“That is not my wish for you my brother” Rueben says in the pale glow of my headlamp.
“No worries sir. I will see you in a couple of hours” I reply. I turn and head up hill, leaving him standing, tall and dark, hidden in the moon shadows. Up ahead I see two, and then three, headlamps close above, making their way up the mountainside.
“Habari za asubuhi” I greet the three men wearing the headlamps. They have stopped. I step below them off of the “trail” and into the scree and skirt by. “Rueben was feeling ill, so I let him go back” I say to Joesph, the guide of the other two. “You heard him coughing all night” I add, noting the persistent racking cough that echoed through the hut several hours earlier.
“Ah, ok” he replies with some semblance of comprehension. Joesph, Rueben, and the two porters were all acquaintences and sometimes co-workers up here in the mountains and down in Naromoru as well. I speed pass, trying to give them their space, and soon their headlamps have dissapeared behind the curve of the hill.
Night still prevails as the moonlight casts its rays on the Austrian Hut. I am warm and sweating and feeling the urge to use the toilet. The stopping brings a chill, as I sip water and deposit last nights ugali and mbuzi (goat). It is no brighter by the time I am ready to move on and I find myself searching for the trail. In my mind, I recall a tripadvisor or summit post user talking about a receding glacier and the route of travel crossing over it. I see a glacier and a line of cairns pointing to it. On this, a well traveled route on a popular peak, it seems obvious. I drop to a small lake, climb onto a glacier scoured ridge and follow small cairns and footprints to its end. Twenty meters across a low angle stretch of ice, pale, dawn light silhouetes an precarious three rock cairn. I scurry up and across, then up the scree beyond, quickly gaining the ridge. There is no path and the cairns have ceased, but I continue upward, as that is the obvious way.
Several minutes later, my intuition tells me I am wrong. Across the glacier, another peak rises, seeming to be higher than the one under my feet will be. I swear. “Fuck me, really?! Shit.” My colorful language betrays my disapointment in myself. “Whatever, fuck it” I think, and continue up through the scree and ledges and before long, find myself at the highpoint. I turn around, only to see the dark mass of Point Lenana behind me, back lit by the rising sun, strips of orange, red, blue and yellow streaking across the Indian Ocean and Eastern Africa. Two hikers top out and with a hoot and holler. The summit under me is painted white, the cans tossed cassually into the crevices and onto the slopes. Above me rises Nelion and Batian, afire with the alpenglow of the rising sun.
I pull out my camera, take a selfie and hear the whoops of two others as they greet the sunrise from Point Lenana. “Yep, fucked that one up” I say to myself, as I stuff my camera back into the bag and start scurrying back down the ridge.
Fifteen minutes later I am back at Austrian Hut. “Did you summit?” Joesph asks standing next to the out house. The other two are snacking as they watch the sunrise.
“Yeah, the wrong one.” I say a bit sheepishly, pointing across the valley. “It was dark when I got here” I try to explain quickly. “I couldn’t see an obvious trail going up that way” I point toward the now obvious summit of Lenana. “I followed these cairns… ” I trail off, obviously embarrased as I had assured Ruben that I could make it up this mountain myself; I was, after all, an experienced “mountain guide”.
“You climb Thompson?” he asks a bit confused, not certain he understands my mzungu ramblings. “The trail is this way…you can see the footprints here.” I look down where he indicates and see nothing but frozen mud.
“Well I guess I will make it a two-fer” I say and turn to scan the ridge for the aforementioned trail.
“Stay on the ridge” Joesph says, “up to the flag. Then there is a line. Just follow that.” I scan for a flag, and even in the the full light of morning, i see nothig of the sort. I wonder what he means by line, but my pride keeps my mouth shut.
I’ll see you up there” I offer to the three and head up the ridge. Soon enough I find a semblance of a track and follow it as it wraps around outcroppings and sidles across the scree. The “line” is encountered soon enough. A metal cable is strung across the hillside, “the world’s highest via ferrata” a sign at the top would read. Following his instructions, I follow the cabled path up through a few third class moves and across some ice and loose scree, climbing a few metal runged ladders before emerging at the top and into a crowd of 16 other jubilant sumiters. It is 700
I drop my pack and sit quietly, eating some mango and drinking some water. I take the requiste summit pictures and quietly start my long journey home.
Featured Image: Sunrise from Point Thompson.