23 November, 2009

Check-in/OK message from Jonah's Spot SPOT Messenger

Jonah's Spot
GPS location Date/Time:11/23/2009 08:19:46 GMT

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Jonah is alive and apparently has use of his digits.
Thank you for caring.

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14 November, 2009


I'm living the high life here in the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club, the biggest, poshest, well reknowned, much respected, quite admirable, finely distinguished and most excellent yacht club on the entire vastness of the East African coast.  Well....

I've been well treated in my 2 days here.  Though my check-in was a fiasco for purely accidental reasons.  But folks have taken me in.  We heard some good guitar pickin' last night.  had a fine burger, and actually got to do a little swing dancing for the first time in ages uncounted.  With a willing partner I might add.  Good fun all in all.

The social scene here is so far from anything I've seen in quite a while.  Not even sure how to describe it, yet.  Too expensive for me, but I am here briefly enough so I won't whinge too much.   And it is fun.  Very nice indeed.

But I am ready to head south.  And the weather is clearing off I think.  The time may be near.  South Africa is still a dark spot on the map.


I hope to upload more.  This is all the battery power i have for now.  but have a look.  I am pretty happy about these.  I've never been so prolific with the shudder as I was those few days in the Masai Mara.


06 November, 2009

Setting off. . .

Tomorrow morning I am leaving Kilifi, Kenya for Zanzabar Island, Tanzania.  It should take two days plus.
My stop there will be brief.  Just a couple of days.  Then I am leaving for South Africa, possibly direct.  It is some 1800 miles, therefore 18 - 20 days trip.  Not including any stops along the way.  There are numerous oportunities.  Will write if my plans change.
Only worry after a month and a half.

05 November, 2009

The Mountain: Mt. Kenya 17,050 ft.
Me and The Mountain.
The Climb: 16 pitch, 5.8-5.9, North Face of Batian Peak, Mt. Kenya.  19 hours camp to camp.  Read "Trail Runners don't Travel" below.
a seemingly pensive lion. . . 
The Masai Mara is know for the distinctive dark manes of the male lions here.  They get darker with age.

Masai Mara 2

These are called Oliphants. . . I read about them in Lord of the Rings.
Wildebeest migration. . . at least the tail end.  Zebras and wildebeests travel together down into the southern Serengetti and back with the monsoons.
awww.....the cats are eating strawberries in the shade. . . and where did that impala go???

Masai Mara

I can't wait to get the rest on (super, super slow connection).  This is the Masai Mara, the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a lion. . . 
. . . and these are called cheetahs.  They are a rather sneaky-fast cat.  They are conversing with a polite young impala.  Such friendly cats.


Climbing Batian Peak of Mt. Kenya

Kilifi, Kenya is a wonderful place, full of generosity and kindness. Everyone seems to have something to offer, be it a hello, a smile or a conservation. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that time ran away at a gallop. Three weeks! And what to show for it? . . . a disabled, partially-repaired windvane; and lots of new friends.

Because of the necessity of sailing within certain seasons, I was faced with a choice: leave immediately, or leave in a year’s time.
These are the months, November and December, when the SW Monsoon fails and the NE Monsoon returns. The NE Monsoon is ideal for a passage south—but I’d have to go NOW, as the typhoon season starts promptly in November – December as well. And unfortunately the change of the monsoon also opens the southern Indian Ocean to Somali piracy.
Yet, if I choose to stay longer, I’d have to stay for an entire year. This is because in a few months comes the austral summer, December - January, which is the only ideal time to round the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa. If I don’t sail south before the typhoon season, ie-NOW, I will have to wait until next austral summer a year from now.

A bummer really. So much to see here: Madagascar, Zanzabar, Tanzania. . . and I will have to miss much of it to stay in season. I have to go now; my dreams are not here. I enjoyed my passage across the Indian Ocean so much; I am keen to continue. I hope and now plan to be back in Port Townsend by September of the coming year. With this decision behind me I realized that my time in Kenya was coming to an end. But I was yet to see any of the country.
My first interest was Kilimanjaro. It had become a mantra for me since Bali: everyday I’d go on deck and do standing squats and chant Kilimanjaro in my mind, see myself trucking up the great mountain. Daily I put energy into this dream as if filling a reserve tank of energy for the trial and drudgery of the long climb ahead. It excited my heart.
However, on arriving in Kenya I found that my focus on Kilimanjaro was slightly illusory. I slowly learned that the mountain I had been dreaming of was of a different name: Mt Kenya. Kilimanjaro is idyllic indeed and also the tallest mountain in Africa, and of course its snows are the crystals of legend and lore—but it is a long walk only, and its ways have been littered by the hordes who have pursued its prize, and they have paid dearly in coin to the Tanzanian government for such privilege. This glamour doesn’t interest me as much as its height and titanic size. One day perhaps, but another day, when I’m too old to climb.
Mt Kenya is clean and her rock is sharp and steep. Where she lacks the loftiness and reputation of her southern sister, her true summit is protected from the common tourist by a thousand feet of long technical climbing (though I didn’t know how long at the time). The trails and huts are well managed and litter-free, and indeed many tourists come to the mountain to climb to the “summit.” But what the guides call the ‘summit’ is a lesser peak of the great massif that is Mt. Kenya. They leave in the early morning to walk up a beautiful peak and are there to watch the sunrise as it awakens Kenya to a new day. They return to camp even as the morning is still young.
My experience on tourist mountains has taught me that guides allow tourists the minimum of danger. It was under this premise that I at first thought that the true summit could be attained by a mere scramble up some nearby rock face just beyond the tourist summit, no feat for a climber but enough to daunt the average vacationer. Reliable information on the true summit I failed to acquire before setting out. This simple oversight begot interesting consequences.

Well before I reached Kenya, my Aussie friend Paul, who had been born in Nairobi, offered me good advice. First, he dissuaded me from making port in Mombasa and instead encouraged Kilifi as a better stop. I have already made plain how I love Kilifi. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya—not ideal for me. Second, he offered me a friend of his who works as a freelance guide. He would be cheaper than the normal tour company he said, and was a really good guide. He had been up Mt Kenya (the normal route) with him among other ventures. His name was Gibson Mwai.
I packed my rucksack and tested what gear I had. Amazing and dismaying what damage salt air can do to gear. My aluminum tent poles broke one after the other. The lace grommets on my alpine boots rusted through. One of my hiking poles was seized short. As I hoisted my pack all the back pad rained down as ash—it had totally disintegrated into rubble. This at least was remedied by cutting open an old cockpit cushion with a good closed-foam core which I used to replace the gravel of the old padding. The pack was again as good as new.
The rains came as I got underway.
It was a day and a half of travel to reach Nairobi where’d I’m meet Gibson for the first time. After an hour and a half grid-locked traffic jam in the city of over ten-million I shook his hand at the bus terminal. We wasted no time. Over a beer we negotiated an itinerary and a price. He had planned seven days to do the climb. I was confident it could be done in four. We agreed on five and added a trip to the Masia Mara game reserve to fill the extra days of his itinerary and maintain the original price—a bargain on both ends. We shook hands with a smile. We’d leave in the morning.

In many ways this would be a new adventure for me. In some ways I was aware. For instance, I had a porter and a cook. Wow. In some ways though I’d only learn as they happened. Gibson believed that I could do the climb, though he was not a climber and had not done it himself. And he didn’t have technical information on the route, but thought it an easy route. If he thought it was not hard, then I was sure it was within my ability. He had arranged for us to meet a climbing guide at the high camp that would take me up the mountain.
This was a budget-style tour. We took a mini-bus, not a land cruiser up to the Park. It was raining; we got stuck. We all got out and pushed and made it another two-hundred yards. That would be it. The gate was not far and we had come to walk; so we walked. Never mind we hadn’t properly packed our gear as of yet and it was still raining.
I had expected the possibility of having a porter. I was coming off the couch after all. I’d been on the sea for the last three months solid. The porter would allow me to keep my strength as much as possible. I figured I’d simply take gear out of my pack and put it in his. So I was a bit surprised and unprepared when he strapped his own pack to mine and hoisted them both. I had little more than a Camelbak and a self-constructed fannypack to carry myself. Indeed my load was light. And what was more, my porter was older than rock.
His name was John Miner. He had been a porter on Mt Kenya since 1970. He was quiet and always wore a soft smile. He had a long limber gait. There is some element to our relationship that I can’t explain and don’t rightly understand. I loved that man. I loved him as if he were the reincarnation of someone dear and close to me from the past. Perhaps he had the air of Thomas Martin, my surrogate father. John Miner rarely spoke, but we laughed at one another. I asked Gibson what the Swahili word for “mister” or “sir” was. He said “bwana”. From then on we all called John Miner, Bwana Miner. And I was determined to never let him beat me to camp.
It was at the gate to Mt Kenya National Park that I named Bwana Miner and it was there we properly packed our gear. The rain was light and suited the landscape like Scottish mist. A baboon sat calmly in the open grass sometimes used as an airstrip. We met another group of hikers, Swiss, also hiking for the mountain.
We set off. The air was heavy with humidity and tasted wonderful in my throat. The slight grade was easy under my light load and high spirits. It was late afternoon already. We had come all the way from Nairobi that morning and that was some three hours of driving, plus the provisioning and fetching of Bwana Miner, Peter the cook, and any gear Gibson himself needed. It was therefore a short hiking day and we arrived at Old Moses Camp just before six.
Coming from the tropics—not to mention sea level—the cool air of Old Moses Camp in the evening was a narcotic. We were already at 3300 meters (10,800 ft). Not a bad start. The true summit of Mt. Kenya is 5199 m (17,050 ft), which is higher than any summit in the lower 48. It is the highest peak in Kenya, and only Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) is higher in Africa.
Nearly as soon as I had thrown my gear on a bunk in the camp quarters, Peter had a thermos of hot water ready with coffee or tea. I put on warm clothes—which I had scarcely believed I’d need, and sat and watched the sun sink behind the verdant rolling hills.
This looks just like the treeless, alpine lands of Alaska, I thought. This is paradise. I think everyone knows how I idealize Alaska. Sometime later I met some Alaskans who also concurred my opinion: it was Alaska indeed. The next morning I set out after a hot beverage, porridge, eggs, juice, toast, fruit, and even a sausage link. However bloated my stomach may have been, my spirits soared. The land was silent, hushed perhaps by the drapery of clouds that hung everywhere before the rising sun. Zebras ran on the ridgetops.
Gibson and I left Bwana Miner and Peter behind. We walked quickly, hoping rock to rock. The grade was none too steep as of yet and Gibson was happy to see how quickly we got on. He and I laughed a lot. I talked a lot. We were both the same age; he spoke English easily and was fit enough to carry his own gear and still keep up, for now. We overtook a group of Austrians who seemed none too pleased to be overtaken. I believe they asked me what was the hurry? Of course I was in no hurry, only enjoying the pleasure of the trail, and this was the speed of my pleasure.
I later learned that the group of Austrians had also come to climb Batian Peak, the true summit of Mt. Kenya. At first I thought this encouraging as they looked serious and better informed than I, though later I would be less pleased.

