Why leave my very comfy house and go into the unknown? Lose toenails from hiking? Potentially get rained on for days on end? And get to torture your body through shrubs and boughs? Why do we even consider hiking? Well for me I never miss a chance to soak in nature. I find that it really helps keep a healthy mind and body and even though I may suffer immensely on a hike, I find that I always go back.
I love hiking because it gives me a chance to see amazing parts of my country (hopefully the rest of the world eventually) that most people who only travel by car or plane, will never get to experience. I love it because it allows me to experience true freedom of movement. You will never find signs like Do Not Enter or No Way Through or Authorized Personnel Allowed in the woods!
If I feel like I want to explore a forest I just need to do exactly that. I can follow where a stream leads without having to worry about breaking any rules. I can comfortably stop at a beautiful stop and nap away or read a book. It also helps you find and be part of the most tight knit and supportive community. Well, let’s just that there are more benefits to hiking than the cons.
I particularly love long hikes because they give me a platform to set the tone for my life, always a great chance to hit the reset button and start afresh. Whether you’re going through challenges at work, contemplating about a relationship, coping through a struggle, exploring your depths of love, a long hike gives you that and so much more. It helps you discover insights, strengths, and skills you never thought you had before.
So I was looking forward to hiking Mt. Kinangop on the 21st of November. I had my weekend all planned out, it was going be perfect. Well, now that that was achieved, I don’t quite know if the word perfect is the best for this – it was something though!
Mt Kinangop aka Mother Kinangop – the first mountain I have hiked that made me wonder why I love hiking in the first place. The first torturous hike that made wish that I would step into one huge bog and be swallowed by it so that I didn’t have to keep living through such suffering. Yes! I suffered! And Yes! It may feel amazing right now as I write this but it sure didn’t feel so yesterday on that notorious peak.
It Started With a Wedding
I had been prepping all week for the Kinangop hike. I had heard more than enough serious hiker talk of its treacherous nature. I didn’t want to have a repeat of Rurimeria, so I needed to be ready. And I thought I was.
The plan was to spend the night at Engineer, a town near Kinangop and start the hike at 5am the following morning. However, my close friend was getting married that Friday, I couldn’t miss that wedding, and so my plan was to attend half of the wedding ceremony then head off to Kinangop.
Thankfully a friend of mine was also joining for hike and he was kind enough to even come to the wedding with me. It was an interesting Friday morning – but that’s a story for another day. The wedding started late and seeing as we were competing against time, we left as soon as they said their vows and were pronounced husband and wife.
Then started the fun, eagerly awaited road trip to Kinangop. We were so excited about the hike but it wasn’t until we got there and met with Charles (Our organizer) that the excitement turned into dread for me.
You see I had initially assumed that we were to start the hike from the Mutarakwa route but then I learned that night that we were actually hiking up Kinangop via Elephant Hill. And so, the plan was to hike up Kinagop Peak 1 and Peak Two through Elephant Hill – which is one a very daunting hike. My heart dropped and my feet felt weak, but my mind was determined.
We were a group of four. Three men, and me! The girl who would rather be on the mountains than in her comfy pjs. The girl who sometimes makes stupid decisions like hiking Kinangop via Elephant Hill. Luckily, the four us were having good times over food and drinks at Slopes Villa that night that I didn’t quite dwell on what such a hike meant. And thank God I didn’t, because then I would have backed out the morning of hike.
Let the Madness Begin
3:30am I was awake. We were to leave the hotel at 4:30am to make it to Njabini Forest Station by 5:00am and start the hike. We all kept time and got the station on time. Did I mention the temperatures that morning stood at 7 degrees C. It was so freaking cold you had to dress in all your warm hiking gear.
Though we were there on time, our guard wasn’t. We actually waited more than half hour before we could get him. Matter of fact by 5:45am we decided to start the hike anyway expecting the guard would catch up with us.
As we started the hike, I couldn’t help but remember the last time I did Elephant Hill and I just couldn’t believe that I was going to do it again and still do two kinangop peak. Yap! I felt mad.
Elephant Hill rises 3500m above sea level, Mother Kinangop on the other hand is the second highest peak at Aberdares, standing at 3906m above sea level. According to guard, even though it’s the second highest peak, it is the toughest on the range, and after doing it I don’t doubt that at all.
