An Adventure to the unusual Mt Kinangop trail in the Aberdares!
In January 2019, I started my 6th year as an expedition leader. My priority for 2019 was to tick off trails that have remained elusive for a long time. One of these notorious peaks is Mt. Kinangop standing tall at 3,906m. Mount Kinangop is the toughest peak on the range despite being the second highest. Hikers refer to it as “Mother Kinangop” and with good reason. There were several routes on my mind as I put up this expedition. The popular plan is camping at Njabini Forest station and doing a day trip which I find reckless. Any expedition company offering you a one day tour is lying to you as you wont get to the real peak. The other plan is to hike up Elephant hill and camp in the valley between Elephant hill and Kinangop. This means you need to hike up Elephant Hill again when coming down. Think of it like running a half marathon after a full marathon. The best is to hike up Mutarakwa route and camp at the edge of the Moorland and summit on day two. This is the plan we took. We weren’t going to blow our first experience of Kinangop by bringing a sad story home.
We left Nairobi early on Saturday morning and drove to Ndunyu Njeru for park clearance. Unfortunately we found that the entire team of rangers had left for the Northern moorlands where they were fighting a fire. We settled for tea at a local restaurant as we deliberated our next move. Teaming with buffaloes and Elephants, it is suicidal to hike Kinangop without armed escort. Well unless if we found someone who milks an Elephant while sitting on a porcupine. Turning back to Nairobi was not even an option. The team was 70% ladies and I knew they weren’t going to reverse their hard earned visas and turn back. We called the Njabini Forest station and the warden sent us an armed ranger to escort us. We liked the guy at first sight, tall, strong, armed with a AK101 riffle and a Garmin GPS device.
With our small army of porters on site at Engineer center, we set out packing our food, tents and essentials. To our surprise, we managed to squeeze all our personal items in two bags only. A few snacks our sleeping bags and a few extra tshirts. By the way if you need light packers on a mountain, its ladies not men. Men tend to have their gear packed by their better halves with bags looking like the first day in boarding school.
I digress. We drove to Mutarakwa forest station where our two guides Njeru and Kinuthia joined us. We set off at 1100hrs with 7 hikers, 7 porters, 2 guides and one ranger. The first section of the hike takes you through a planted forest of pine and cypress that whistle as you pass. A little further was a section of farms with happy farmers throwing curious glances as we hiked.
The trail crossed the fence built by Rhino ark into the tropical rain forest. This section is steep with the tall trees providing the much needed shade. After a one hour walk we crossed into the Bamboo section where the guide announced that we had to walk together. Clear evidence of animal footprints made sure nobody decided to walk ahead or behind the pack. The bamboo is so thick in some places the porters had a challenge maneuvering with the wide bags.
We hit the Moorland late in the afternoon and stopped to take in the views and rest. One of the porters had had it with the steep hills and I had to take over the rucksack. As we set off, a huge Elephant bull came into full sight up ahead. Everybody flew behind the ranger. The ranger herded us to one side away from the wind direction and asked us to be still. It was another five minutes before the gentle giant with one tusk walked off to the next ridge.
We set up camp at a nice forest glade with a flowing stream. The chef and team got down and made us some lovely tea and dinner. The food was prepared in record time by our experienced bush chef complete with a desert. When we expressed our gratitude he said ” I wonder who will marry me now that I cook so well ” to great laughter. The Fearing the cold, we bundled up in threes per tents. My chaps call it kulala kama Pk.
A nearby trumpet of an Elephant was good to wake us up early. We had breakfast and started our ascent to the summit at 0700hrs. The sun was out and clear sky with sweeping views of the mountain to Nyeri, Kiambu, Muranga and Nyandarua. Mt Kenya came out of the Horizon in all her glory, Mt Longonot to the west with Lake Naivasha also Chrystal clear.
Mt Kenya rising above the skies as seen from Kinangop Peak
The most pleasant surprise was sighting Mt Kilimanjaro rising to the South but with no zoom lens it remained only for my eyes to feast on. From 3,900m, the famous Rurimueria and Mt. Kipipiri look like small bumps.
The Northern moorlands, Rurimueria and Mt. Kipipiri as seen from Kinangop.
Peering out over this vast moorland my mind drifts to the 2016 incident where we lost 4 hikers and a guide for 48hours. Aberdares is one of the remaining jungles of East Africa. One wrong turn by the guide and it took a concerted effort of over two hundred ground crew and three helicopters to trace and evacuate them from the moorland. An incident we were very lucky ended well. In the night or fog everything looks the same and even guides get lost.
Mt. Longonot and Kinangop Plateau as seen from the Kinangop Peak
The summit of Mount Kinangop is a rocky outcrop only accessible via a rocky scramble. With no basic rock climbing skills and fear of height then you would have to settle for the base of the rock. As I pushed out to the summit a 360 degree view opens up. The twelve apostles massif to the east is the most outstanding of these. Elephant hill to the South looks like an alien creature waiting to arise. The landscape is a scene from the movies. We spent some time on the summit despite the high wind before starting our descent.
The rocky scramble to the summit of Kinangop. If you have an experienced guide, then ropes recommended.
The rocky outcrop to the South is the famous false summit attempted by hikers from the Elephant Hill(the black massif to the south).
The mystical “twelve Apostles” overlooking Mt. kenya and Muranga County
On the way down we found the wreckage of a light aircraft that crashed into the Aberdares in 2013, a constant reminder that mountains are sometimes dangerous places. The descent was uneventful apart from the duck walking hikers. Two of the porters also had that look of a scene from walking dead, a reminder that Aberdares is not so kind to anyone. We got down to base at 1500hrs after an uneventful quick descent. My view would be that the climb was pleasant especially because of the weather. This story would a have been very different in the rain season.
A tricky section with bog indicates how tough the going gets in the rain season.
This is the wreckage of a light aircraft that crashed into the Moorland in 2013 due to bad weather.
We found this Jaw and Possible Femur of a dead Elephant on the way Down and propped it as a future direction marker.
Ranger Raphael leading the Team Down the range after a successful summit
Our next project is a fortnight away to the Northern moorlands . We intend to explore the Dragons teeth, Ol Donyo Le Satima and Table Mountains on a long weekend.
A great thank you to the Kinangop Six Angela, Sheshy,Veronica, Grace, Nath and James. Our GuidesNjeru and Kinuthia, Ranger Raphael, Chef Charles and the 7 gallant porters.
My Advice anyone seeking to do Kinangop is to not accept an attempt to do this in a day. You would also want to avoid the rain season if you want a pleasant experience. Small groups are also encouraged. The Mutarakwa trail is teaming with wildlife unlike the Elephant hill trail. The camping place also cannot fit more than 5/6 small tents. The Bog is from another world when it rains. Think of it like walking with glue on your shoes for a whole day. If you would like to join us for the next expedition or organise a private group to Kinangop talk to us via [email protected].
The Kinangop Six from left Angela, Guide Njeru, Veronica, Grace, Sheshy, Nath and Jessee James