hiking in the shadow of Batian
Dwarfed by the imposing, rocky mass of Batian – the pinnacle of Mt. Kenya, which towers over the landscape – Point Lenana seems at first blush an insignificant objective for would-be mountaineers. Felice Benuzzi refers to Lenana as a “hiker’s peak” in No Picnic on Mount Kenya, displaying more than a hint of disdain. After failing to summit Batian, however, Benuzzi considered himself rather fortunate to be able to hoist the Italian colors atop Lenana. In fact, the trek up to the top of Point Lenana – the highest one can ascend Mt. Kenya without roping in for a technical climb – is both demanding and rewarding.
At 4985m (16,355ft), the top of Lenana is half a mile lower than the summit of Kilimanjaro, which is still significantly higher than the tallest mountain in the continental United States (Mount Whitney in California’s Sierra Nevada is 4421m/14,505ft). While on Kili we had five days to acclimatize to the altitude before making our summit bid, the camps on Kenya are fewer and farther between. We reached base camp by the second night, gaining 1760m (5775ft) in the process.
In addition to the altitude gain, this also meant that the hikes between campsites were significantly longer. On Kilimanjaro, we hiked an average of 3-4 hours each day; and when S climbed Kili with her dad, they spent two extra nights on the mountain, further cutting down the distances they hiked each day. This was not a luxury we enjoyed on Mt. Kenya. For instance, we spent close to seven hours on the trail to cover the 14km, a lot of it uphill, from Old Moses Camp, where we had spent our first night, to Shipton’s Camp, from which we made our summit bid.
The dullness of the Sirimon route, which we chose to ascend because of its relative ease, belied the beautiful landscape that awaited us at Shipton’s Camp. From the trailhead, we had hiked the 9km to Old Moses on a road so dusty that it turned D’s feet black. From Old Moses, the trail turned towards a series of undulating hills and valleys that were as wearisome as they were unremarkable to behold. At last, after several hours of hiking through coarse heath grass, we emerged at the head of Mackinder’s Valley, which led to the base camp. After the monotony that preceded it, Mackinder’s Valley overwhelmed the senses. In addition to offering breathtaking views of Mt. Kenya, the valley resounded with the chirping of sunbirds. It was also filled with wondrous plants: giant senecios, giant groundsels, and giant lobelias, the latter of which gave the impression of serving as the inspiration for some of Dr. Seuss’ characters.