Elephant Hill, Aberdares
|Distance from Nairobi||About 90km|
|Starting Point||Njabini Forest Gate|
|Ending point||Njabini Forest Gate|
|Walking Duration||7 hours|
|Terrain||Dirt road leading to swampy trail in the
bamboo zone, before turning rocky in the alpine zone.
|Difficulty||Moderate to High. You need to be reasonably fit to do this climb.|
The Elephant Hill on the southern end of the Aberdares Ranges, about 90km north of Nairobi, is an ideal location for a day hike especially if you’re preparing for the more challenging Mt Kenya or Mt Kilimanjaro climbs. The Aberdares Ranges are situated west of Mt Kenya in the central highlands between Nyeri and Naivasha, and stretch 70km long from North to South. The Aberdares are the water catchment area feeding two of the largest dams supplying over 95% of Nairobi’s water needs, i.e. Ndakaini Dam in the Thika region and Sasumua Dam near Njabini town. The Aberdares slopes are also one of the major bread baskets for vegetables supplied to Nairobi groceries, and possibly the most significant source of the second most important staple food consumed in Nairobi, the irish potato.
Although the hill can be ascended from various starting points, the best approach is the Njabini Forest Station (former Kinangop South Forest Station), about 4km from Njabini shopping centre. The hike up the hill takes 3 to 4 hours after starting at an altitude of 2600m at the Forest Station. The first few kilometers are over relatively flat forest covered terrain, with the occasional herd of cattle grazing the glades in the forest a testament to the growing push by human settlements into the receding forest boundary. As you go further into the forest zone, the widespread destruction of the forest by human exploitation is quite evident. On ascending further up, the forest gives way to the Bamboo zone. The narrow trail, punctuated every few steps by treacherous mud, at this point is covered by a canopy of towering bamboo with the filtered light enhancing the jungle feel as you continue trudging up the now steeper path. The occasional elephant footprint and droppings from various animal species are a constant reminder that you are in a game reserve teeming with wildlife, with the armed escort your only shield from possible danger.
After what seems like hours of plodding though the muck and fighting the urge to just throw in the towel and turn around, the trail finally levels off and the Bamboo thins out as you get to the alpine zone, characterized by the stunning array of outlandish flora like lobelia, senecio, tussock grass, giant heather among others, a real feast for botany enthusiasts. Amazing views of the surrounding countryside including the nearby Sasumua Dam down below to your right, and the distant Ndakaini Dam to your left, awaits those who make it this far. You are now at the elephant’s rump, also known as the “point of despair”.
For those strong enough to continue, the rest of the hike goes over slightly rocky terrain at an altitude of over 3500m above sea level, with the temperature dropping significantly, as you pick you way across the elephant’s back. The trail first descents into a clamp of trees before turning back upwards out of the small valley. It then gets pretty steep as it meanders past gnarled giant heather trees adorned with spanish moss offering handholds when you need to pull yourself up the slope. Mercifully it soon levels off to give you your first view of the summit. You’ll recognize it by the saddle between two knolls, with the summit to the right. Kinangop, the second highest peak on the Aberdares, can easily be accessed from this point.
The KWS rangers may try to discourage you from reaching the summit when you are within 15-20 minutes of getting there. They’ll give you reasons like the weather might change for the worse, or that its dangerously rocky. If your heart is set on getting there, feel free to politely insist on forging ahead, and avoid regretting later for turning back after getting so close.
The descent is just as trying as the ascent, taking a big toll on the knees, and another 3 to 4 hours to the Forest station.
If driving from Nairobi, take the new Nakuru Road on the upper escarpment for about 60km to a place known locally as flyover. Turn left and go over the flyover across Nakuru Road. A few meters after crossing the bridge, turn left at the next junction and drive about 23km to Njabini town. The Njabini Forest Station is 4km further on.
Visitors are required to be accompanied by armed escort from the Forest Gate. The official Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) tariffs for Park entry and armed escort are applicable here. You will need to call the Sector Warden Boniface Onyango in advance on 0725 237564 or Corporal David on 0724 597427 to make arrangements for your visit.