Goal Zero empowers people all over the world to do some incredible things. Today’s post is from our ambassador Nate, over at Mountain Education & Development, LLC, and tells the story of his team’s ski descent down Mount Kenya in Africa.
It’s 3:00am on November 16, 2012, when the first alarm goes off. I make the announcement to the rest of our crew that we need to get up and start getting ready. This is my fifth expedition to Africa and Mount Kenya. This time around the objectives are a little different; today we make a ski/snowboard descent attempt on the Lewis Glacier of Mount Kenya.
I started the week interviewing porters from Mount Kenya National Park. The conversations were about their prior and current working conditions for my final dissertation while pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Promotion & Education at the University of Utah. I’m exploring four different health constructs of the porters (economic, physical, social, institutional) over time to see if the conditions have improved with assistance from the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS).
I’ve become familiar with the surrounding sites and the park itself. In previous expeditions I lead teams in the teaching of wilderness medicine courses, rock climbing and mountain travel skill sets, along with rescue theory and practice. We’ve worked under the organization Mountain Education & Development based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our students in Kenya have included conservancy wardens and rangers, guides and porters, and climbing rangers from Mount Kenya National Park.
We layer our clothing, click on our headlamps, and start the ascent up Point Lenana. We leave Mackinders Camp by 4:00am, knowing the climb will take longer than usual. It was only yesterday we departed from the gate at about 8,000 feet with a landcruiser escort as far as the backcountry roads allowed. Although this eliminated a day out of our ascent, it forced us into a tough altitude battle that required attention and patience by all.
We are joined by our porter team and a KWS climbing ranger who support our progress up towards the glacier. The sun comes up and sheds light on the incredible scale of the surrounding terrain. The normal route on Batian requires just over 20 pitches of rock climbing with a grade of 5.8 V. My first trip to Mount Kenya National Park included a 9-day unsupported trip on the mountain with a successful climb of Batian.
We arrive at Austrian Hut, the highest established camp in the park. From here we gain views of the Lewis Glacier and East Ridge of Point Lenana. Our porter team is found resting in the sun waiting anxiously to see how these wooden sticks and oversized skateboards work. We check the size of each member’s crampons, strap skis and boards to our back, and continue upward, leaving the porters and ranger on a viewing point just above the middle of the glacier.
We transition onto hard-pack snow and continue our way to what appears the highest point to drop in. The climbing steepens as we top out just below the actual summit of Point Lenana. We use our shovels to each dig a platform and prepare ourselves individually as a sense of disbelief is shared among each of us and we agree on a descent plan. Tyler Beck starts us off with a few controlled turns and quick response to the variable terrain. I follow and joint just next to a rock outcrop at the base of the steeper section. Chad Holmes rides down and continues past us. Matt Pickup drops in and figures it out.
We each continue onto more gentle terrain and the reality starts to settle in and we share smiles and high fives. If Google is any reference, skiing or snowboarding on Mount Kenya hasn’t occurred in at least 10 years. Our porter team is seen and heard in the distance yelling and dancing. The terrain flattens out and opens up the further we go. We each stop at its end and look back up to review our line, hugs and laughter spread throughout all of us.
Later in the afternoon we find ourselves back at the point where the KWS landcruisers dropped us off the day before. Soon we are making our way back to the park gate and just like that, our time on Mount Kenya finishes. Our total time park gate to park gate was 33 hours.
All of our Kenya expeditions rely heavily on Goal Zero’s product, from charging the hammer drill at 16,000 ft to running a laptop through 14 hours of porter interviews. We appreciate and acknowledge the portable, durable and efficient power that Goal Zero products provide.