Scenic death-trap: Chepkiit waterfall has claimed dozens of lives

Chepkiit waterfalls in Nandi County.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Chepkiit waterfalls in Nandi County, a marvel of mother nature, is a magnet for tourists from around the country and beyond.
  • The breathtaking waterfalls has, however, come to gain notoriety as a death trap for bird-lovers and lovebirds alike.

It is a perfect nest for a romantic mid-morning picnic or a bird-seeing afternoon excursion.

Tucked some two kilometres from Eldoret International Airport, off the Eldoret-Kapsabet road, Chepkiit waterfalls in Nandi County is one of the marvels of mother nature, carved out of the magnificent walls of the Great Rift Valley.

The gushing water from River Sosiani turns into surging foam as it flows over the rocky escarpment and then into a smoke-like spray as it cascades 100m to the floor of the escarpment.

It is truly a sight to behold and a magnet for tourists from around the country and beyond.

The picturesque natural feature, whose name, Chepkiit, loosely translates into ‘view from above’, or ‘view from far’ has four different viewpoints.

From each of these spots, one gets a great sweeping view of the Sosiani river and the surrounding variety of flora and fauna.

“There are several viewpoints, from where one can see the water flowing quietly before disappearing underneath the rocky edge of the cliff and then downstream. It is home to different wild animals surrounded by all types of rocks and indigenous trees, making it a scenic place to relax,” said Mr Wilson Kipkemboi, a resident.

The breathtaking waterfall has, however, come to gain notoriety as a death trap for bird-lovers and lovebirds alike. One has to exercise extreme caution here, lest they lose their footing and join the growing list of sightseers who have lost their lives while on a picnic.

One of the perils at the scene is that the place is not fenced off, and the urge to move another step further to get a better view of the valley below increases chances of sliding to one’s death.

“The waterfalls is dangerous, especially during the rainy season,” said Nandi police boss Samson ole Kina.

Safety measures

These sentiments are echoed by area residents, who have called on the county government to fence it off and put in place safety measures.

It costs Sh200 for Kenyan adults, Sh100 for children and Sh500 for non-Kenyans to visit the scenic waterfalls.

And while dozens have drowned at Chepsiit over the past five years, such is the allure of the physical feature that people keep coming to behold the waterfalls and its idyllic environs.

The latest incident was the drowning of a woman as she was posing for a photo with her lover a week ago.

The incident sparked protests from residents of Birbiriet village, who now want the county government of Nandi to declare the attraction site out of bounds until all the necessary safety measures are put in place to avert more deaths.

Since last Sunday, the family of the late Dorcas Jepchumba has been camping at the falls in the hope of retrieving the body of their beloved daughter for burial.

Efforts by local divers, who had volunteered to search for the body, have been thwarted by the heavy rains that have been pounding the region.

Mr Luka Kiptoo, the father of the deceased, joined the residents in calls to have the waterfalls shut.

Mr Kiptoo said he would not want to see any other person to undergo the anguish that he has been subjected to since his daughter drowned at the waterfalls.

View from afar

“We have been camping at these waterfalls for the past one week. We have been tortured psychologically since my daughter slipped into the dam at the foot of the waterfalls,” said Mr Kiptoo.

“If the county and the national government are not ready to fence this place and put in place proper security measures to protect visitors, then there is no need to have these waterfalls,” said Mr Kiptoo, adding that their cry for help in retrieving the body had not borne fruit.

“The death of my daughter is being treated as an ordinary incident. That is not fair,” the bereaved father added.

Area residents have also complained that despite collecting Sh200 from every person who visits the scene, the government seems unbothered about safety of the holidaymakers.

“Revenue is collected from this tourist attraction site but the place is not secure for the visitors. There are no barriers to safeguard our lives from dangerous zones here, the bridge is broken and was last repaired by the locals. The handrails are now already shaky. How many more lives must we lose before something is done?” posed Ms Rosemary Ruto, a resident.

According to the locals, the site has only one security guard and has no tour guide or diver.

Residents argue that the Kalenjin term ‘Chepkiit’ (view from afar) is not just a name but a warning on how dangerous the waterfalls and its rocky surfaces can be.

Recent deaths

In 2018, Kisii University student Cynthia Jeptoo slipped and fell into the waterfalls. Like Jepkemoi, Jeptoo was taking selfies when disaster struck. She was swept by the raging floods while celebrating her 22nd birthday on October 30.

A year before, a high school student from Uasin Gishu Secondary School also drowned in the same dam during a picnic ahead of sitting for the KCSE examination.

And in June 2013, a student from Moi University, who was in the company of other students, also drowned.

In the same year, on July 6, the body of a 21-year-old student, William Onyango, was recovered from the same waterfalls.

The deceased was part of a team of students from the African Institute of Research and Development Studies who had toured the waterfalls.

Residents claim that, on average, the waterfalls claim at least two lives annually.

Mr Jonathan Too, a village elder who has lived in the area for decades, said dozens of people have lost their lives at the waterfalls.

“I have been living here for the past 35 years and every year lives are lost in this waterfalls, especially during the rainy season. I have witnessed many bodies being retrieved here,” said Too.