Mount Kenya: climbing the other big African summit - The360 Travel

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  • Thursday, December 12, 2019

    Mount Kenya: climbing the other big African summit

    Mount Kenya: climbing the other big African summit

    The good catch is just too high. An intermediate tap should be used to reach it, but the rock is almost smooth. There are many small asperities, but with the gloves, it is difficult to grip. The climber does not dare to take off her gloves because she is in a slightly uncomfortable position and is afraid to escape them. Under his feet is emptiness. An escaped glove would be a lost glove forever. With this cold, it would be a disaster. 

    She wondered if it was wise to tackle the ascent of Mount Kenya.

    When we talk about the great peaks of Africa, we immediately think of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, with its 5895 m altitude.

    Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa, has nothing to envy: it is a beautiful, wild mountain.

    Several hikers use one of its points, Lenana, at 4985 m, to acclimatize to the high altitude in preparation for Kilimanjaro.

    The climbers themselves turn to the side of its two main peaks, Nelion at 5188 m and Batian at 5199 m to engage in a sometimes tricky and often intimidating climb on a rock of volcanic origin. Between the two peaks is a sharp ridge, The Gate of the Mist.

    The two climbers, a British and a Quebecer, had to submit to the African Ascents agency a curriculum vitae listing their experiences in mountaineering and rock climbing to be accepted as clients.

    The climb begins with a trek of a few days at the base of the mountain to acclimatize well. At lower altitudes, small details remind us that Mount Kenya is always Africa: avoid going out at night to avoid irascible buffaloes, some leopard faeces dot the trail.

    As climbers gain altitude, the vegetation becomes more sparse, stranger too, before disappearing completely.

    Finally, the climbers move to Austrian Hut, a refuge located in front of the main peaks of Mount Kenya. Lenana Point is a 45-minute walk away: it's a nice walk for the afternoon. We have installed cables and bars, which makes it possible to say, perhaps a little abusively, that it is the highest via ferrata in the world.

    Before tackling Nelion and Batian for good, African Ascents guide and owner Julian Wright offers a reconnaissance outing to become familiar with the first part of the climb. This allows to perfect the acclimatization. It also allows the guide to assess the climbers' skill and fitness.

    After a few days of hiking, it is now time to put on the helmets, put on the harnesses, get on with each other and do the climbing proper. This first part is relatively easy, even if some passages are delicate. The small group goes to an old shelter, Baillie's Bivy, for a snack before getting ready to go down. Suddenly, the climbers hear merry cries and see two famous climbers, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright, coming out to chat with them. It's as if two tennis players from Ahuntsic saw Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal settle in the court next door.

    The next day, well before sunrise, the Briton, the Quebecer and their guide leave Austrian Hut again for the real ascent. All is well for the first part until Baillie's Bivy, now well known.

    The serious things begin then, with the most difficult section of all the ascent, the variation Of Graaf.

    With climbing shoes, it would not be very difficult. But with mountaineering boots, gloves, a backpack containing water, food, warm clothes, crampons and ice axes, at 5000 m above sea level, it's more full-bodied.

    Both clients are doing quite well. However, they must face the second most difficult section, the Amphitheater, a crossing along the wall above a precipice. This is where the climber is facing a catch out of reach.

    After some hesitation, she retraces her steps to find a more comfortable position, takes off her gloves and goes back on the crossing. With the fingertips, she presses on a roughness of the rock, which allows her to take off to reach the famous catch. Success!

    The rest of the ascent to Nelion unfolds without major problems. The crossing of the Gate of the Mist is more annoying: the fog has removed the beautiful sun early in the day, it starts to snow, the rock is covered with a thin film of frost. The small troop continues anyway its ascent to Batian, the summit of Kenya. There are no big celebrations: you have to go all the way back, there is no time to lose. To get back on Nelion, the climbers put on the crampons and grab the ice axes for a bit of ice climbing. Then, it is the long rappelling that succeeds to bring everyone on the floor of cows (or rather, buffalo) in the dark of the night. The climb lasted 18 hours 30. On the way back, the dinner was a little cold but very good.

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