20 April 2013

Mount Kenya - Day 4: Lenana Peak, Reaching The Summit

It's A Beautiful Morning
The view from Lenana Peak

Today is the day that I either will make it to Mount Kenya's Lenana Peak, or I will have to admit defeat in a high-altitude trekking endeavor for the first time in my life.

I peel myself out of my sleeping bag at 2:30am after barely sleeping last night.  Before leaving, I manage to drink one cup of tea, but can't bring myself to force any of the biscuits down that our crew has laid out for us.  I'm having a hard time distinguishing between the symptoms of not sleeping much, not eating enough over the last couple days, being congested from a cold, and general altitude sickness.  I know that Craig has been struggling with altitude also, and I find myself thinking that if he were to back out this morning and not make an attempt at the summit, then I might back out too.

We had planned to leave Shipton's Camp at 3am, but don't actually leave until 3:30.  It's dark and cold outside, and I'm not feeling very confident about making it to the top of Lenana Peak (4985m / 16,355ft).

After walking in the dark for 30-45 minutes, we stop for a break.  Maybe it's due to the crisp, cold air that I'm feeling significantly better than when we were sitting at camp.  But, I don't want to get overconfident.  It's still a long way to the top.

Our guide Peter decides that he will go ahead with Dave and me, while George, the assistant guide, will stay behind with Craig and walk a slower pace.

Out of nowhere, I have a bit of an appetite.  I've never been so glad in my life to be hungry.  It's been days now.  I take a Peanut Butter Crunch Builder Bar out of my bag and nibble off a few bites.

We slowly plod forward in the darkness through the snow.  The only thing I hear is the crunching of the snow beneath my feet.  The only thing I can see is the spot in front of me illuminated by my headlamp. Off to either side of the trail, there seems to just be a large drop-off and more darkness.

On our next break, I take off my down jacket.  I'm starting to get hot and sweaty inside my multiple layers of clothing.  However, my toes are getting cold from the snow packing around my hiking boots, but at least I'm feeling fairly well overall now.

As we get closer to morning and the peak itself, some areas of the trail require scrambling on all fours over some rocks and around some ledges.  This is more than the "walk in the park" that I was expecting as a warm up for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Although my head is clear and feeling good, my body seems to only be able to go one pace -- slow.  There are times where I stop to catch my breath, and it's hard to tell my feet to keep going.

We stop around 6:30am to watch the sun rise over the horizon.  It's beautiful, but I can barely get my camera out of my bag.  The combination of cold fingers and a brain slowed by lack of oxygen seems to make simple tasks much more difficult than they should be.

Sunrise on Mount Kenya Almost There
I'm glad I was able to get my camera out of my bag to take these photos.

After snapping some photos and drinking some water, Peter tells us it's time to move on and get to the summit.

Just shy of the summit, there are seven ladder rungs made from steel rebar inserted into a rock face that's about 8ft / 2.4m high with a sign declaring it to be the "World's Highest Via Ferrata."  Seven steps is a pretty miniscule via ferrata to deserve such a grand title, but it is what it is.

It's a few minutes after 7am when I get to the top of the via ferrata and Lenana Peak.  There are three girls already at the top.  I ignore them and head straight to Dave, who made it to the top 5-10 minutes before me.  I eek out the word "Congratulations" to him.  It's hard to speak as I try to catch my breath in the thin air and start getting a bit emotional after having made it here.

Me on Lenana PeakAfter setting my pack down and taking a few sips of water, Dave and I stand on top of the highest rock and do some cheesy self-portraits.  He tries to upload one of the photos to Facebook, but it keeps failing despite the fact that his phone shows it is getting a 4G signal.

I use my iPhone to record a short video of me at the peak.  Dave hears me talking and thinks I've gone crazy and am talking to myself.  After I finish the video, I let him know that I am indeed still sane and was just recording a video.

By 7:30am, I'm already ready to go down.  It's windy, my toes are cold, and I'm tired.

We meet Craig on the way down about 30 minutes from the peak.  I'm glad to see that he's still heading up and didn't turn around.  He seems happy to see us and glad to hear that he's almost to the top.

Back to Shipton's
On the descent, I notice several potentially good photo opportunities, but can't motivate myself to get my camera out.  I made it to the top, but obviously I'm not feeling 100%.

The way down has its fair share of knee-pounding moments, and my legs are rejoicing when we get back to Shipton's Camp just before 9am.

To be continued....

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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 3, Burguret Route
   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

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Have you ever been to Mount Kenya?  How did your experience compare to mine?

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