Archive for the ‘Mountaineering’ Category

Developing the Moon

April 1, 2010

The quest for the source of the Nile was “the opprobrium” that shamed geographers for millennia. The ancient Egyptians knew the river as far south as the great fork, but further exploration along the Blue Nile was blocked by the fortress highlands of Ethiopia and along the White Nile by the strangling, suffocating swamps of The Sudd. Following routes hacked and forged by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans failed to penetrate any further into the vast blank space in the center of the map of Africa. It was not until the eighteenth century that James Bruce finally confirmed Lake Tana, in Ethiopia, to be the source of the Blue Nile, and it was not until the late nineteenth century that John Speke correctly speculated that the White Nile flows from the immense inland sea of Lake Victoria. Both men were ridiculed in England by disbelieving peers, incredulous that a puzzle which had confounded thousands of years of geographers and explorers had finally been solved. The source of the Nile is an x marking such a famous and lucrative spot on the map that even today countries vie for the title: Uganda claims the highest source; Rwanda the farthest; Burundi the southernmost; and Ethiopia the most voluminous.

Wrapped up in the mystery of the source of the Nile was the legend of the Mountains of the Moon, “mountains so high they defied all nature by bearing on their crests in this equatorial heat, a mantle of perpetual snow.” The Lunae Montes were first charted by the Greek geographer and astronomy Ptolemy in the first century, based on oral reports from the few travelers to Alexandria who had any information about the unknown people and places of interior Africa. For nearly two thousands years, learned Europeans chuckled at the image of snowy peaks in the thick of tropical Africa, until in the nineteenth century persistent reports arrived from East Africa about the glacial summits on the massive volcanic cones of Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro. But were these the fabled Mountains of the Moon? Or was there, as Ptolemy’s map suggested, a long, high range of mountains still hidden in the rain forest clouds of Central Africa? It was in 1888 that the debate was finally resolved when the American adventure journalist Henry Morton Stanley, on a hired mission to rescue the besieged Emin Pasha in southern Sudan, glimpsed the shimmering snowcapped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains, the alien spine in very center of Africa. Not only is there snow on the equator, there are glaciers in a region famous as the heart of an oppressive jungle darkness. While Africa is full of astounding scenery, much of it lacks a recorded local history. Many of the legends that Europeans superimposed on the African landscape have become the commonly accepted mythology of the continent. The Rwenzori Mountains, straddling a few hundred miles of the border between Uganda and the Congo, are now known even locally as the Mountains of the Moon.

Recently, my girlfriend and I were hiking in Rwenzori Mountains National Park on the Ugandan side of the border. To summit the highest peak, Margherita, requires six or seven days of backcountry camping, but ours was a more modest adventure: a series of dayhikes from our base at a community campsite straddling the park boundary, an obvious line where cultivation abruptly bumps up against a tall, dense wall of tropical rainforest. The evening of our arrival we followed a community trail to a lookout point high above the campsite. From there we could see the park ascend in rugged stairsteps, first to the Portal Peaks and then, through a perfectly placed cleft in the nearer cliffs, to snowy Margherita.

The next morning Solomon, a park ranger and our guide for the day, led us on the first stage of the trail that eventually leads to the summit. Our goal was Nyabitaba Hut, where summiting hikers stop to sleep for the evening but where we would only pause before turning around to hike back down to our campsite. While not nearly as grueling as actually climbing the mountain, it would be more difficult than any single day on the summit trail, essentially doing two stages – the first one and the last one – in one long day.

Before entering the park, Solomon asked what other hiking we had done in East Africa, probably as a way to gauge our fitness. When we responded by saying we had climbed Kilimanjaro the previous year, he surprised us by saying that he had climbed the mountain in 2006. Even more impressive than an independent Ugandan tourist climbing a Tanzanian mountain, Solomon was part of a small group of select park staff – one other ranger, a senior officer, and two staff from Rwenzori Mountain Services, the sole concessionaire to run tourist expeditions in the mountains – sent to climb Kilimanjaro as a research expedition, to see what Tanzania was doing to manage its more famous mountain park that perhaps Uganda should be doing for the Rwenzoris.

