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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Mt. Kenya

Between Christmas and New Year's our family hiked up Mt. Kenya. We reached Pt. Lenana, 16,300 feet, one of a cluster of craggy bare-rock pinnacles. Batian is a few hundred feet higher, but not accessible to non-technical climbers like us. Our route took us from the Northwest slopes, ascending the Sirimon path through the Mackinder Valley to the central peaks, then back down the eastern side on the Chogoria route past Lake Michaelson. We spent four nights on the mountain, three in simple wooden shelters with bunk beds, and one in tents at 14,000 feet of COLD. On our summit day we woke at 2 am for tea and biscuits, then hiked too fast so we reached Pt. Lenana almost an hour BEFORE the sun rose and waited shivering in the shelter of rocky crags until the light broke. That morning the clouds were below us, and nothing but brilliant stars above.
Four nights in the wilderness refreshes the soul, five days of strenuous hiking in the thin air of equatorial altitude hones the body, a week of family togetherness completely cut off from the world (no phone, no fb, no email) builds memories and togetherness. We went with a budget outfit of Kenyan guides and porters which turned out to be perfect. We drank mugs of hot sweet tea morning, noon, and night, and sometimes in between, which seems to be how Africans handle the low temps and high altitude. We marveled at the wildflowers, jumped over boulders, teetered on the edge of precipitous panoramas (I was later thankful that we ascended the final peak in the dark so I couldn't see most of the danger until the way down), laughed at the fat unafraid rock hyraxes, fed our crumbs to the mountain chats, shivered in our sleeping bags and ended up with sunburned faces and hands. The last morning we watched an elephant drinking from a watering hole near our cabin, while monkeys chattered in the trees.
Mt. Kenya is one massive rise, not the long convoluted range of the Rwenzoris. There were few bogs, and almost no mud, long spectacular views, more dry open scrub and a lot less jungle. There were also MANY more people. In a week in the Rwenzoris we hardly had contact with any other campers, unlike the couple of dozen at each campsite on Mt. Kenya. In the evenings we read aloud from "No Picnic on Mount Kenya", the true story of an Italian POW interned in Kenya in WWII who escaped the camp to climb the mountain and then turned himself back in.
It was a lovely way to spend the holiday. God often calls people up on the mountain when He wants to meet with them, wants their undivided attention. There is something to be said for the inaccessibility, the juxtaposition of danger and beauty, the rewarding effort, the perspective on life below, that makes mountain climbing an apt metaphor for a spiritual journey as well as an appropriate real physical location for divine encounter.
As we have turned the corner of our second year at Kijabe, passing our one-year anniversary on the 1rst of January, I hope I can hold on to the memory of the stark splendor and clarity of Mt. Kenya back down here in the Rift Valley of normal life.

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