You need to be reasonably fit to do this climb. The Elephant Hill on the southern end of the Aberdares Ranges, about 90km north of Nairobi, is an ideal location for a day hike especially if you’re preparing for the more challenging Mt Kenya or Mt Kilimanjaro climbs. The Aberdares Ranges are situated west of Mt Kenya in the central highlands between Nyeri and Naivasha, and stretch 70km long from North to South.
Distance from Nrb: About 90km
Starting Point: Njabini Forest Gate
Ending point: Njabini Forest Gate
Walking Duration: 7 hours
Terrain: Dirt road leading to swampy trail in the
bamboo zone, before turning rocky in the alpine zone.
Difficulty: Moderate to High.
The Aberdares are the water catchment area feeding two of the largest dams supplying over 95% of Nairobi needs, i.e. Ndakaini Dam in the Thika region and Sasumua Dam near Njabini town. The Aberdares slopes are also one of the major bread baskets for vegetables supplied to Nairobi groceries, and possibly the most significant source of the second most important staple food consumed in Nairobi, the Irish potato.
Although the hill can be ascended from various starting points, the best approach is the Njabini Forest Station (former Kinangop South Forest Station), about 4kms from Njabini shopping centre. The hike up the hill takes 3 to 4 hours after starting at an altitude of 2600m at the Forest Station. The first few kilometers are over relatively flat forest covered terrain, with the occasional herd of cattle grazing the glades in the forest a testament to the growing push by human settlements into the receding forest boundary.
On ascending further up, the forest gives way to the Bamboo zone. The narrow trail, punctuated every few steps by treacherous mud, at this point is covered by a canopy of towering bamboo with the filtered light enhancing the jungle feel as you continue trudging up the now steeper path. The occasional elephant footprint droppings from various animal species are a constant reminder that you are in a game reserve teeming with wildlife, with the armed escort your only shield from possible danger.
After what seems like hours of plodding though the muck and fighting the urge to just throw in the towel and turn around, the trail finally levels off and the Bamboo thins out as you get to the alpine zone, characterized by the stunning array of outlandish flora like lobelia, Senecio, Tussock grass, giant heather among others, a real feast for botany enthusiasts. Amazing views of the surrounding countryside including the nearby Sasumua Dam down below to your right, and the distant Ndakaini Dam to your left, awaits those who make it this far. You are now at the elephant’s rump, also known as the “point of despair”.
For those strong enough to continue, the rest of the hike goes over slightly rocky terrain at an altitude of over 3500m above sea level, with the temperature dropping significantly, as you pick you way across the elephant’s back. The trail first descents into a clamp of trees before turning back upwards out of the small valley. It then gets pretty steep as it meanders past gnarled giant heather trees adorned with Spanish moss offering handholds when you need to pull yourself up the slope. Mercifully it soon levels off to give you your first view of the summit. You’ll recognize it by the saddle between two knolls, with the summit to the right. Kinangop, the second highest peak on the Aberdares, can easily be accessed from this point. The descent is just as trying as the ascent, taking a big toll on the knees, and another 3 to 4 hours to the Forest station.
- Visitors are required to be accompanied by armed escort from the Forest Gate
- Hiking equipment/Rain gears
- Identification documents for the park entry.
Packed lunch from Nairobi
- Water bottle/Hydration bag at least 3 liters.
- Remember to carry your camera fully changed.