31 March 2013

Mount Kenya - Day 2, Burguret Route

Approaching Highland Castle

I’m half awake and lying in my tent at the Giant Bamboo Camp, which is our first campsite of the Burguret Route on Mount Kenya. I’ve had the urge to pee for at least a few hours now, but haven’t been able to muster up the energy or overcome my fear to leave the tent.

Fear?... What fear?

Last night while we were sitting around the campfire, our guide Peter told us that we should make sure that we keep everything safely inside our tent since lots of animals are in the area of this campsite. Then, he said that if we wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night to make sure we first look around for any red glowing eyes before leaving our tent.

“Uh, what kind of animals are we talking about?” asked Dave.

“You’ll probably hear some colobus monkeys and tree hyraxes tonight as you try to fall asleep,” answered Peter, and then he mentioned something about “small flesh-eating cats”, hyenas, and some rodents.

Gmork, from The Neverending Story
“Wait.... What? A flesh-eating cat!?!”

We never really figured out what kind of cat Peter was talking about, or whether he was even being serious or just joking with us. But, at 3 o’clock in the morning when I woke up needing to relieve myself, I could hear some strange growling noises and then something that sounded like footsteps. Lurking outside my tent was obviously an evil flesh-eating cat, which in my mind looked something like Gmork from The Neverending Story (even though Gmork is more of a wolf than a cat).  Needless to say, I decided to hold it until there was a sign of daylight.

Tree Hyrax
Tree Hyrax.
To hear what a tree hyrax sounds like, click here.
Although, I swear that the tree hyraxes around our camp had the volume turned up to 11.
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At the first hint of light, I quickly unzip my sleeping bag and rush out of the tent to relieve myself. Having survived the experience without any encounters with flesh-eating cats, I return to my tent to begin the arduous daily task of deciding how many layers to bring for the day’s hike and packing everything else back into my bag designated for a porter.

While eating breakfast, I am amazed that our crew has carried a few cartons of UHT milk along with us up the mountain. I would have expected that they would have just brought powdered milk like most treks on which I’ve been. Despite still not having any appetite, I force down a bowl of cereal, an egg, some toast, some beans, and some Starbucks VIA instant coffee.

Immediately after leaving camp, the incline picks up and the trail is steeper than anything we saw yesterday. The giant bamboo forest continues to be fascinating and becomes even more stunning as the morning light filters through the tall stalks. There are a lot of dead bamboo stalks laying on the trail, which make loud cracking sounds as we step on them.

Walking Through The Bamboo ForestThe walk becomes even more pleasant as huge moss-covered trees and long vines start to appear mixed in with the bamboo. Dave tugs on one of the vines, but it crashes to the ground right in front of him, nearly missing hitting him on the head. These vines apparently aren’t made for swinging.

We come to a clearing in the bamboo forest after walking about an hour and a half. Peter informs us that this is a horse camp, although we don’t see any sign of horses. The vegetation here is more small shrubs and thick patches of weeds. The path is no longer well marked, and I’m glad we have a guide to show us the way.

Winding our way through the weedy path, we get to a small stream. As soon as we cross the stream, the trail gets really steep, and we end up back in a bamboo forest. The steep terrain and exotic plant life reminds me a lot of the gorilla trek I did in Rwanda a couple years ago. It has a very prehistoric “land before time” feel to it.

For the next couple hours, the path alternates between bamboo forest and weed-filled exposed areas.

We come across the porters stopped on an exposed hill face overlooking the valley below. We decide to join them and eat our packed lunches. This amazing view is the first chance we’ve had to really get a feeling for how far up the mountain we’ve come.

Our packed lunches seem to more or less be the same as our packed lunch from yesterday (and end up being very similar every day for the rest of the trek). We all agree that the grilled chicken is easily the highlight, whereas the triple-decker sandwiches made with incredibly dry bread, one piece of unknown meat, a thin layer of shredded cheese, and a bit of butter are hard to force down without dumping some water in our mouths as we eat them.

Burguret Route

After lunch, the trail continues through more bamboo forest and weed-filled clearings before entering the heather zone. We hike through a large desolate area with burned and blackened trees from a wildfire a couple years ago. Long grasses seem to have re-grown in the area, but most of the shrubs and trees seem to be dead.

Besides not having much of an appetite, I’m starting to have sporadic headaches now. This worries me, because I was convinced that the lack of appetite was due to other reasons, but the headaches are almost surely altitude-related.

