Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Climbing Mt. Kenya

The sun was setting on a beautiful afternoon on the Chogoria Trail descending Mt. Kenya.  It was our eighth hour hiking, and Jarrod and I were casually walking though the rainforest.  I was looking down, trying to avoid another ankle sprain, when suddenly Jarrod stopped and shouted, “Elephants!”  One large and one small elephant stood looming over us to our right.  The large elephant took a few steps forward.  Our guide started running. 

I climbed Mt. Kenya last week!  At 17,000 feet, Mt. Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa.  I traveled with Jarrod, a U.W. radiology resident and a truly awesome guy, not just because he remembered the altitude sickness drugs.  Our trip lasted five days, including the four-hour drive to and from Mt. Kenya.  We traversed the mountain with 2 guides using the Sirimon trail over Point Lenana and down the Chogoria trail. 

Away we go.  Thank you to Jarrod for taking most of these photos! 

Day 1.  The hike was a three hour trek up this road to Old Moses Camp.  Here is a our baboon welcoming committee.

Jarrod walking into Old Moses Camp.
The view from Old Moses.  The environment no longer can sustain trees. 
A picture of me taking a picture of the sunset.
Day 2.  I asked our guide, Geoffrey, "What's the plan for the day?"  He pointed at the mountain and said, "We go there."  Actually, we had a seven hour hike up to Shipton's camp at the base of the peak.
We're off!
Winter is coming. 
The hills were now covered by lobelia plants.  These are mostly giant lobelia.
This water ground shell lobelia opens during the day to collect water in its leaves.  The water mixes with a sticky resin that attracts and catches insects.  At night, the lobelia closes and absorbs the insects.  Jarrod decided to stick his hand in to see what would happen...
...his hand is still in there.
This lobelia is a Red Sox fan.
We arrive at Shipton's Camp. 

Day 3.  We left at 3:00am to climb the final 2,000 feet to Lenana Peak.  My camera caught frostbite, so all the remaining pics are from Jarrod.

Sylvester Stallone would enjoy the climb (um, it is very rocky)


Made it to the highes...wait, this is the 3rd highest peak?! The other two peaks require rock climbing or technical training.  Lenana is cool because you can read the new Kenyan constitution in the box to the left.  17,000 feet!
Jarrod also made it.

We were lucky because we were able to see the sunrise over the clouds, and then the clouds drifted away.
A picture at the same point on our way down.

Careful, Dan! 
Geoffrey could somehow sprint the downhill.  Here he is waiting for us and taking a break.
The crew at the bottom:  Jarrod, J.J., Geoffrey, and, um J-Dan. 
Day 4.  We hiked along the ridge of the mountain on the Chogoria trail.  The tarns or small mountain lakes led the way.
We were high.

We began walking though tall grass, wild flowers, and loose rocks....yup, I sprained my ankle right about NOW.
I told them to go on without me.   It looked like a beautiful hike.
Ok, I hobbled along too and just slowed everyone down. 

The trees are back!  Into the rainforest.
We arrived at Mt. Kenya Cabins to this sign.  We were wondering what all the giant poop was around our cabin.  Water buffalo!  It was getting late, I guess I should...

...just sleep outside.  This grass is never mowed!  The water buffalo and water buck eat all the grass. 

Water buck in the morning

Day 5.  We hiked two hours down past enormous amounts of elephant dung until a four by four picked us up to take us to the main road.  I was sore, tired, and excited to see the truck.  Eight hours later, we were home in Naivasha.

Other highlights of the trip:

My favorite running joke of the trip:  Jarrod is a curious guy and asks many questions.  As we were reaching Shipton’s camp at the base of the peak, Jarrod asked Geoffrey, our guide, “Do many people get sick and have to turn around?  How steep is the peak?”  Geoffrey turned around and stopped.  He look squarely at Jarrod and said, “Jarrod, it’s OK, you can do it.  Do not be scared.  You can find the courage to climb the mountain.”  I offered to hold Jarrod’s hand throughout the summit, but Jarrod told Geoffrey that he would somehow find the courage to climb.  Two days later, after the summit, we had to climb a 600-meter, steep section before descending the mountain. Geoffrey led us on an exaggerated zig-zaggy route.  Halfway through, Geoffrey stopped us and explained, “Dan, this is very steep, and we are climbing in zig-zags for Jarrod.”  Jarrod said that although he was scared, he would find the courage to continue.  I love Jarrod. 

