My alarm beeped at 5:30 am, but it was almost 6am before I realized I was still in bed. I leapt up and began the mad scramble – less than forty-five minutes to get the laundry off the line, finish packing, pack my lunch, take a shower, ice the cake that I was sending to the elementary office, do the dishes, put all my stuff in the car, and … oh take out the trash. Teachers shouldn’t be late for school trips.
An hour later I pulled into the school parking lot where a swarm of students and teachers were piling packs and day-bags under two buses. I tried to walk up as nonchalantly as possible. One of the other chaperons – a boisterous math-teacher friend – spotted me immediately. “Lillis! Did you just get here? Are you really fifteen minutes late? I can’t believe you’re late. What if we had left you!?” Great! Someone noticed. Thankfully though we still had another thirty minutes of loading.
As we drove out of the parking lot just before 8am, I looked back at the thirty-three faces sitting behind me. Only four of them were familiar – two sing in my choir and two play in the band. The rest I wouldn’t have even known attended ISK. They chatted lightly amongst themselves as the chaperons settled into their front seats.
We drove north for almost five hours before we finally arrived at the Sirimon gate to Mt Kenya National Park. In the distance, a thick cloud covered the mountain, hiding the peaks from view.
We tumbled out of the bus and began fumbling with our packs. Mmmm … So, how exactly do I wear this thing? Another teacher had lent me a pack two days before. Jon, one of the other chaperons, and the the head guide stood next to me. “Tighten the waist belt so that the weight is on your hips, not your shoulders. Can you make sure the kids do the same?” Uh, got it. Hips, not shoulders. Ninety percent of us had never climbed with a pack before.
By 1:30pm we hit the trail – a wide dirt path built as an access road for the Sirimon weather station. The road wound upwards through a dark green montane forest – not steep (at least not compared to what lay before us). Still, we took frequent water/breather breaks.
Gradually, the trees became shorter and the air cooler. The group began to spread out along the trail with the energetic ones leading the way and the slower ones pulling up the rear. “Are we almost there? How many more kilometers?” the kids would ask the guides. “Oh just a little bit more, maybe two kilometers. You are almost there.” They would pull themselves up and look expectantly over the next ridge. “Where is the camp? Are we almost there?” “It is just behind over there. Just a little bit more.” A litte over four hours and nine kilometers (5.6 miles) later we dragged our weary feet into Old Moses campsite. The ominous cloud from earlier in the day had long since lifted and an orange glow lit up the hills as the sun set over the valley below us.
As the temperature dropped, we began pulling sweaters and hats out of our packs and shuffling into the densely packed dorm-style rooms. They were unlit except for what came through a small opening in one wall. Each room contained fifteen to twenty wooden bunks with a maximum walking space of three feet between the bunks. Each bunk had a well-worn foam mattress that I thankfully could not see very well in the fading light.
Merciful end-of-day: Get warm, unroll the sleeping bag, have dinner, talk about tomorrow’s hike, herd the kids into bed, then hit the sack … though I wasn’t sure how long I would make it past dinner. Jon and Bill looked at me over the table. “Lillis why don’t you go ahead to bed. We’ll take care of the kids tonight.” “It’s only 8:30 though, and I can’t leave you guys to do it all.” Jon shook his head, “No. Go ahead and get some rest. You look like you’re about to crash and besides, tomorrow night I might be in your place.” I sat at the table a few more minutes before quietly giving in. I was out by 9pm.