Solomon almost did not get to go with his colleagues because he had trouble obtaining a passport. Being from the area around the Rwenzoris, Solomon’s tribe is closely related to the tribes of eastern Congo, and his family name is noticeably Congolese. Countless wars have been fought – are still being fought – in the forests of eastern Congo, and countless war criminals are known to be hiding there. The government of Uganda, in an effort to ensure that no Congolese fugitives manage to assume a new, Ugandan identity, scrutinizes passport applications from western provinces with a suspicion suggesting that the applicant is guilty until proven innocent. Solomon had to show his and his parents’ birth certificates to prove that he was born in Uganda to Ugandans, and he had to show his school records to prove he had never disappeared from Uganda, perhaps to fight and plunder in eastern Congo. After several interviews with government officials, he got his passport and then his paid trip to Tanzania.

When we asked Solomon what he and his colleagues had learned, he raved generally about the volume of the tourist traffic on Kilimanjaro relative to the modest trickle on the Rwenzoris. It was an answer that seemed to get the cause and effect backwards, like saying that a professional sports team is good because it has a lot of fans. When we asked what specific practices and policies they are doing in Tanzania that he and his colleagues were not doing in Uganda, he gave only two examples: “They have bigger huts, and more of them. And they have better cooks.” Natalie and I chuckled, fearing that the point of their research expedition had been lost on them, but throughout the day it became apparent that the Uganda Wildlife Authority does have a business model for the development of the Mountains of the Moon. And they seem to be sticking to it.

The trail to the Nyabitaba Hut follows the Mubuku River. Even in the dry season the river was violent and impressive, crashing over giant boulders that looked like little river rocks in the path of a tsunami of water. The trail crossed several tributaries, some of which were small enough to be forded but the other ones, the thick and powerful ones that fell like waterfalls rather than streams, were spanned by a variety of rickety wooden bridges. After about two hours of moderate hiking, the trail merged with one of the range’s spur ridges and angled steeply and persistently upwards. The ridge was so narrow it felt like walking on a stalled escalator to heaven, and on both sides of us the valley floor quickly dropped out of sight. To the right was the sound of one river rushing away below us and to the left was the sound of another; when facing straight ahead there was only the sound of the wind in the trees. Across the valley to the right was a wall of green interrupted only by the occasional cliff or waterfall, and across the valley to the left was the same postcard view. Rare birds like the Rwenzori turaco, endemic to the western branch of Africa’s rift valley, called from the tall, thick foliage. In the wet tropics, greenery grows in all three dimensions, as though it is trying to totally fill every available volume of space. I didn’t know until visiting equatorial Africa that poinsettias are trees.

Like the forest that we passed through, the trail was an ant colony of activity. Every few minutes we were overtaken by another group of three or six or ten porters carrying exactly two cut wooden building posts each. Some used cushioning crowns of woven banana fronds to balance their loads on their heads; others, typically younger men who were either tougher than their elders or thought they were, alternated between sore shoulders. Barefoot or in cheap sandals of used tire rubber, they ascended the muddy, rocky trail at a jaunt, pausing only to untangle themselves when their long, awkward cargo got caught on a jungle vine. Happy for a pause, we would step aside huffing and puffing to let them trot past.

Solomon explained the posts were for the construction of a new dormitory to augment or replace the old Nyabitaba Hut. On Kilimanjaro they had seen that every campsite on the most popular routes had accommodation to sleep over a hundred visitors. Nyabitaba, the only developed hut in the Rwenzoris, has only thirty beds. Solomon explained that it is rare for the park to get that many visitors in a single day, but that both ascending and descending hikers use the Nyabitaba Hut and that sometimes large groups from both directions meet and there is not space enough for everyone in the hut. During our hike, in the middle of one of the peak tourist seasons, we saw only one descending hiker and only four ascending hikers, so like Kevin Costner building his baseball diamond in Field of Dreams the construction of the new Nyabitaba Hut seems to be an act of faithful optimism. If you build it, they will come.

Later and higher, just before we reached the hut, the porters started passing us in the other direction. This time most of them, but not all, carried misshapen scraps of discarded wood. Some carried only a piece or two, but others labored under loads heavier than the posts they had carried up the mountain. According to Solomon, they are paid a flat rate by Rwenzori Mountain Service to carry the posts up and they are paid extra wages for every kilogram of scrap they carry back down. Each porter is free to choose how much scrap he wants to carry, or if he wants to carry any at all. As we had passed the park gate that morning we had noticed a large group of idling men, and we had assumed that as on Kilimanjaro they were hoping to be hired as porters for whichever tourist groups happened to be setting out that day. By the end of the day, after seeing so few tourists but so many porters on the mountain, it was clear the in the Rwenzoris the most reliable work to be had is in preparing for future tourists not serving current ones.

