Ololokwe: In the clouds of a perfect mountain

Perfect timing for a perfect Mountain!  Mt Ololokwe aka Oldoinyio Sapache  is my last major hike for 2018. 

It not only closed a remarkable hiking year but also a milestone for a mountain that has deep spiritual connections among the Maa speakers of Northern Kenya. It was only fair that I came here after Oldoinyio Lengai– another shrine of a mountain where my people converse with God during challenging times in the south (northern Tanzania).

The night before the hike was at Sabache Camp, a gem that’s sandwiched between Mt. Ololokwe and Loontare Hill. I am in the company of seasoned travellers (LG Shiks and two friends). We arrived at night by following Dipa, the camp manager, on a winding dirt road, not seeing much beyond the headlights but the profiles of dark mountains against the moonlight.

6:00 AM: We filed out of the camp, led by a quiet Samburu guide. I prayed for God’s protection and asked my legs to bravely carry me. The climb is steep and the trail is narrow – one foot after the other, following the famous elephant trail towards the top. At 6:37AM, the sun rose, painting the east with shades of orange.

The magic of sunrise and mountains. Photo: John Kisimir

There were two men ahead of us and one gasped at the rising sun. He has never seen sunrise from such a vantage point. That is the magic of mountains.

As we trudged on, elephant dung on the trail, broken branches and barks peeled off from trees – this is elephant country.

We reached the eastern rim slightly after an hour.  Loontare Hill sat pretty from northeast, shyly touching the rear side of his superior brother. From a distance I could see the famous rocks (Nkadoru Murto) where rich tourists sometimes land helicopters. 

Below us, the Isiolo – Moyale highway beautifully finds its way through the arid country.

I looked down again to admire the amazing view of Sabache camp – perfect location.  My mind drifted towards its manager, Dipa. When we arrived late last night, he offered us his room because another group arrived at the camp with more guests than booked and dislodged us. When I woke up at 5:00AM to get ready for the hike, I found him asleep on a mat by the bonfire site.  

To the West is a surprising view– all green, a mix of forest and open lush grass patches. Now I understood why elephants take the trouble of making treacherous trails to come here. 

The guide nudged us on, a little impatient with our pace. We walked west into the forest. The clean heavy oxygen hit our lungs as the calm breeze cooled down the sweat. It is an easy walk mostly on flat land.

At the top is lush and green! Photo: John Kisimir

We arrived at the Southern rim of the mountain after another hour. It’s a mammoth rock face and is what gives this mountain its magnificent shape. From a distance, the rock wears the top of the mountain like a hat, and then drops down hundreds of metres, making Mt. Ololokwe look like a massive tree stump from a distance.

Engulfed by clouds on the southern rim. Photo: John Kisimir

Below us, the eagles flew in cyclic patterns – six pairs and my heart leapt in awe at their welcoming party! Cattle bells of the Samburu people rang from a distance. Their circular villages are perched under miniature hills many kilometres below us. 

Then the clouds came in intervals, running over the mountain – engulfing us in acceptance.

I feel the presence of God. Mountains will always remain my true place of worship!  

We returned to the camp in time for lunch. Dipa, again showed his kindness by driving me to the nearest town, Archers Post, where I hitch hiked to my next destination.

Sabache camp, perched between mountains. Photo: John Kisimir
An eagle welcoming party, flying in cyclic patterns. Photo: John Kisimir

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Lost for Words at Orbatatata Gorge

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-26 at 6.59.34 PM.jpegThe name is Orbatatata! It is a tongue twister even to native speakers. It is a beautiful gorge and here, I am trying to describe the indescribable – its display crushed my comprehension. I looked. I gasped. I shuddered with awe.

Orbatatata gorge means “The Massive Fall” in Maa language –  a hidden gem that starts from the southern periphery of Hell’s Gate National Park – a massive canyon that opens its face to the direction of Mt. Suswa – 10KM from Suswa Town.

I came here at the invitation of a friend, Eric ole Reson, a raptor conservationist who grew up here and I tagged along two other friends, Nase Kelel and Josephine Kindi (the manager of Suswa Conservancy.)

The road from Suswa Town at entrance of MaraGateway Hotel is not pretty – it needs a 4 x 4 truck. We drove past sleepy villages –  a beautiful country of happy cows and people.

You won’t see the canyon until you arrive at the base, then, it suddenly opens up like a beautiful flower. We stood next to each other in silence, basking in the glory of our surroundings.

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We stood next to each other in silence, basking in the glory of our surroundings.

This gorge, to all of us here brings a mixture of emotions not just because of it is a marvel but it is the route that our forefathers used as a safe escape during the massive relocation after the expropriation of their land in Laikipia by colonialists from 1911. Thousands of Maasai children, women and the elderly died during the trek to the south – mostly from diseases. Our forefathers walked on this canyon and I looked at the massive cliffs, the sand on the riverbed and imagined their footsteps and sadness.

This gorge is also the source of the famous red ochre, which has decorated generations of Maasai warriors and women. It houses many caves like Enkapune Olpelesi that have housed past men of the warrior class as they partook herbs, beef and prepared for wars.

Its massive cliffs are home to dozens of endangered ruppel vultures and eagle nests. These raptors fly out here to Maasai Mara every morning to feed and return in the evening. The whole valley is actually a bird’s paradise. It also has a famous well, Paepayan – with its favoured sweet coloured water.

Another major feature is Kaibartani a massive rock in the middle of the canyon that the Maa believe was a bride that turned into a rock after ignoring advice by looking back to where she came from instead of following her husband.

Enjoy the photos of our hike and I hope you will be motivated to visit.

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We descended into the gorge from Olorriri village. 

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How do you describe this view? The high cliffs resemble pyramids.

DSC_7151.JPGShoes off as hikers walked on the soft, wet sand.

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Eric Reson, our guide and raptor conservationists.

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Walking on the footsteps of his forefathers. 

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Steam spewing from fissures in many places in the gorge. 

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Cliffs, caves, nests for vultures and eagles are part of the landscape.

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It is the wild fruit and berry season.

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Red ochre boiling on a hot spring.

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Kaibartani, a landmark feature on the valley.

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The sweet coloured waters of Paepayan well.

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The southern end of the gorge facing Mt. Suswa.

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The hikers. Mission accomplished!

 

Ngong Hills (Oldoinyo Loolaiser) Hike in Photos

This is my fourth climb to Ngong Hills (Oldoinyo Loolaiserr) this year. I hiked with a friend and photographer, Solomon Odupoi. It was a chilly morning, the weather kept fluctuating by the minute. PHOTOS: Odupa Photograpy/Solomon Odupoi

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Foot forward. Ngong Hills is a photographer’s paradise.

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The weather changes by the minute – mist, the sun, cold warm.

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Clean air hits your lungs – fresh, sweet!

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New feature: A mudslide as a result of recent rains.

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There were quite a number of international visitors on the trail.

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Chatting with new friends – fellow hikers.

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Teenagers on the trail selling walking sticks. They were respectful and kind.

 

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The Ngong Wind power turbines occupies the east side of the mountain.

Engare Sero Waterfalls: A Walk in True Paradise

930A7576After being battered by Oldoinyo (Mt.) Lenkai, drowning a few drinks and lots of goat meat last evening, we needed a bit of nudging to go anywhere but rest.

The muscles were sore but our guide and host Lemurra ole Kingi had a better idea – a 45-minute walk along Engare Sero River Gorge to the natural swimming pools.

The trail was close to Worldview Campsite where we stayed, the river emanates from a gorge of the Great Rift Valley. I heard its waters rumbling last night but did not give it much thought.

930A7595As the guide led us forward and the gorge came into view, my first reaction was a mental picture of those beautiful images we see on calendars – cascading wild valleys, spectacular scenery. We got into the shallow water, walked along the river before crossing it several times – getting wet, clambering just a little, to arrive at this cool oasis.

The walk was great for relaxing the sore muscle but when I saw the waterfalls, I knew, this is the place to heal from yesterday’s hardship. It is an unforgettable experience, a show stopper.

930A7722The water gushes out of the high cliffs to the right as well as from the river flow. It is warm and there was no one else present but the six of us. The best part is we could lie down on the rocks and let the land on our sore backs and legs – a natural massage, taking away the pain of mountain climbing. It brought both emotional and physical relief.

The downside of this paradise, we all realised is that we couldn’t take photos because the water could spoil cameras or phones but somehow the guide managed to sneak in my camera wrapped in two shukas. Lemurra’s commitment to his clients goes beyond the call of duty.

As we left the pools, what we all knew that we will come back some other day. It is a perfect holiday destination especially for families with children. This was a worthwhile adventure

Engare Sero River flows into Lake Natron, one of the most alkaline lakes in the world – a home to millions of crustaceans and a heaven for thousands of lesser flamingos.
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Humbled by the Majesty of Oldoinyo Lenkai

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On our way up – Music and stories kept us going.

This is a journey of a “thousand” miles and it took me ten days to settle emotions and write it down.

It is 2:45AM at the base of Oldoinyo Lenkai, one of the few active volcanoes in East Africa but also the spiritual home of the Maasai people. It is called the Mountain of God, a spiritual place where our people pilgrimaged during times of difficulty, to make sacrifices and plead with Enkai (God) to remember mercy. Such an event took place a few months ago.

We stood at the base, six of us, including Lemurra ole Kingi, our Tanzanian guide, who lives 15kms from here and Solomon Lekui, also Tanzanian friend who drove us from the  Namanga border crossing. The rest of us were Kenyans – all of us with our burdens of spiritual and physical expectations.

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Approaching the summit!

The guide, I and Tete Kisenya (an engineer with Nokia), were the only experienced hikers. We also have with us Nase Kelel, a friend who runs an NGO in Narok and Nelson Ole Reyia, a charming fellow, and proprietor of Oldarpoi Camp in Maasai Mara.

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The crater is still emitting hot magma from two vents

The breeze was cool, not cold, really nice and felt great on the skin as we walked, tall grass scratching my hands, itchy and I put them in the pockets. The first two kilometres were easy and we were in a great mood – friends among friends, the jokes endless.
Lemurra, the guide led us in a single line, insisting that we must follow one another. His space, his short steady legs told a story – strong, agile, and experienced.

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At the summit. 

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Walking on the rim of the crater. It is cold…surreal.

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Nase made it to the summit. Her body beaten but her mental strength conquered it all.

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The treacherous Goal and its sakafu were quite an ordeal.

Characteristic of the Maasai, music came along the way. We sang warrior songs, Lekui mostly creating verses that fit the moment, Ole Reyia singing along, nudging the talkative soloist. It was motivating, we were having fun.

Trouble – Nase’s shoes were too heavy for her. I thought so. She changed shoes after the guide’s wife earlier advised that Nase’s beautiful shoes won’t survive the mountain. Shoe swap – Nase took the guide’s shoes and we hit the road again.

The climb is getting steeper and our music and jokes got better as we slipped and held onto our walking sticks. On both sides of the trail were deep and dark crevices.

“If you get lost here, fall into one of these valleys, no one will find you, Not even helicopters,” the guide had earlier warned.

We must stick to one line, follow one another’s steps. It was a comfortable pace – the climb was getting hard and there were no more gentle drops that help one to catch up energy or breathe.

Lemurra and Nase were at the front – they were having conversations about pain here and there but the guide had this way with words, encouraging words that kept the lady moving.

Our pace started to slow down as the mountain got steeper. I looked up and was shocked – it was almost at 60+ degrees steep and there was no other way up but a straight path. We trudged on, a slow under a kilometer per hour on a very irregular surface, lots of slipping and scrambling. But we still sang and laughed at ourselves.

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Going downhill testst every muscle in your body.

Water, snacks and energy drinks here and there. Ole Reyia and Lekui were strong – actually very strong, a little reckless too and excited to get to the top.
Lekui turned out to be the surprise since we had ambushed him to climb and I still remember the horror on his face. But he is a child of the savannah, grew up a herdsboy, he can survive any challenge.

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His shoes….

I enjoyed walking from behind, loved the moonlight and the breeze – I needed a slow pace for my knee that got injured during a run a few weeks ago, not forgetting my primary goal here of prayer and submission.

It was approaching morning dawn and the moon was behind us, no longer bright but a gloomy orange. We were at what they call Sakafu in Kiswahili – an area of bare solid rock and just ahead of it is what they call “Goal,” a kind of entrance where two huge pillars give way to the peak of the mountain. From here, Sulphur from the volcano hit our nostrils.

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Solomon Lekui, the surprise hiker turned out better and strong climbing and coming down.

We have, without mentioning, ceded the ambition of getting to the summit at sunrise. Our pace was too slow and we focused on getting there without breaking bones or leaving anyone behind. Several team members were on their fours – climbing up by any means possible. The guide was excellent, unbelievably encouraging and it seemed he had everyone at his 930A7208beckon. The feet were in pain, shoes misbehaving but the spirit of the hikers was strong.

I looked back at how far we have come and it just hit me that this is a beast of a mountain! It is literally a wall, straight up with no switchbacks or flat spots like most mountains. If the climb is this crazy, how on earth are going to come down? Tete, the elite mountaineer among us was probably thinking of the same as she walked a few yards ahead of me.

Our music had by now died out at the shock of how to get to the summit past the “Goal.” The sun was up, shedding magical light to the Great Rift Valley behind us. The shadow of the whole mountain was reflected at the valley. I have never seen a such a beautiful scenery.

We got past the Goal at 7:00 AM only realise that there is still one massive wall to climb, steeper than We were walking past vents that emitted smoke. The summit was about 50 meters but it took us an hour and a half to climb.

We got to the summit at 8:30Am! The summit gives you a magnificent view of the crater to the east, Lake Natron to the north as well as the incredible steep descends to the south. It is windy and cold. Mt Gelai and Ketumpeine sat quietly in the near horizons.

The smell of Sulphur is strong. The mountain rumbled loudly in intervals, hot magma blurting from two vents in the crater. We froze to watch in amazement, the wind and cold beating against our faces. Surreal feeling!

930A7352This is the moment that we have been waiting for and all of us had this epiphany – generations of our people have been here. It is here, during difficult times that our forefathers and mothers met the spirit of God. I suddenly came face to face with the spirit my paternal grandmother, the first Christian in our family, who told me stories about her experiences here.

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At sunrise, the magical shadow of the mountain.

We walked on the rim of the crater, holy grounds, each one of us meditating differently. The rumble from the crater is mind-boggling as it pushed hot magma out of the vents. It will keep doing this for an average of 20 years until the magma fills the whole crater, then it will explode like it did in 2008.

 

We started the descend – a very tough one. From the start Ole Reyia realized that his beautiful shoes had lost grip – they were now slippery and dangerous. They swapped shoes with the guide though not quite the right fit.

Our energies were up going down and started jokes on how everyone was descending either on their fours, walking or on their bottoms. The “googlers” were the famous ones – the ones that went down on their bottoms and when they got up, the dust on their behinds resembled the two circles on the Google logo!

The descend tested our physical strengths to the limit. Every step going down on the rocks or soft volcanic soil took everything that we got. There were many slips and falls but we never stopped moving. Just as we climbed to the surface, we must get down – there is no other way.  Your prayer and mental strength become the only weapons that you have against the mountain, your tired body, and the hot sun.

It was hot and we were all really tired and running out of drinking water as well. We took a lot of breaks along the way. This mountain has no vegetation cover and we could see our destination down there but getting there looks like a mirage.

“I am walking like a zombie,” Ole Reyia told me as I took stopped to look around, appreciate the beauty of the valleys below. Yes, the man has taken a real beating…his shoes were no good for him too but I was not in a better shape but told him that we keep walking.

By the time we all got to the vehicle, it was 11 hours and almost 5pm. It was a huge relief, a tremendous sense of achievement as we looked back at the mountain behind us.

Oldoinyo Lenkai is one of the toughest mountains to climb in Africa. You need a good guide as well as physical and mental strength. We arrived at Worldview Camp at Engare Sero for the night, with our sore bodies but the cold beer never tasted so good!

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Tete battling the steep climbs.