Facts about Climbing Expeditions in Mount Kenya alongside Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy
The poster of the event had mentioned only the intricate details of visiting the Ol Jogi sanctuary in the heart of Ol Pajeta. (The National Park in Laikipia county) In all honesty, I was prepared only to acquaint myself better with the wild animals. But that wasn’t the case. Lo and behold I was about to receive the shock of my life as events unfolded in quite an unexpected manner. The fuel prices in the country had recently risen by Ksh 11 which meant that life had become increasingly more difficult for the average Kenyan to afford luxuries such as an expedition like this one. Attendance had drastically dropped down to 5 people paying each Ksh 5800 each. This was a lot of money for an expedition lasting only 2 days but slightly skeptical, adventure called.
Joe was the first person to arrive at 07:30 am. He was a brown boy with wide facial features and an even wider Afro. He looked like he walked straight out of the 70s. He carried his equipment and a portable gas cooker. We made our introductions and indulged in small talk. Time became our greatest adversary. We had to find a place to sit down and unload our cargo. Joining our bandwagon of luggage was my friend, Tasha Wren. She hobbled her way to us carrying a large load of baggage that seemed to topple over her head as she took every nearing step. She told us that she had overslept. A cleaner was sweeping a lot of dust in our direction. She didn’t have the slightest care in the world that people were sitting next to her but instead, carried on with her job. That kind of disregard for humanity was a sign of things to come.
Our means of transport finally arrived. It was a big minivan that was going to be our chariot for the oncoming weekend. Inside the automobile was a girl with a similar green jacket to me, Lily and a Chinese man known as Victor. We quickly greeted them and squeezed our things into the boot. We were finally on our way. As soon as the engine revved, our heads began bobbing in unison as waves flow back and forth. Sleep had overcome us. We had arrived in Karatina. The surroundings were much humbler than the metropolitan Nairobi. The smell of fresh grass, an atmosphere of cleaner air and the distant moo of cows. After fueling, we went to pick Darwin and Sam. Sam was a shy boy who wore a hat and spoke nothing more than the occasional greeting. Darwin was the leader of our troop. He was headstrong and very animated.
It was my turn to drive. Driving on the open road gave me a sense of exhilarating freedom. Not knowing where we were going, laughter and jokes all around me. It was an ambiance of blissfulness. All I wanted was to stay in this moment. The heat was scorching. The motorists swerving to and fro, overtaking one another. The road was well paved and occasionally occupied with domestic animals that you’d have to respectively stop for. If you happen to hit one of them, you’d be charged Ksh 20,000 to replace the farmer's “damaged goods” when it had only cost Ksh 5,000 to buy the goat. The livestock was accompanied by an arrogant self-entitled motorbike rider. These riders were like taxis ferrying people from one place to another. In Nairobi, they were more courteous. They drove on the side of the road, but in the countryside, they blared their music out loud and didn’t give a damn who cared.
We had been driving nonstop for 4 hours and finally reached Nanyuki town. It was one of the most modernized townships I’d ever seen in Kenya. Normally, the countryside is very rural, having only a limited amount of local shops but Nanyuki was different. Home to several British army officials who drove around in large land cruisers, showcasing their might. There was a mall with Chandarana (a leading supermarket in Kenya) and KFC. KFC was only confined to major cities but here it was to feed its British customers. The men were very bulky and spoke loudly in foreign accents that echoed in the environment. Their skin beautifully inked surrounding their forearms and making their muscles bulge out even more. A spectacular sight to see.
The mountain at first glance looked like a perfect picture. That landscape seemed as though it was a moving sea of green. There were luscious forests with trees that looked like reeds dwindling in the never-ending ocean. They were gigantic and luscious like they had existed for thousands of millennia, a prehistoric site. Almost like the hands of humans hadn’t interfered in this ecosystem. A sanctuary in the middle of the mess of mankind. It was beautiful and undammed. You could see huge gorges and profound valleys in the distance. The blend of yellow and green oozed together so valiantly like an artist fusing his colors on a palette. As we ascended all of us were quiet as we witnessed the beauty of the place. Our Noah was struggling to climb because the road was getting so steep. We disembarked from the vehicle and began the first climb. The cost of entering the National Park is Ksh 350 for a Kenyan resident.