The ground was already wet, but that’s not strange in Aberdare Ranges. From the minute we started, we hiked on wet grounds and really dumpy boughs. We hiked fast and by 8:00am we were at the point of Desparado. Getting there wasn’t easy. In fact it felt like I was hiking Elephant Hill for the very first time. It didn’t help that the guys I was with were hiking real fast almost as though I was the one slowing them down. However, for the first time I was a proud sweeper because my intention was to do the hike without wrecking my knee again.
A few minutes after advancing from Desparado, I got a call from my small brother. My mom had a seizure. Picture this, you’re already suffering on a mountain, your will power is running low, you don’t want to disappoint your team, your boots are all wet and muddy, and then you are ridden with worry about a sick parent. Again, I was going mad.
By the Tail Trial I was working so hard to maintain my mental stamina. To not worry so much about her and only say prayers for her while I purpose to conquer this dreadful trail. Here it hit me that there truly is something in a man which responds to the challenge of mountains and goes out to meet it, and that struggle in a way is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward, then I understood why I needed to nail the summit.
However, human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain and so I still worried about her. Luckily, my sister called right before finishing the tail and assured me that she was awake and stable. Now, the only thing I needed to worry about was how to get through this.
When we neared Elephant Hill summit we took a treacherous route down that was to lead us to the peaks. From here, you can clearly see the two summits and even though they look like tiny little mountains, I kid you not Elephant Hill doesn’t beat mother Kinangop.
Despite all I had seen and experienced to this point, I still got the same simple thrill I get when I see a peak and felt the same urge to climb towards it even though I was cursing my lungs out. The one and only trick to finish a hike is to lift your legs and your thoughts will follow. My body was already tired and ready to tap out but my mind was willing and a willing mind turns you into a willing hiker.
However, all that will didn’t prepare me for what came next. There is a reason you need a guard going through down to the moorland is because only a person with blind courage would want to do that alone and also that’s buffalo and hyena territory. But most importantly – it’s just not safe.
The reason I’m seated here with my legs elevated and my body aching in places I never knew pain receptors even existed is because of that slope to moorland. It feels like a pathway to hell because it makes you feel like you’re being punished for all your sins. Here, I didn’t have chance to sweep behind every one else because it was of critical importance that everyone stick together.
One bad step, and you’re toast. One wrong move, and you could incur an injury you don’t want to deal with. It was down this rocky, wet slope that I realized none of my reading, my knowledge, my connection was of any use here. Here you need your legs and your big eyes to see all of it. I felt like I was nobody to this range or the thick boughs heavy with beautiful greenery.
Here, I was no longer a status, or a role, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels the caress of long grass, sharp stones on paths, and the heaviness of the mist. There was neither present nor future, nothing but these wet stones and merciless boughs. Here I felt small.
Few minutes, we got to a friendlier ground, no longer a slope. But oh the climbing that came after! Misery! I have this thing where I think while walking, sometimes walk while think, and that’s how I translate it into writing because that little pause as your body on a walk or hike seems to rest in contemplating wide-open space, and so..I kept thinking.
I won’t lie – I was devoid of energy and I wanted to give up, and sometimes I wanted to cry but I kept looking out at mother kinangop and she seemed closer every time and it didn’t feel right to not go and rest on her peak. So I had to keep moving.
I also had a team that kept me motivated even though I kept telling them how I didn’t quite like them at the time. Ha! If everyone in the world took care of each other the way folks do out on the trail, and if everyone approached each day with as much hope and optimism as hikers do, the world would be a better place for sure. And that’s why I love the hiking community.
It gets steeper as you near her beauty, even more challenging, even more daunting, and even more energy draining. When I started to go up her steepness, I knew that I wouldn’t make to peak 2 but I was going to get to peak 1 with no fuel left. Charles and Cege (the oldest of the group but the real Gs) were already at peak 1 gracing to 2. My friend Erastus was dead a few meters to the summit but still determined to make it.
I caught up to him dead on the long grass and we both pushed each other to keep moving. We did get to the summit, and yes it felt amazing emotionally, but it felt horrid physically. No peak 2 for us, we sat there in her graciousness, tired as hell watching our friends summit peak 2 as we steal time to rest.
