16 April 2013

Mount Kenya - Day 3, Burguret Route

Are We There Yet?

When I wake up at Mount Kenya's Highland Castle camp on Day 3 of our trek, I have a bit of a headache.  It isn't too severe and is gone by the time I finish my coffee at breakfast, but it is an omen for how my day is going to go.

Our hike today involves 5-6 hours of walking to the point where the Burguret Route joins the Summit Circuit.  Then, we will have to cross the Hausberg Col (4600m / 15,091ft) before descending to Shipton's Camp, which serves as the base camp for Lenana Peak on this side of the mountain.

Porters Ascending From The Highland Castle
The ascent from Highland Castle is pretty quick, and it's not long before we have some stunning views of the valley below.  Although we can see the peaks of Mount Kenya ahead of us, some clouds are rolling in and shroud the peaks within a couple hours of us leaving camp.

I'm still struggling with lens errors on my primary camera lens, a 24-105mm f/4 Canon lens.  At a water break, I notice the porters coming up behind us and see the perfect photo opportunity.  I can't get the 24-105 to work, so I quickly switch to my Canon s95 point-and-shoot camera, which gives surprisingly good results for a compact camera.  After the porters pass, I fiddle with the faulty lens some more, but can't get it to work.  I make the decision to give up on it until I'm off the mountain.  From this point on, I'll just rely on my 16-35mm wide-angle lens on my DSLR and use my s95 point-and-shoot for other photos.  It frustrates me, but I can't keep worrying about lens errors.

I'm not sure if this is snow or hail,
but I know I don't like it.
Around noon, it starts snowing.  Actually, I'm not sure if it was snow or hail.  It's shaped like the little white balls left after you break up pieces of styrofoam and bounces off the ground.  We think that it won't last long, so we postpone our lunch and keep walking.

By one o'clock, we realize the bad weather is here to stay.  It's getting colder, windier, and the snow/hail continues to fall.  We find a couple huge boulders leaning against each other forming a cave-like shelter.  We eat our lunch here relatively protected from the weather.  It isn't very comfortable, since we are wedged between the rocks and can't really sit down, but it gives us some relief from the windblown snow nipping at our faces.

Even though I stopped taking my anti-malarial medication due to the side effects, I still don't have an appetite and am starting to have minor headaches.  Craig is also battling with the effects of altitude.  Dave attempts to keep everyone's spirits up by building a miniature snowman inside the cave.  He's obviously feeling perfectly fine.

After we finish eating, we take the time to pull some extra layers out of our backpacks.  I'm wishing that I packed my thicker gloves this morning.  Instead, I'm left with just a thin pair of New Balance running gloves. 

If only there were clear skies here...
We cross over a small ridge and then descend into the area where the Burguret Route meets the Summit Circuit.  We are surrounded by jagged peaks shrouded in clouds now.  I'm reminded of Torres del Paine in Patagonia (even though I've never been there).  This area must have absolutely stunning views in good weather.

My thin running gloves have been getting getting damp from the snow, and now my fingers are getting numb.  I keep flexing them around my trekking pole handles to try to stimulate circulation and warm them.

Not quite the amazing views we were promisedWe start heading up again over a rockier area.  My fingers are feeling less numb now, but now it's my toes that have become uncomfortably cold.

Hausberg ColFar in the distance, I see a zigzag pattern that is typical for switchbacks going up steep sections of trails leading to mountain passes.  I have a feeling that's where we're heading; it must be the Hausberg Col, but I really hope it isn't.  I hope the trail magically takes a turn and the Col is right in front of us.  I don't want to walk that far in this weather.

As the trail continues to climb, I start getting a headache and feeling nauseous.  I now know that this is no longer the side effects from that anti-malarial medication.  This is altitude related.

Our lunch had a mint chocolate candy bar in it.  Normally, mint chocolate is one of my favorite flavors, but now that I keep burping it up, I've never disliked it so much.  I'm cold, sick, exhausted, and just want to be in camp.

Break TimeWe approach the zigzags in the distance and realize that really is where we're going.  There isn't a magical turn or shortcut.  That is the Col, and we are going to cross it.

Craig is slowing down, so Peter says he'll stay behind with Craig, but tells Dave and me to go ahead.

