MT. POI

Posted on: June 1, 2003


Top-down: Rok Sisernik (with Matjaz Jeran pulling belay duty) getting into the “Double Trouble” pitch (5.12d/5.13a) on Mt. Poi, Kenya. The team established the 600-meter route on rappel, chipping holds to make the route go free. [Photo] Stanko Gruden

Luka Fonda (expedition leader), Rok Sisernik (free climber), Stanko Gruden (photographer) and I (leader of the free-climbing team) wanted to make the first repetition of True At First Light (VI 5.13b, 21 pitches, Bechtel-Milton-Piana-Skinner, 1999) on Kenya's Mt. Poi (2050m), then establish an even harder Slovenian route. Goran Koren wanted to paraglide off the summit. With the addition of guides Saba Douglas-Hamilton and Daniela Blettler (both Kenyan), our team grew by two.

In December 2002, at the end of a bumpy, two-day, 800-kilometer, four-wheeldrive bus ride north from Nairobi, we found the object of our dreams: Poi, a five and a half kilometer-wide and up to 700-meter-high wall of gneiss pocked by huge caves. There were already three routes established on the north and east faces: the above-mentioned American route, the Wielochowski Route (5.9+ A1, early 1980s) and the British route, Dark Safari (VI E6, 17 pitches, Barry-Littlejohn-Rowe-Sustad, 2000). (For a photo of the east face and its routes, see page 35 -Ed.)

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Daniela and a native guide, Kibiriti, helped us make contact with the Samburu tribal people living in the area. They became our porters and water suppliers, and we started work on our projects, spending several days studying the wall.

Rok and I made a quick free ascent of the American route. I managed to onsight all the pitches except the final 5.13b pitch. Several days later we rappelled in from the top and free climbed the last pitch. We found the route quite overgraded. In French grades, the first 5.13b pitch would be 7b+ (5.12c) and the second 5.13b pitch would be 7c (5.12d).

Meanwhile, Stanko and Luka established fixed ropes from the top down on our proposed route. We bolted our route as there were no crack systems or other features for the use of pitons. Besides, it would be a crazy idea to climb it ground up with technical gear...

On January 1, 2003, after twenty-five days establishing the route, we began our free-climbing ascent. We descended from the top on January 6, having spent five nights sleeping in portaledges. Stanko and Luka supplied us with water, food and cigarettes via the fixed ropes.

On our route, Story About Dancing Dogs (VI 5.13a, 600m), I free climbed all the pitches, while Rok freed all but the first 5.13a pitch. Goran flew from the summit on January 1. We all felt very good despite chipping three or four artificial holds. The flakes that were there broke off when we grabbed them; there was no other way to free climb it.

With the Samburu we made more than working contacts. We lived, danced and discovered the divine surroundings together. We survived cobras, tarantulas and pirates. One day we will return for a cup of chai. Supa!

— Matjaz Jeran, Slovenia

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