On December 19th, 2011, Josh Morris and I set out from Nairobi to climb Mount Kenya. Five days later we found ourselves on the side of the mountain in a bit of a predicament.
Location: Mount Kenya – somewhere on the South West Face, about 16,200 feet in altitude, some 800 feet from the summit. Surrounded in mist, cold wind blowing, perched precariously on a tiny belay ledge.
Josh: “Let’s take another look at the route description, because we are definitely off-route.”
Tim: “Dude, I think I lost it.”
Josh: “You lost it? How do you mean, ‘lost it?’ Really? Well, check your pockets again.”
Tim: “I mean lost it, as in ‘gone’. I just checked, again. Damn it – it must have just blown away.”
Josh: “The route description just blew away?”
Tim: “Well I didn’t throw it off the cliff on purpose. I definitely lost it! Ahhhhh! Well, we were off route anyway, right? It can’t get much worse, can it?”
Josh: “Right. Well, which way are we going to go…?”
Mount Kenya is a spectacular mountaineering objective. It has all the excitement and wildness of Africa, including the entrance through the capital city of Nairobi and vibrant urban pursuits to set the stage. A stunning and moderate approach to a base camp altitude of 15,000 feet for a 2000 foot moderate technical climb where you can even bivy on the summit in a tiny hut.
Although many trekkers seek out Point Lenana as the summit objective, to reach the Summit of Mount Kenya requires a technical ascent up two thousand feet of technical rock. Statistically speaking, only one and three who attempt will make it to the summit. The mountain holds all the allure of the unknown. It bisects the equator with snow on half the mountain and sun on the other and seems to be continually shrouded in mist for ever-present dramatic effect. The mountain of mist reminds me of a big fat question mark, followed by an exclamation point. Perfect?!
MY PARTNER – JOSH MORRIS
A critical part of mountaineering, some might even say the “crux” is choosing the right partner to spend time with. Time with your partner involves traveling over countless miles in various terrain, making tons of decisions together, sharing a tiny tent and placing your life in another persons hands, literally, in very precarious situations. It’s also critical to share a similar “style” of travel.
I am psyched have made this journey with my life-long friend Josh Morris
There is an interesting history with Josh. We met in 2004 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A week later I was running from the tsunami on the beach! Since then our relationship has evolved from fund raising and delivering training programs for the tsunami victims to business development for Corporate Experiential Training with Grand Dynamics in Asia. A few years back we got together for a truly epic climb in Cambodia, The Spirit of Mokwai, which was featured in Climbing Magazine’s Epic Edition for one of the year’s most dangerous feats.
Josh is a beyond highly competent rock climber. In fact, he climbs 5.13, runs his own sport climbing company, Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, and is unbelievably steady, structured and methodical. However, his mountaineering experience is very limited, he lives at sea level and has very skinny legs. Ha!
JOSH’S ARRIVAL: WE DELIVERED A TEAM BUILDING EVENT IN NAIROBI
Josh arrived on Saturday morning and we headed directly to a local park to deliver a team-building event. We have worked so many times together that the whole program flowed with ease. The program took place in a local park filled with people playing praying, chanting, dancing, singing and sunning. An incredible buzz of energy all around us keep the bar high for keeping our own team engaged!
I am continually enchanted by the power of experiential training activities and the universal applications. Having delivered programs around the world, the same issues are always present.
Communication, trust, role clarity, support, fear of failure, group decisions, synergistic process the more interpersonal dynamics that fuel a successful team.
We spent the day playing, processing, sharing and celebrating and in the end it was another amazing experience in Kenya. Tukosowa was our word send for the day, which means, “We are incredible!” And isn’t that the truth! WE ARE INCREDIBLE!
AUTHENTIC TRAVEL TO NARO MORU TOWN
Packed up and ready to roll – we made our way out of Nairobi and a few hours later were at the local town of Naro Moru when our first logistical decision was to be made.
What would you choose?
Do we go with a high end resort lodge set in nature, safe and secure for good nights sleep before heading off to the mountains OR do we step into the unknown and shack up in a local style, highly uncertain hotel that probably has disgusting toilets, bumpy beds and potentially shady suspects waiting in the shadows to take what they do not have?
Funny that we had been talking a lot about the journey of authentic travel and what that concept really means. In fact Josh was finishing his Ted Talk description of the very topic and we were deeply processing his ideas about the choices travelers are continuously making and the experiences that result. Are you aware of the choices you make while travelling, how it expands or contracts your comfort zone and the impact it has on the local culture?
Of course, we went local, scary, disgusting toilet route and the decision opened our eyes to the rich local culture of a small countryside town in Kenya. A local dinner with of Yoma Choma set the tone perfectly. Essentially a butchered goat is grilled and then chopped up at the table into bits for gnawing. Delicious! Actually this is one of the best dishes you can find in Kenya. Yoma Choma. Mark and Remember. YUMMMMYYY! The bright colors of the morning opened our senses as we wandered around town and captured a slice of the local culture.
Soon we were on a motorbike and headed to meet our porters and arrange the trip logistics. One of the greatest feelings is being on a dirt-bike headed into the countryside in search of the next local connection on an international adventure. It’s almost like a third-world tradition in that the motorbike gets you to places faster and cheaper than you might be able to get otherwise. Do it!
KENYA PORTERS AND GUIDES
We had discussed how we wanted to approach the trip and a few factors came into play on the decision for using porters. First, there is an extensive system of huts in Mount Kenya National Park, which essentially means you do not have to carry a tent. However those huts cost on average $20 per person per night. Six nights times two and there’s an additional $250, which we don’t need to spend. Besides, we had a tent and wanted to use it, so that was that.
Then there was the idea of being completely self-sufficient for the climb, which seemed like an admirable thing to do. But then again there was the local economy of porters and guides, which we did want to contribute to in some fashion. And then of course, well, there’s just the luxury of having someone cook for you and carry your stuff for you to make for a luxurious experience and also to increase the odds of having more energy for the main event – the climb. And to be clear – the climb itself would be unguided.
We would tackle the mountain on our own, in alpine style. We would carry our own bivy and sleeping bag with us to the summit with the goal of sleeping on top of Mount Kenya at a small bivy hut, called the Howell Hut.
At Mount Kenya Porters and Guides, we met Micheal, the head liaison for the porters club. The club is a collection of the Mount Kenya Porters and Guides that support the trekkers and climbers in the park. Each porter is hired and a percentage of the proceeds go to the association and the profits and/or dividends are shared with the members at the end of the year. This situation makes it a smart economic decision to use the porters and to support the local guiding community.
Essentially there are three categories of service: Guide, Cook and Porter, each with a designated role for support service. After some discussion we ended up with a cook and three porters, one of which also served as the guide. The guide is the man in charge and also speaks the best English.
The main man who served as guide was Jeffrey. Highly knowledgeable, friendly and a machine in the mountains. We would get to know Jeffrey very well over the coming week.