I became more and more enrapt in the trail and the hiking. The sun subdued the clouds so that when we summated a high ridge we were awarded with our first and most potent view of Mt. Kenya: she was framed perfectly at the end of a long valley with high bluffs on each side. Indeed this valley would lead us up to Shipton Camp, the high camp from which all climbs originate.
Gibson was ecstatic. Perhaps I exaggerate. But he said that no one ever goes this quickly up to Shipton. The climb was normally six to seven hours. We were halfway already, taking our first stop, and we had only been going for a little over two hours. I found this encouraging. I laughed. I have no weight, I said. Bwana has it all. And I have been dreaming of this for months. My spirit could not be any lighter and it is carrying me up the mountain. And the conditions are absolutely perfect. The weather could not be finer. It was all true. I felt great, never more alive than that day on the trail.
I made Shipton Hut in four and a half hours as alive as the minute I had left Old Moses. Gibson came on a little later with a smile, panting and laughing at what time we had made. I should add, that while we were hiking I continually talked and Jamie and Jeremy Wood. The mountains, and the sense of Alaska brought them to mind. And the simple talk of climbing—all came back to them. Especially when Gibson tried to complement me on my speed.
How could I explain that I was the slowest of my friends? . . . this had been an uphill hike, my slowest angle. If only he could see Heidi, or Patrick my old roommate go uphill—they both have won the M Climb in Missoula and competed in the Bridger Race—truly a world class trail run. Or Jeremy and Jamie who are simply such powerful runners, or Andy Anderson, who won the hill climb in Jackson Hole. Robin Fargason trained for 50 mile ultramarathons. I am painfully slow in comparison, and yet here I was getting the gossip!!
Apparently trail runners don’t travel. It was the same on Mt. Kinabalu. My guide Walter and I ran down the whole mountain. He said he had never seen anyone do that before. Where are all the trail runners??? I suggested to Gibson that they organize a ‘porter’s race” and start keeping a log of fastest times loaded and unloaded. I thought it would be fun for them, a little friendly competition.
Even so, Gibson said all the cooks were gossiping about the speed of our climb. The five Austrians eventually showed up—with 12 porters of gear! Since I had beaten Bwana and Peter so thoroughly, I had no hot tea coming as readily as the day before. And the Austrians sitting close by were none too eager to talk to me or to share any of their bounty. One of their porters was so annoyed by this—the generosity of the Kenyans—that he offered me some of their water and tea. “Please have something to drink. . . these are nice guys, but they drink lots of beer.”—they then took up the call and somewhat unenthusiastically offered me hot water and tea. I smiled at the porter, who I had talked to on the trail, and always spoke to from then afterward.
It turned out that the Austrians spoke poor English on the whole. I was slightly disgruntled about their seeming isolationism, but one of the guys was genuinely good-hearted. And he happened to speak the best English. I heard they were heli-vac EMT’s or paramedics or something of the sort. In any case, I got the feeling these were serious guys—and they certainly gave that impression.
After dinner I went over to them to mention that I aspired to climb the same route. They asked me what sort of experience I had and I sort of lamely replied that I primarily had done a lot of sport routes and my mountain experience was not much greater than some “walk-ups”—this was the term I used. At this point one of the guys turned away from me and started speaking to his comrade in German and I heard the term repeated, “walk-ups”. I don’t know what was being said, but it had a smirky feel and I sensed I was being derided.
I persevered. I needed information. How hard was the route they were trying? . . . 5+. Great, I thought, a European grading system I couldn’t translate. I meant to bring the equivalency chart I had in a book on the boat, but it slipped my mind. I asked if they knew what that would be in the Yosemite Decimal System, the grading scale I know, and they sort of shrugged, or I don’t even know if they were listening to me anymore. They didn’t even seem to be looking at me.
This bothered me. I was sure they were being rude now. And I was disheartened by the probable difficulty of the route. They did at least enlighten me to the fact that it was a 16 pitch route—longer than any route I ever did when I was in climbing shape. I had to seriously consider bagging my plans. If 5+ translated into more than 5.8, and was sustained, I had serious doubts about my finger strength holding up. Playing guitar—I doubted—was NOT legit training for a long alpine route and it seemed insane to take such risk on such a big face as the North Face of Bation Peak.

