Kenya

Kenya
one of our favorite sights

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mt. Kenya Fundraising Climb…….a Climb to Remember February 27 to March 3, 2014



I was thrilled recently to join a  group of hikers from Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH), Moi University, Ampath, Indiana University and researchers from University of Toronto who climbed Mt. Kenya from February 28th to March 3 2014. Our goal was  to raise awareness about cancer and chronic diseases as well as funds for the new Chronic Disease Care Center in Eldoret, Kenya

The hikers included the Deputy Governor for Uasin Gishu County Daniel Chemno, Milton Arusei, Jennifer Hatchard, Jodi Bernstein, Jepchirchir Kiplagat, Joseph Koech, Elyne Rotich, Eve Kweno, Raymond Kilimo, Dr. Naftali Busakhala, Dr. Chite Asirwa, Liam Greven and me. The director of MTRH, Dr. John Kibosia, the deputy director for finance Mr. Matthew Birgen, his wife Miriam, and Selah Plapan, head of PR for MTRH, also joined the team for part of the trek.  Liam was the only experienced climber on the hike and maybe the only one who had a real appreciation for how cold and difficult the climb could be. All were enthused to support the fundraiser and to succeed at “bagging” the second highest mountain in Africa!

The hikers were “ flagged off “ by the Governor of Uasin Gishu, Jackson Mandago, on 27th February 2014 from the town hall in Eldoret. We started our 7 hr. drive  towards Nanyuki where we would overnight before the climb up  Mt. Kenya.The team arrived in Nanyuki and checked in at the Simba Hotel. We  met our  guide, Shem Wambuko, at the  hotel. After checking in, the team headed to a nearby restaurant where Dr, Kibosia treated us to a dinner. Although already tired from the long drive, the team was jolly and excited to get going on the climb. After dinner, the team retired and agreed to assemble at 7:30 in the morning for breakfast and fitting of the mountain gear.

In the morning, after breakfast, members of the team picked out their hiking boots, sleeping bags, walking sticks, heavy coats, gloves and everything we would need for temperatures that would be well below zero degrees Celsius on top of the mountain.  It took a bit of time for everyone to get the items that they required, but Shem got us all set and then we were off, with a brief stop at the grocery store for last minute items and snacks. 

We were driven to the Sirimon gate, of Mt. Kenya National Park, to commence the climb. Shem and his team of porters were  already there and while we were sorting out our gear they were taking care of getting a light lunch ready as we had a 10km walk to our first overnight stop, Old Moses.  It was great to have  along the local dignitaries, who were encouraging the team. From this perspective,  Mt. Kenya was readily visible and it became very clear that we had quite a hike and serious climb ahead of us. 

As we arrived at Old Moses camp, we were greeted by hot tea and snacks by Shem’s cooks and we  recognizing that we would be sleeping on bunks in the cold with no running hot water,  or showers, or heat.  The temperature had already dropped quite a bit as we were now at 3500 m. Everyone quickly started to put on warm clothes and bundle up. Many of the Kenyans had never experienced such cold weather, or eaten a meal with hats and gloves on!  A generator turned on the 3 light bulbs for a while but it didn’t take too long before we were all off to bed and much needed rest.  For some it was a restful night, for many however it was a night of waiting until morning came.  The wind that evening was very strong creating a cacophony of noise between the tin roof and the howling.  There were some snorers in the group as well which made for an interesting night of no sleep for yours truly! 
 
We awoke at 6:00 am and by 6:30 am we were having a good, hot breakfast provided by Shem’s cooks.  At 7:00 am we began our 16 km trek to our next camp, Shipton’s.  The trek to Shipton’s can only be described as beautiful. We had excellent weather, saw a family of elephants and many antelope on distant slopes.  The hike is a very steady uphill march through African heather and moorland.  The sun was strong and the wind would come and go depending on where you were. We were very lucky to have clear skies the whole way up, as sometimes it can be quite cloudy and wet on this climb.  Although the climbing was not easy, all the climbers were making good time up the mountain. We were treated to a delicious lunch next to a stream running from the mountaintop. The lunch  powered us up for the next 4 hours of trekking.  Testing some kind of outdoorsman theory of lunacy, Liam decided that this would be a good place to wash up, in the ice cold water! 


