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Summit for Our Sisters and How We Skied in Africa!

I traveled as part of a 2 woman team to Mt. Kenya for an expedition we called “Summit for Our Sisters.” The goal was to summit Point Lenana (16,355’), ski the Lewis Glacier, the largest remaining equatorial glacier, and run a fundraiser for Zawadisha, a non-profit that seeks to empower Kenya women with microloans and education. I was in Kenya for almost 3 weeks before the expedition, working with Zawadisha, traveling, and volunteering.

We were in Kenya during the light rainy season so that we’d have the best chance for snow coating the icy glacier, but the rains had come 2 weeks late and started to fall just as we started our trek. We chose the Naro Moru route for a quick ascent and started around 6000 feet on Tuesday afternoon during pretty steady rain. The first 10 km were up a rough dirt road to the Met (meteorological) station were we’d camp at 10,000 feet for the night. The high clay content combined with constant rain made the road slick. We were in a bamboo forest and spotted monkeys and water buck from time to time. Halfway through, the rain subsided and we were able to enjoy the last few kilometers. Day one was in the books the only thing left to do was to set up camp and watch monkeys scarf down flowers.

A rainy start to the hike.

Starting to clear up and the views are getting better!

Sykes monkeys take over the Met Station

After a solid night of rain, we decided to leave our soaked tent behind and utilize the hut accommodations the rest of the trip. Our next destination was McKinders, 10 km away and 4000 ft higher. Part of the hike would be through a section called “the vertical bog” which would live up to its name – spongy, wet, green, steep, and rain from above continually adding to the moisture.

Just past “the vertical bog” – just a bog at this point!

I was trying to smile for this #selfie. Behind me is the first glimpse of snow on Mt. Kenya.

We spent the afternoon drying off the best we could, drinking tea, chatting with some French guys, and resting at McKinders. Around 3 in the afternoon, the clouds broke and I had my first real glimpse of Mt. Kenya. I could finally see why I was here.

Yeah, it’s pretty beautiful here when the sun is out.

The next morning we headed up to the Austrian Hut, elevation 15,700 ft, and on the way, I crossed the 14,505 ft elevation mark, so I was now officially as high as I’d ever been.  When we reached the Austrian Hut, we were basically in a cloud, so we decided to wait for a clearing, rest, and have lunch. At 3 pm I suggested we try for the summit with the anecdotal evidence that it cleared up around 4 pm the previous day. It was a quick 40 minutes to the top and it was still socked in, but after some photos, we saw a patch of blue make an appearance. Little by little, the skies cleared and we were treated to some views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. Excited that we might be able to ski that afternoon, we descended quickly to scope out our access to the glacier.

Me at Point Lenana with clear skis moving in!

By the time we made it back to the Austrian Hut, the clear skies were gone, but the visibility was good enough to get a good look at the glacier. There were a lot more “cracks” visible than I anticipated. We had heard reports ranging from no crevasses to one obvious crevasse to an unknown amount of crevasses. We had also heard that the glacier surface would be anything from old ice to deep, wet snow. From my vantage it looked like it had multiple cracks and wet unconsolidated snow on top of ice and even with my training at SheJumps Alpine Finishing School, I felt a bit uneasy. There was even evidence of a new slide. I was hoping the wet snow would freeze overnight and therefore stabilize and bridge some of the cracks. The lookers left side of the glacier was a longer run, but had less new snow and more cracks, were the lookers right seemed smoother, safer, and, overall, like a good starting point for the morning. We confirmed this information with the ranger who lives at the Austrian Hut.  We decided to wake up early in the morning and climb the right side roped up and reassess from there.

The morning came and it was clear so we got our stuff together as quickly as possible and made the 10 minute walk to the glacier. We roped up and started climbing. The snow had frozen overnight as I hoped and was perfect for climbing. The surface was not bulletproof and so crampons held well which boded well for skis. When we reached the top, the clouds rolled in again so as we started our descent, we were in a white cloud. It induced a bit of vertigo, but I was able to use rocks and some bamboo poles (placed for a glacier study) to make efficient turns down the glacier. It was like a storm day above tree-line where you use anything that isn’t white to gain perspective. At the bottom of the run, I thought about hiking back up, but the visibility kept degrading and so that would be my only run in Africa, this time!

Jen making her way up the Lewis Glacier with clear skies in the background.

Not so clear for skiing, but skiing was still super fun!

After high fives to each other and our guide, Simon, who was cheering us on from the bottom, we returned to the Austrian Hut and showed photos to our cook and porters. I think they were impressed, but they were also happy to be heading back down to McKinders to a warmer and drier environment. So we packed up the rest of our stuff and ran down there just beating the late morning rain! It rained the rest of the day and the next day, but we had done it! We climbed Mt. Kenya, skied Lewis Glacier, and summitted for our sisters. The campaign is running for 2 more weeks so go here if you want to donate and support Zawadisha’s work in Kenya!

Maureen, a local Naro Moru girl – current SheJumper and future skier?

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