Elephant Hill — The Ultimate Hiking Destination
Located about 100km from Nairobi CBD, Elephant Hill is dubbed “the ultimate hiking destination” — and rightfully so. The “hill” presents the perfect challenge to the novice hiker looking to conquer a tougher terrain and acclimatize to higher altitudes. The 9km Elephant Hill hike trail starts at the Njabini Forest Station gate, at an elevation of 8,202ft (2,500m) above sea level and ends at the summit, at an elevation of 12,000ft (3,658m) above sea level. The entire hike up and down takes 7-10 hours, hiking at a moderate pace.
The first 3km stretch features a moderately paved path, cutting through a planted forest, with the occasional flock of sheep and a few cattle revealing evidence of human encroachment. At the end of this path is the official starting point at an elevation of 9,192ft (2,802m) above sea level.
A further 1.5km trek on the Elephant Hill Hike gives way to the Bamboo Gate (9,622ft/2,933m above sea level), welcoming you into the narrow, muddy trail of the bamboo zone. The towering bamboo canopy ensures the trail remains annoyingly wet, slippery, and poorly lit. It is important to be adequately prepared for slips and falls, so wearing a comfortable, waterproof, well-treaded hiking boot is a good idea.
The occasional mound of elephant dung and fresh footprints constantly remind you that you are walking through a wildlife zone. No need to worry though: wild animals naturally keep off the trail, and anyway, you will always be accompanied by an armed guard.
The never-ending bamboo forest
The bamboo zone suddenly gives way to the lush moorland at an elevation of 10,679ft (3,255m) above sea level. Most hikers give up at this point, hence its uncanny name — A Point of Despair. The trail becomes tougher and tougher as you transition from the moorland to the rocky zone, which features scattered shrubs and giant lobelia. Caution is advised while trudging through this terrain, as even a minor fall could cause serious injuries.
The Elephant Hill summit stands tall and mighty ahead of you when you get to The Tail (11,526ft/3,513m above sea level). The rest of the trail to the summit is extremely steep — and equally satisfying when you conquer it. With good weather, you just might catch a glimpse of the ruins at a recent airplane crash site.
The summit gives you an unforgettable 360° view of the scenic surroundings, including the inviting Kinangop peak — the second highest peak of the Aberdares — to the North; the nearby Sasumua Dam; and the famous Ndakaini Dam at a distance.
The hike down is just as trying as the hike up, testing your knees’ patience against gravity, and making you curse your quest for fitness. But hey, you won’t remember the pain when you look back down the memory lane!
How to prepare for the Elephant Hill hike
Footwear:- The Elephant Hill trail is mostly muddy and slippery. Therefore, you MUST wear a pair of proper waterproof hiking boots with a good grip. You will be thankful when they keep your feet warm and save you from countless slips and falls.
Clothing:- The weather in the Aberdares is highly unpredictable, changing from warm and sunny to foggy with hailstorms within seconds. Therefore, be sure to dress warmly — or at least carry warm clothes — and pack a change of clothes. Be sure to include a raincoat or poncho. Waterproof gaiters will also come handy to keep mud and debris off your hiking boots. Wearing a thermal base layer is a good way to keep warm without carrying bulky clothes for the outer shell.
Supplies:- Your body will need lots of energy. Be sure to carry enough snacks such as a lunchbar, nuts, fruits, or smoothie. You may also pack a sandwich. The high altitude may take a toll on you, so be sure to carry enough water. Two to three liters should be enough. You can have your water in a hydration pack for ease of carrying and sipping. Make sure you take your water in small sips throughout, especially when you start feeling dizzy or having a mild headache. You may carry some painkillers just in case.
Fitness Level:- The Elephant Hill hike is tough. You will need to be reasonably fit to get to the summit. Don’t let this discourage you, though. Most people make it to the Point of Despair and the Tail — which are equally good milestones on the Elephant Hill trail. Remember, you never conquer the mountain, you conquer yourself!