Published on April 1st, 2021
The first thing to know about hiking Elephant Hill is that all the rumours are true. Surely, you might have heard that the trail is beautiful and the changing landscapes are a sight to behold but the hike is tough. Very tough and never-ending. All of this is true.
I arrived at Elephant Hill prepared mentally for the worst in terms of the hike but slightly underprepared for the weather conditions. The tour organizer had provided us with details on what to bring. Among the list of items were necessities such as a raincoat, layered warm items of clothing and something to change into after the hike.
How cold can one get when you’re hiking for 8 hours+ straight? I remembered packing a jacket for my hike to Mount Longonot and never needing it, so I decided to pack the barest minimum for this one. After all, I didn’t want to lug a heavy backpack for 8 hours. However, as soon as we arrived at the gate, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. The cold was unforgiving but I figured that as soon as I started walking, my body would warm up.
Elephant Hill – Starting Point
The first surprise for me at Elephant Hill was arriving at the ‘Starting Point’ after already walking for 1 hour. Prior to arriving at this point, I was convinced that the stories I had heard had been greatly exaggerated. The hike was going smoothly and the terrain was flat. I wasn’t struggling with my breaths like I was 5 minutes into Longonot. As a matter of fact, I was having a swell time!
And then it all went downhill from this point, or more accurately speaking, uphill. We arrived at the next marker on the trail – Bamboo Gate, which welcomed us into a most enchanting bamboo forest. Here, it began to rain – which apparently is always expected at Elephant Hill. I also began to see why Winnie asked us to bring a change of clothing.
The trail from here was very muddy and slippery. Apart from the strains of a continuous ascent, going uphill wasn’t much of a problem for our group but coming back down was full of slips and slides.
Elephant Hill – Bamboo Gate
This portion of the trail seemed to never end and it was here I learned that if a Kenyan says to you ‘You’re almost there. It’s no longer far’, you should double the distance estimated in your mind because ‘it’ is STILL in fact very far!
I might have enjoyed the scenery more if I wasn’t already so tired! After what seemed like an eternity, we arrive at the next marker, aptly named ‘A point of Despair’. Here, we felt the full force of the weather – rain, chilling strong winds and fog. My hands were completely frozen and I could barely feel my face!
Elephant Hill – A Point of Despair
The next best thing was to keep moving. At least, I didn’t feel so cold when I did. But the point of despair did give me a lot to think about. Like why again was I doing this to myself? I should have realized that this hike was ‘bad vibes’ when I had to get up at 4 am to make it to the departure point in Nairobi.
It also made me realize how much hiking is a mental journey as much as it is a physical one. There was every reason to turn back at this point, and many people do, but we all kept on moving until we got to the next marker – The Tail.
Elephant Hill – The Tail
Once we were past The Tail, Paul, our guide, let us hike at our own pace to the summit. Initially, he had set the pace for the hike by leading our group of 16 girls through the forest.
‘The summit is just there’ he said to me and I received this update with mild scepticism until he pointed to where the fogs cleared up a bit to reveal a familiar orange-coloured board.
With the summit mere meters away, my energy was renewed. I pushed past the numbness of my body and tried not to think about the three-hour descent that awaited us. I also tried not to think too much about the wreckage left behind from a 2018 plane crash and the lives that were lost here.
Elephant Hill – The Summit
It was a solemn moment to the top and for the first few minutes upon arrival, my reaction was not pure joy, excitement and relief. It took a little while but I did feel those emotions eventually. Standing at 12,000FT above sea level, I couldn’t help but feel grateful and incredibly proud of myself for sticking it out and making it to the top.
Soon, it was time to head back to our starting point. Unlike Mount Longonot, I found the descent of Elephant Hill fairly easier than its ascent. I practically raced through the forest and only took a fall once. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the bus and then home – I was hopeful that there would be a large tub of London Dairy Cookies & Cream Ice Cream waiting for me!
On the way down, Winne caught up with me and told me I had just missed a hailstone rain close to the summit. FOMO tried to get the best of me but I shut that down quickly. I had had my fill of Elephant Hill’s temperamental weather.
A few minutes later, we arrived at the flat trails again and before I could stop the words from leaving my mouth, I turned to Winne and asked ‘When’s the next hike?’