|Location||Nyandarua County, Njabini|
|Starting Point||Gatura Forest Gate|
|Ending point||Starting point|
|Walking Duration||7 hours|
|Terrain||Steep, uphill, slippery and muddy. Tussock grass|
The aim of the hiker is to get to the peak of elephant hill.
The Elephant Hill, so named because of its elephant-like silhouette on the skyline, is on the southern end of the Aberdare’s (Nyandarua) mountain range. It is the third highest point on the mountain range. The starting point for the hike is only 3km from the tarmac and one and half hours drive from Nairobi, Thika, Nakuru and 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.
The starting point for this hike is the Gatuura forest gate situated 4km from Njabini town. As at this writing, the forest station is shared by both Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Gatura Gate is 2500masl, which in itself may cause the hiker to start experiencing the lightheadedness of mountain sickness. For a moderately fit person, the hike up the hill should take 4 to 5 hours. However, this time is immensely subject to the weather and one’s tolerance and adoption to the altitude change. Luckily this trail is taken as to-and-fro (non-traverse) such that if something goes wrong one can always turn back. The first 6km is on a motorable forest road mainly going North East through an afforestation cypress trees forest. 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 park gate, you abandon the Cypress forest and the motorable road just as the road deeps East and head due north into the bamboo using a well-beaten animal trail. In the Bamboo segment of the trail, the gradient to changes significantly from 9% in the forest areas to approximately 18% in the bamboo areas. The animal trail has some treacherous deep holes made by elephant footprints and during the rainy months, the undergrowth is full of nettles. This bamboo section of the trail is 1.9km long to the foot of despair and an elevation gain of 300m.
Foot of Despair false peak
The Foot of Despair Hill is the first false peak on this trail. It marks the end of the first leg of the hike. At the foot of despair hill, hikers usually take a well-earned break. The thick bamboo gives way to thin bamboo and traces of giant hither. The trail up Despair hill is nebulous as the animals do not seem to follow any particular trail up and down the hill. The gradient raises to about 25%. Although the distance to the peak of Despair hill is short, many a hiker have given up on this stretch. As the giant hither dissipates to give way to moors, the trail flattens at the peak of despair hill. The Peak of Despair is the Launching pad for Elephant Hill.
At the peak of despair hill, the Aberdare’s hiker will again want to take a break. The peak offers panoramic views of Murang’a and Kiambu Counties. It is the second false peak on this trail.
The trail flattens somewhat even offering a small descent eastwards then wheels North-West to face the two peaks of elephant hill. Trudge through the heather, on slippery rock surface almost level ground. A short but steep climb through marshy tussock grass passes the foot of the peak of elephant hill to the saddle between the two peaks. The peak to the East is 3610masl while the one to the West is 3581masl and offers great views of the happy valley.
On a clear day, the alluring Kinangop peak, the second highest point on the Aberdare’s mountain range can be seen to the north.
- 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.