“Mountains, like [wo]men, have their history. They too are born, grow, decay, and die. One cannot claim that, like [wo]men, they love, but it is true – and how true – that they are loved.” – Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya
It’s summit day! When we woke up at 3am, temperatures were still below freezing. We left the tent at Mintos, and offloaded some heavier items to make the uphill trek easier, strapped on our headlamps, and with map in hand, headed off into the darkness. It was a clear morning, and it seemed like we were in another world as our boots crunched along the frozen trail; just us, the stars, moon, and the mountain. We stopped a few hundred meters down the trail because Caroline was not warming up. “I can’t feel my toes,” she protested. “Just keep walking and try to wiggle them,” I suggested, “You’ll warm up soon.” We walked a bit further before she complained again. I opened my bag and dug around until I found a couple of old feet warmers. “Here, take these,” I wanted to keep moving and wasn’t feeling very sympathetic. I think the feet warmers had lost their luster over time (looking back, they must have been from when a friend and I decided it would be a good idea to climb in freezing temperatures last winter, and I stuck one of these in my chalk bag), because she swears her feet never warmed up; but she still has all of her toes, so I call it a win!
We crossed a few small streams, constantly cross-checking the map, and scrambled over several small piles of boulders. Suddenly, we were climbing up a pretty significant rock mound when we decided to check the map (we learned our lesson yesterday). Until this point, it had been pretty easy to follow either footprints or trash (leave no trace, people!). Time to pull out the trusty compass and figure out exactly where we were supposed to be. Turns out, it wasn’t on top of this mountain of boulders, so we descended a bit to the west. Phew, back on track! Hiking in the dark requires complete awareness of every detail of your surroundings, which is actually a super cool experience. As we approached the intersection for the Austrian Hut, a shooting star danced across the sky. In that moment, I was certain that nothing could be more rad than this. It was like we were meant to be right there in that exact moment, and the mountain was forgiving us for our shenanigans of yesterday. I felt a sudden burst of energy and excitement. The scrambling bit started here, but I felt like I was floating up the mountain.
Caroline, on the other hand, was slowing down. We took a short break, but as we learned by now, a stubborn Lindsay lets nothing stand in her way, especially when there’s a summit waiting. Eventually, I told her I would wait for her at the top of the steep climb we were currently on. When I got to the top, the views were unreal. “Caroline! We are SO close!” I shouted, triumphantly. No response. Uh oh, I thought, maybe I should have just waited. I awaited her arrival so that I could share this marvelous spectacle with her (as Chris McCandless found out, “happiness is only real when shared”, and this definitely seemed worth sharing). I could see several headlamps in the distance, slowly winding their way up to Point Lenana. We were finally at the base of the peak. The sun was rising behind us, and Caroline insisted we stop for photos. I, reluctantly, stopped for her to take a few photos, and then found myself equally interested in capturing this moment.
From this side of Lenana, there is no obvious path up to the summit. We followed the foot prints as far as they took us, and then decided we should just start heading up. The summit looked so close, and yet it would be another 1-2 hours before we summited. From this point, we hopped delicately from rock to rock for fear of starting a rock slide. We ended up traversing across the front, to the right, where you could finally see a bit of a path. Caroline stopped again, “I’m not sure if I’m going to make it.” “Sure you are!” I urged, “Look at how close we are! You can’t stop now. Alex Honnold puked the whole way up and he was fine.” I was trying to be encouraging and patient, but simultaneously make her laugh. I also knew we were racing the clock if we wanted to make it back to Nairobi that night. “Sorry to tell you that I’m not Alex Honnold,” she wasn’t amused, “Just keep going, I’ll catch up.” “Uh…should I take the camera?” I asked, pointing to the camera around her neck. That must have sparked something in her, because she replied, “What? No, why would you need to take the camera. I’ll be right behind you.” (Just to clarify: at this point it would have been a quick descent to get to a safe altitude, and we would have totally descended if she were actually sick.)
The last stretch was full-on scrambling on all fours. At one point, Caroline threw one of her classic pointless, yet elegant, heel hooks to pull herself up over a rock. It was challenging, I won’t lie, but I was having the time of my life. I was slightly afraid that Caroline was going to kill me for bringing her up here, but the summit was too close to worry about that now. We would climb through a difficult section and there would be two more, tougher sections, around the corner. It was a rock maze that seemed to go on forever. Finally, I saw a patch of snow. I called out to Caroline, “Holy shit, we made it!” I refrained from sprinting the rest of the way, and waited for Caroline. Right on cue, she started to cry.
Words cannot describe the feels and the views after that (so watch this video). Snow-covered Nelion was right beside us, and before I could even fully appreciate what we had just done, I thought to myself, “I’m coming for you next!” We could see down into the Gorges Valley, spotted Lake Michaelson, and the beautiful ridge lines in the distance. It was incredible. You have to experience it, whether you take two days or ten, just go. We enjoyed the view for a few minutes, taking photos, videos, and eating what was left of the hard-boiled egg stash. At this point, we were both feeling emotional and drained. “Thanks for pushing and guiding me, I wouldn’t have made it without you,” Caroline said to me. “I’m sorry for being a dick,” I confessed, “But I knew you would be mad at yourself if you didn’t push through, and I knew you could do it.” We hugged, cried a little, and then it was time to descend. All the way back to the car, and to Nairobi.