My hiking speed and my talk about climbing and my “talented” friends betrayed me. David, my climbing guide arrived just before dark. He had talked to Gibson who assured him I could make the climb. “He is very strong”, he said. And I talked so much about climbing that he felt assured I had talent. (This is absurd, of course, I am ever a better talker than a performer.) David agreed that the route was long, but not hard he said. I am sure you can do it. The route should not require crampons or an ax, and he didn’t place much gear. This comforted me in that I got the sense it was a lot of scrambling, a fourth-class route much of the way, with a bit 5.8 thrown in for good measure. Let’s do it.

[For non-climbers, 5.8 is not a hard grade. It is roughly where a beginner may climb with some challenge. It is not climbing 5.8 that was my concern, only climbing that grade in a sustained way for a whole day. This I was uncertain about.]

So I agreed. David earned my trust by asserting that he had been trained by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). This was a strong certification, more than I expected. I was pleased and surprised. However I didn’t foresee how much his quality would be tested on the mountain until we were there.
We started at 4:30 am.
In addition to David, I invited along another guy named John. He apparently was a climbing guide in training. I am so indebted to those who took the time to teach me, I felt obliged to have John along so he could gain a bit more experience for himself. It would slow us down, and I hoped he wouldn’t endanger us with poor climbing, but I never thought twice about the decision. And it would be important in the end.
We were out ahead of the Austrians, but not by enough. As David started up the first pitch, which I thought was amazingly steep and technical—the exciting way to begin, I thought, never did I think it would actually continue all the way up. But Austrians didn’t wait. To my amazement, their leader jumped right on the route, even as we were climbing it. I had never seen such a thing. I thought a crowded route was one with a group waiting behind—NOT actually on the route concurrently. It was shocking. ….at least, to me. Maybe this is done in the Alps. Because of my previous slight, I took it as rude and utterly unsafe. (It would be a long day; in the end, they may not have had any choice if they wished to make the summit. And they were determined.)

The sun was lighting the underbellies of the clouds as I followed John up the first pitch. We climbed in tandum, both tied to the same end of the rope, belayed by David at the top of each pitch. The rock was cold, but sticky to the boots—the traction was great. I was breathing hard by the time I reached the belay and I was ecstatic. Real climbing! It had been so long. The route was begun. And perhaps it would be no “walk-up.” One had to look straight up to follow the route. And it was diverse: two ampetheaters, a couple of couloirs, a horn, a some traversing. . .
Having John along quickly became a great boon. He belayed David at nearly every station, again allowing me to rest as much as possible. We could see snow and ice above, and this could prove disastrous. Thin ice would not be climbable and there were no alternative routes on the North Face.
At the moment I didn’t care. This was superb climbing. The only thing that peeved me was the proximity of the Austrians. David was showing his caliber and John was climbing well enough, though working for it. We were making slow way. I am not sure why. A three person party is always a bit slow. John and I were slow. Our speed was more hindered when we reached the snow and ice. We were probably five pitches in. The sun high and the weather remarkably clear. There had been so much rain I was shocked at our good fortune. But the ice brought both parties to a stand still. When I heard David—a very subtle and quiet man—let out a whoop of joy, I knew we had a tricky pitch to surmount. And that would not be the last whoop of joy to hollered by David in the day before us.
Indeed there was a bit of dodgy climbing, some commited climbing where I was damn glad to be on a toprope. The protection looked thin and the footing slippery. Yet we all made the moves with our own power. I’d grade it 5.9. And it was tiring. And secretly I hoped there wouldn’t be too much more of that kind. Or much harder, because it was reaching toward my ability with boots and pack.
We never saw worse though. We had low grade five traverses which we didn’t protect other than slinging a horn or a flake. When the going was tougher David would belay us both simultaneously—both at opposite ends of the rope. I had never seen this before. It worked—though we never fell on him to test the style. And he wasn’t fast. But it was a safer way than having both John and I tied to the same end in difficult climbing. I was comfortable with it. But the rock was in my ability and I was feeling very good in the climbing, very sure of my moves. My boots held and the holds were deep.
The day wore on. The Austrians were only half a pitch ahead. We were on a saddle in the sun now and above the dark icy couloir below. Yet the summit was still many pitches off. It was 1pm. David asked if I wanted to continue. I looked at the weather—perfect; we were on the equator—good; David had proven a strong and confident climber. He believed our decent would be much quicker as we would do many repels. (There is no easy “walk-off” of this mountain. Only a decent down the same route you climbed up.)
Hell yeah I wanted to climb. I was well prepared to take risk. It was necessary for someone in my position—not in climbing shape, always alone (no regular partner). If I was to accomplish anything great, I would have to risk substantially, more than is common practice for the average climber.

A little ways above us we heard the whooping and celebration of the Austrians. I assumed they had summitted, which also meant the top was at hand. Indeed they had left their packs in the shelter of the well protected belay station in which we were now sitting. Within twenty minutes we passed them coming down. I congratulated them. One commented on how difficult he found the route. I commiserated, but added that it had been a glorious day all the same.
As we climbed on and on and on, I realized that the summit was in fact NOT at hand. And they in fact had NOT summated at all. I don’t know what they summitted, but it was not Batian Peak. I think they turned around due to the lateness of the hour. This was prudent, as my experience will attest as the afternoon waned. We persevered. Indeed the summit was still an hour off. We were high indeed. We traversed the rocky crags of the summit ridge, great cliffs fell away in all directions, the wonderful valleys in which we had hiked the day before seemed miniscule and were no longer green, but brown. And we’d have to return there soon.
And I was now feeling the mileage. Strangely I don’t remember feeling the elevation. I must have. David noted that my climbing was slower. I don’t know if he was poking fun. Though I felt slow—for the sake of confident climbing—I also noted that often I was waiting for his belay to take in the slack, so I felt more slowed by the belay than my actual state of exhaustion.
By the time we reached the summit the glory of climbing had faded and I was tired and ready for it. Batian Peak was wonderful, beautiful and grand—we were halfway to heaven. We had worked hard for it, risked for it, the day was more behind than ahead. My reserve of energy had held, but the pleasure was gone. We ate some food and smiled. The weather still held, though the clouds seemed thicker around us.
Climbing down would be less about sport than about preservation. Each pitch I prayed would be a repel. I expected many; I got few. We downclimbed; we traversed. I questioned David on the safety and prudence of such techniques this late in the day. The hours flew by and the mountain remained. That was when it started to snow.
Snow on the equator; snow in Kenya?? We’ve heard of the “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, but they are supposed to be fading with the years. This was fresh stuff and it was thick. And we were high, high indeed.
But this is climbing. One expects difficulty. One must swallow fear and doubt—and simply perform. (It was a Yoda-esque moment: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Thus is alpine climbing.) And here my team showed its grit and character. We laughed and smiled. The weather had held so long. The snow was no matter. Flake the rope; climb on.

Hours screamed passed, and David grew slightly impatient. He didn’t wear gloves and the rope was wet with melting ice. The sun was falling behind the western ridge. And we were still very high. I was slowly adding clothing. I was better dressed than the other two, but David continued to do the bulk of the work. We had been on the mountain for 12 hours when the snow started. He had led every pitch and had belayed both John and I all the way to the summit. Now we were hurrying down. Repels take a lot of rope management, lots of flaking heavy wet rope; it is tiring in and of itself. This on top of climbing and fear.
I exerted myself now, if I hadn’t already. My strength felt good, and I wanted a stronger role in the team. We were up against darkness and that is a mortal danger on a mountain. I wanted John and David to have every bit of wits they could maintain. For speed I would belay David when I was ready (John was not speedy at this or comfortable in a routine). I flaked line and readied the ropes. We got out headlamps and I put on my rain pants—which I had thought at the time were a ridiculous addition to my pack.
But it was cold now. Snow blanketed the falling slopes. David and John had trouble warming their hands. They didn’t complain (much), but at some point I figured that the inside of my pack was warm, and I had dry sari in there. So we would occasionally take turns shoving our arms deep in my pack to warm our hands. It worked quickly, which demonstrated to me that it really wasn’t so cold (at least to Montana standards). So I was unworried by the cold, since I had been able to keep dry. I maintained a lunatic smile to bolster my boys.
As we reached lower sections of the mountain, there was more downclimbing, and the terrain was genuinely slippery in places. Although I had cursed my one trekking pole on numerous occasions throughout the day as worthless—it had its value on two less than steep slopes where balance was tricky.
The greater problem that oddly never killed me was the fact that the soles of my boots were delaminating.
I carry a compact emergency kit for oddities like this. At first I tried cloth tape. It didn’t last a pitch. Second, I tried floss, which I thought I did a professional job of using—I hitched each rap. It lasted not even a repel. Shocking. I tried this several times to no avail. It was the right foot that was bad. The left only went at the bottom of the climb. Luckily it never tripped me. The worst it would do was roll under the boot and make a rocker. That and allow my foot to get wet from the underside.
We were professional repellers now. The rope sang through my ATC (a repel devise) as I free-fell through the darkness along the black walls of the black mountain. We often did double rope repels which were long and fast, but we lived with extreme fear of hanging the ropes up and not being able to get them down without climbing back up to release them from the teeth of the rock. Luckily, this never happened, though I had to use prussiks on two occasions to muster the force to clear the rope.
At 10:45pm we reached the bottom of our last repel, which had been our first pitch. It was warm. We ate and drank and laughed. I applauded our safety and the mental toughness we maintained throughout. Indeed, we had done it. We summated Batian Peak of Mt. Kenya, the 17,050 ft ceiling of the country. It had been glorious on the assent, tedious on the descent, and challenging throughout. We had a 45 minute run down the scree slope to Shipton Camp. We were all alive again with exhilaration. We flew down the trail. I laughed as I flogged my lose soles through the sand and pumice. It was hysterical, or it seemed so at the time. We were safe at last. We had known it all along, but there is no certainty on a mountain. We made a decision to climb in the afternoon; we reaped the summit for this decision, and we also reaped the harsh conditions mountains are prone to as the day lengthened.
True, we did not expect such a lengthy downclimb. David was quite wrong on this account. Why we were so late I don’t know. The Austrians fared better. They met the snow as well, but were off the mountain by 6:30pm. Their prudence saved them hardship. And their decision to return was very respectable. I failed to mention that they had no guide. I found the routefinding down the mountain difficult. I applaud their ability and prudence. Of course, their slight made it easier for me to feel quite smug that I, a mere “walk-upper”, had summitted a route they had retreated down. A fact I don’t know if they ever admitted to. I never received congratulations, only: “a very tough route.”

Gibson was ecstatic (again). His face glowed in the dark. He had been worried of course. It was damn late. But he was instantly relieved when he heard our accomplishment and lack of incident.
I had no appetite. Ate only a little. Drank only hot water. Talked too loudly as nearly everyone was asleep. Laughed about my boots, which Gibson looked at with trepidation. Smiled at David and John. Told them both that we would not have succeeded without the help of John, something I couldn’t have understood before the climb. I had a good team. David persevered through the ice and choss, something beyond his obligations.

