(Images: Wachira Thirikwa & Abu Okari)
If anyone tells you that Mt.Longonot is an easy hike, tell them the devil is liar, and a very optimistic one at that. Well, unless they are talking about the first bit, up to the crater viewpoint. However, that is only the first part of the climb, it is also not that challenging. If you are not that keen on exerting yourself, then you can stop at this point.
However, the challenge lies beyond. Evaluated from the starting point, the distance around the crater will appear misleadingly short, especially to a non-discerning eye. But long range optics and clarity have never been used positively in the same breath, unless we are talking about eagles and telescopes. A cursory look through the internet by one guy from our group notified us that circling the crater will take us an hour. We set off after a short rest, leaving another sharply divided group behind whose members decided that first bit was enough body exertion for the day.
My shoes were the first casualty, a few minutes into the hike, the lining of the sole came off; lesson;leave running shoes for running and get hiking boots. The first bit of the round hike is not that challenging, the ground is fairly flat. It slowly morphs into a challenge a kilometre in. It is so subtle that you only notice it is now challenging when you find yourself crouching, holding onto the side rocks as you move along. Or, at times, getting down on your ass.
After this revelation, you now become aware of every steepness ahead of you before you get to it. You size it up, look at the guys in front of you tackling it and wonder why you are doing this to yourself. At one point, when the scene ahead of me appears particularly challenging, I name my current spot the first “what the *@”*” point. ” We could get more such points as we proceeded to the summit.
It gets steeper(of course!) and rockier as you get close to the summit. The walkways become narrower and deeper, I guess from rain water running down the slopes. At some places, some people could do with some help, or more time to tackle the climb. That is why you should never go up this place alone. The trail could be treacherous, but not necessarily dangerous. We came across one hiker with an injured knee. There are spots where the paths are too close to the edge of the crater and walls of the crater are steep and rather straight, with very few things that could break a fall if something or somebody goes that way. However, save for an extreme, or extraordinary situation, the chances of that happening are quite slim.
It gets more taxing towards the final stretch to the summit, really taxing . But, the experience that is the summit makes you instantly forget the struggle up the stretch. The view is to die for.
From up there, you can basically see whatever interesting thing that is to be seen around the place. You can even see the Aberdare Range, which Wachira, the most experienced hiker in our group points at and says, “Elephant Hill is a female dog”. Elephant Hill is part of the Aberdare Range and has a reputation of being a hard one. In some circles, it is recommended that you first tackle elephant hill first if you are thinking of paying a visit to the big boy that is Mt. Kenya.
A point to note is that it is probably more prudent to take the right turn as you start the hike around the crater as opposed to the left. From our experience, after we took the left turn, and talking to a number of guys who had taken the right , the walk-around seems to be much easier and faster if you start from the right. That way, you tackle the steepest sections while fresh.
The descent is less taxing, though you need to watch out for loose ground. One of my favourite scenes from the descent is this smaller crater and hill that looks as though it was drawn by an artist.
We finished our hike as the sun went down because we started the journey up slightly after noon, something we noted to ensure never to do again.On the way down, we saw a few gazelles and zebras and a generous number of buffalo dung mounds, and what appeared to be a very old buffalo skeleton.
The only sad bit of this excursion was the overwhelming number of plastic water bottles that litter the trail. It is sad that the irony of dumping plastic waste in a park is lost on an individual who takes time to go scale a mountain.
Part of our group remained behind to camp. You can find all the requisite rates about Mt. Longonot here. There is also a Mt. Longonot lodge if you are interested in spending a few nights but are not interested in camping.