KENYA,  TRAVEL DIARY

Conquering Mt Longonot

The day began at 5.20 am when my alarm went off. I had already set aside what I was going to wear and packed a few things, but I still had to prepare my lunch and a few snacks. Excitement started brewing in my stomach but quickly turned to apprehension. I started second-guessing if I had packed everything I was going to need, which led me to unpack my bag and go over everything, pack it up again, only to unpack and do the same dance.  I lost close to 20 minutes getting into my head; I had to leave now if I was going to be on time.

I picked up my stuff and dashed to the stage, but who is the devil if not an over worker when you don’t need to be tested. I couldn’t for life of me get a matatu! It was already 6.40 and I was officially behind schedule. I decided to get an Uber instead, which thank the heavens was just 3 minutes away. The driver, concerned by my unsettled look, asked where I was rushing to. I told him that I was going for my first hiking trip; I was headed to Mt Longonot and was going to be late. I swear as soon as those words echoed, he looked me from head to toe with a puzzled look and asked me, “Why?” I smiled at him and told him, “I’m also asking myself that same question.”

Getting into town, Paul Let’s Drift had already started calling me. It was around 7. 45 a.m. and I was sure that everyone else had arrived on time and were waiting on me. Classic Maureen! Nervous and kind of discombobulated (I’ve always wanted to use that word) I paid for my ride and rushed to the bus packed near Hilton hotel. Avoiding eye contact, I said hello to the guys seated at the front and took the empty back seat. I shyly asked the girl seated next seat if I was the last person to arrive and she said they were still waiting on a few others to arrive. Glad not to be the last one to arrive, we got to talking with this girl and just as I about to get settled in; Paul called me on my phone asking me where I was. I told him I was already at the bus, but as I was saying this, I realized that I might have actually gotten into the wrong bus since in my rush; I hadn’t asked exactly where to find them.

I took my bag and ran to find Paul and the right bus, which luckily were only a few meters away. I’d been so nervous about how I was going to interact with the people on this trip as I didn’t know anyone, and being an introvert, I was so far removed from the comfort of my cocoon. But my ‘wrong bus’ story broke the ice and by the time we started the trip, I had already made a couple of friends.

I sat next to Tracy on the van that took us to Longonot, who from the minute we said hello, we hadn’t stopped talking. She told me about her previous outdoor excursions and I told her I was thinking of doing Mt Kenya. Our conversations went on and on as we talked just about anything, from celebrity gossip…lol to social media and everything in between. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to strike a conversation with someone I had only met that day. I mentioned that while I was struggling to start hiking, I had seen a guy on Instagram who’d made 100 trips to Mt Kenya. Unbeknownst to us, that guy was in the same van we were in, we just hadn’t been introduced.

Our first pit stop was at the Rift Valley viewpoint, and it was at that point that I got to say hello to everyone. I was so excited to be meeting people I had been Instagram friends with, like Alex, Let’s Drift and Joe, Discover (the guy Tracy and I were discussing) Mt Longonot was not very visible from the viewpoint, but my excitement was clear! I had made the best choice coming for this trip because up to that point, I was having a really good time.

Our journey progressed and we finally got to Mt Longonot National Park and after making the necessary payments, we started off our hike. From the gate, the mountain didn’t look so scary, and I thought to myself, I got this!

The first hour or so into the hike wasn’t so bad either, mostly because the terrain is relatively steep as you can see from the picture. But more so because I was in the company of some really interesting people who we got to talking, and I think my mind got so dwelled in the inspired conversations that I sort of forgot that I was hiking.

Pic by Joe

Hearing Joe talk about his experience of hiking up Mount Kenya with so much zeal and passion made me what to do it even more. The mountain, while throwing him a few curveballs, had taught him perseverance and endurance, things I really need in my life. I’d be toying around with the idea, but my decision was made at that moment, I have to summit Mt Kenya!

And at that moment, my body got the memo of what it is I was actually doing. My breathing got heavier, sweat started dripping on my back, and I could no longer walk and talk at the same time. Longonot was showing me why it’s a mountain and not a hill. “Hydrate Maureen,” Joe advised. I took out my bottle of water, took a few sips and gave myself a pep talk. I had come here for one mission only, to prove to myself that even after having a rough year, I still had fight in me and there was no way I was going to back down and let this mountain beat me.

Pic by Joe

Refreshed and in the right headspace, I soldiered on. I think the phrase, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” was born in the mountains because unless you are a ninja fueled with some superpower (and this is subjective to me), you are better off hiking at a slow pace and building upon it. Step by step on the dusty terrain I went.

Pic by Joe

Giving the mountain everything I had in me,

Captured by Joe

even using my hands at some point,

Pic by Joe

stopping occasionally to soak in the stunning vistas, I reached the summit.

Captured by Joe

They say the best views are after the hardest climbs, and Longonot has unbeaten views of the Rift Valley, the nearby Mai Mahiu town, and even Lake Naivasha.

But we weren’t done, as we were yet to go round the crater. From the summit hut, the circumference didn’t look that bad and I figured since I had done so well and summited, this was also not going to beat me, so off we went.

Pic by Joe

The trek started off easy (as usual) but got intense once we started going up the ridges. The trails, which I think were formed by water streaming down, got steeper and narrower.

Captured by Joe

My body was so tired; I could hardly walk more than a few steps without stopping to rest. I held on everything and anything on the trail that could help me move forward.

Captured by Joe

I started questioning why in the world I thought that I could hike. I could have been doing anything else, watching a re-run of Big Bang Theory, or maybe even cozied up at home reading the last pages of White Masai, but no! I was here, trying to prove a point. The conversations in my head got louder, and I kept asking, WHY? My hike buddies couldn’t contain themselves and burst out laughing. Someone mentioned that hiking was equal part mental as it was physical and I had to fight the games my mind was playing. I dreaded looking far ahead to avoid seeing the steep ridges that lay ahead, and so I focused on my steps and my energy.

Pic by Joe

We eventually got to Kilele Ngamia, the highest peak on Mount Longonot and while I was excited about making it to this point, the next part wasn’t so exciting. I don’t get it when people say that going down is the easy part. Maybe it was because I didn’t have proper hiking shoes, but going down from Kilele Ngamia was not so easy. I, of course, held on to anything I came across

Captured by Joe

but still managed to fall down several times. Stepping on loose gravel that travels with you as you descent is not something you want when you are trying to get a balance.

Pic by Joe

I suffered another muscle pull on my other leg, and that excruciating pain almost had me almost crying. I was done, the mountain had won! It had proven that I couldn’t do this, that I wasn’t strong enough. But then the next question came to mind, how the hell was I going to get out of that mountain? It’s not like I could order an Uber and wait to be picked. I had to get my act together and finish this hike.

As I was spitting all the curse words known to me at the mountain, I was then met by this incredible view of Rift Valley. The perfect poster picture of absolute serenity.

Pic by Joe

In that moment I even forgot what I was mad about, the love for the mountain was back on. The rest of the journey on the rim of the crater was mostly descent, which wasn’t that bad given the ridges were not so steep. My adrenaline kicked in when we got back at the summit hut, I guess knowing that the worst was over gave me a sense of accomplishment. I looked around and couldn’t believe that I had not only managed to go up this mountain but also circumnavigated the crater.

I now had a new mission, to get down the mountain and back at the gate, where I knew a cold Sprite was waiting for me. That got me motivated, and in less than an hour, I was sitting at the backseat at the van gulping down my Sprite like the much-deserved treat that it was.

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