Here is the thing about mountains; if you’re faced with one, you have several options. You can climb it and cross to the other side. You can go around it. You can dig under it. You can fly over it. You can blow it up, you can ignore it and pretend it’s not there but you can’t ignore Mother Kinangop. You just can’t. You can turn around and go back the way you came. Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home but with Kinangop you just have to grace her goodbye.
You know what that means? An equally diminishing decent. I wasn’t ready physically or mentally to descend, especially when I thought of that slope of hell, I just wasn’t ready. But when did that ever matter, you climb, you have to descend! The thing that kept me going was the cold beer waiting for me in the car. With every step I thought – WhiteCap!
I have to say though – the first time I felt like I had achieved something on this hike was when we met a group of other guys who had already tapped out of the attempt. They cheered me on especially because I was the only lady in both groups and that felt like a mental hug. They had somehow managed to give me the small pinch of energy I needed to keep finding my stride out of this mountain.
Weirdly enough, the slope of hell felt much friendlier going up than down but equally exhausting. It still felt like a journey of a thousand miles that began with a single step as Lao Tzu put it.
The other group of guys actually made ascending that slope easier because they were equally bitching. Getting to the top of that slope to the valley between Elephant hill summit and the tail felt like having conquered another summit. The first thing everyone did after surviving it is taking a seat on those rocks. Rest wasn’t just needed and it was required if we were going to make it through yet another wicked stretch.
Often nature feels like its soothing and healing me and putting my senses in order, but this time it felt like I was being taught a lesson or being punished. I couldn’t wait to get to the car, remove my soaking wet socks and boots, change off these muddy clothes, and drink my beer. But with every step, the descent was never ending.
Going down those stairs of hell after the tail was no fun for my knees. As if that doesn’t test you enough, then comes the great bamboo trail where falling more than ten times and navigating through the wet ground is the order of the day. The only thing one is grateful for on this trail is the bamboo trees. The support they give saved me about fifty falls.
Couple falls later, I was absolutely glad I was off the bamboo train. That feeling didn’t last long – I had one more hour to go and as it turned out, a couple more falls. I was out of the bamboo trail and into the slippery grounds. Slippery mostly because my boots didn’t have a good grip. There was one mighty fall that took the most toll on me. It almost felt like my back and hip were broken.
This wasn’t the time to worry about the falls and pain, only thing on my mind was getting off this mountain heading straight home. Darkness came in fast. By 6:30pm we needed to use our torches to navigate the trail. Luckily, 13 hours later, we were done! We were exhausted like crazy – but we were done! Done!
A few minutes to change clothes, remove soaked shoes, get ready to go, and we were on the road. Thank God for the beer that was waiting for me, because one taste of that and I appreciated what I had achieved that day. It was bad ass and I was bad ass. At that point all that muscle pain started to feel like scars of battle.
Yes I was hurting everywhere and yes I was dead tired but I had conquered the queen herself, mother kinangop, and nothing felt more wild than that. What made it even more fulfilling was sharing the stories in the car on our way home. Everyone had gone through different types of struggles on that mountain, but struggles anyway. This mountain tests your determination, your resilience, your strength, your fitness, and your mind stamina like never before.
On life and peaks, it is the same. With strength, we win the grail, but courage is the thing we need to face the downward trail. – Jacob Clifford Moomaw
It had been a special hike, the toughest yet the most liberating hike I have ever done and I did it with the best company. These three guys will always feel like my war heroes now because the tales on that mountain, even told, can only truly be experienced on that mountain.
This mountain will always live in my bones, inside my heart-drum. It will always stand as a huge mother in the atmosphere of my mind because that’s exactly what she is. Mother Kinangop drew my ancestors together in the form of clouds and I got to stand above them and enjoy their beauty. She felt like a birth gate that joined the above and below, like a prayer house, like a mountain. I will always have a kind of bitter-sweet sense of love when I think of her.
So, if you ever get the chance to climb her highness, scratch everything I have just said and Just Do It! Do it! Do it because Mother Kinangop reveals beauties she will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward this mountain gives to effort. And it is because she has so much to give and she gives it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with her. She is the clear definition of why we love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains will always reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits.