What you need to know:
- In terms of new experiences, therapeutic activities to engage in and breathtaking scenery to see, Kenya has a lot to offer, if only you know where to look, and are open to new experiences.
- Now that the pandemic has forced humanity to spend so much time indoors, it is so easy to get bored and stressed.
For many who grew up in rural areas or areas close to water bodies, ‘Duf Mpararo’ is a two letter word that evokes fond memories of time spent swimming in rivers and water bodies close to their homes. A time when life was without worry and struggles.
In terms of new experiences, therapeutic activities to engage in and breathtaking scenery to see, Kenya has a lot to offer, if only you know where to look, and are open to new experiences. Now that the pandemic has forced humanity to spend so much time indoors, it is so easy to get bored and stressed.
Well, when was the last time you took a walk outside your estate? Have you ever taken a dip in a waterfall? All these can be experienced without breaking your bank. Welcome to the life of a hiker.
When going on a hike, proper footwear is key. Otherwise, you will end up with blisters.
That was the main lesson that Gloria, a final year psychology student, learnt from her first hike on Riabai trail in Kiambu County.
“I have always been an active person. I prefer walking to using public transport and I have always enjoyed sports. However, my decision to take up hiking happened purely by chance,” she says.
“Once, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon @lets_drift and found out that they offer opportunities to hike within Nairobi and Kiambu. I was wowed by the pictures I saw on the page! The beauty of the places they had visited on their hikes was spellbinding. Additionally, their charges were fair and they offered different hike packages with varying levels of difficulty. This completely won me over, as I had somewhere to start as a beginner.”
Gloria signed up with Lets Drift and picked Riabai, a 15-kilometre trail, to be her first hiking destination because the distance and terrain seemed beginner friendly. As someone who had always longed to experience the beauty of nature first hand, the waterfalls along the trail made it even more worthwhile.
“Going into the hike, I didn’t have any expectations because I wanted every moment to be a surprise for me. The trail is very scenic. The trees, a waterfall, beautiful flowers, birds of all kinds and the air was so fresh. It was bliss. I felt like I was one with nature. Even though I found myself desperately panting while going up the small hills, I was surprised that at the end of it all, I wasn’t as exhausted as I thought I would be.”
From the time she started hiking in October last year, Gloria notes that she has witnessed tremendous growth in her fitness and endurance levels. On a good month, she can go for up to eight hikes. By saving in advance for the hikes, she has so far visited five counties, and touched several summits including Satima, Kinangop, and Elephant Hill.
Her most memorable hike was at the Gatamaiyu trail which has three waterfalls, and the most difficult one was climbing Mount Kinangop.
“To get to the summit Mount Kinangop, we opted for the Elephant Hill route, which meant we would go through the summits of two mountains within the same day. The stretch from Elephant hill to Mt Kinangop was the most difficult. There is a steep descent as you head towards Kinangop and you encounter bogs and slippery areas along the way. This is one hike that I really had to work for because the terrain wasn’t friendly at all. To make things worse, it began to rain as we headed back to Elephant Hill. However, I can proudly say I did it,” she notes.
According to her, the best thing about hiking is the adventure. No hike is ever the same. In her early days of hiking, Gloria was a bit reluctant to try longer trails. But not anymore. She recently trekked from Limuru to Ngong, a distance of 50km. she has been to three mountains of the Aberdare Ranges, and is now preparing to conquer Mt Kenya.
“Hiking has given me an opportunity to explore my country while enjoying myself. It has shown me how far I can push my mind even if my body wants to give up. More importantly, it has exposed me to a community of individuals who, like me, seek and enjoy healthy discomfort.”
“The first hike I ever went to was in Gatamaiyu in Kiambu. As I was preparing for the hike, my only expectation was to have fun. When we arrived in Githunguri where the hike was to start, the weather was really cold and foggy, and visibility was poor. Despite that, I was very excited. Seeing a waterfall has always been on my bucket list.
“That day, I saw three waterfalls! The rain was an added bonus as it made everything more authentic. To date, the trail along Gatamaiyu River is my top hiking destination in Kenya, with other destinations being Mount Kinangop and Mount Satima, which are very scenic albeit challenging courses.”
Johnson Duro,28, is a communication professional and an ardent hiker with a preference for day-long trails that range from 15 to 50 kms.
He likes pushing his body to its limits, especially when walking, and that can only happen on long trails.
“Before I started hiking, I always felt attracted to the outdoors. I used to spend a lot of time walking around Nairobi city as part of my daily commute, and this helped me build the necessary endurance. I discovered my current hiking group from a friend who directed me to their social media page. There, I was advised on the appropriate attire, and since I was working with a tight budget, I only bought a pair of boots, which was the most important thing,” he says.
Johnson’s hiking days start very early in the morning, at around 7am. After preparing his gear, he takes a matatu to the group's meeting point where they head over to the hiking destination.
Upon arrival, they start by warming up, then they start the actual hike, which is often punctuated by short breaks along the way to rest and snack.
A 12 to 15 km hike takes Johnson about four hours to complete. They finish most of their hikes at a town closest to the trail, after which they have a cool down session, before dispersing to their respective homes.
“Hiking has been a positive influence in my life, especially in understanding my body’s capabilities. Walking for 40kms in one day is a mark of resilience. Additionally, I have met many wonderful people who have been of great influence in both my personal and professional life,” he says.
Johnson admits that Mt Kinangop is the most difficult course he has walked on.
“I climbed Mt Kinangop a few weeks ago, and it involved going through areas with low oxygen concentration which made it physically challenging. The terrain is difficult to overcome and the wet conditions on the mountain provided a real test. Additionally, visibility was poor because of heavy fog, and this made me feel very anxious as I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or behind me. But still, I conquered it!” he says.
According to Johnson, a beginning hiker requires boots, a backpack and a hydration bladder. A good pair of hiking boots enables one to walk comfortably on rough terrain while a backpack will make the experience better by taking the excess weight of the snacks and water off one’s shoulder. Hikers always run the risk of dehydration, and that is where a hydration bladder comes in. You can buy the kits from a specialist store, or get second hand items which are less pricey.
“Since the pandemic struck, I have noticed that more people are embracing outdoor activities, including hiking. Those aspiring to take up hiking should expect to be severely tested both mentally and physically by the different temperatures, terrain and humidity levels. No hike is easy regardless of the distance involved.”
Rachel Njeri Gacheru
In her early 20s, Rachel’s love for adventure was awakened. Now, the 24-year-old spends most of her time guiding other curious and enthusiastic hikers in experiencing Mother Nature. Whereas most people cap their hiking limit at 50kms, Rachel does 120-km hikes which take several days and nights to complete. That is how tough she is.
“As a tour guide, my job is to ensure that other hikers have a memorable experience, to scout for new routes and trails and to offer first aid to hikers. I hike two to four times every week, unless I am on a break. My days start at 4am, with a balanced meal for breakfast, then I head out to the meeting point where I help the hikers do their warm ups.
“I then start recording and tracking our activities using Strava App. Once the hike begins, the group often separates into several tranches as people don’t move at the same pace. However, we all merge during lunch breaks.
“Once we are done with a hike, I lead participants in cooling down, after which we have a feedback session, freshen up and hydrate before bidding each other goodbye.”
As a tour guide, Rachel has hiked in many courses, including from Ngong to Naivasha (a distance of about 120kms), the Aberdare Ranges, and from Maimahiu to Kikuyu.
“From my experience, all hikes are memorable in their own unique way. However, most hikers enjoy moving through different counties over a number of days. Such hikes entail walking, mountain climbing, star gazing at night, watching sunrises and sunsets, practicing rock balancing and even cycling,” she says.
The challenges she goes through not only affect her, but also the hikers she is guiding. In addition to muscle cramps, occasional falls due to a misstep or bruises from bushes and shrubs, she also has to deal with hikers who get stressed midway through the activity due to the intensity of the hike and encourage them to finish the course.
Rachel is part of a team of eight guides who formed Let’s drift, a body that organises hikes around the country.
“We charge a monthly subscription fee of Sh1,000, after which registered members can enjoy unlimited hikes every weekend. We want to make hiking as affordable as possible. Infect, in Kenya, hiking is not as expensive as people may think. Few destinations require entry charges, and we always use public transport to cut costs and accommodate as many people as we can.”
In her words, hiking is an activity that everyone needs to embrace. “Sometimes it is good to let your guard down, take a break from normal life and appreciate nature.”