Finally we reached the Nyabitaba Hut, which needs to replaced more because it is too dreary than because it is too small. It is dark and dank, and the bunk beds are so crammed inside that the only way to get to the more distant ones is to climb over the nearer ones. I had to wonder whether I would prefer the one near the door, which would be more bright and airy but which would also be even less peaceful than having an aisle seat near the toilet on a long, crowded flight, or whether I would prefer the frighteningly dark and claustrophobic one in the corner where, once I had climbed past all the strangers between the door and my bed, I would at least get a good night of undisturbed sleep. The new hut was but a skeletal frame so it was impossible to know whether it would be an improvement in style or merely an increase in capacity. Making notes in the back of mind in case I return to climb to the peak, I made sure to confirm that hikers are allowed to sleep in their own tents.

Solomon gave us a tour of the campsite, proudly explaining some of the recent improvements like piped spring water from higher up the mountain and an unfinished side trail to a roaring but unseen waterfall not far away through the steep, dense forest. Most amazing was his description of the management of the camp’s two pit latrines, used one at a time throughout a one year cycle. After one of the toilets has been used for six months, it is locked and the other one is opened for the next six months. The six months allow the waste in the locked latrine to harden. Before the latrine is reopened, last year’s petrified waste is chiseled and shoveled and carried down the mountain one bucketful of excrement at a time. This is done, Solomon explained, because two million people live in the Mubuku River’s watershed, making it a health imperative that so much human waste does not seep into the drainage.

On the way down we asked Solomon about hiking possibilities in the park. Unlike Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzoris are not one big volcanic cone but a long range of craggy ridges and valleys. Our maps showed only one route up the Ugandan side, ascending directly from Nyakalengija to the east, and none up the Congolese side, which seemed like a colossal waste of space. Apparently our maps are dated, as Solomon explained that a new route, from Kilembe in the south of the range, has been opened. Two others routes – one from even further south at Kyarumba and one from Bundibugyo in the Semliki Valley to the northwest – are unofficially in use while still being developed for an official opening. All of the trails meet just below the peak, making it possible to combine them in any order to create several routes up and back down, and even clear over, the Rwenzoris. Solomon added that guides are not averse to bushwhacking, mentioning that a recent visitor had come exclusively to try to spot a very rare and elusive crimsonwing and had spent three unsuccessful days in an unmapped section of the forest. In addition, park rangers regularly bushwhack through unvisited parts of the park to monitor poaching and other illegal activity.

He chuckled when he mentioned that many of the guides and rangers are the children of poachers, and consequently he said they know the forest well, even the Congolese side. Recently, two mountaineering tourists hoping to save a buck had hired local guides to try to ascend the peak from the Congolese side. Their plan backfired when one of them broke a leg and had to be evacuated. Because Congo is in no political state to be developing adventure tourism, the injured hiker had to rely on Ugandan rescuers. Since he had not ascended from the Uganda side, he had not paid for their rescue insurance. The bill for the evacuation – and again Solomon chuckled – was a lot more than what they would have paid had they climbed the mountain from the Ugandan side.

At one point during our descent I pointed to an especially impressive waterfall across the steep river valley to our left, and I asked if I could come back and hire a ranger to take me to it. Solomon said it would be no problem, though he estimated it would take three days from the Nyabitaba Hut: one to bushwhack halfway around the top of the adjoining saddle, another to bushwhack the remaining half, and the third to hike back to the waterfall to enjoy the swim and the view.

We left the park that afternoon just as optimistic as Solomon and the rest of the wildlife authority about the park’s prospects. There seemed to be a managerial vision for the future of the Rwenzoris and a proactive plan to make that vision a reality. Indeed, everywhere my girlfriend and I traveled on our vacation, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and its community partners were equally inspiring. It became clear that their training is integrated when Solomon recommended that we ask for Bosco or Samson when we visited Semliki Valley National Park and they in turn recommended Patrick at Semliki Wildlife Refuge and Patrick recommended the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary where he used to work. Though government employees, the park rangers were not bureaucrats; they were insightful naturalists who considered themselves lucky to have the important task of protecting Uganda’s natural treasures. Their passion showed.

