To hiking enthusiasts, tackling any mountain is energy-sapping. Yet, most of them derive some adrenalin kick during such hikes. A few weeks ago, we set off for an adventure to the eastern part of Kenya. Another mountain lay on our way – Kilimambogo, the conical mountain 65 kilometres north of Nairobi and 15 kilometres from Thika. The plan was to get to Kilimambogo in the early hours of the afternoon, take some rest and attempt a hike later on in the afternoon. Such plans though, were better said than done.
Our day began early morning in Nairobi’s Upper Hill where Julius, our driver patiently waited for his charges. Our mission was to discover the hidden gems off the usual tourism circuit. Little is known about the eastern part of the country as far as tourism is concerned. Past the dusty outpost of Ol Donyo Sabuk lies the national park by the same name. The park entrance is also the base for hiking Kilimambogo. However, we first decided to explore what lay beyond the park, hoping to tackle the mountain later.
At the far reaches of Del Monte’s pineapple farm lies an old plantation house that occupies a special place in Kenya’s history. Macmillan Castle was built in 1918 by Sir. Northrop Macmillan. Legend has it that Macmillan designed the house after Kilimabogo. In its heydays, the castle hosted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Ewart Grogan and former colonial Governor, Sir Evelyn Baring. Like similar castles of the Happy Valley set, cases of sex scandals that included wife-swapping parties were rife. Unfortunately, the house is in a state of decay and now houses a local cooperative society. All household items have since been vandalised.
Leaving the castle late afternoon, we head to the park entrance with the hope of testing our mettle in mountain climbing. Julius, our driver and a veteran in the tour industry had his doubts about our ability to scale Kilimabogo at that late hour. No, he was not trying to infuse negative energy into the small group of determined hikers. Having taken such groups to these landscapes before he knows a thing or two about mountains. “There is no way you are going to hike the mountain at this hour,” he told us with a note of finality. “It is not called Kilimambogo for nothing. There are buffaloes up there waiting to ambush the unwary.”
Don’t get me wrong. Hiking the nine kilometres to the top is allowed during the day. Our timing, however, was all wrong. It was almost twilight and there was no way park authorities would allow such a hike by some urban rookies. Safety first. Still, we were eager to see Kilimambogo’s peak and decided to drive up the mountain in the company of some armed rangers. Macmillan’s ghosts followed us up the mountain. A few minutes to the peak in a small clearance is his grave and that of the wife, Loice Fairbanks. Watching the sunset from the top is an awesome experience. I am a sunset geek and despite the many sunset photos in my collection, I always insist that the next one is always different.
We had hoped to spend the night in the well-furnished KWS guesthouse. However, the renovations seemed to have taken longer than anticipated. But the alternative was equally enchanting. Beketa Holiday Home, the small guesthouse on the foothills of Kilimambogo was our pit stop for the night before tackling another rigorous drive the following day. Both Don and June, the proprietors of Beketa (also doubles as their home) had no qualms indulging the gang to the finest hospitality regime they could master. From the overnight meals and drinks to the pancakes that we were convinced had been “treated” the Kamba way – Beketa rocked. After some campfire stories, we retired to the night in the comfortable rooms while the more adventurous among us camped outside. Either way the ‘Mountain of Bufalloes’ is worth your visit.
Want to hike? What you need to know
The mountain is located 65 kilometres from Nairobi and 15 kilometres from Thika. The highest peak is 2,150 metres.
It is accessible with an average vehicle. However, the road to the park can be muddy during the rains.
The area around the mountain is a gazetted national park (Ol Donyo Sabuk) under the scenic or special interest park category.
Entry fee of Sh300 for adults and Sh215 for children is payable to Kenya Wildlife Service. A small vehicle (6 people or less) is charged Sh300 per day.
Accommodation: There is a KWS guesthouse but currently under renovation. There are three campsites: Turacco, Rock Hyrax and Summit.
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