The last part of the journey, as expected, culminates at the mountain itself. Most people will unfortunately not be able to reach this point and take a selfie with a mountain goat, but even if you don’t, the moorland experience is enough to make your visit worthwhile.
About fourteen kilometres from the lodge is a place called ‘the temple’, which is a flat rocky area that ends in a cliff overlooking Lake Michaelson. This is where the few that are determined to scale the mountain to the peak spend the night, waking up at 3 A.M to continue the trek. I will in a short while explain why waking up has to be effected at such an eerie hour, but let me first highlight on what is needed to reach this point and beyond: apart from the common accoutrements of thermal wear, glacier glasses and slip-resistant hiking boots with toe clefts and crampons as necessary accompaniments, you will need to be physically fit and have the endurance of a roman horse to withstand the rough terrain and the inclemency of weather, which is at this point in a relentless endeavour to knock you out, head and feet and breath. Being physically fit does not just mean to be in good shape as many would understand it, but a cardio workout of at least three months in advance is advisable if you intend to climb to the top.
The reason why people wake up at three is to climb up to the peak while it’s still dark, so that as the sun rises they will be in a position to view it from an altitude of over 5,000 metres. Everyone knows that African sunsets and sunrises are beautiful, but to experience that from the second highest point in the continent is an experience of a lifetime. The reason why this is so pleasurable is because as the sun rises, it sends forth rays that reflect on the ice on multiple points, forming a myriad of patterns, light glares and reflections that cannot in words be captured. In The Merchant of Venice, when the Prince of Morocco desired Portia to bring to bring forth a man “born where Phoebus fire scarce thaws the icicles”, he did have some understanding about such places as at the peak of Mount Kenya, because it is the presence of permanent ice that makes things so magical. The porters call it ‘paradise’, since you are technically between two paintings occurring naturally and simultaneously, one in the sky amidst what looks like an extensive blank canvas and scattered clouds and another on the ground amidst shimmering tarns and speckled moraine.
I have been to many places and still continue on my travelling escapades, but no place has stuck to me quite like Mount Kenya, and even though I was there last year, I’m surprised that the accounts of my first visit are still vivid to me, sixteen years later – that is to say that the place is truly unforgettable.