Back in Rwenzori National Park, Solomon’s enthusiasm and confidence were infectious, making me hope I have the opportunity to return one day to the Mountains of the Moon.

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Simien Mountains

November 12, 2009

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Fear of Heights

September 25, 2008

Paul, my guide, seems unfit, and James, my porter, looks frail.  Paul frequently has to stop to bend over and catch his breath, leaning for support on the nearest tree or rock.  He has a deep, persistent hack, probably from the chain of cigarettes he smokes “to stay warm” on the mountain.  James is skeletal, and squashed by the weight of my pack which he gamely carries on his back.  In his right hand is a gallon bottle of paraffin; in his left is our camp stove, loosely packed into a thin plastic supermarket bag.


My companions visit the mountain frequently, for business, and they continue to conduct their business as we hike.  They know every place where topography and meteorology coincide to produce a magical hotspot of cell phone reception, though the connection is never clear enough to allow a normal volume of conversation.  They scream into their phones, breathlessly, as we ascend.  The constant conversation is the more likely cause of their fatigue than the cigarettes they smoke or the loads they carry.


When asked, they narrate the forest like museum docents.  The podo is a hardwood tree with small, thin leaves and bark like a steel cable twisted around itself.  The pencil cedar, or red cedar, looks similar from afar but has needles rather than leaves.  The hagenia looks much like an octopus tree, with the same pinkish hue to its new leaf buds.  A wispy, weeping moss is draped delicately, but thickly, over everything.


Slaty flycatchers are common.  Several times we startle large francolins, like miniature turkeys.  Little malachite sunbirds flash aquamarine in the foggy sunlight of the grassy moorland.  Duikers skulk in the shadowy undergrowth.  They look like fictional jackelope, small harelike deer or large deerlike hares.  Twice we see larger grazers or browsers, but both times from a distance; most likely they are bushbucks.  There is evidence of even larger mammals, buffalo and elephant; their trails through the dense bamboo are cavernous.  Small, fluffy alpine chats besiege our campsite like pigeons around a generous octogenarian in a city park, their furlike feathers blowing in the brisk wind.




In the morning I watch a plane – slow and tiny against such an expansive backdrop – fly up the western slope of the mountain and disappear over the ridge, just barely maintaining altitude.


Trees are rare in the moorland bog, frozen by night but squishy underfoot during the daytime thaw.  There are skinks today, the only reptiles I have seen on the mountain.  The sunbirds are still present, darting from flower to flower, and the alpine chats are here as well, raking the ground around my tent for crumbs.  Alongside the chats are what would appear to be seadeaters, but they are streaked with yellow in a way that suggests a canary.  A flock of starlings are perched on nearby boulders, and two birds of prey are calling to each other from opposite walls of the valley; they are heard but not seen.  Later I learn from another hiker that they are mountain eagles.  Nearby is the entrance to what may be a small burrow, perhaps the home of some hermetic mountain rodent.


Paul and James have bunkered themselves in the wood shanty which serves as the camp’s only hut; it looks no warmer than my tent, pitched about a hundred yards away on a flat patch of soft grass by a bend in the glacial stream which flows through the valley.  The stream is my source of water, which I treat with iodine.  My companions have started a fire, which I will raid for embers when night falls.  Now the sun is shining, though a light hail bounces around me. 




The night is intolerable, bonechilling.  Inside the tent, a liter of water freezes into a solid cylinder of ice.  Coming nights, at higher elevations, will be icier still.  Here, on a volcano on the equator, I am worried about the cold.


The earth is hidden in the clouds below.  Here is a world of ice and stone, a desert moon high on the mountain.  A small tarn sits at the bottom of a slight depression, its water a rusty alkaline orange.  Lobelia boil forth from the hardscrabble rock.  A dense fog, the crown of a passing cloud, suffuses the landscape with a geothermal and appropriately volcanic air.  There are no birds here, but above me on the cliffs I can hear a mountain eagle calling.  A rock hyrax is sunning itself calmly just beyond my reach.  On the far side of the tarn rises Batian, imposing and godly.  I am thankful to be here alone rather than below at the hut, a bleak dormitory bunkhouse capable of sleeping scores.  Tonight at least a dozen people are there, Paul and James among them.