Getting CloserMy head is pounding even more now, as I start going up the zigzagged switchbacks.  On each turn of the switchbacks, I feel worse and worse.  It's a slow walk up, but I can't wait for it to be over so I can descend down to camp on the other side and wrap myself in my sleeping bag.

Dave reaches the top of Hausberg Col well before me.  This is his first high-altitude trek.  Deep inside, I'm annoyed that he's not having any problems with the altitude.  Whereas, I've done several treks at significantly higher altitudes than this, yet I'm the one who's feeling horrible right now.

As I approach the top, I feel like I'm moving in slow motion.

Step by slow step, I get closer.

Finally, I'm at the top of the Col.

Dave says something, but my mind doesn't register anything.  My head hurts too much to process the words coming out of this mouth.

I take my backpack off and sit down in the snow with my head between my knees.

I try to say something to Dave about how bad I feel, but I can't even gather up the energy to tell him.

I wish I could curl up into a ball and sleep.

I'm exhausted.

Dave is talking again, but I still have no idea what he's saying.

I look at my watch and it's almost 5pm already.  We still have to descend to camp, but I have no idea how far that is.  Based on how I'm feeling, it doesn't matter how far it is.  Unless it's within a few steps of where I'm sitting right now, it's too far away.

After sitting there for about ten minutes, I'm able to catch my breath and muster up enough energy to stand up.  I know I need to go down.  With how I'm feeling, I know it's not good to linger up here too long.

There's a large boulder blocking the menacing wind coming over the Col.  I walk around it hoping to see the path that leads to Shipton's Camp, but I can't see a path to anywhere.  The ground is covered in snow, and the clouds are obscuring any chance of seeing the camp in the valley below.

My head is starting to feel a bit better now, but I'm still uncomfortably cold.

I walk back around the boulder to ask Dave if he knows where the trail down is.  He says he doesn't see it either.  We stand there and talk for a while, as my head clears up.

Eventually, Peter makes it to the top of the Col and exclaims, "I thought you guys would be gone by now."  I explain that we couldn't find the path.  He gives us a look of confusion, as if he was thinking, "How dumb are you guys?"

It turns out that if we would've walked only about 10 meters more, we would've seen footprints left by the porters.

We thank Peter and start heading down, still unable to see camp.

Dave races by, and I'm left hiking alone.

There are times that I temporarily lose the path, but just keep heading down the valley until I find another set of footprints again.  It's not a long walk from the Hausberg Col to Shipton's Camp, but it feels longer on a day like today.

Shipton's Camp

Around 6pm, I make it to camp.  I'm cold and beat.  Dave is sitting at a table inside Shipton's Hut, a permanent shelter built at the camp, and enjoying a cup of tea and some donut-like snacks.  He's talking to a German guy that had made it to the Lenana summit earlier in the day.

George asks me if we want to sleep in our tents or in the shelter.  I tell him that I'd prefer the shelter just so I can be inside and away from the wet weather.

I take off some of my outer layers and hang them on hooks inside the shelter hoping that they will dry by morning.

Then, I join Dave at the table.  I manage to drink some tea, but can't gather up an appetite for the donut things.  I'm nauseous and have a pounding headache now.  How am I going to make it to the summit in the morning?

At dinner, I eat my soup but have to force it down.  I don't even touch the rest of the food.

I toss and turn in my bed all night long.  The shelter is cold and uncomfortable.  My stomach hurts and my nose is congested.

By 2:30am when we are woken to get ready for our hike to Lenana Peak, I feel like I've barely slept.

To be continued....   (Click here for Day 4)

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


  1. I often wonder how it feels to do something like this, you've described it very well!

    1. Thanks, Becky. I've done a fair amount of trekking, but this Day 3 of Mount Kenya was one of my hardest days ever due to the weather and my altitude-related issues.

      I'm relatively new to this blogging thing, so it's always good to get some positive feedback.

  2. Great "cold" story, Ryan. My toes are feeling numb just from reading it :) Nice photos too!

    1. It's good to hear that my writing can convey feeling so well. But sorry that it was a cold, numbing feeling in this case. Maybe I'll have to write a blog entry about sitting on a warm, tropical island soon to balance out this "cold" story.


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