From the CBD, you can take a 111 matatu to Ngong town. It is 22 kilometres away. Fare is in the environs of Ksh. 100, depending on factors only understandable to matatu crews. From Ngong, if you used a matatu, you can either choose to walk all the way up, or take a boda boda.
You can start your hike from Ngong town, depending on your levels of fitness and enthusiasm. It is a dirt road till you go past the windmills and the radio masts. There are human settlements on either side of the road till you reach the beginning of the Ngong Forest Reserve which is indicated by a Kenya Forest Service barrier manned by armed rangers. This is also the payments point for the park fees. You can also pay at the Kenya Forest Service office located opposite the Ngong Police Station.
Access fees is Kshs. 200. They do not accept payments in cash, you can only pay via M-Pesa. You will need to put down your details in a black book, which has a section that asks if you will require an armed escort.
From the barrier, it took us 30-45 minutes to reach the end of the dirt road, and basically the beginning of the hiking trail that goes up the first mountain. There are rangers at the end of the dirt road, one of whom inquired from us the number of hills we were planning to scale.
Our response? It depended on our fitness. We would go all the way if we could, or turn back where one of us couldn’t go any further. We were two.
They have a “Do Not Go Beyond This Point Without Security” sign at this point. The ranger we spoke to told us all the security guys had gone with the advance parties. I don’t know know how true that was as we met only one group with an armed ranger that was on its way back. The other two groups we met with armed escorts were on their way in as we were on our way out, which could only mean there were security guys at the beginning when we got there.
I understand that if you need armed escort, you will have to pay.
We did the hike without an armed guard. I reasoned that the chances as low as they are high, that we would run into an aggressive wild animal. There are always maasai herdsmen grazing their herds, sometimes boys as young as 10. If they could spend more than 10 hours a day in that forest without harm, then I could as well take my chances with a few hours on the trail
However, if you are not as daring (careless?) or you can afford to, it could be advisable that you take security as you may come across wild animals. I have been there once before, and I came across buffaloes although they didn’t seem bothered by my presence. Tule, a young maasai herdsman we spent some time chatting with, told us that in addition to buffaloes, there are many leopards as well, which retreat down the valley during daytime. They have encountered them. But the lions referenced in Out of Africa are long gone.
Tule also told us about a band of muggers who target hikers. They dress nicely, sometimes in scout uniform and carry bags to blend in, and they are usually armed with knives. They target lone hikers, or guys hiking in pairs, but avoid huge groups. So, all factors considered, it is advisable to hike in big groups. They also avoid the herdsmen because they chase them off.
Interestingly, Tule told us they know where they come from.
The trail is mostly grassy and wide, but gets bushy and narrow after the third hill. Some of the hills are quite steep. It took us close to five hours to do the seven hills and come back.
The forest/trail is rarely sans people. There are always maasai herdsmen with their livestock and dogs, and all it takes to create rapport is to say hi, or a bite for the younger ones. They seemed to appreciate it. They understand the forest better than anyone else, I believe.
The hike ends at Kona Baridi. It is 11.1 KMs long. The seventh hill, called Lamwia is the highest, at 8070 feet above sea level. It gets quite windy at some places, and the trail thins out after the third hill. The views are refreshing though.
If you plan to turn back, make that twice the distance. You can come down from the Kona Baridi side and make your way back to Nairobi.
Featured image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/98753175@N03/ ( Creative Commons License)