They helped me gather firewood before leaving me for the night, showing me how to peel the rough honeycomb bark off a dead giant lobelia to find the dry hardwood inside.  One wall of a large boulder is angled sharply in, forming a shallow shelter protected by the overhanging rock.  It comfortably radiates the warmth of the fire.


In the cold night air there is no ether of any sort between earth and sky.  From the equator I watch the whole dome of the starry firmament rotate above me, obscured only at the edges by the empty darkness of the rocky fortress which surrounds my campsite.




The small den is a cozy and comfortable oven.  I could sleep here, but for the irrational fear that slowly seeps through me and then seizes me completely.  It is dark and for the first time I am entirely alone on the mountain.  My imagination runs to the wild; familiar shadows suddenly look more like feline predators; familiar noises suddenly sound more like prowling ghosts in the darkness.  The dance of the firelight, the rustle of my tent in the wind, the dark silhouette of a lobelia, the scrape of my metal spoon against my metal bowl, every sight and every sound is a lion about to strike.  Even my own movements frighten me; even my own heartbeat, magnified by the hood around my ears, startles me.


I retreat to my tent, which I know is no safer from threats real or imagined but which I hope might allow me to sleep through the night and through my panic.  It does not, and I lie awake expecting a lion’s paw to rip through the tent.  Once I start to doze but my own snoring quickly wakes me.  For the rest of the night I lie uncomfortably on my side never my back lest some few moments of snoring slumber betray my location to any nearby beasts.  Every time I hear a noise outside my tent I have to decide whether to react, thereby making noise myself, or lie still, thereby remaining unprepared for the impending attack.  I solve the problem by remaining prepared at all times, lying with a pocket knife in hand.  It is not the absurdity of this defense, a pocket knife against a lion, which convinces me to abandon the strategy.  Rather, it is the realization that I am more likely to injure myself by sleeping with a pocket knife than by being unprepared for an unlikely lion attack.  I reassure myself that I am camped high on the mountain.  It has been two days since we have seen signs of any prey large enough to support a population of lions.  I know this yet the solitude and the darkness make it hard to be rational and easy to be scared.  I am convinced that at least one savvy lion survives here on a constant supply of unwitting tourists.  I suffer these irrational fears until the grey of dawn warms the sky.  I feel the relief palpably, and finally I sleep.


The morning is clear.  A mountain eagle surfs the sky, probably looking for the hyrax I saw yesterday or the striped grass mouse I saw earlier today.  Thin filaments of ice remain in every pocket of shadow, having grown in the cold darkness overnight just as weeds grow in the warm daytime sun.


The trail today, anticlockwise around the summit circuit, is an enormous sine curve, rising and falling through each of the glacial valleys that drain the mountain.  Worse than the vertical futility of the hike is the ground cover, a loose and rolling gravel.  It is impossible for me to remain on my feet, so instinctively I crawl up ridge and down valley on hands and knees.  Paul glides casually and rapidly along, both hands in his pockets.  Occasionally he removes one hand, which he uses not to maintain balance but to send text messages on his cell phone.  James, wisely, has taken the more direct route clockwise around the summit.


We have left the land of the living.  Today I see only two animals, a rock hyrax and a mountain chat.  The only plant growing so high is the heliochrysum flower, tucked into rocky crags where it is protected from the cold sweeping winds.  The only other life still present is the miraculous green algae growing in the glacial lake from which I filled my water bottle.


I have mild altitude sickness, which I only notice when trying to pitch my tent.  It is a spatial puzzle that makes no sense to me.  It is backwards, then upside down, then inside out.  The repetitive bending and standing is more tiresome than the hiking.  Across the Lewis Glacier is Nelion and, slightly above and beyond, Batian.  On this side of the glacier is the third highest peak, my morning goal, Point Lenana. 




The final climb is steep in places, though this is hard to notice in the darkness before dawn.  The mountain above is negatively visible, an empty silhouette erased from the light of the background stars.  The icy glacier below is faintly there, like a mirage of fuzzy luminosity shimmering behind closed eyes.  It is still dark when we reach the peak, though dawn has cracked the circular horizon to the northeast.  With frozen hands, I snap photographs documenting my achievement and I send text messages to friends and family announcing my victory.  Other hikers arrive as we start to descend.


