27 March 2013

Mount Kenya - Day 1, Burguret Route

These Trees Can Talk

It’s February 18, the day after my 36th birthday. Where have all my years gone? I’m starting another trek today, on another trip, to yet another country. Is this really only my 51st country? Wait… this is my 51st country. Although I haven’t made it to every country in the world as some bloggers my age have, nor have I even joined the travelers’ century club, 51 countries is no small achievement. By the time I finish this 25-day trip, I will have increased my total to 54 countries. At that point, I will have been to more countries than I have been to Pearl Jam concerts! (Anyone who knows me personally can attest to the fact that is a shocking statistic).

My 51st country is Kenya, and I’m here to climb Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa, as a warm-up for my climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. It should be noted, though, that my group was only climbing to the top of Lenana Point, the third highest peak on Mount Kenya and the highest one that you can reach without any technical climbing skills or equipment. At 4985m (16355 ft), however, making it to the summit of Lenana Point is no small feat.

We had chosen the little-used Burguret Route for our ascent, since it promised better views, more remoteness, and less trekkers than routes such as most common route, the Sirimon. In fact, we were told that we would most likely be the only people on the Burguret trail, which is actually privately-owned by the same people as the Mountain Rock Bantu Lodge, where we stayed last night. Unlike most of the routes on Mount Kenya, the Burguret Route does not have any permanent shelters, so we had to sleep in tents. I surely didn’t mind this, since any trek that I had ever done before involved sleeping in a tent.

Two other things that I read regarding the Burguret Route made it particularly appealing was that we may encounter elephants and buffalos on the trail; and that the first camp was called “Giant Bamboo Camp”, which consisted of a campsite smack dab in the middle of a giant bamboo forest. I had a hard time finding many photos of this cool-sounding camp online, but the few I had found made it look ridiculously awesome!

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After spending last night at the Mountain Rock Bantu Lodge in the foothills of Mount Kenya near Naru Moru, we were driven to the Gathiuru Forest Station this morning to begin our trek to Lenana Point. We’re standing in the middle of a dusty road anxiously waiting to begin hiking, while our guide Peter and our porters organize all our camping equipment and make their final checks. Looking out over some potato fields, we can see the jagged peaks of Mount Kenya looming in the distance.

As soon as Peter and the porters are packed up and ready, we set out on a trail across the potato fields. A couple farmers working in the field came over to say hi to us. Using Peter as our translator, they enthusiastically show us how they were planting chunks of old potatoes that had eyes on them. We are then told that the government cuts down trees in this area to be used for lumber and then replants saplings in their places. While the trees are still young and not taking up much space or creating any shade, the farmers are allowed to cultivate the land in between the saplings until they grow into mature trees. At that point, the farmers move on to another similar tree plot until those trees also become more mature. The process keeps repeating itself, so the locals always have land to farm and trees can continue to be replanted for lumber purposes.

Following the short walk through these potato fields, we enter a forest of podocarpus and African pencil cedar trees that quickly becomes quite dense. The trees tower high above the trail and their tops knock together in the wind making sounds that were a bit creepy. Dave mentions that the path felt like a “tree cave”, with the trees so tall and dense above us that they block out most of the sunlight.

After walking for a solid hour through this “tree cave” forest, we see all the porters sitting near the edge of the trail taking a break. Peter announces that since everyone is here, it would be a good time to introduce the team to us. Peter then introduces each assistant and porter by name. Our crew consists of:

George, the tall and lanky assistant guide, is wearing a New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirt.

David, the cook, is wearing an “El Toro Mexican Food” shirt from somewhere in Florida. I ask him if we’ll be having tacos for dinner, but I don’t think he understands what I’m talking about.

And then there are the porters:

Steven appears to be the oldest in the group. He speaks in a very deep voice, and seems to be a very personable guy. I’m later told by one of the other porters that he is always telling stories and jokes, and is generally the source of entertainment for the rest of the team.

The next one is another David. He has a shaved head and looks like he's probably the most handsome guy of the bunch.

Charles has a thick head of hair and is the porter assigned to carry my blue North Face duffel bag.

Samuel is wearing a Towson University hat. In a few days time, he’ll swap the Towson hat for a beanie, and I’ll keep getting him confused with Charles.

Harrison is obviously the youngest. He has the look of innocence and excitement in his eyes.

Craig, Dave, and I then introduce ourselves. Dave gets a chuckle when he introduces himself as “yet another David”.

