The idea sounded preposterous. A honeymoon in Kenya? But my fiance was serious. We had discussed it several times in the past, but after spending the better part of a year planning a rustic wedding with 70 guests in the rural hills of south-central Washington state, the notion that my soon-to-be wife and I could make it to Africa by the end of the year sounded far-fetched. How could we afford this? And even if we could, I didn't think I had the mental space to plan another big outing.
Sophia and I had a mini-moon road trip set for Oregon, but the bigger adventure to visit Sophia's family in Kenya seemed like something we would have to put off for at least a few years. To my surprise, within just days of our wedding, a honeymoon in Kenya jumped from fantasy to fact. This is how it went down.
Instead of traditional gifts for our wedding, we collected contributions from family and friends using a service called Honeyfund, a virtual registry that collected cash gifts instead of toasters and ironing boards. To my surprise and our luck, the gifts from family and friends almost entirely paid for our round-trip airfare for Sophia and me from Seattle to Nairobi. After our wedding, I did the calculations and found tickets on British Airways for early January 2014.
We got flights, but where would we stay on our honeymoon? Luckily, Sophia's uncle and aunt, permanent residents of Kenya, offered to put us up in their home in Nanyuki (about three hours north of Kenya's capitol, Nairobi). This visit would also coincide with when Sophia's parents and sister would be in Kenya, meaning that the Walker clan will be together in the same city for the first time in decades.
As for Sophia and my honeymoon, the only unsettled business was what adventures we would pursue while we were in country. Run with the famed African Elephant while on safari? Hippo wrestling? Or explore the storied Kenyan Coast ripe Somali pirates?
"Let's climb Mt. Kenya," my wife suggested without a touch of hesitation. She had already been up the mountain a dozen years earlier, but now yearned to experience the adventure once more; this time with her new husband, me! It sounded ambitious, but soon enough I was packing fleeces and thermal layers along with my shorts and flip flops. Next stop: Kenya.
Mt. Kenya, an extinct volcano situated right dab in the center of the country is iconic. So much so, that the nation is named after the mountain, not the other way around. The mountain once stretched above 19,000ft, but over time erosion from wind and glacial movement ground down the peak into a smaller massif, or compact group of peaks. The highest point being Batian, a technical summit of 17,057ft. My wife and I would be aiming just slightly lower; the walking summit of Point Lenana at 16,355 feet.
Most visitors that attempt this route make the 30-mile round-trip outing over four days, resting at each hut along the trail to acclimate to the altitude. Our plans were different. We wanted to summit and return in just two days. Instead of hiring a guide company and porters, we reached out to a friend of a friend, Gabriel, who we commissioned as our guide. Having a smaller group and shorter itinerary meant we could go faster,
On day one, Sophia, Gabrial and I started our hike around 7am from the Naro Moru gate, ascending the long, winding dirt road up to Met Station, a climb of a few thousand feet. The hike is full of wildlife--Colobus monkeys, Baboons and Warthogs watched from the sidelines as we trekked just over five miles to the first of the mountain huts.. After a brief break, we hiked on from Met Station to MacKinder's Hut, another 10k (20 total). Really the only water is at the huts. We carried more than enough.
That evening we slept in the bunks at MacKinders (14,000ft). At 3am we woke, made breakfast, tossed on a lights and headed out into the darkness. It wasn't warm by any means, but the wind that whipped the hut was surprisingly dry and temperate. I was expecting glacial air it wasn't that bad.
After a few hours of climbing scree switchbacks, we made it to the Austin Hut, less than 1,000 feet from Pt. Lenana, and nestled in the cavity of the massif. Batian and the other peaks loomed above. Our guide and us stopped for tea at the hut and waited about 45 minutes so we wouldn't summit in darkness. At around5:15, we were ready and headed back out into the darkness. The timing was perfect and we reached the summit just as the furthest edges of the sun peaked over the horizon. Beautiful.
The top at 16,355 is VERY cold. I wore insufficient gloves and my hands were burning by the time we decided to start descending.
The climb down was as expected. It went quick except for the last 4-5 miles as we hiked out on the dirt route towards the Naro Moru gate. It takes just forever. This will be the longest 7-8k you'll ever trek. Luckily, we eventually made it out--and with great stories to tell. I highly recommend the adventure. My only gripe is with the $220/person 4-day entry fee. If Sophia and I do it again, we'll just buy a day pass and summit and descend with light packs in the single day.