Mountains like the Kilimanjaro have captivated both mountaineers and ambitious amateurs for years, and summiting this wonder remains one of the top bucket list items in the world for anyone itching for a thrilling, unrivalled high-altitude excursion, myself included. This year, I decided to finally be proactive about attaining this goal. However, as it turns out, one cannot just wake up and take a leisurely stroll up the highest mountain in Africa as though lazily reaching over on a couch to try grasp a remote that is ever so slightly out of reach. Tackling Kilimanjaro takes a lot of physical and mental preparation, and my strategy is very simple. Conquer Kilimambogo and Longonot followed by Mt Kenya before booking a highly anticipated trip to Tanzania.
Where to stay
Less than a 2 hour drive away from Nairobi on a Saturday morning, I found myself standing on the dewy lawns of Ol Donyo Sapuk Resort somewhere on the border of Kiambu and Machakos counties, animatedly chatting up the executive chef as he picked some fresh mangoes that would be used for breakfast later that morning, all while relishing in the somewhat intimidating aura of the mountain sprawled before me, which I was all set to tackle later that afternoon.
Built to resemble an old English farmhouse with comfortable and stylishly designed living spaces, the resort itself offers quite the idyllic setting for either an active or unhurried countryside retreat spent reveling in the magnificence of the surrounding flora and fauna coupled with a myriad of activities like horse riding, bird watching and farming. You could also simply explore the town where the infrastructure might be wanting and boda boda motorists rule the dusty roads but this only adds to its buoyant charm.
The hike ?
The resort paired me up with their experienced resident guide Yemen who regaled me with interesting tales about the mountain, the buffaloes after which it is named, the town as well as its people and their history. Located within Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, it was a 9.2km hike to the top which, given my level of physical fitness, is relatively easy. The hike should take about 2 hours to the top. Getting to the observation deck, I was greeted by perhaps the most striking spectacle that this corner of Kenya has to offer. Viewing the vast town and its surroundings from this singular vantage point was quite the surreal experience and for a moment, I felt every bit like a toddler gleefully staring down at a magnificent toy set dotted with tiny little buildings, farms, dams and more.
After a quick stop at MacMillan's burial site, we made it to the summit which was actually a bit of an anticlimax as the view is marred by thick vegetation which can however not be cleared since most of the plant species are endangered. The thrill of having summited a mountain is however what makes it all worth it, since if you can conquer a trail that seemed almost impossible to hike, you can overcome any challenge that life throws your way. If you are not up to the hike, however, you can also simply drive to the top and back.
It started pouring heavily on our way down and the resultant muddy slippery red soil and loosened rocks made the descent a lot more gruesome than it should have been. It was like being a participant in an episode of Running wild with Bear Grylls in usual flamboyant, daring and borderline dangerous flair, only without the dramatic soundtrack. The thing about such form of entertainment is that it is best enjoyed as an armchair participant such that you might be engrossed in it but you're secretly glad that it is them and not you. I would not suggest hiking Kilimambogo in the rainy season, especially not as an amateur. Sore, wet, muddy and absolutely knackered, it is thoughts of the cozy fireplace at Ol Donyo Sapuk Resort and their comfortable plush sofas coupled with a delectable hot chocolate and array of warm pastries that kept me walking those last few miles.
Also check out: MacMillan's Castle
Drive past the vast pineapple farms and up a dusty winding road until you get to Lord William MacMillan's castle. He was an American soldier knighted by the King of England, and is said to have been the first white settler in this town. You may perhaps know him for the MacMillan library but he first came here for big game hunting, and it is whispered that he had ambitions of owning Mt Kilimambogo upon which he was eventually laid to rest with his wife and dog.