Above: Art in nature …on the nature trail at Mount Kenya Eco-Resource Centre – copyright Rupi Mangat
Published Saturday Magazine, Nationewspaper 25 November 2017
An impenetrable white mist blankets everything outside my window at day break and clears slowly to reveal the own street tiny town of Naro Moru that’s epically famous as the base for scaling the massif hidden in the clouds – Mount Kenya. For the entire three days of hanging around God’s mountain as the Kikuyu call, the country’s tallest mountain stays hidden in the clouds.
Still, we drive out of town to the mountain’s many forest blocks in the hope of seeing some of its rare denizens and little known secrets – and it’s only a local who can show you all that.
A few minutes’ drive out of the pint-sized busy metropolis, Martin Njogu, Nature Kenya’s Mount Kenya project officer, leads us off the road to a glade of forest edging a river flowing down Mount Kenya. Hidden in its girth is a spring.
“When l was a kid, we drank water from here and all this was covered in indigenous forest,” tells Njogu, a name for an elephant in Kikuyu – although our Njogu is more like a giraffe. Now the spring’s cordoned off by a fence with water pipes channelling the water into a community tank and the forest cleared.
I’m intrigued when Njogu tells of a bird that in his youth he saw a few times – Abbott’s starling that’s now found only higher on Mount Kenya as the forest has receded. In the hope of seeing one, we drive up the slope to Gathiuru forest block through fields of potatoes bursting in lilac flowers and trees planted by the Gathiuru community forest association.
It’s potato harvesting season and sacks full are transported on motor-bikes heaving under the weight. Heavier lorries get stuck on the muddy road creating a traffic jam. Njogu tells of the various names of potatoes in Kikuyu – the Humba Thuuti being the funniest. “It means ‘the potato wearing a suit’. This potato gives good harvest and farmers make a lot of money and can afford buy smart suits – so that’s the name for this potato.”
The Kenya Forest Service forester, Kinyua Oliver with 40 years of active service invites us in for a hot cuppa tea and chapattis as the rain pours and the cold bites. And then just as suddenly, the clouds clear and the sun shines bright. Since 1933 the office has been in operation with Kinyua at the helm for the last 11 years.
“This is the largest continuous forest block,” he states proudly. “It’s 14,985 hectares out of which 2,530 hectares are under forest plantation with exotic cypress and eucalyptus and the rest indigenous.
“We work closely with the Gathiuru CFA and you can watch the work on YouTube.”
Our passage further into the mountain is curtailed by more rain and the slippery road with little chance of spotting the rare Abbott’s starling.
“Next time, l’ll take to up there,” promises Kinyua. “This is the shortest route to the moorland – just a three-hour walk up.”
Back on the ground, we drop in at the Mount Kenya Resource Centre – but we can’t enter because of the boys’ circumcision ceremony – Irua ria Imwana – and no women are allowed. So we’re met by Gerald Mwangi by the forested nature trail. Mwangi is the cheerful chairman of Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group and a mountain guide.
It’s beautiful. The trail leads through moss-clad and orchid-full of tall cedars, fat podos and dozens of other indigenous trees and shrubs with elephant dung scattered on the path. Scarlet wings show through the forest leaves of a Hartlaub’s turaco. We stop at the Italian Dam built by the prisoners of war during the WW2 and all covered in sedges now.
Deeper in the forest, we hear the boys singing by the stream waiting to enter the nest stage of their lives. Suddenly Njogu is excited by a snail with its shell trailing up a tree. “I haven’t seen a live one in years,” he says. “We only see dead ones and empty shells now.”
There are more changes happening up the forest that are of concern. Mwangi tells of an ice cave that melted away in 2002 at 4,790 meters and of now being able to summit Point Lenana without sun glasses to protect the eyes from the glare reflected off the ice. In the last four years, there are only patches of ice left.
“For the first time, we’re seeing streams drying up and so we’re really keen on tree planting to manage the micro-climate,” says the jovial guide.
Driving back into Naro Moru, there’s street food being roasted on a jiko – it’s matura, the local sausage that on the cold evening is a welcome snack. Click here to watch it being cooked.
Explore Mount Kenya with Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group –contact Gerald Mwangi firstname.lastname@example.org
Camp at Abbott’s Eco-Camp at the Mount Kenya Resource Centre near Naro Moru or check in at the many comfortable hotels average Ksh 1100 a room.
Log on Nature Kenya to discover more on Kenya.
For the mountain you need a 4×4 or just hike. Nairobi to Naro Moru – 170 km and 21km more to Nanyuki