Reflections on Mt Kenya

Mount Kenya from Nanyuki

Mount Kenya from Nanyuki

Oh, to leave the world behind for a space of time and escape to the intoxicating heights of a great mountain. The forest, moorland, alpine and lava zones all dwarfed by the incredibly clear-cut jagged peaks, towering immensely as you scramble up the tortuous paths to make final camp in a broad valley beneath them.

A mysterious miniature stream flows openly; then hidden beneath mossy rocks; punctuated by miniature waterfalls; weaving its way around rocky outcrops and through jungles of outsized cabbage-like giant groundsel, the size of small trees; tinkling on its way to become a rushing river miles below; only to end life as quietly as it began, in a mighty reed-covered swamp.

Slowly the fiery sun sinks reluctantly behind the buttress above and the myriad stars begin to reveal their bright pin-prick lights in the darkening vault overhead. Gradually, as the last feeble rays of daylight are overpowered, the peaks acquire a breathtakingly beautiful aspect. The silver white of the snows is revealed with shining clarity against the stark blackness of the encircling rock, etched against the star-studded backcloth – the whole pervaded by a magical air of mysticism. Surely this must be the altar of the Gods.

And yet, as the first shafts of sunlight penetrate the darkness next morning, the whole atmosphere subtly changes. The mountain takes on an imposing air of grandeur, majestic in all its splendour, and toiling upwards on a humble pilgrimage one feels truly privileged to witness such magnificence. For suddenly, wedged with a convenient, if temporary, foothold – roped up, cramponed, anchored by an ice axe – one has time to contemplate the vastness of the surroundings. The way the immense valleys sweep downwards – down and out to the horizon. The seemingly flat plain emerges from the base of the mountain, stretching endlessly, only to be swallowed by a heat haze, broken here and there by suddenly upflung ranges. Far below, the camp nestles in the protective arms of a distant valley, deserted, forlorn, guarded by giant, furry lobelia, like sentinels on duty. Immediately below, the rock slopes almost perpendicularly to where an emerald tarn lies cradled at its foot, sparkling like a jewel or a mirror, offset to perfection by the dazzling whiteness around. The peaks themselves, like twin turrets of a mighty fortress  with knife-like crenellations, rest secure in the knowledge that they are protected against all but the most daring and courageous of assailants.

And when, finally, after hours of bitter struggle, the almost unattainable goal is reached, a feeling of awe mingled with deep humility is at last overcome by the pure triumph of  achievement.

Then comes the sorrow of parting, when one is left with only the cherished memories, and a yearning to return once more to the mountain, the Mecca of Meccas, the very summit of existence.

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