I wake in the early hours, my body relaxed and ready. I crawl out of the tent quietly and find the wind has died down for the first time since we drove up through the forest to camp above tree line two days ago. The quiet calm now draped over the land buoyed my spirit like a warm blanket while a bright sliver of moon cast silvery shadows. I find my way to the wooden outhouse fitted with a flushing toilet.

Twenty minutes later Steve(my brother) and I are dressed and leaving the campsite behind. Lights from Kisumu, miles away on the valley floor shimmer at us as we follow the marshy trail up into the star dappled sky. Dew from swamp-grass lining the trail brushes our legs. We move swiftly trying to keep our feet dry, wanting to make good use of our early departure. Dropping down and climbing out of yet another marshy ravine through landscape reminiscent of the vertical bog on MacKinders route, we stop briefly to remove wind jackets and pants. We knew how silly we would look in bare running garb whilst every other person on the mountain had boots, poles, packs and other 'proper' hiking gear. We just hoped we weren't fools for attempting an alpine approach to this 16,000' peak circuit.

View of the peaks as we approach from the North

As the sky reveals an approaching dawn we cross laterally into a large valley, between two 'ribs' of the mountain, which the trail follows. The dark Goliath rock formations atop those ribs cast titanic shadows across the valley letting us know that we have entered a different scale of a place. We stop to fill our packs with water from a stream just before passing by the teams sleeping in Shiptons hut, a camp where people typically stay the night before summiting the next day. Above this the real climb through scree fields begins. The trail is difficult to pick out amongst the rocks. Somehow every time you turn around it seems that you have missed the main route and are following at best goat trails which criss-cross it.

Scree slope, Batian and Nelion towering in the background

The shear scale of the mountain rising out of a land that rolls forever away into the distance begins to sink in as the hint of altitude begins it's subtle advancement. I'm struggling to catch my breath, getting aggravated at the unsure footing and my inability to keep pace. The sun is already scorching despite the bitter wind that whips up from the south.

Steve analyzing best route to the summit

We've crossed onto the ridge that runs east up to point Lenana. 2000 feet below on the other side, Harris tarn glistens it's emerald green waters inviting us to take a swim and relax on it's inviting shores. We cross an icy patch of snow which quickly reminds us that the environment is becoming increasingly hostile. Stark jagged spires stand silhouetted against a deep blue sky above us. My chest pounds as we bolder steadily up the west side to arrive at the summit.

Looking south from summit towards Chogoria route

We stay for long enough to soak in the 360 view. Far below the wispy vapors of infant clouds rise on turbulent winds channeling up the walls of the valleys gaining mass as they rise. To the south we can see the gorge that runs beside Chogoria route, to the north on the far side of Lewis glacier the peaks of Batian and Nelion rise sharply towering above 5000m. We can make out a red spec climbing up the face, a climber on his way to the top. As we descend along the eastern ridge towards the MacKinders route we loose the trail but some guides resting near Austrian hut call to us and point the way.

Summit glee, a long ways yet to go

We take off down the eastern scree slope haphazardly as any effort to brake causes immediate skidding. The better time we make here the more we increase our chances of completing the circuit before weather moves in. We refill our packs for the second time when we reach the bottom of MacKinder's valley where a river takes glacier melt away from the peaks.

We installed filters in our packs and drank from mountain streams

We follow the trail down this valley till we can see MacKinders hut and smell the kerosine stoves preparing stews for the guided expeditions. Just before reaching camp we follow a branch of the trail which climbs up the south side of the valley. I find myself involuntarily stopping to rest too often. The sun feels like it is microwaving us, it's rays somehow magnified by the whispy cloud cover brewing above. We check the map multiple times as we pass between Hut tarn and Nanyuki tarn. Confident of our route around the north side of Batian and Nelion we push on into a dense fog. We scramble across black ledges built for giants. Up and over scree covered ridges running off the peaks then back down across more ledges.

Climbing towards the peak circuit trail, MacKinders hut in background.

My head feels as though it has a stake running straight through it. The physical manifestation of this sheer pain forces me to squint my eyes and reach for something to hang to. The world around me dims and brightens, spins and shakes. We climb up towards Hausberg col, a sandy slope where every step forward slides your foot back to where it started. Progress seems impossible like running on a hamster wheel while someone hits you on the head with a hammer. Eventually somehow, I hear Steve ahead saying it's close. The ground begins to level off and sure enough we stammer across the top. I want to sit and weep and sleep but my legs know better. They simply continue over the far side and begin descending into the high bogs above Shipton's hut. We lose our route than find it again multiple times passing through a misty marsh with astute Senecio keniodendron growing around us.

Descending the far side of Hausberg Col

Shipton's is now bustling with activity. Porters and cooks are washing vegetables, setting up tables, and preparing accommodations for the tourists who will arrive here later in the day. They will stay a night or two before climbing to Lenana. We pass a group of them on the trail below camp. One of the guides who knew about our attempt, was curious whether we were successful. The group congratulated us and shook our hands as we passed. It doesn't matter to me if no one in the world knows what we set out to do, but it felt nice that someone was genuinely excited for us to accomplish our goal.

Steve descending to Shipton's, Batian and Nelion in background

Back down on the trail we ascended earlier in the day my headache begins to substantially subside. The clouds turn into heavy mist and we stop to put on jackets. Guides and tourists marching solemnly through the highlands gaze curiously up at us from under their gortex hoods when we run by, ready to be done with it all.

Mist turns to light rain as we reach the final miles

Winding back through the marsh my mind wanders over and over how far we've come from the initial brainstorm of an idea to actually completing the run! It was hard to imagine anything being so satisfying and surprising. Like finding out you have an extra holiday you weren't expecting. But I know that some kind of stubborn confidence got us there and pushed us through. When your perceived chances of success are very narrow and the work necessary to achieve that success is great, motivation doesn't well up inside you. Sometimes all you can do is tell yourself it can be done, and start making steps in the right direction. As my dad likes to say, "it's never too late to plan ahead."

Old Moses to Mt Kenya circuit route
41k +7875' 7:53:33