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An excursion to the scenic Lake Ellis

The beautiful and scenic Lake Ellis, one of Mt Kenya's Glacier lakes. [Jayne Rose Gacheri, Standard]

The unexpected call with a wonderful offer to join a group on an excursion to scale Mt Kenya’s Lake Ellis came when I was in the middle of an exciting coastal adventure. It put me in a dilemma. I had to either postpone my tour or miss this offer. 

I had always planned on scaling Mt Ellis after reading so much about the breathtaking and scenic Glacier Lake, but Covid-19 happened. I have been anticipating the experience that has been on my bucket list for a while.  

At the end of the day, the offer to experience an excursion to Mt Kenya’s glacier Lake Ellis won the day. After all, a group excursion sounded more adventurous. 

Unfortunately, I did not have time to buy the necessary gear for a mountain hike. 

I was so exhausted, that I welcomed the idea of having to do a road trip rather than do the hiking. Our team left Chogoria town quite late at 6 pm for the 29km track to the Park Gate, which is at 3,000ft above sea level.

This is when I realised that I was in for a rude shock. The chilling cold and altitude hit me so hard, and my body was sending signals that it was not prepared for this.

At the Park Gate, I had to take in some breathing sessions because I could feel the air ‘thinning’ in my lungs. When I explained to one of the wardens my “adventurous” nature, he told me that travelling from an altitude of 80ft above sea level to an altitude of 3,384ft was overwhelming the body system. To make matters worse, the weather change was dramatic – from 40 degrees Celsius to six degrees Celsius.

We left the Park Gate at nightfall. Alex Gitonga and George assured us that they were professionals, and nothing would go wrong with our mission. 

Past the gate, the road turns into a 4WD only track up a steep climb. The section is rough, but our 4x4 had good ground clearance to navigate the seven-kilometre stretch to Lake Ellis.

The road is not well marked, but Alex and George knew this road like the back of their hands. We drove through mountain vegetation – from forest, grasslands, woodlands, and finally to moorland. 

We safely got to Lake Ellis, and we divided ourselves into activity groups – tent pitchers, and firewood fetchers, and Alex and George took care of our meals. Amidst the chilling cold, we set out on our tasks and within 30 minutes, everything was set. We had to keep the fire burning although the cold was unbearable. 

Exursion to Glacier Lake Ellis. 

Mt Kenya weather is unpredictable – it can be blazing hot one minute and cold the next, with temperatures fluctuating during the day.

During this excursion, I learned never to take mountain hiking for granted. I promised myself that the next time I did this, I would make sure I had a good sleeping bag, and thermal wear to keep out the near-freezing temperatures, and make the cold night more bearable.

However, despite the chilling temperatures, we had fun. The sky was clear and my colleagues with tripods had their day shooting long exposures, and amazing views of the Milky Way. I lost myself in sitting still, enjoying the clear sky as I marvelled at nature’s beauty, with no internet, mobile phone – just nature and I. 

Finally, after many storytelling sessions, we were ready to retire to our tiny tents. Luckily, despite the stark darkness after the land cruiser engine that was providing light was switched off, several of our neighbouring campers were still up for a long time.

By the time, we were retiring, many of us were complaining of a slight headache and a few others had stressed breathing, effects Alex explained were because we had not done any acclimatisation before scaling the mountain. 

I had a fun time in the middle of the night when I stepped out and accidentally hit a tent pole. I could hear my neighbours Alex and Gitonga whispering that it was a hyena. They repeated the same story in the morning as we were having breakfast. I finally disclosed that it was I, and not a hyena.

When we arrived, it was already night, and we could not make out Lake Ellis and its beauty. I could not wait for the morning. I woke up at minutes to 6 am and was astounded to find every inch of the moorland covered with dew. However, I was excited about the appearance of Lake Ellis in the bright sunrise – an awe-inspiring sunrise was flooding the calm and peaceful glacier lake, giving it a golden touch that astounded me. 

The landscapes, the views, the atmosphere; the flora and fauna, Mt Kenya, which I found out is a combination of many hills and valleys – everything is stunningly indescribable. 

Far away, on the western side, I could make out a clear Mt Kenya whose snow-capped was rapidly melting away giving it a rocky appearance.

The tree peaks – Batian, Nelion, and Point Lenana were visible. I never knew Mt Kenya was this rocky. I took a hike around the lake on the clear footpath taking in the crisp mountain air, before sitting on the campsite bench to enjoy the unspoiled beauty that engulfed me. 

I spent moments marvelling at the lake and taking photos, and videos for my memoirs. Later, after a generous breakfast, we are now set to explore the 100ft Nithi waterfall and the George Mau Mau caves. Most of us though exhausted were encouraged by the expected beauty that waited ahead, and “the waterfall is just around the next corner” description by Alex and George. 

However, I found out the trail down the waterfall is rough, and is almost two kilometres away from the entry point where we left our car. Most team members gave up halfway but curiosity pushed me to see this natural beauty.

I make it after a deadly ascent but could not go beyond the waterfall – an extraordinary natural phenomenon. I could not make it to the bottom, which Alex described as “an impeccable natural beauty”. The ascent from the fall to the bottom is steep, and a risky trail, and without proper gear, I did not want to risk on this one. 

The trail down back to Chogoria was an adventurous one as we enjoyed the landscapes and vegetation that we missed on our night travel. By the time we were back to base, I had this feeling of awesomely fulling a longed anticipated dream – you have to scale Lake Ellis to feel this fulfilment. Next time, I plan to take a hike, one that I know I will thoroughly enjoy because then I will not be an amateur.

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