A week ago I was biking with some buddies up against the native forest on Mount Meru and discussed climbing the mountain from that point.
The plan was to ride bikes up to the end of the planted forest, stash the bikes some where in thick bushes, climb the 15,000ft mountain, unstash bicycles, and scream on the decent home.
I have climbed Mnt Meru many a time from this side but not very often in the last 15 years, and probably not for a half dozen years. I have also never biked to the start. Walked to the start a couple of times from home, but not in one day. But I figured it was doable.
Wes has been using a slightly different route from the same starting point so I was hoping to learn a new route without having to do trial and error on the route.
I suggested a early start before light but was over rode for a 6 am start from my house. We were Thomas, Jon, Mika, Joshua to climb the mountain and Wes and Kambona to do the bike and a hour of the walking part.
Of the climbers the average age is 1/2 my age and all fit, making me a bit nervous about keeping up on the steep forest and scree slopes. Here we are about 2/3 up the bike part.
From the start we had mechanicals and Thomas ended up borrowing Paulo's rigid mountain bike before starting. Then we had a broken chain, all easily fixable but made us 1-2 hours later to the end of the road than thought.
I had no problem leaving some of the youngsters during the bike part, so forgot about worrying keeping up with them on the hike part.
We found some thick vegetation beside a small trail and locked up the bikes at 10am at 2,225m (7,300ft). We started on a faint trail. It turned out the start of Wes's trail and mine are a bit different and in the end we did a variation on my route.
The route (above and below) goes straight up a steep slope onto a small plateau complete with a small water hole. the trail was faint and steep. You learn to keep your hands close to the body as we would find stinging nettles here and there.
At the top a faint trail continued along the edge instead of moving over towards the mountain , as I remembered. I figured we would adjust later. The plateau was thick with vegetation.
Thomas informed us that his GPS showed we went in a circle! That shocked me. It turns out we had walked around the edge of the plateau. We couldn't see the mountain only the vegetation around us. We found a break in the trees and clouds and got our bearings and believed the GPS and found a trail and the water hole.
There was sign of elephant everywhere now but weeks old. The trail had stinging nettles and we started to get stung more often than not. Then the trail petered out and we found ourselves in the middle of a huge nettle patch and no trail. Argggh. Even to go back meant more pain. We stood there for a few minutes feeling sorry for ourselves.
PART II. THANK GOD FOR ELEPHANT TRAILS
I was about to suggest giving up and going home. Gritting my teeth I went up a rise and there was this large elephant trail. whew.
The trail felt right and we moved along a wide ridge at a gentle angle. The river didn't show up and the elephants were moving up a ridge so we followed their trail instead of going to the landmark river. The trail would alternatively end or zig zag or split 10 times only to become one trail later.
The ridge became narrower and steep.
As i get up to take this picture someone asks. "what is sticking out of your leg?" I pull out a pencil sized stick that is a bit sharp out of my shin. Funny i was hardly feeling it.
These two pictures above were not the norm. There were only about 5 places that were open at all, mostly the ridge was thick .
In a few hours we were in the heather and then the sand and heather. I was having no problem keeping up.
We popped out of the heather into the tundra and time was running out. we decided to try for 4000m and turn around.Walking in the sand and gravel above the tundra.
Stopping it got cold quickly and started to rain a bit. We stopped at 3,900m (12,830ft) at 3pm. I started with a thin pullover, then a rain jacket, then a heavy fleece and I wished I had taken a wool hat.
Like I said I haven't climbed a big mountain for awhile but up to this point it was a walk in the park.
As soon as we turned around the boys hopped and slid and were 5o meters down the slope as I took a couple of painful steps down. I was shocked. Going down I now could not keep up. i could not hop on the scree like the old days. Every step meant absorbing the drop and it was painful. The slope was small stones, gravel, sand on top of hard base. occasionally soft, occasionally solid rock. Now the boys were having to wait until we got back to the heather. I was embarrassed, the weak link, the one everyone was waiting for.
I recalled the days I could run down as that was easier than walking and would have to wait as others waddled down in pain. Now I know what they were feeling. Occasionally I could jog and absorb with my legs but not often.
There was one section of soft sand and I could let go and in the heather it was less steep and more stopping to find which split in the trail was best, so i could almost keep up. In the forest I would only fall back slightly and catch as they cast around for a better trail. Having the GPS was a new experience for me and we could leave the guessing and take the shorter paths, and not worry if we were on the right ridge.
The solid nettles patch was by passed but the occasional nettle was there the keep the legs warm.
We got back to the bikes about 530 and installed the front wheels back on. By 550 we started for the 20km (?) down. Although it was easier riding I was feeling stiffness in my legs, and general fatigue of being moving for 12 hours.
A chain came off and ruined the skewer and as we couldn't tighten it up an so we had to slow down the last 1/4 but we made it to my house by 7pm.
I carried about 4 litres of fluid. That would of been about right if we had gone to the top, I ended up giving a litre away. I needed the fleece, extra jersey, and rain jacket when we stopped at 4000m, but wished i had a wool hat.
I need to do some walking down steep hills more often so I avoid this suffering.
I was tired that evening, enough that falling asleep was hard and I woke at 3am and couldn't sleep again until i read a book at 430am for 30 minutes.