Again I struggle with the loose scree underfoot.  I look like an adolescent learning to ice skate, while Paul glides gracefully as though downhill skiing.  I concentrate, considering it an opportunity to learn a skill I clearly do not have.  I try short, choppy steps and I try long, deliberate steps; I try controlled sliding; I try strategic bounding.  I am secretly relieved to see Paul, despite his general gracefulness, fall more than once as well, and each time he looks back quickly to see if I have noticed.  At the end of the day, when I joke with him that the downhill is hard, expecting some form of camaraderie, he says, “Yes, I can see it is hard for you.”


We are following the Chogoria route out of the park, past the sparkling emerald Lake Michaelson at the bottom of the sheer Gorges Valley.  We have diverged from the main route to follow a lesser path through the bush to a waterfall on the Nithi River.  Its banks are soft and floral, lined with light foliage and draped with pale moss.  We follow buffalo trails through meadows of red hot pokers.  Most trails end in nests of flattened grass.  Paul is visibly nervous, looking left and right and even over his shoulder, I imagine to make sure I have not been taken silently from behind.


Point Lenana, and behind it Nelion and Batian, are once again but distant pimples on the cone of Mt Kenya.  The park lodge is a welcome oasis of groomed landscaping high on the mountain.  The grass is trimmed neatly, by man and buffalo.  A sign at the office reads “Dangerous Animals At Night.”


Before seeking a room, I ask where I can stand to get decent cell phone service.  I am directed to hold my phone to a very precise spot – an exact nondimensional point in three dimensional space – on the veranda of one of the outbuildings.  I type several text messages, and then raise my arm to tap the magic connection.


I have undressed for the first time in five days.  I am raw and grimy, and I have spread my clothes around the room so now it smells as rank and fetid as I do.  There is no way to regulate the heat of the water from the woodburning stove, so it is scalding as it flows from the showerhead.  I stand halfway between the hot water of the shower and the cold water of the basin, slapping at them in turn to create a mixed spray of comfortably warm water.  I dry in the clean mountain air, and then I have no choice but to pull my sweaty clothes back over me.




We walk out of the park instead of driving as most do.  I fear that I may be expecting too much grace from the mountain gods.  After surviving the lions for five days, I am worried that maybe it would have been wiser of me to get out while still alive.


James has arranged a ride with other hikers departing later.  Today he will not have to carry my bag, which is lighter now but still shamefully heavy.  As agreed before departing Nanyuki, I had bought and packed all of my own food.  Still, at nearly every meal my companions served me from their own supply.  My stores, too large to begin, have barely diminished.  For no purpose, James has packed a week’s worth of food up and over the second largest mountain in Africa.


We read a signpost advising first that we keep to the trail – to avoid wild animals – and second that we make noise – to let any wild animals know we are coming, should we fail to avoid them.  Paul, doing his part to announce our presence to any nearby beasts, orates on tourists from Israel.  They are frugal to the point of being cheap, selfish, and even dastardly.  They use false student identification cards to gain discounted access to national parks; they pack dangerously little gear then get angry at their guides for failing to carry extra necessities like rain coats and food; and they hire their own transport to and from the mountain but refuse to pay for seats for their guides.  Unwittingly – for I have no idea if Paul is aware of the stereotype of the stingy Jew or even if he knows that Israelis are Jewish – Paul seems to be pronouncing the results of an international double blind experiment in the social sciences.


We pass a recent cat print, about an inch across; Paul assures me it is not a lion.  A crested eagle poses for us on the branch of a dead tree overhanging the road.  Turacos appear and disappear in the shadows as they flash their iridescent red wings.  We leave the mountain bamboo forest behind and enter a broadleaf forest of podo, camphor, and tall, slender blue gums.  Signs of civilization reappear, first honey farms, then cattle, stacks of firewood, and finally a soft, grassy football field.


In a hotel halfway back to Nairobi, I finish reading the book that has guided me through the mountain.  It is the true story of three Italian prisoners of war who escaped from the British camp at Nanyuki during World War Two.  They did so not to dash for their freedom, but only to climb the mountain which loomed over their captivity, a visceral escape from whatever is routine.