Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Climbing Mt. Kenya: Heavy footsteps
The final week of my fall semester in Kenya I summated Mt. Kenya, reaching an elevation of approximately 17,000 feet. I followed the Simiron route that allows the climber three days to summit Point Leanna. The point is the highest peak that can be reached without the assistance of ropes and technical climbing. The first day is quick, leading the climber to Old Moses camp after following a dirt road in the midst of the remaining old growth forest. The second day we reached Shipton camp, past bizarre Afro-Alpine flora after crossing three valleys each wider and more dramatic than the last as the peaks were draped in cloud, leaving their grandeur to the imagination. On the third, I left camp at two in the morning to summit, reaching Point Leanna at sunrise. I hoped to see Kilimanjaro through the thin air. Unfortunately the peak was clouded. When clear, it is the furthest distance seen between two specific points on earth. The third day becomes a marathon, when the climber descends not only down the scree slopes to Shipton camp, but to Old Moses camp, a trek of nearly fourteen miles. The fourth and final day I reached the boundary of the park and returned to Nairobi.
The travel enrichment grant allowed me to meld forestry and guiding, two of my interests. I had hoped to conduct my independent study in Meru, near the base of Mt. Kenya, to study the implementation of agro-forestry practiced in the area. However, I was unable to work with organizations in the region. However, it was evident when I traveled to the mountain that the local farmers use a boundary of introduced, fast growing pine species around their crops. This is essential since Mt. Kenya is a major water source for Kenya. Since the country is continually at risk of drought, the forests are necessary to ensure that the mountain will remain a water source after its glacier and remaining snow pack melts due to global warming. In a country where the deforestation rate is 2 percent, the remaining old growth is a precious and rare ecosystem. There is clear evidence that reforestation is taking place on the hillsides, in part due to the Greenbelt Movement, yet forests were burned within the park at high elevations to aide local hunters. Such activities are illegal within and outside of a national park, but the country does not have the resources needed to enforce such regulations.
Participating in my first guided mountaineering trip allowed me to observe the relationship between tourist and guide, as well as act as a pseudo guide at times. I am a guide for the Outdoor Program. The experience allowed me to develop my wilderness first aid skills when helping a fellow hiker with altitude sickness, learn new mountaineering skills, and assist the guides with Leave No Trace polices, since litter is evident in all parts of the hike and some of the high elevation lakes are highly polluted due to hikers effects.
The entire experience allowed me to see an entirely new, alpine aspect of Kenya I would not have experienced. On the final night, we saw a family of elephants moving across the hillside above Old Moses camp. Our guide said he had never seen elephants at such a high elevation before. For me, the sight was a chance to truly say goodbye to Kenya.