despair hill

Location Nyandarua County, Njabini
Starting Point Gatura Forest Gate
Ending point Starting point
Walking Duration 7 hours
Terrain Steep, uphill, slippery and muddy
Difficulty Moderate
Elevation gain 700m

The aim of the hiker is to get to the foot (bottom) of Despair hill.

The original name of Elephant hill,  given by David Thomson was d’Esperey hill. This was in honour of Charles d’Espèrey the Lieutenant-colonel and fellow explorer in Algeria and father General Francois d’Espèrey the WW1 French General (who the British nicknamed Desperate Frankie). The name of the hill started changing during the shooting of Happy Valley when the Elephant image was “discovered”.

The hike is mostly taken as an attempt on elephant hill, but climbing to 3200masl should be a fulfilling achievement for an average trekker.

The starting point for the hike, Gatura forest gate is only 3km from the tarmac and 4km from Njabini/Olkalao Junction. It is one and half hours drive from Nairobi, Thika, Nakuru or Nyahuru. This makes an ideal location for a day hike. The terrain and altitude make this trail suitable for anyone preparing for Mt Kenya or Mt Kilimanjaro trek.  As at this writing, the forest station is shared by both Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Gatura Gate is 2500masl. This is altitude is high enough the hiker to start experiencing the lightheadedness of mountain sickness.  Adequate settling down at the gate is advised before commencing on the hike. For a moderately fit person, the hike up the hill should take 2 to 3 hours and another one and a half hours descending.

When setting off, walk slowly to allow your body to adjust to the altitude. The first 6km of the trail follows a forest road motorable with a 4W vehicle. Dressing in shorts and short sleeves is possible in this section of afforestation of cypress trees. This forest is a jurisdiction of the KFS but after crossing the Electric fence (at 3km), you are in the National park and the jurisdiction changes to KWS. Three kilometres from the electric forest park gate, you abandon the Cypress forest and the motorable road just as the road deeps East and you head due north into the bamboo. The trail is well beaten by animals and human traffic. But the stinging nettles and other undergrowth can be quite hostile. Dress in something the covers your legs.

Once you leave the road,  the gradient changes significantly from 9% in the forest areas to approximately 18% in the bamboo areas.  Expect a toll on your physique and adjust speed accordingly. The animal trail has some treacherous deep holes made by elephant footprints,  filled with soft mud and water.

As the thick bamboo gives way to thin bamboo, grass and traces of giant hither, the trail emerges into a brow of a hill. You will have ascended 700m in all and conquered d’Esparey hill.

The peak offers panoramic views of Murang’a and Kiambu Counties including Ndakaini and Samsumua Dam. Other salient visible from here are Oldonyo sabuk and Ngong hills.

Special precautions:

  • If you travel from a very low altitude, spend at least an hour at the gate to acclimatise.
  • Walk slowly to give your body time to acclimatise
  • The weather can change rapidly for the worse. Temperature can drop to sub-zero. Layer your clothing on this hike. Fog and mist can reduce visibility down to zero. Do not lose sight of a guide (unless you are bushing whacking or navigating using a device).
  • Beware of locals.
  • Beware of animals.


You may cut the cost of a guide and rely on KWS rangers but it is not advisable if you are in a big group.