From my travels in the summer, it was hard for me to climb and quickly run out of air. Tasha was laying down on the ground prepared to die. Everyone’s face looked exasperated. My asthma had been gone when I was 12 but still faced breathing problems while climbing. The higher we got, the tighter the air felt. Sam told me to breathe with my nose instead of my mouth. This worked wonders because I felt like it was easier to save my energy whilst climbing at such altitudes. It became easier to take each moving step. Tasha was being carried by Joe as she was already tired. Up ahead, we met mountain climbers like ourselves who were preparing to make it to the peak. We all sheepishly smiled and waved as we walked on because we felt guilty for not carrying any bags on our backs. Climbing Mount Kenya without any kind of training is no joke whatsoever. One can get seriously injured and we were about to put ourselves in more funk.
We got to the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) camping grounds which cost Ksh200 per night to sleep. It was the cheapest of all the camping grounds with a simple toilet and a picnic tent. We were all oblivious to the fact that it was about to be one hell of a night. The higher you go, the cooler it becomes. This is true for all aspects of Mountain climbing. The air had a chill to it and I had already begun to wear my big green jacket to brace myself from the cold. The wind put chills down your spine. It had been a long day and our last task was to quickly set up the tents which were very cheap and flimsy. Afterward, we climbed up to the superior Bantu lodge camping grounds to catch a glimpse of the sunset. We saw the valley from up above. How the wilderness dispersed itself throughout the land. It was so humbling to pay tribute to how beautiful nature was. How nature felt like a dream upon another dream; you needed somebody to pinch you so that you’d make sure you were awake.
Kim, our guide, instructed us to get to the camping grounds as quickly as we could so that we wouldn’t be out before the daylight went. Soon things started to change. The cold became unforgiving. I wore 3 layers of clothes that night. It is a very important thing to know yourself and how your body behaves under such extreme temperatures. Others were different. Sam had only carried one hoodie and had to borrow another from Darwin. He began to shiver. Tasha brought a sweater and a raincoat. She went to wear another layer of trousers. Victor, on the other hand, was the highlight of the evening. He had packed one jacket for the entire trip. Temperatures dropped drastically. Victor began to freeze, he started to cower by the fire in the slightest hope of warmth.
Gathering around the campfire for stories, we spoke of politics and witchcraft. The fire began to become scarce with the wind increasing. Tasha and I bid the rest goodnight and hurried into our little tent. The wind pierced through the tent like a knife. In the place where we expected refuge, found none. I began to shiver and shake in my sleeping bag; Tasha did the same. The only hope we had was burying our faces in the depth of the sleeping bag. My sleep that night was troubled. I kept remembering the stories of the people who died up on the mountain and I thought the same fate would happen to us. Footsteps outside our tent made my mind wander even more. It was impossible to get a full night’s rest in such an environment where gusts of wind struck you like lightning. I kept waking up plagued by the dungeons of my dreams.
Outside our tent was the reminiscence of frost. It had carpeted the entire landscape. The bottom of our tent was filled with water. My legs felt numb like I had completely lost all feeling in them. Walking felt like a staggering exercise. Breakfast had been minimal. Kim lied to us and told us that we were going to take a short hike to the weather station which was a distance away but was up the hill away from us. The climb started easy then it became much steeper. With each step, the sun shone and felt like an obstacle on our every growing course.
Water becomes your best friend on this meandering mountain. The path is constantly evolving, hurdled with stones, flat planes and slippery slopes. As we got to the weather station, Kim told us that we were just going “up there”. What did “up there” even mean? It was too late to turn back now. The higher we went the environment began to change. The ecosystem at the bottom was filled with green grass but up here it looked like a dessert merged with an ice cocoon. There was a lot of yellow wild grass growing with surrounding cacti. There were streams of freezing water that was pure and clean, slicing your throat with every gulp. The ground was muddy but frozen too with ice shards all over the surface.
