Quick note to say I'm still kicking after my Mount Kenya expedition - I'll try to send another one before I leave for the airport tomorrow morning.
I'll send another email with more details on the rest of the Earthwatch study later, but that ended on Monday (lots of fun, great people). I got to the gate of Mt Kenya National Park in the morning, and we had to deal with rain so got up to the first 'hut' Monday evening - Old Moses (9km, 800 m ascent - not too tough). By the way, the huts have no heat (just a bed), no hot water and you have to bring your own toilet paper (I didn't know that, but brought some in case, but not enough so I had to ration for 4 days).
Tuesday we went 17km, up 1100 m to Shgipton's Camp so that was tougher, because we also had to deal with more altitude affects and again the rain and mud. But most of the altitude was in relatively extreme chunks so it was ok. Wednesday I got up at 2:30am (after sleeping maybe an hour due to the altitude) and we started our ascent at 3:45am. It was 3.5km up 800 m - straight up gravelly and rocky slopes. And the rocks slid, so you couldn't put full weight on them. My guide, Joshua, later told me that nobody ascends after 6am because if you could actually see where you were going, you would be too scared to continue. It was intensely exhausing, and Joshua had to pull me a couple of times, but I made it to Point Lenana at 7:15am (just under 5000m). Unfortunately, since I took so much time going up, the ice crystals that held some gravel together started melting and the way down was not fun, or fast. We had to do the crab quite a few times - on hands and feet, sliding down the slopes, when you are going too fast or get close to the very steep, unrecoverable edge you stop yourself by dropping your butt. I don't get the gluttons for punishment who do this as a hobby. I'm glad I did it once, but I'm thinking high altitude trekking is not for me.
So I finally got down at 9:15am and realized that I had to hike 17km out, to the first hut. Oh - and because of the altitude I could not eat - I wasn't ill, just couldn't force anything down. After resting an hour, we left. My guide Jimmy got a little ahead of me, and I realized I was lost as I saw Jimmy disappear into the fog. I kept going, thinking my trail would meet up with him at the river, but I kept going up. So a few minutes later I sat down on a rock and thought about what you are supposed to do when you are lost: remain calm (nope - I was so exhausted and scared that I would have to spend a night where I was that I started sobbing - a real energy boost); have enough food to make it through the night (check - I had 1/2 a power bar, and 2 pkgs of candy a guy from South Africa gave me when he saw how exhausted I was after the ascent and that I wouldn't eat); water (check - I had 1/2 liter); a signalling device (check - the powerbar's label was silver inside, but it was all foggy so that doesn't really help); a whistle (check); a flashlight (check). So I calmed down a bit - in between yelling 'Jimmy! Joshua!' into the fog.
Eventually a voice called back - Joshua had found me. So I had to go all the way down the ravine to the river to take the 'easy' route back toward the ridge. For a 1100m descent, there was a ton of uphill and muddy downhill. But I made it to the Old Moses Camp. There were about 15-20 cheery energetic people at the camp, ready for the next day's hike to Shipton's camp at the base of the mountain and I was so worn out, they just stared a bit as I dragged my sorry butt in. I ate a bit and slept. Today was much better, except that I discovered 2 huge blisters, but I ignored them on the way down. The car Jimmy had arranged did not pick us up, so he got the park rangers to agree to take us. After ~20 min they got the car started, and it was a wild bumpy ride to Nanyuki since the steering was so loose. At one point we slid around into an embankment on the muddy way down, but nobody was hurt. In Nanyuki we had a beer at the Impala Butchery and Bar (to get to the cafe area, you walk through a little room where they are hacking at carcasses) and I took an incredibly packed puegeot station wagon to Nairobi. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have a bath, and toilet paper!!!!!
Gotta go - I'll try to send more in the morning as I don't think I'll be able to email in Madagascar. I cannot believe I will be staring at lemurs tomorrow!