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EXERCISE COCKNEY LENANA - CLIMBING MOUNT KENYA
by Lieutenant T Parkes
Grenadier Guards


On the morning of the 26th July, a small team from The Queen’s Company set out to climb Mount Kenya. The mountain stands at over 5000m, looming across Northern Kenya, above a mass of foothills ascending above the deep, forested valleys and the savannah beyond. Above all of this is the summit, a sharp knife of rock that thrusts skywards, consisting of three peaks named after Masai leaders: Batian, Lenana, and Nelion. 

With the battlegroup final attack finishing only 36 hours before the exercise was to begin, the team had a quick turnaround; exchanging bergens for rucksacks. We met our guide, Sulimen, and our three porters, before heading for Sirimon Gate to start our ascent. The Grenadiers, raring to go, set off at a purposeful tabbing pace, rather leaving the rest of our party behind, completing the 4-hour leg in half the time. The track took us to Old Moses bunk house, at 3200m above the tree line, with the forest giving way to heathland rather reminiscent of the Highlands. That evening the team enjoyed hot dogs and a couple of Tuskers, glad to begin shedding the weight that we were carrying - the result of some rather over-zealous food shopping before we left.


View from the summit of Mount Kenya

The next day we climbed up to the Barrow at 3800m, acclimatising for the following day’s ascent, the pace now carefully dictated by Sulimen. At the Barrow we practised our evacuation drills, fashioning various seats from a 30m length of rope, realising how awkward it would if we had to do it for real.

Our third day saw us undertaking the most arduous leg. After a couple of hours gradually skirting up the heathery lower slopes, we reached the Mackinder Valley, where the sharp, jagged summit was revealed. As we ascended, the terrain changed once again, becoming Jurassic. Our destination that afternoon was Shipton’s Camp, at the head of the valley, below the cliffs of Batian. The predicted eight hours had only taken us five, so we spent the afternoon relaxing, predominantly in our sleeping bags due to the cold. Sadly that morning, David, one of the porters, learnt that his father had passed away the night before but, despite this, remarkably surged ahead of us carrying his load to the next hut before leaving to return to his family.

After a slow start on the fourth day, following a brew and porridge, we clambered up the scree slopes on the western side of the summit to the Hausberg Col.  This was a slow ascent that saw us reaching 4500m, but unfortunately the cloud hid much of our view westwards over Nanyuki, and as the cold began to bite we descended back via the mountain lakes.

The next day was spent acclimatising, as we prepared ourselves to summit at sunrise the following morning. At 0230 we rose and began the slow climb to Point Lenana. The night was cool but still and brilliantly clear with a full, blue moon, and so we dispensed with head torches and walked in the moonlight. Sulimen timed it perfectly, with the team broaching Lenana just as the sun broke over the eastern horizon, revealing our dramatic surroundings. Unfortunately the sun brought little warmth and after some hurried photos, stripped down in company t-shirts with The Queen’s Company Camp Colour, we beat our retreat. As we headed down we passed other groups, clearly struggling with the altitude.

We had a swift breakfast back at Shipton’s before we hastily descended down the mountain. After about four hours as we began to tire, and as we came through the forest we met the very welcome sight of QMSI Richardson, ready to pick us up with sandwiches and a beer. It was a fantastic six days, led deftly throughout by our instructor Major David Larkam. The expedition was a great finish to our time in Kenya, thoroughly enjoyed by all.


Members of the expedition at the summit of Mount Kenya

 

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