It was nearly dark before they found the tent and Barsotti. Two days later they set out again, this time toward the top of Lenana. And then, in an anticlimax, they suddenly found themselves at the top. Benuzzi pulled out a small Italian flag he had been carrying and proudly planted it at the top.
Their ascent had taken nine days, and their supplies were woefully short. But they hoped to reach the prison camp in three days, and they were buoyed by their conquest. They started off at dawn on Feb. 7, and that afternoon, giddy with hunger, they built a fire to boil some rice—then found they had left all their remaining butter and salt at the base camp. Some tea and coffee remained, but no sugar.
During the next two days they plodded through a wealth of wild food—bamboo roots, for example—without taking advantage of it. Finally they met a band of Kikuyu tribesmen who walked along with them for a few miles and then left. Benuzzi and his companions worried, insanely, that the natives would turn them over to the British.
When they finally made it back to Camp 354, the other prisoners cheered them lustily. When they told the camp commandant that they had survived 18 days on 10 days' rations and had planted their flag on Mount Kenya, he reprimanded them smilingly. Not until the feat became public knowledge days later, when a party of British climbers found the small Italian flag on Lenana, was the commandant's hand forced. Reluctantly, he sent the trio to close confinement. By that time they didn't care. All they wanted was sleep.