On our last night at Mt. Kenya Cabins, Jarrod opened up a package of gummy babies.  I’m not kidding, they were not gummy bears, but gummy babies.  Our guide/cook, J.J., was a smooth operator and man of few words.  J.J. walked by as Jarrod was opening the gummy babies.  Jarrod offered him some.  J.J. simply said, “I take them?”  Jarrod said, “Sure, J.J., you take them.”  J.J.  grinned and took them.  I hope they were delicious. 

Oh, back to the elephants!  I guess adult elephants charge when they feel their young are being threatened.  Our guide, Geoffrey, thought the adult elephant was about to charge.  He started running, and shouted for us to do same.  I limped off, but Jarrod snapped a picture and then ran off behind the guide.  The elephants apparently did not see us as a threat, and they just sauntered off into the trees.  We returned a few minutes later, but they were gone.  Even in those few seconds, seeing elephants in the wild without being aided by a safari is something I will never forget. 

The food was certainly a highlight.  J.J. is a wizard on a camp stove.  We ate ten-times better than we expected. 
These birds joined us for lunch on our way to Shipton's.

I swear this is not photo-shopped.
We traveled through tea country on our way to and from Naivasha.  Tea, flowers and coffee are Kenya’s largest exports. 

This was a tremendous experience.  A big thank you to Camille for encouraging me to go, and also to Jarrod for finding the courage. 

Seven more weeks….Thank you for reading!


  1. I would have never thought I would be so amazed reading one of your blogs, and it is also amazing that I loved it even though there were no pics of Eric. What an adventure!! You certainly will be a better teacher/person for having had the courage to travel to Kenya and spend a year. I am proud beyond words at the man you have become.

    1. Thanks, Dad! Your comments always make us smile, and we really appreciate them. Thanks for all of your continuous love and support.


  2. D -

    Kudos on taking this trip, making it to the top, and sharing the journey with those of us who are neither close enough to do the trip or in good enough shape to make such a hike. Thank you . . .

    I would be remiss, however, if I did not also give Camille a shout out for her support of your adventure. Those of us who have raised small children appreciate the generosity she demonstrated by telling you to go and then holding the homefront together while you were gone! Camille, you are awesome!

    These pictures were stunning in how they documented the change in the landscape as you climbed and documented that the top portion of this mountain looked like the surface of the moon. Wow . . .

    When you described the guide running ahead and then waiting for you, I could not help but connect to the image of you and Bo sprinting by people as you ran up Heartbreak Hill . . . and the competition just watching you go by.

    Looking forward to a beverage stateside!! Thanks again,


    1. Thanks, Les, and thank you for the comment! Camille is pretty awesome. I'm a lucky guy.

      At times, it felt like we were walking on Mars at the top. Pretty cool.

      But wait, wasn't I running away from Brian up Heartbreak Hill as well? ;). Kidding, kidding.

      Can't wait to see you again! Best wishes for the end of your school year.


  3. Again, you are making the most of an incredible year in Kenya - just breathtaking and so much fun to read - may LOL moments! Courage - maybe connect Jarrod with a lion who discovered courage in the Land of Oz? Love, Mom

    1. Thanks, Mom! I'll forward Jarrod a copy of the Wizard of Oz. Maybe I'll forward him a copy of the play when I was a munchkin.

  4. Wow! Amazing pictures! Amazing blog! Amazing Camille! Amazing Eric (simply because he is adorable)! Thanks you for sharing your amazing journey with us, Dan! While you were climbing Mt. Kenya, the 8th graders were off to Costa Rica! They will be back tomorrow and I am sure they will have tons to tell you!
    Have a great weekend!


    1. Thanks, Viv! I also can't wait to hear about Costa Rica.



  5. Congratulations, Mr. Gu! The pictures are beautiful and I'm really glad you made it back in one piece (except for your twisted ankle). I just got back from Costa Rica yesterday night and our adventures happened to coincide! We also did a lot of hiking, but I'm sure that our hikes were much warmer than yours - we were sweating in shorts and light short sleeves! The whole class says hi, and we miss you! Congratulations again :)

    1. Hi Rachel and OWS 8th graders! Yes, I bet our hikes were very different ;). I can't wait to hear more about your adventure!

      Thanks for writing,

      Mr. Gu

  6. hey there hubs. this is a test.

  7. My D period history class says hi---and enjoyed the splendor of your photos

  8. I am exceptionally jealous. Great pictures from an amazing trip!