This was a trip that had been planned for over a year, and Charles Sherwood and I were very excited. It started well; even Kenyatta airport was far better than arrivals at Liverpool John Lennon airport on a good day. Then I was delighted to discover we were going to be with the same guide I had used when I was in Kenya 21 years ago - Edwin (Eddy) Mwalimu Doroniko.
We left the fantastic Fair View Hotel and drove to Chogoria, where we picked up Lloyd our cook and changed to a couple of Land Rovers - exactly the same vehicles from 21 years ago. After five minutes one broke down. After judicious use of a hammer, it started again and we were off, until the other broke down (radiator this time). Over 26km of jungle later we arrived at Bandas, the entrance to Mt Kenya national park. This is about 3,000m above sea level, a stunningly beautiful place where we stayed in huts very much like village cricket pavilions.
The next morning we set off for Mugi Hill (at 3,500m an acclimatisation peaklet) before heading over to Lake Michaelson, a truly exceptional place to camp. We should have made the most of it, because unbeknown to us this was to be our last good day of weather. Anyone who thinks it is mostly sunny in Africa should think again - it snowed all night.
Despite the snow, It was then onto Pt Lennana (4,985m). This is the peak which every trekker to Mt Kenya would like you to believe is actually Mt Kenya. It is not. It is a walk, which you could be forgiven for thinking was on the Isle of Skye, apart from the leopard droppings. We arrived at the top to see: nothing. Eddy then forgot that his charges were seasoned alpinists and deemed the descent ridge unsafe, taking us on a tortuous detour through the boulder field from hell.
It was still early, so we decided to circumnavigate the whole of Mt Kenya. We descended on the south side, where we got to see what was once (before global warning) the most famous climb in Africa: The Diamond Couloir. It actually looked climbable, but possibly not by us. We decided that if we had enough energy we would come back round and ‘have a look’. (Talk about misplaced optimism…)
We tackled Hausberg col - rather like climbing Mont Blanc for the second time in the same day - then it was then a 15-minute scree run to our home for the next five days, Kami Camp under the North Face of Batian
Our plan was to traverse Batian and Nelion via the West Ridge, so next day we thought it wise to scope the approach. This we estimated would take a couple of hours. Six hours later, we staggered back into camp. The problem was that a fairly simple approach, before the glaciers melted, had turned into something like dodging through a block of flats while they were being demolished.
We were going to need a day to recover but then it snowed – for several days. The mornings were okay until about midday, and then it just snowed and hailed and rained. 18 hours a day stuck in a tent starts to pale. The only option was to crack open our bottle of Talisker.
We gave up on the West Ridge and decided to have a go at the normal route on the north face of Batian. Breakfast at 4am, Eddy and the porters carried our kit to the foot of the route, and we were on the first pitch by 6am. Our spirits were buoyed by the company of two Swiss, with their local guide David. We assumed they had a good forecast. It transpired that they had assumed we had a good forecast. It further transpired that neither assumption was correct.
We made rapid progress, getting to the Amphitheatre just before 8am. Then conditions changed and we were stopped not just by loads of snow, but rock-hard ice covering all the holds. In addition we could see more bad weather speeding toward us. The reluctant but obvious decision was to get the hell out of there, asap.
Back at camp it was snowing hard - no choice but to get out and head back to Nairobi. This involved walking out via Sinimom route to the Old Moses camp, which is a dump; its only redeeming feature is that it sells beer. Next morning the truck came to collect us. Clearly there was disappointment at not reaching the objective, however this was put in perspective by news of the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall where upwards of 70 people had been murdered. We had no real idea of the enormity of the event until we learned that the Foreign Office had advised against “all but essential travel to Kenya”.