I would sleep-in the next morning, Gibson’s plan / itinerary be damned. We were supposed to go over some ridge to the other side of the mountain. There would be no more uphill for me. And my boots were cashed. Gibson was on the same page. The next morning, late, Gibson lent me his spare hiking shoes. Gibson had pawned some of his food and gear off on Peter as to lighten his load. And he even suggested that we make all the way for Nanyuki-town at the bottom of the mountain, in essence making two days into one. I smiled at this. He had resisted my desire to compress days—now he was submitting at last. Indeed, I said, but we are not starting early.
When I got up around nine, the Austrians were already out the door. So no chance to talk to them. They apparently changed their plans as well and were booking it off the mountain. When I met two Alaskans later that day in the Old Moses Camp they said the Austrians had looked “mighty grumpy” as they ate their lunch there.
I was the last man at Shipton. I was in no hurry, and I milked my last cup of coffee to the very end. It was raining. The weather had never really lifted from the day before. But the terrain was glorious under cloud. And the trail was fine, though mud and puddles scattered about. I felt strangely fresh. I think the slow pace of our climb outweighed the long duration to protect me from fatigue. Which became helpful.
Gibson was keen to move fast. I think the gossip of the cooks had egged him on and he was curious how fast we could get down the trail. I took the bait. I was so excited by the climb; I was riding on air again. And I am a trail runner at heart, perhaps above all other things. I love, truly love running mountain trails. I never feel more free or alive. I feel no fear, no pressure, I only run as I feel the trail allows me to. The shoes were key. Without them I would have been hamstrung. My fannypack with my bulky camera was a nuisance—but the misty green day, the heavy air, the slight grade, the compliance of Gibson—almost a degree of competition—was all encouraging and invigorating. We flew and we did not stop.
We were half way to Old Moses in an hour. We ate and drank some. In ten minutes we carried on. There were marshy bits that Gibson had to navigate for us to find the fastest way through. We laughed and ribbed one another. We made Old Moses in 2:15 hr.; the same leg that was supposed to take 6-7 hrs the other way.
Gibson, with all his courtesy, knowing we would beat Bwana Miner and Peter down, called ahead and had someone else’s cook prepare my meal. So I had hardly met the Alaskans and sat down in Old Moses when a thermos of hot water a fat plate of food was slid in front of me. This story skips many of the social elements of the trip and the strange wonderful people I met from all over the world. It was unexpected when I met to folk from Anchorage—a place so familiar—and completely failed at the name game. That was worth a laugh at any rate.
Gibson was keen to keep moving. Bwana and Peter had arrived. And there was apparently a plot against me. There was to be a race down to the gate. And NONE of them had packs! The Austrians had called for a 4X4 to come up to the hut and shuttle them down. Gibson had taken advantage, loading all of our gear in the truck as well (except my damned fannypack). So, in the end, I was the only one laden with anything. It was only fair, I thought.
As it turned out the last stretch was extraordinarily slippery, and was a 4x4 track, and so not that interesting for a run. We were back again in the timber. The high Alaskan plain was behind. Bwana and Peter kept up for a while as I was not keen to run on a full stomach, and I worried about Bwana on the slippery clay. Strong indeed he was, but he was old and didn’t need a fall.
Gibson was keen to run though, so we ran. I was spent by the time we made the Park Gate. This was the end, the real end. Gate to gate. What we found there was a big group of guys working on a Land Cruiser, the same one that had come down from Old Moses with our gear. And what we didn’t find were the Austrians and the Land Cruiser that was supposed to be waiting for us to take us down to Nanyuki. Turned out that the Austrians paid a little extra to snatch our ride for themselves, as theirs had lost its transmission.
For the first time I actually had time to sit and breathe and relax and enjoy what I had been through. For the first time on the trip I rolled a cigarette. I watched zebras in the grass and looked for the baboon I had seen there before. I was left alone, unattended, finally. The boys worked on the truck. Bwana Miner and Peter showed up. The skies slowly cleared. Another truck came to the gate; they were checking meteorological equipment and agreed to give us a ride down.

And so it was that we arrived back down in Nanyuki-town. Gibson got me a hotel room (as this was all unplanned; we had destroyed the itinerary, four days instead of seven). Bwana Miner un-spliced our two packs for the last time. It was not with a little sadness that I said good-bye to him.
And therefore I was greatly gladdened that night when, to my surprise, Gibson showed up with both Peter and Bwana to share dinner with us. We drank Tusker beer and shared huge plates of meat and ugali, Kenyan flour and water mixture, like fine, dry grits. This time I was hungry. I ate. And the beer was cold. I drank. And then Gibson got me a cab back to the hotel. And I slept. But not before I had a hot shower (which caught on fire) and did some laundry in the sink; my socks smelled something foul.

There ends the story of Mt. Kenya. I traveled from there to the Masai Mara, which will be a different tale.