Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Update #28: La montaña!

Hiking through the Vertical Bog
The time has come!!

Mt. Kenya update: Adventure, out there!

(Warning: This is a tad long. Sorry. It was a pretty crazy adventure.
SHORT VERSION: Mt. Kenya. Jessica. Jessica with tired feet, legs, arms, knees, fingers, nose, etc. Jessica at peak. Jessica with chest pain. Jessica conquers life. The end.)

Wow. The last week has been RIDICULOUS. So busy. So much running. I got to Friday night and melted into my bed, wondering why I felt so exhausted. Then I thought about my week . . . hiked over 50km, climbed up and down a mountain, camped for four days, carried my life on my back, got in a fender bender (riding, not driving), went to a funeral, subbed for seven classes with only 20hr to learn about and prepare for them, practiced a choir piece piano accompaniment for nearly 10hr to prepare for that weekend's performance, supervised the juniors' egg drop experiment device construction, AND completed my normal day-to-day duties. Whew. I felt ok about being tired.
That's my excuse for not writing about Mt. Kenya for a week. I think it's an ok excuse. :)
Knorr's Thick Vegetable Soup!!! :D

Alright. To the good stuff. Mt. Kenya: 2nd highest mountain on (in?) Africa, at a height of 5199m (17,057ft). (Highest = Kilimanjaro) Before I arrived in Kenya, I had two major goals: go on safari and climb a mountain. I wasn't sure how or when or with whom these goals would be accomplished, but when I arrived in August, I learned that the school goes on two major trips: one a safari to the Maasai Mara (a game reserve) and the other a trip up Mt. Kenya. BAM! Mission accomplished...well, at least planned.

Fast forward...

March 11, 2011. 5 am. Jessica is awake. (what? huh? no way...) Jessica is waddling over to the MAA bus toting her overstuffed backpack, a sack lunch, and 5 liters of water. Off to adventure! After 4 hrs driving through and beyond Nairobi, we - 10 students, six adults, and two faculty kids - arrived at the Mt. Kenya National Park. After we unloaded and paid our park fees, it was off to the first hike of the day.

Back up, back up. Notice: first hike of the DAY. Not of the experience. Oh, no no no no no. For the four Sundays previous, we've been hiking over, around, over, and over the hills surrounding Ongata Rongai. Mt. Longonot (a dormant volcano); the Ngong Hills; and a steep, rocky, thorny, trail-less descent into a valley that left our group "oooh! ahh! oww! yeow!"-ing down the mountain.
Ok. Back to the story.

with THE stirfry of fame
First hike of the day...three hours up, up, up a road to the Met Station, a lovely base camp at 3048m (10,000ft). It was hot. I sweated. Gross. We only carried our day packs with food and water. I began my five-day diet of granola bars and water.
I arrived at Met Station at about 2pm, near the back of the group. No altitude sickness yet; just a little short of breath. Now nothing left to do but eat lunch and set up camp for the night. Yay! More granola bars and water (and an apple and juice!). Then I laid down to rest my eyes . . . for almost 4 hours. Yikes. By the time I woke up, Cassie and I cooked our AMAZING stirfry and rice, and we had worship, it was time for bed again. Hooray!

Almost to Mackinder's!
Day 2: Sabbath. We woke up when we felt like it, had breakfast (granola!), and hit the trail. No backpacks yet; just day packs with lunch. This hike was a killer, though. I was the faculty member at the rear, and was grateful for the excuse to take it slow. Whew! Craziness. By the time we hauled ourselves up to the 3500m (11,500ft), I was glad to plop down and eat lunch (granola bars and water and a very squished, 1.5 day old PB&J sandwich). Church on the rocks over looking the valley was beautiful. Then it was time to head back down. I LOVE down. Down down down down. Yay! Happy quads. Unhappy knees and toes...but down is happy.

Sabbath afternoon back at Met Station was filled with adventures in the bamboo forest; making musical instruments (flute, recorder, trumpet) out of said bamboo; and creation of the Bamboozle, the best hiking stick known to man. Then, early bedtime to prepare for a 7am hike the next day.
At Mackinder's with the Bamboozle!

