“That’s very ambitious.” “Be careful.” “Are you sure you don’t want a guide or a porter?” “Good luck (said sarcastically).” …were just a handful of things said to us by our friends, fellow hikers, and acquaintances when Caroline and myself, two women in our late twenties, decided to hike to Point Lenana (16,355ft / 4,985m) on Mount Kenya in a weekend (shout out to Fish and Shikuku for being two of the only people who believed in us). We did not initially set out to prove a point, but rather we had a free weekend and thought it would be fun to see if we could squeeze in a spontaneous summit. The intent of this blog post is not to call out sexism in the outdoors (not entirely anyway), that will come later, but rather to encourage women to get outside, explore, and challenge themselves (and to provide beta on a two-day summit via the Chogoria route). If it weren’t for my relentless stubborn attitude and Caroline’s fierce feminism, we would have likely let the “haters” (best explained by 3LW here) get us down. We probably would have hired a guide, or maybe even cancelled the trip, believing that we were too weak or too inexperienced to tackle a mountain of this scale on our own in just two days. But luckily, we didn’t let any of that stop us, and you shouldn’t either.
On Friday, July 13, I left work a few hours early to head to Embu, where Caroline was currently working on a project. I pulled into the supermarket where Caroline stood waiting, fought off some dudes trying to sell us stuff (and another dude who literally made out with my window), and then we were on our way. I was pretty grumpy by this point having been driving for nearly three hours alone on a Friday during rush hour, and was also becoming hangry. Luckily, Caroline shoved some chapati and ice cream into my mouth and I cheered right up (it’s good to have a friend who knows what you need, exactly when you need it). Our spirits were lifting, we were getting excited. Caroline turned on some tunes and we sang our way down the road.
Two hours later, the excitement began to wear off when we realized we still had quite a ways to go (on a very rough road). Eventually, we turned off B6 (Meru-Nairobi highway) and into the Chogoria forest. We reached a gate! By this point, it was around 7pm and dark outside. No one was around, and so I suggested Caroline get out and open the gate for us. She came back to the car, “It’s locked. It won’t open.” Here’s where my stubbornness shows up for the first (of many) times, “No way, let me try,” I said as I jumped out of the car. Sure enough, it was chained down with a padlock. After spending five minutes or so tugging on it every which way, I got back into the car (it was now raining). “Okay,” I admitted, feeling defeated, “It’s not opening. What do we do?”
I decided I was going to pick the lock. The only problem is, I don’t know how to pick a lock. I’ve broken into my house with a credit card before, but this is different. Caroline found some bobby pins in her bag, and I googled ‘how to pick a lock with a bobby pin’ (it’s a very complicated process). As soon as I thought I was ready to take on this lock, a dog came running towards the car, barking. We are in the middle of a dark forest, and had no idea whether or not this dog was friendly. I rolled down the window and threw some chapati, trying to distract the dog while I continue my quest to break into the National Park. Thankfully, right about now, a man comes walking towards us with a flashlight (the dog is his, and is very friendly by the way). He didn’t have a key, but called his friend to come and unlock the gate for us (I’ll have to practice my lock picking skills at a later date and maybe play some more Skyrim — I know at least my brothers will understand this reference). They gave us some parting words along the lines of, “What if you get stuck? Is it just the two of you? Are you sure you don’t want to wait until morning?” To which I replied, “We’ll be fine. My car is four-wheel drive,” and sped off (after giving him chapati and a few hundred shillings as a thank you gift). By the way, if you ever enter Chogoria after dark and find yourself stuck at this gate, call Loyford (0712409561), he was super helpful.
Nothing was standing in our way now; we were feeling unstoppable! We were cruising, we were jamming, and oh, shit, we were stuck. After talking all that shit about how we weren’t going to get stuck, we had to get out of this. I reversed, tried again, reversed, tried the other side. Nope, we were really stuck. The mud was super deep and it was only getting worse with the rain. Caroline suggested we stop and take a break to think. I didn’t want to, but fine, I’ll humor her. She had asked me earlier if my car was already in four-wheel drive. “Yeah, it’s just automatically always in four-wheel drive,” I said (duh). Keep in mind that I had just purchased this car (a Nissan X-Trail, which I had almost no idea what it was capable of, and so I had been running on hopes and prayers), and this was my second time taking her outside of Nairobi. So after a few more minutes of sheer panic due to the realizations that we would have to sleep in the car, that those same guys would find us and say “told you so”, and that we would now be delayed and never reach the summit in time, Caroline said, “What if we switched it from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive” (simultaneously reaching behind my steering wheel and turning the switch). “Shit,” I confessed, “I didn’t see that.” But I was too relieved to be embarrassed. Sure enough, that did the trick, and we made it the rest of the way to the main gate without further issues (except for my pride being a bit wounded, which you can see here).
We finally reached the Chogoria Gate around 9 or 10pm (hooray)! One last obstacle, convincing the askari to let us pay on Sunday so that we could get to bed and avoid the hassle that inevitably is paying the park entrance fees (the credit card machine doesn’t work after hours and there’s no cell service for sending mpesa, so be sure to bring cash), and convincing him that we did not need a guide. After a few minutes of sassing him (I’ll admit, I was feeling quite invincible at this point), he reluctantly let us pass and we made our way to the bandas (FYI we did not book in advance, and there were plenty available) to settle in for the night. We ate a boiled egg for dinner, drank plenty of water, re-packed our bags, laid out oatmeal and coffee for the morning, and settled into bed (I felt like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning), and tried to get some sleep before our alpine start in a few hours.
To be continued… [part 2 here]