The walk out was just as beautiful. When we got back to Mintos Hut, I was frantically packing up, while simultaneously stuffing my face with a pb&j sandwich, when it started to pour, and then hail. A couple of hyrax were trying to steal my sandwich, so I grumpily yelled at them to go away. Meanwhile, Caroline was feeding them and taking their photo. I threw everything into my bag as quickly as I could, frustrated that the weather was turning on us. We headed off down the trail for a long descent. Along the way, we stopped to pick flowers (well, Caroline did as I impatiently told her we had to keep moving, and then asked her for some of her dried flowers later, classic), take more waterfall photos, and at some point I got tired of my boots and changed into my chacos. Such sweet relief. The journey down felt even longer than the trip up. When we got to the forbidden forest, we thought we were getting close. We forgot how long it had actually taken us to get to that point. Our legs were heavy, tired, and we were low on food and water. It was a struggle, but we kept moving slowly along. It was the trail that never ended. For as much energy as I had on the summit push, Caroline pulled me through these last few miles. She was cheerful and seemed to be suddenly full of energy. I was dragging along, crabby and tired, and dreading the long drive ahead.
We were a bit nervous about the walk through the swamp land, for fear of encountering more buffalo. Luckily, none were in sight, and so we pushed through the final stretch. When we finally arrived back at the car, it was just before sunset. We immediately dropped our packs, and our selves, onto the porch of the park office. We were properly exhausted. Our friend who told us we could make it to Mintos in three hours appeared, “Mnarudi (you are back)! You must have really tried hard.” “Yes,” we said, “But it was slightly longer than three hours to Mintos…” He just laughed. We chugged some pineapple juice, and ate whatever food we had left in the car. We were hungry, dehydrated, dirty, and tired…and had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us. We hopped in the car, Caroline sweet-talked the ranger into charging us for only two days instead of three like he wanted to (I let her do the talking since my angry approach didn’t seem to work so well the other night), and then we were on the road again. It was now getting dark and raining, and we were happy to be sitting down, though our legs would not be so happy by the time we eventually stood up again. We called Loyford to let him know we were on our way so that he could open the gate up for us, and cruised out of there as fast as Trixie (my X-Trail) could go, slipping and sliding through the mud (which was much easier now that I — okay, Caroline — discovered the 4WD switch).
The drive home was brutal. Here are a few pieces of advice:
- If you can afford to stay one more night on the mountain, do it. I had to get back to work the next morning, so unfortunately we soldiered on.
- Bring extra food! Unless you want nyama choma (which even that is hard to find late at night on a Sunday evening), there’s nothing until you get to Thika. We pulled into Pizza Inn at 10:05pm, never having been so excited for their mediocre pizza. You guessed it, they closed at 10pm and wouldn’t even give us the scraps. This was an ugly sight: two haggard, ravenous women who were being denied food that was literally right there in front of us. Caroline told them off, and we settled for ice cream and chips from the mini-mart next door. Not satisfying.
- Have a good playlist / DJ. Thankfully, I had a good co-pilot who stayed awake with me to keep the tunes flowing. She even attempted to play some “country” music which she thought I might enjoy singing along to (it was The Lumineers — at least she tried).
- Make sure you have good windshield wipers. It was raining the entire drive home, and my windshield wipers were not cutting it. Especially on a two lane road where constant over-taking is necessary, it was a real stressful situation, let me tell you.
Nevertheless, we made it home by around 11pm. I had wild imaginings of gorging on any and every food item in my house. The reality: I was too tired to do anything besides shower and go straight to sleep. The next morning was rough, as adventure-hangovers always are, but that ache in your muscles on a Monday morning is a welcome reminder of the epic weekend behind you. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
So, at the beginning of this blog series I told you that this wasn’t about sexism, and it’s still not. But, I did want to show women (and men) that they could do this, and also share some of the other lessons we learned along the way:
- In the words of Kimmy Schmidt, “females are strong as hell”! We are stronger than we thought (and you probably are too). No doubt, the uncertainty we had faced from our friends made us a little nervous going into it. What if they were right and we failed? But one thing we knew all along is that we are a determined pair, and that determination, and each other, kept us going.
- Patience and humility are indispensable virtues. Speaking of strong females, Mother Nature is the strongest. Don’t f*** with her. Also, wait for your companions. No one likes to feel like they are slowing someone down or are the weak link, and we’ve all been there. You are more likely to make it if you work together and have compassion, this is something I am acknowledging and working on.
- This trip reinforced my love for helping people conquer their goals and experience wilderness, and so I’m making a conscious decision to spend more time doing so.
- I’m grateful that Caroline came into my life, even if our time overlapping in Kenya was fleeting. I think the universe knew we needed each other and could balance each other, and will continue to do so far into the future.
Finally, asante sana for following along on our journey 🙂 If you have any questions about this route, the outdoors, why Caroline cries so much, or what our stomachs felt like after living off of too-spicy food and boiled eggs, please do not hesitate to ask! I am excited to share my love for the outdoors and help others pursue their adventure goals, and is the main reason that I wanted to share our story. Happy adventuring!