work.

Like a child in the back of  the car, I kept asking “Are we nearly there yet?”, but David’s replies were all encouraging rather than informative. “Not bad time!” was the best I could get out of him.  I had no idea whether I was getting close to the summit.  I had been using the stars as a crude indicator of how far up the mountain I was; if there was a big black gap in the stars then that must be the mountain.  The stars were starting to fade now as dawn was breaking on the horizon.

We reached a ladder of metal staples fastened into the rock.  David told me to leave my trekking poles and climb up the ladder.  I climbed up, worrying about leaving my poles behind.  Then it dawned on me…… we’re at the top!!I nearly hugged David.  In fact, I think I may have done.  I couldn’t believe it – I was at the top!  I felt a mix of exhaustion, satisfaction and cold.  I could have climbed a little higher to the summit crag, topped with a metal cross, but this blog is called around the hills – not up them – and I’d gone quite high enough, thank you very much.  The highest elevation recorded on my GPS was 4886m, which is 99m below the listed height of Point Lenana, but I didn’t seek out the high point.  My Suunto compass/thermometer said it was -5 degrees C, so I didn’t fancy dithering over a few extra metres.

The plan was that the rest of the group would arrive at the summit at sunrise too.  I could see them approaching the metal ladder and I waved enthusiastically as they climbed up…. until I realised that this was the group of Israelis we’d seen earlier on the trip.  Oh well, I’m sure they appreciated my sentiment!

A few minutes later, my group arrived looking exhausted.  I’d had a few minutes to recover but they looked like they’d had a tough walk in.  There was lots of hugging and taking of photographs.  We’d all done what we set out to do and it was good to be all together again at the summit.  The views were breathtaking; it’s a shame my camera didn’t do them justice but I think the memories will stay with me.

The walk down was, in some ways, tougher than the walk up – but breakfast awaited back at Shipton’s Camp and it felt good to sit in the sun looking up at the peak and think “Oh yes, we did that one before breakfast!”

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14 Responses to Mount Kenya – Part 3 – The summit….?

  1. Louise Evans says:

    Wow, that looks amazing Judith, well done!


  2. Alan Sloman says:

    So, a few Munros on the Chally will be a stroll in the park now!
    A great read, Judith!


    • Judith says:

      Oh yes, I’ll have my hands in my pockets as I skip up mere 3000 footers. Just you wait and see. (I shall deny all knowledge of this comment by the time May comes round!)


  3. Carl Mynott (@Locomountaineer) says:

    I almost shed a tear when you realised you had reached the top. I can imagine it was almost overwhelming given the struggle to keep going.

    Superb! Thanks for writing this.


    • Judith says:

      Thanks, Carl. Yes, it was quite emotional at the top. I could have given up so many times. It’s hard to describe the mix of emotions at the end. I was almost too exhausted to appreciate that I’d actually made it.


  4. Helen Weaver says:

    A fantastic achievement that will be with you forever; very well done. Look forward to hearing all about it in person next week 🙂


    • Judith says:

      Thanks! I shall try to whittle my photos down from the current 400 to a more viewer-friendly subset! Although I insist that you see all of the giraffes; I do like giraffes.


  5. Laura says:

    So glad you made it – well done! You’ll certainly never forget it either! Hope you’re fully recovered and fighting fit now – see you in May!


    • Judith says:

      Thanks, Laura. No, I think it’ll be a while before I forget it! By the way, the Tundra sleeping bag worked out well. I went for the Pure -10 which probably would have been too warm if I’d been feeling OK, but which was really welcome when I was feeling ill.


  6. AlanR says:

    Strange that you felt so rough and all the others were pretty much ok. It’s not like you are a newbie to walking or anything is it. I’m glad that you struggled through and summited. I bet you are still elated to have done it.
    It will stay with you forever. That’s the trip not the sickness.


    • Judith says:

      Hi Alan. I know some of the others found the ascent tough, and that one person had trouble seeing properly at the higher altitudes, but I was the only person in our group who really struggled. Since returning, I’ve continued to have a tight chest (made worse by the cold I caught at work last week) so I can only assume I had the start of a chest infection while I was in Kenya. It wasn’t bad enough to cause problems at home, but made the climbing difficult. The sickness only lasted one day but the breathing was difficult most of the time.


  7. Bill Grey says:

    Now that you’ve spread your wings, what next?

    Whatever – enjoy!



  8. John J says:

    Fantastic stuff – and well done at overcoming the awful thin atmosphere – induced malaise.

    400 photographs (of which 375 are of giraffes) may be a LITTLE too many to show off in your holiday album!

    See you Sunday morning.



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