Kim was our camel. He was the one carrying our water up. The frequency of our water breaks became the norm. Without water, you could die up here. Your body begins to sweat profusely. It's agonizing. Truly, at the beginning of this weekend, I had no idea that I was going to climb a mountain but here I was, battling forward. The peak was another hour away. There were times I lost all momentum and needed Darwin, Sam or Kim to hold me up with every step forward and there were times I felt like I was in complete control and could continue the journey upwards leading the pack. Tasha had mustered up a hidden will within her and she kept going without any stops on the way. I was truly struggling.
Unprepared and unfit, I hit an obstacle that stopped my trek. I stepped inside a mudhole next to a stream and got stuck in the mud, Kim had to ferry me out. It was horrible. My adventure had ended without reaching the viewpoint. Kim quickly removed my shoes and washed them in the stream. My shoes, socks and lower trousers were completely soaked. I was happy that my trip had ended like this but also felt like hypothermia was imminent. My feet became numb and so did my toes. Kim gave me his socks to wear while I waited for my shoes to dry. I had to near hug myself to stay warm, we were so high up that I could see no bottom. If I ventured to go down by myself, I feared that I’d get lost in this piece of nature. Nature is beautiful but also deadly.
The rest came back from the viewpoint in an hour, I was trying not to fall asleep. From the lack of sleep and the lack of food. Climbing on an empty stomach was almost a suicide mission. Going down, even worse. We almost had to run down. Victor and I were at the back while Darwin was with Sam leading the pack. It was slippery, wet and unexpected. My feet had frozen while sitting down, so had my fingers but after an hour of descending, they had come back to some warmth again. At this point, you get so tired that you have no other option but to steady forward and keep going strong. Someone can carry you but that will slow you down. I slipped numerous times; Victor stopped to cry. It was so heartbreaking and challenging being on this mountain. We saw British soldiers easily maneuver their way so quickly down below and we were left asking ourselves, “Why me?”
It was a treacherous passage. Our speech was scarce, the only hope we had was going down. I felt myself losing the ability to do anything but concentrate on descending. At last, the weather station, then the road to our campsite. Darwin had sprained his ankle, Victor was in bad shape with the cold in his bones, Sam had lost balance. It was very risky for us to go up without the thought of insurance and it became aware to me that a person can easily die at any moment as it pushes all your abilities as a person. We were all exhausted. Packed up, changed and left the vicinity. All I wanted to do was sleep but Tasha, Victor and I were crammed into the back of the van. No space to put your head.
We got to Nanyuki town and drove straight to Ol Jogi, despite popular requests. It was an hour and a half’s drive on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere. We had all undergone tremendous torture but, yet we were on another adventure. The park was beautiful. Ol Jogi is located inside Ol Pajeta conservancy. It is a rescue home for wounded animals ranging from domestic to wild animals. They have cheetahs, spider monkeys, elephants, lions, wild dogs, and the only bear in Africa. They also collect hounds, German shepherds, mice, South American parrots, grey crown crane. The species in this sanctuary are limitless.
My most notable experiences here were playing with Bobba and Maisha. A father and son elephant. Their mother/ wife had died the year before and they were left in the sanctuary. The bear, a beautiful beast. I’d never seen a grizzly up close before. He was massive and only but a few months old. He roared and pounded at the gate leaving us all shocked and scared. The aviary was by far the most beautiful. They had beautiful birds. I am fond of birds and I let a majestic toucan on my head and dance. She was lovely; her energy was warm and appealing.
This had been the most tiring and nerve-wracking experience of my life. I can still remember all the pain and frustration that I felt. On top of being rushed and hurried, lack of safety and preparation, we still did it. Travel is supposed to be risky, dangerous and fun. We did it! I’m proud of us for trying! It may have been the most engrossing few days of my life but has pushed me beyond my limits and made me see life in a completely different spectrum.
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