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Facing Mt Kenya

By Thorn Mulli | April 25th 2016
Challengers going over an obstacle at the Alliance Naro Moru River Lodge. PHOTOS: THORN

Did you know that Welshman adventurer/trader John Boyes once “bought” the mountain after which our great nation is named from Agikuyu Chief Wang’ombe for the lordly sum of four goats?

It turns out that my Akamba ancestors played a star role in the naming of this mysterious crag.

The theory that holds sweeping sway contends that the Agikuyu call the mountain K?r? Nyaga (Kirinyaga), which literally translates to that which has an ostrich considering that the snow-capped peak resembles a male ostrich’s black-and-white plumage.

For its mystery, the Agikuyu revere it as the seat of Mwene Nyaga (God).

So when German missionary Dr Johann Ludwig Krapf encountered Mount Kenya, he inquired from his know-it-all guide cum slave and ivory trading chief Kivoi wa Mwenda what the mysterious outcrop was.

Now, we all know that the Wakamba are not very fond of “R” and “G” sounds and the chief impressed in Kikamba language to the white explorer that what drew his eyes was kiima ki nyaa (a mountain with ostrich).

Krapf would then go on to immortalise the reference in his diaries as ‘Kenia’.

I do not care much for hiking and trekking activities. I guess my ancestors already covered my share.

It does not help that Mount Kenya has caused more cases of pulmonary edema — the flooding of lungs with body fluid due to increasing deficiency in oxygen — than any other mountain in the world.

It was, therefore, surprising that I fell victim to the seductive web that Mount Kenya has always spun on man.

Comfort Zone

Unable to resist, I found recently myself in need of quenching this burning desire to challenge myself away from my comfort zone.

A three-hour drive to Naro Moru ended with a left turn off the tarmac, past a soko mjinga market and a fallow rail track onto a dirt track that could use a little initiative from whoever is responsible for it.

At its heavily forested dead-end was one of the pioneer mountain climbing base camps — Alliance Naro Moru River Lodge. For ages, this has been the preferred base for those climbing Mt Kenya.

With night was falling fast. I could only afford enough time to check in before settling in for a three-course dinner at the Kirinyaga Restaurant that shares a roof with the Point Lenana Bar. The latter, a cosy dim-yellow lit arrangement, just about sums up the lodge’s mountaineering core.

Mountaineer’s relics through the ages in the form of countless autographed tees and escutcheons hang from the wall and ceiling. Veteran politician Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba’s tee hanging right above the dart board is especially hard to ignore.

Day allowed me to fully relish the property sitting pretty on an ample seventy acres.

In my eyes, it is divided into six sections. First is the reception area that opens up to the central mess where I had dinner.

To the left are the rooms whose charges are as low as Sh7,500 for single occupant. Across the Naro Moru River that halves the property are the fairer priced self-serve log cabin cabins and further on the slightly dear country homes.

A rustic feel with ornate wood finishing follows all the accommodation options that bear the names of the various peaks and valleys of Mount Kenya.

Mental Strength

On the right as you approach, the reception is the pool area that has its own restaurant and bar-here more sporting facilities — a lawn tennis, outdoor table tennis, and a squash court. These are flanked by a massage parlour and sauna conveniences.

Hidden from view, directly opposite the pool, is a camping site that opens up to the rest of the property where a natural forest thrives.

Weaving unwearingly through the greenery are bike tracks and an obstacle course best-suited for trekkers acclimatising for the big climb or groups keen on team building.

Mental strength is key before one attempts to go against a mountain of this calibre and I reckon that I did a pretty awesome job at building mine.

I spent most my time cooling off at the Nelion-pool that vaunts an amazing view of the mountain.

When the mountain chill caught up with me, I was relieved to ease out the built up city-stress at the sauna.

I did not sloth my entire stay though and actually enjoyed one heart-pumping walk around the property with the resident mountaineering guide.

Modernised the Lodge

I learnt a lot about mountaineering and spotted plenty of the 200 resident bird species as well as the unassuming tree hyraxes whose unearthly screams that end in a descending series of expiring shrieks cut through the dark of the night.

I could also not help pick up the smidgens of the farm the property once was. I even pictured white settler farmers fishing for trout in the fern-banked, fast-flowing river.

According to lodge manager Edward Wangechi, the lodge traces its origins shortly after World War Two. Then, routes took between five to seven days to reach the base until an avid mountaineer Bwana Rufus — Mr Rufus Klark — after intense research, discovered the Naro Moru route that is associated with the lodge.

He erected a camp, where the current Sendeyo cottage stands, from which he carried out mountaineering expeditions.

Bwana Rufus would continue climbing for years until the seventies when politician Kenneth Matiba and a Smith G Smith, under the partnership Alliance Development Limited, took over the running of Naru Moru.

In the 90s, the group renovation and modernised the lodge and increased it’s bed capacity.

On my final night, the generally calm mood delectably livened as a group of campers took over Point Lenana bar for a party that warmed up the cold night.

I have assessed my mental strength, identified a good guide and proper gear, and learnt about mountaineering ethics.

I am now ready to tackle Mt Kenya beginning with the Lenana peak. Now, if I could only get fit enough...

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