At the Peak!
















We began  the next  4 hours of trekking and they went by smoothly, with climbers were chatting and connecting along the way, talking about everything from local Uasin Guishu politics, to their work at AMPATH, the beauty of Kenya, medicine,  and photography.  Arriving at Shipton’s, we were greeted by 3 green wooden buildings, a few other climbers and a clear indication that the next day would be tough. Mt. Kenya rose steeply  in the distance and gave us all pause. We all looked at it and wondered how in the world we would get up there!

Shem’s team had another wonderful meal of pasta with chicken and sauce  ready for us and we all heartily enjoyed it as we were hungry and very cold.  Even Jody and Jen, our Canadian friends, were cold, so this tells you that it was serious.   There was lots of discussion about the upcoming climb and the fact that we would all be getting there together.  It wasn’t too long before we went to bed hoping for sleep as the alarm clocks were set to go off at 2:00 am so that we could get up to the peak by sunrise. Sleep again eluded a number of us…either because we were nervous, cold, the   noise from the  wind or the wonderful orchestra of snorers!

At 2 am Dr. Busakhala saw to it that all were awake, whether we were ready or not. We had tea and crisps at 2:30am and then up the mountain at 3:00 so that we wouldn’t miss the sunrise.
As we began the last leg of the climb  each of us had to use a headlamp.  Frankly when you think about it this seems rather crazy, particularly given the 40 km winds and the cold, but off we went nonetheless.  For nearly 4 hours we slowly made our way up the mountai in the dark. Our guides were simply excellent, making sure that we moved at a safe pace, drank water and that we were feeling ok.  Feeling good was not an option as you were feeling cold, your muscles ached and you were concentrating on moving forward.  For those of us who struggled, the guides were there at each step to encourage us as well as help us up the mountain.  At this point we were already above 5000 m, and the elevation caused even more of a challenge.  Fortunately, again , the skies were clear and  the sun rose spectacularly creating a  breathtaking view! Some of us saw Mt. Kilimanjaro(in Tanzania) in the distance and other mountain ranges as well.  We were all thrilled and excited to have made it to the top of Mt. Kenya!

Although the climb up was tough, the climb down was simply scary.  The loose gravel had you wondering if your footing was going to hold.  Again, Shem and his team did a great job helping team members down the mountain side.  It was inspiring to see these perfect strangers develop a bond that was based on trust and safety.  These guides knew the mountain and how to move up and down it safely and they shared that knowledge with our group of novice climbers.  Many of the team members had their hands held as they came down the mountain. This was serious business as an error would prove at a minimum to be very painful.  By 10 in the morning, we were all safely back down the mountain and treated to a wonderful breakfast.  That was the first part of a long day because at 11:00am, we started our 16km trek back down to Old Moses.

The team had determined that warm showers and a reasonably warm bed were the goal for the night so we skipped lunch and trekked on down to Old Moses.  It was another beautiful day and the valley was breathtaking to walk through…..but nonetheless a very long trek.    By early evening we were all back at Old Moses where Shem and team had another delicious meal ready for us, making the long day worthwhile.  We enjoyed the meal and thanked Shem and his team, had another look at Mt. Kenya and then made our way back to Nanyuki.  There we were greeted by warm showers, warm beds and a good night’s sleep….. no wind…..and no snorers.


We all reflected on the correlation between climbing a mountain and fighting cancer or other chronic disease.  Our challenge was significant but it paled in comparison to the challenge faced by those fighting cancer, heart conditions, diabetes or other chronic diseases.  We can be thankful for our health and also be determined to help those who are faced with difficulties day in and day out.  Mt. Kenya is a sacred place to many of the Kenyan people. Having climbed that mountain we can all appreciate better why this mountain is such a special place.

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