Through the dead trees, we can see Batian and Nelion, the two tallest peaks on the mountain, up ahead. The afternoon clouds are beginning to roll in, but the view is still spectacular. Perhaps due to my continuing headaches combined with the fact that I’m trying to get used to a new camera [I accidentally scratched the sensor on my 5D Mark II two days before leaving on the trip and was “forced” into upgrading to a 5D Mark III… but that’s another story], I don’t feel that I’m adequately capturing the spectacular scenery from today’s hiking.
Kenyatta Flowering Plant
the plant not the president

On one of our water breaks, our guide tells us about some of the unique plant life found on the mountain. There are everlasting flowers, giant lobelias, and the Kenyatta flower. Peter tells us that the Kenyatta flower is only found on Mount Kenya. It is a plant that closes its leaves at night and then opens them during the day to catch the sun's light.

[Note: I can’t seem to find any information online about the Kenyatta flower, so I may not have the correct name for it.]

Approaching Highland Castle

Around 3pm, we stop to take in the first good view we have of the cliffs known as Highland Castle. I try to take a photo of it, but my camera isn’t working. I get a message on the screen that says “Err 01. Communications between the camera and the lens is faulty. Clean the lens contacts.” I remove my 24-105mm f/4 lens from the Canon 5D Mark III body and attempt to clean the electronic contacts with a lens-cleaning cloth. I reattach the lens and am able to take one photo, but then I get the same message again. After the scratched sensor on my Mark II, I really don't need more camera problems. I walk away with a few shots on my Canon s95 point-and-shoot, but I’m frustrated. The mountain is wearing me out, and I’m starting to wish I were somewhere else right now.
This message did not make me happy.

When we arrive into camp, I try cleaning the lens contacts again using some cleaning swabs that Dave gave me, but still seem to get the same error message on almost every test shot that I try to take.

Dave is a former biology student and is running around camp chasing birds, trying to get good photos of them. His enthusiasm frustrates me even further. My camera issues are obviously affecting my mood.

Craig Relaxing At CampAs I'm unpacking my gear in the tent, the thought occurs to me that perhaps my lack of appetite over the last few days is a side effect of Malarone (atovaquone-proguanil), the anti-malarial medication that I'm taking.  I dug out the paper that came with my prescription.

"Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, diarrhea, weakness, loss of appetite, and dizziness."

Loss of appetite?  Aha!  This could explain why I didn't even have an appetite when I was in Singapore a few days ago, since that was the morning that I began taking the Malarone.

I'm worried, though, because the common side effects of Malarone sound a lot like the effects of altitude sickness.  I then make the decision to stop taking the Malrone until the high altitude portion of my trip is finished and just hope I don't get bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito in the meantime.  I also hope that the side effects wear off soon, since I'm hoping to reach the summit of Lenana Point in a couple days. 

Camp Fire In A CaveWe eat our dinner in a cave at the base of the towering cliff of Highland Castle. The cave provides a cool setting for dinner, until the porters decide to light a campfire near the entrance to the cave. It doesn't take long for the cave to fill up with smoke and make my eyes burn. We quickly exit the cave and have a seat in front of the fire with the porters. However, the smoke here eventually gets to be too much for us to handle also, so we head back to our tents.

Back in the tent, Dave and I line up our gear between our sleeping bags to prevent either of us from rolling onto the other. With the relative slope of this campsite and being wedged into the smaller-than-we’d-prefer tent, Dave makes the comment that it feels like we’re going to go luging down the slope tonight. We both burst into hysterical laughter like a couple of hyenas. Our dumb comments and jokes continue from there until we are both in tears. I’m not sure if it’s from the jokes or the lack of oxygen, but the laughter seems to make me temporarily forget about all my camera problems, headaches, and lack of appetite.

Little do I know that tomorrow will be one of my most trying days ever on a mountain.

To be continued....    (Click here for Day 3)

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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: Mount Kenya - Day 1, Burguret Route
   Global Goebel Travels: Conquering Kilimanjaro
   Global Goebel Travels: Success! Lenana Peak, Mt. Kenya


  1. Knowing that I've no intention of climbing Mt Kenya makes this a safe vicarious trip...no midnight flesh-eating small cats for me and that Hyrax would surely make it impossible to sleep...what a noise!! teeth grinding! Will be interested to read the outcome of the anti-malarials/altitude debate.

    1. Pauleen, glad you found my blog and are enjoying traveling vicariously through it! Thankfully, it's only on rare occasions where I have to try to sleep with hyraxes making noise in the background. I've been quite busy with work this past week, but hope to continue my Mt Kenya travelogue soon.

  2. It is difficult enough to get out of the tent and pee in normal circumstances due to laziness and cold, but adding a flesh eating cat makes it an even more daunting task. The scenery looks amazing.


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