I had been taking notes in my pocket Moleskine notebook as the porters were introduced, so I would be able to remember their names.  Later, Peter informed me that because I was taking notes and carrying a large DSLR camera, the porters all concluded that I must be a professional journalist. I think they were disappointed when they found out that I was only an engineer.

Giant Bamboo ForestAfter leaving the “tree cave” forest, we enter a section of thick bamboo. This isn’t the giant bamboo that is at tonight’s camp. This bamboo is so thick that we can barely see off either side of the trail, but it’s short height leaves us exposed to the sun from above. Suddenly, Charles stops in front of me, as the other porters have gone silent and stopped in front of him. He signals with his hand for us to be silent. It’s a bit nerve racking to watch the porters, as they appear to be very concerned about something. They are alertly listening and watching. It’s only after a few minutes of silence that they relax and inform us that they saw some very fresh elephant dung and were worried that there was an elephant hiding in the bamboo near us. Luckily, they inform us that it seems to have walked in the opposite direction. Whew!

The bamboo forest slowly gets taller and less dense and is intermixed with some huge moss-covered trees. I think to myself that this trail feels like it is straight out of a fairy tale.

Around 3:30pm we walk into camp, which is set amongst the tallest bamboo stalks that I have ever seen, where the porters are busy setting up our tents. Besides the dining tent, I notice that there are only two sleeping tents, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure that we had requested single tents. After bringing this up with Peter and him showing us a piece of paper with our itinerary information, a long discussion ensues. Eventually, we realize that there was some obvious confusion, so Dave and I volunteer to share a tent with each other. [It should be noted that the agency back in Nairobi and the tour company in Toronto offered their sincerest apology for this mix-up, and compensated us by upgrading us at our hotels back in Nairobi and in Arusha].

At dinner, I barely have an appetite and actually haven’t had much of one for the last few days. Since this included some time spent in Singapore, which is more or less at sea level, I’m pretty sure that it’s not altitude-related. I really wish I were hungrier though, since it takes a high calorie intake to be able to successfully complete any high altitude trek.

While I’m sipping my soup, I look at Craig and notice that he must be feeling even worse than me. His head is in his hand, and he hasn’t even touched his soup yet.

“You feeling okay, Craig?” I ask.

“Not really. I have a headache and am a bit nauseous. I think I’m gonna go grab a Tylenol from my tent,” he says as he gets up and leaves.

Giant Bamboo Camp PanoramaOur main courses are served in heaping portions. I’m only able to force down about half of it, whereas Dave is able to devour the entire plate and even asks for more. He’s obviously feeling great. Peter notices, however, that Craig barely touched his food. Peter then reveals that he can ask the cook to make some local “medicine” for Craig. The three of us exchange looks of concern as we wonder what kind of African “medicine” the cook was going to brew up. Craig quickly points out that he’s already taken some medicine of his own. Peter then goes on to tell us that the medicine consists of boiling water with lemon, ginger, honey, and shallots. Relief spreads across our faces as we realize that actually sounds really good! All three of us end up asking if we can have some.

We then move outside and sit around a small campfire that the porters have built and sip on our “medicine”. Personally, I would have eliminated the shallots and had more ginger, but I’m in no place to complain out here.

Craig is the first to announce that he’s heading back to his tent to sleep, and Dave and I follow soon afterwards.

To be continued....    (Click here for Day 2)

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You can view all my photos from Mount Kenya by clicking here.

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 If you liked this entry, you may also be interested in:
   Global Goebel Travels: Conquering Kilimanjaro
   Global Goebel Travels: Success! Lenana Peak, Mt. Kenya


  1. I like the bamboo forest! And how good of you to write down everyone's names. But by the way, you are not just an engineer, you are also a global traver writer! Nice post, can't wait for the next installment!

    1. Raul, yes, the bamboo forest was really amazing. I'm glad I chose the Burguret Route, as opposed to the "standard" way of hiking both up and down the Sirimon Route, which I found to be relatively boring on the way down.

      This is the first time that I've ever written down all the names of a trekking crew, but I'm glad I did. On the last day of the hike, we handed out tips to each of the crew in envelopes marked with their names. Our lead guide thanked us after that for getting to know each of the porters by name. It meant a lot to them. He said it's rare that he has a group that does that. Unfortunately though, I did not do the same thing on Kilimanjaro... There were just too many guys on the staff (not that that's a good excuse).

      Thanks again for supporting my blog. As I'm sure you know from your blog, positive feedback is great motivation for more writing.


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