Climbing Mount Longonot

Posted on October 21, 2011

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After a busy week at work, Friday night came around and I could barely disguise my happiness at the fact that I could spend the next day, with no guilt whatsoever, relaxing in the garden, perhaps having a Tusker beer or two. A quick perusal of some Facebook expat groups changed all that though. Two Americans were driving out to Mount Longonot, the dormant volcano in the Rift Valley not far from Nairobi. My intentions to sleep and recuperate were dashed. The offer of a free lift – and hence avoid the need to make a difficult trip in a matatu via Naivasha – swung it. I wasn’t going to chill out in the sun. I was going to climb a mountain.

So I crawled from my bed at some ungodly hour on the Saturday morning (it wasn’t actually ungodly, it was 7.30am, but a bit of melodrama always makes a blog post more exciting) and headed with my housemate to meet my two fellow climbers. In the event we were 45 minutes late, due to a combination of a late taxi and then gridlocked Saturday morning traffic. It is pretty routine out here for Kenyans to be that late for appointments – people shrug their shoulders and say “Kenyan time” – but the two expatriates, who were doing us a great favour by driving us, looked less than chuffed at our apologies. We were not off to a great start.

It was a smooth ride out to the grossly-overnamed Mount Longonot National Park, with brilliant views down into the vast Rift Valley. Travelling by 4X4 is certainly a more relaxed way of getting about than the glorified vans that form most public transport in this part of Africa, and in spite of the early morning confirmed that this had been a good idea. The only slight problem was posed by an army of gathering black clouds, threatening rain or, at the very least, an obstructed view from the top of the mountain should we make it. We arrived in good time, parking up and paying our entrance fee. Most national parks in Kenya have a sort of institutionalised racism about them: as a non-resident (my paperwork isn’t completed yet, and I doubt it ever will be) I was obliged to pay $20 entrance fee, whereas my housemate (a Kenyan) had to pay just Sh200, a little less than $2. One of my American companions remarked on what uproar there would be in the West if we were to mark up prices ten times for foreigners, and I couldn’t help but agree.

The designated driver, who had appeared thankfully sane when at the wheel, announced it was his intention to run up the mountain and around the crater. Incredulous, we waved him off and started off at a slightly slower speed, stopping regularly to turn and admire the sprawling countryside behind us. Luckily the clouds were clearing and we were afforded great views of the valley and, a little further away, Lake Naivasha and Crescent Island. These views would only improve the higher we got, though our energy admiring them would diminish. A steady climb turned into a scramble at regular points, as a combination of unsteady ground and inadequate footwear took its toll. With water supplies waning, we made the final slog to the top for our first sight of the huge crater. It was certainly impressive, even more so because we had climbed a good 500m to reach this point, 2545m above sea-level. Next challenge: the walk round.

When you have reached the top of a climb like that, you usually feel that you have accomplished something. Not in our case, for not only was our companion running round the crater and probably almost back at the car by now, we saw that there was still quite a bit to do. The walk around the crater was along a very jagged rim, involving both uphill and downhill walking. Contrary to what I had thought before arriving, the crater itself isn’t in fact the peak. That was on the opposite side of the crater to where we now stood, and was over 200m higher. The walk started gently, but soon became more challenging, particularly as in places there is a very real fear that one misplaced step will have you hurtling into the abyss below (and trust me, you’re not getting out of there). At times the path was a gravel, uphill track, but as times we were scrambling up jagged rocks, pausing for breath only to survey the scene below us. There is no denying that the view of Lake Naivasha and its surrounds is a stunning one, once you have wiped the sweat and dust out of your eyes.

The peak couldn’t come soon enough, and when it did we justifiably took our time to take in the view and pose for proud pictures. For a Saturday afternoon, surprisingly few people had made the climb up, we had seen only one other group on our way round. Again, we patted ourselves on the back and repeated that the worst was over, before noting that we still had half the crater to go, and it was not all downhill. By this point the sun was beating down (we were praying for the clouds to return) and limbs were certainly weary, but reminding ourselves that Tusker beers and roast goat awaited us at the end we completed the walk in good time. Back at our start point, we found that many more people had arrived, though few seemed to have the intention of doing a lap of the crater. Crazed but proud mzungus, we quietly judged them and made our way downhill, a lot more pleasant than the slog up.

Nothing dents your happiness at completing what was certainly a challenging walk like being told by an American immediately upon your arrival back at the base that he had been waiting for two hours and that the run had been “easy”. Not letting him carve up our ego too much though, we feel asleep in the car on the way back to town pleased that a day had not been wasted, proud of a good achievement and adamant that the rest of the weekend would be filled with Tuskers and relaxing in the sun.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel