Mount Kilimambogo. I see it every day from my bedroom window. We have an epic view from our estate gate as well. I had been fascinated by it for a long time since we moved here. It had been my intention to go there this year- first by April, then by August. Finally got to do it in October.
The March-May heavy rains made it impossible at the time. Then came the cold season until August. Moi Day holiday provided the perfect chance. Spending the day at home would make it very long, so hiking it was. If you read my previous post you’ll remember that Kilimambogo isn’t far from Fourteen Falls- just 4 Km in fact. You can even see the mountain from the falls.
I had asked my brother to join me for the trip but he declined. Didn’t change my plans though- I’m used to doing a lot of things alone anyway. On the day I was ready to leave by 11 am but mum gave me chores. Fellow Africans can you relate? Parents won’t let you leave the house without giving you some sort of work. I ended up leaving 2 hours after the intended time.
I made my way to the matatu stage for vehicles going to Donyo town and surprisingly we departed before the van was full. Only to spend forever at Makongeni waiting for passengers. I was so bored. I had an idea of the route to follow but logged on to Google Maps to be sure. This time though the map refused to load. Drama had began early! Finally after the matatu was overloaded we continued with the journey.
The route is the same as going to Fourteen Falls, you go until the last matatu stage (Donyo town) then cover the remaining 2 Km to Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park. We arrived at Donyo and I was underwhelmed by the state of the place. It’s a small, dusty shopping centre with rugged roads- if you can call them roads at all. I tried to confirm directions from the map but it still wasn’t loading. Perfect.
I asked the conductor how to get to the park and he said I’d have to use a bodaboda. Surely. He called a friend of his who gave me a ride to the park gate for 50/-. As we approached the park Kilimambogo towered over us. Time: 3 pm. I inquired at the gate what the procedure is for hiking. You can either go up the mountain on foot, by car or motorbike. Where’s the fun in the latter two, though? I paid the 300/- entrance fee and entered the park.
As I walked up the trail I encountered two staff members who discouraged me from going alone. It’s risky in case of encountering wild animals or worse- humans with evil intentions. If I had 1720/- to spare I could pay for a ranger to accompany me, they said. But the rangers weren’t around even. The best time to hike is early morning, more so on weekends when large groups assemble. One of the staff members noticed my determination to do the hike anyway and offered to go with me. His name is John.
And so we began the hike. Time: 3.15 pm. The sun was blazing. Who starts hiking at this hour, with such high temperatures? Only someone as stubborn as I. Apart from the heat, it was humid too making the walk extra challenging. Thankfully I had cold water with me. As you go along the trail there are signboards indicating where you are, the height above sea level and distance to the summit.
At some point we turned off the smooth trail (the one usable by cars) and got onto a side trail which I later learnt is steeper. At some point I had to use my hands too. The climb worked a number on my lungs. I consider myself relatively fit due to the regular hikes I take but on this day nilijua sijui. The humidity ensured I sweated properly. We had short breaks while taking in the incredible landscape. The views are epic from up there. You can see the Athi-Galana River, Fourteen Falls, Del Monte farms, and as far as the Yatta Plateau.
We continued with the hike while discussing the sad state of local tourism in Kenya. Guys come all the way from outside Africa and in two weeks traverse the country more than those born and raised here! And yet it’s cheaper for citizens. People will be quick to say it’s expensive but spend so much on drinks every weekend, for example. We need to change this mentality. That’s why I travel so often. I got no excuses. We got to a view point and I tested my camera for the first time since the drowning incident. It had issues with focusing but I managed to get some shots nonetheless.
After this we got onto the car trail. Some sections were really steep and put my muscles to the test. John would ask if I still wanted to reach the summit and I responded in the affirmative. At some point I was so low on sugar that my hands started shaking. I only had 3 bananas. I offered John one, ate another and saved the last for later. We had several kilometres left to reach the summit.
At Lord Macmillan’s grave we stopped to take photos. I wonder how those who buried him got to that point…did they trek all that distance through the bushes with a corpse? Time: 5.45 pm. The park gates close at 6 pm and yet here we were still hiking. I sensed we would be late leaving the park but I wanted to complete the hike anyway.
The forest vegetation gets really thick as you ascend. Kilimambogo has one of the most pristine montane forests I have seen so far. The only sounds are those of birds and insects, transporting you to another world. The air is crispy fresh as well. By this time my feet were killing me but I didn’t want to cut short the hike. John kept saying “We’re almost there” and later I learnt why- he’s from the Kamba community. If you’re Kenyan you know what that means.
Just when I couldn’t take it any more, we reached the summit! Giant communication masts welcomed us. Apparently they are used by all the major telcos in Kenya as well as the National Intelligence Service. I was exhausted and my eyes teared up spontaneously. A 9 Km hike in the sun and without snacks is no joke. Nzuki, one of the staff members who mans the picnic site up there showed us around briefly. There was little time to rest as we were already late to leave the park.
Time: 6.03 pm. The descent should be quick and easy since we’re going downhill, right? I was wrong, so wrong. My feet were on fire when walking on flat ground. Darkness set in quickly. My hands went numb from the cold. When it got too dark I turned on my phone’s flashlight only to realise the battery was at 19%. Walking in the dark with a stranger in a national park at the risk of encountering wild animals- I was freaked out. Especially since at that time there had been incidences of young women being murdered under mysterious circumstances.
John tried to lighten the situation with stories. I responded as best as I could to not betray how terrified I was. When he suggested I could stay the night at the staff quarters instead of going home so late, I knew I was in dangerous territory. In the midst of that there were amazing sights: the Milky Way and city lights all the way from Nairobi to Thika. Under different circumstances this would have been a perfect end to the day.
Would you believe it if I told you we took 2 hours to reach the park gate? It was 8 pm when rangers manning the gate berated us for being so late. They had almost formed a search party to find us. What if we had been attacked by the park’s famous buffaloes that come out to graze in the evening? I let John take the heat of the argument. I was just relieved to finally be out of the park.
Tried calling the bodaboda guy who gave me a lift in the afternoon but he was too far away. One of the rangers called another one whom he knew. He seemed to take forever to arrive and when he did I rushed out of there. He ferried me to Makutano shopping centre which was dark and deserted at that time. It could take up to half an hour to get a matatu. Great! Alone in the dark in a strange place. Thankfully a matatu arrived while I was still weighing my options.
I’m glad I went to Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park even though my timing wasn’t the best. I exceeded my limits on that day- hiking 18 Km in 4 hours 45 minutes in such circumstances surprised me. Even John admitted that not many people can go through with it. Don’t follow my example though, you could get in trouble with the park rangers for being late. Go early to have enough time for hiking, appreciating the views and leaving in good time.