Written by: Simon O’Chen
It was early and freezing in the Aberdare Mountains in the moorland covered national park about three hours north-east of Nairobi, bordering the Great Rift Valley.
We were in the Dragon’s Teeth, a sporadic spread of jagged rocks that rise above the consistently wet moorlands. I had travelled to this remote, middle-of-nowhere location to train for an ascent of Mt Kenya’s highest peak – a technical climb that involves harnesses, helmets, chalk bags, ropes, nuts, camelots, slings, rock-climbing shoes, a lapse of sanity and, of course, physical and mental strength to endure not only the freezing weather on the equator but also the climb itself.
We arrived around lunchtime on a grey-covered day where I had hitch-hiked to the Aberdare from the coast. We then hiked through the moorlands, which saw me covering the distance from sea level to 3,500 feet in the space of 24 hours. Climbing craggy rock faces with numb toes and finger tips made me realise that I hate the cold. I also have an inverted fear of heights which means I can’t look up at anything over 9 feet – it terrifies me.
The day’s climbs saw me tackling this fear head-on, but the third climb was the toughest due to the extreme challenge of not having many holds. I blindly searched with my numb fingers for grips as my legs reached yoga-like stretches to hold onto anything remotely sticking out, relying heavily on the grip of my rock-climbing shoes.
At the end of the day we made camp where I covered up with nine layers, and put my boots and only pair of thin socks by the fire to dry. During the night I was stirred awake by the sound of scratching around our tent and in the morning my friend announced that he had found fresh leopard poo. I jolted – I thought I had heard something stalking around our camp.
After breakfast we tackled a 65-metre rock that was a very enjoyable route named Alex’s Incisor. The view from the top had us spot a dik-dik (the smallest species of antelope) galloping across the moorland. I watched behind it to see if perhaps a leopard was on its tail, but it just seemed to be out for its morning jog.
At the peak we could see the Rift Valley before we abseiled back down for lunch, a 7km hike back to the car and warmer weather.
In 30 days I’m to ascend Africa’s second highest peak and perhaps its most challenging – Mt Kenya, and I’m terrified…