This expedition must rank as one of the most successful ever mounted by the Army Cadet Movement. 57 out of 58 participants, in two independent groups and 8 adults and 20 cadets, summited Point Lenana (4,985m) on Mt Kenya. Also a local primary school was given a brand new classroom that was built from scratch.
The expedition had been two years in the planning and the final programme arrived at following a detailed recce 10 months previously. All of the participants passed a selection event and two week-long training events. The adults comprised of experienced mountain leaders and apprentice leaders. The later were embarking on the ML scheme and were being mentored by the former. The cadets came from ACF and CCF units from all over the UK.
During the training courses all cadets and apprentice leaders gained the Summer Mountain Foundation award and attended numerous workshops including altitude illness and expedition health and hygiene. The thoroughness of the training was key to the success of the expedition; only a few individuals suffered mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness or traveller’s tummy.
The acclimatisation phase involved camping and living in the bush undertaking rock climbing, gorge walking and trekking in the Hell’s Gate National Park; trekking on Mt Longonot (2,777m); and a two day unsupported trek on Kippipiri (3,400m) in the Aberdares where the biggest risk was grazing cattle rather than elephants!
After one day of washing kit and repacking the ascent of Mt Kenya began with a long and slow walk up the Chogoria mud road to the Elephant Clearing (2,575m) supported by a team of cooks and porters. Both groups suffered cool and wet conditions. On the second day the route led past the Chogoria Gate, through the enchanting cloud forest, where long beards of lichen hung from the trees, and on up to Lake Ellis (3,555m). Lake Eliis was above the cloud and for the first time in several days expedition members revelled in the sunny conditions.
The acclimatisation to altitude continued on day 3 with a walk up to 4,000m before returning to the Lake Ellis camp site. A slow and determined push was made on Day 4 above 4,000m to a lunch spot that overlooked the sensationally sited Lake Michaelson. From this point on until the camp site at Mintos (4,240m) the groups marvelled at the spectacular landscape – a cratered and rocky moonscape populated with numerous tall giant lobelias. The afternoon was spent exploring and photographing Mt Kenya and the sights including the Temple, a vertical 350m cliff. Only one person from group 1 who had severe diarrhoea did not make it – he had to be escorted off the mountain.
Both groups attained the summit in very good order although Group 1 had to contend with dense cloud all day, ice and snow showers all the way to Simba Tarn and rain on the route to Liki North campsite. Group 2 fared better but on the summit had cloud and a bitingly cold wind that prevented any views. And some light rain at the northern end of the Mackinder Valley on the way to Liki North camp site (3,700m). The final day consisted of a romp down descending an easy path past the Judmeyer Hut to the Sirimon Gate, where we said our goodbyes to our team of porters.
The next two days were spent recovering camping in the Ol Pejeta Nature Conservancy, undertaking drive safaris that resulting in seeing buffalo, rhino, hippo, giraffe, many types of antelope and gazelle plus a splendid view of a pride of 14 lions on the hunt.
Hard work of a very different kind followed with the building, decorating and equipping a new classroom at the Thangihi Primary School. A team of Army Cadet Force adult volunteers had built the walls and roof. Group 1 rendered the walls, fitted windows and doors and made desks and benches. Group 2 completed the floor, rendered the outside walls, laid concrete paths and made a flight of steps. All of this was funded by all expedition members raising the money through fund raising.
The end of the expedition came as Group 2 dispersed into the arms of family and friends at Heathrow repeating a similar scene when Group 1 had returned two weeks previously. The Army Cadet Expedition to Kenya 2014 augurs well for ACE 2016.