Sunday dawned much too early and a little too chilly, but excitement was mounting. Today was the first day we'd be carrying our backpacks, from the Met Station to Mackinder's Camp, 4300m (14,200ft). More up, up, up, up, granola bars and water, up, up, up, up. Without my companions - Joy, Ricky, Tyson, Josephine, Mike, and the Bamboozle - who knows where I'd be today. But we made it! I had a slight headache and my feet were tired, but we'd made it to the stony fortress of the rock hyrax! I filtered water to refill my 3L water bladder and 2 1L Nalgenes from a pipe snaking up to the mountainside glacier; ahhh. True mountain stream water.

One of the Twin Tarns
Richard, Bob, and Tyson spoke of a quick hike up to Twin Tarns. I jogged to catch up with them, and we started up the steep slope of death toward the tarns (which, as I learned then, are alpine lakes formed by glaciers). Our tortoise-slow hike brought us 300+ meters up the steep, scree-covered trail and to . . . another hill. 1.5 hrs later, we FINALLY saw water. Wow. It was well worth the hike, however; a beautiful view. We hurried to get back to Mackinder's before sunset, and I arrived, winded and exhausted, at about 5:30p. A plate of Knorr's Thick Vegetable Soup (most AMAZING thing since sliced bread, especially after a day of hiking and granola bars) later, I hit the hay at 6:30p.

Monday morning! The day had finally come to attempt the summit. The alarms started at 1:30am, and noodle packets and tea bags crinkled a few minutes later. By 2:15a, we were all on the trail, most sporting flashy (get it?) headlamps. Our line of lights squiggled its way up the scree slope and left the stomach contents of a few hikers on the side of the trail. The cold air, paired with the 0mmHg partial pressure of O2, coupled with the exertion, just about did Jessica in. Oofta. By the time we finally reached the peak around sunrise (and we had to do some bouldering to get there), I was experiencing chest pain. Lamesauce. I grimaced through some pictures at the peak and was amazed by the views at 4985m (16,355ft).
Point Lenana! 16,355 feet.
Ready for our 2am hike...?

Then to come back down....chest pain alleviated, right? Wrong. It gets worse. The scree slope is about 10x longer coming down when compared to coming up. Perhaps not seeing the whole thing in the darkness helped the upward journey? Anywho, by the time I reached Mackinder's at 10am, each breath was an excruciating effort. My theory? I labored so hard to breathe that I strained my respiratory muscles. My back hurt, I'd pulled a muscle in my neck, and my chest hurt down low; right around my diaphragm. I laid down on a bunk and tried to relax. Worse. I sat outside in the sun with my trail mix. Ugh. Finally, I got mad at the pain and decided to get back at it. I packed my bag and tromped back down the mountain, grimacing as we went. About a half-hour down, it got to the point that it was bearable, almost forgotten! Yay. Lesson learned? Get mad at pain. Kick it in the face. That's what Chuck Norris does.

3 hr later, I was back to Met Station and rejoicing in the day's accomplishments. Have I mentioned how much I like down? :D
That night's sleep was fitful, trying to find a position that helped my breathing. Blech.
"Hanging out" on the Land Cruiser

Rejoicing! All that's left now is Tuesday. We packed our backpacks into the Land Cruiser and took off with our day packs for the bottom of the mountain. After a couple hours on the trail, Richard came back up with the vehicle to pick up the hikers. We ended up coming down the mountain with almost 20 people on/in/hanging off of the Land Cruiser...awesome. Welcome to Africa. Probably the best part of my hike. After a photoshoot at the base, we loaded up in the vehicles and headed back to Nairobi for a pizza feast (granola bar pizza, of course) and showers at Maxwell! Happy happy joy joy!
El grupo!

And so, Jessica is a mountain climber. Wow. And she's alive. Even more wow.

Mt. Kenya in review:
Did Jess enjoy herself? Yes.
Is she glad she did it? Yes.
Will she climb another mountain in the near future? NO.
Does she want to backpack with you with her amazing backpack? Yes. Please call.

Go therefore, and climb mountains! It's cool.

No comments: