Part 2 of 2
I’m sitting on the saddle of the Sekerr mountain range between the peaks of Katugh and the rest: Kaimut, Chaichai and the famous Mtelo that is the peak and the fifth highest point in Kenya at 10,944 feet. It is also the sacred mountain of the Pokot and all face the mountain when praying.
It’s already midday and we have been hiking since 6 a.m. Alex Dite my guide looks at me questioningly – whether to continue to Mtelo or stay put. As an answer from the gods, there’s thunder and white mist furiously unfurls onto Mtelo.
The rest of the gang vanished hours ago to summit Mtelo. I think it’s best if we return another time with tents and sleeping bags to camp up there and return the following morning. In any case, l’m loving every bit of the world l am in now and in no hurry to rush anywhere.
High on the mountain range the views are gorgeous of the escarpment below, the many peaks and vales of Sekerr that stretch to the Cherangani Hills. We can see the western side of Uganda. It’s surreal and enchanting and we spend the hour mapping out the terrain below. There is the thin steely flow of River Moruny from the Cheranganis to the drylands of Turkana and the line parallel to it – the road to Turkana.
For the highland Pokot, climbing up and down is part of their being. A couple stop for a few minutes to greet us. The two are on their way to Mtelo to ask the divine spirits to break the spell of drought and bring in the rain.
It’s a case of so near, yet so far as we begin our climb back to the camp through the terraced hill-slop farms of the highland Pokot farming beans, maize and sugar cane in their hidden world.
It’s almost sunset when we reach Mt Mtelo Eco Lodge with John Yoposiwa Ywalasiwa the highland Pokot who started the eco camp, at the gate to welcome me. The rest of the gang is still somewhere in the mountains – and l wonder what time they will make it back.
They do about an hour later – and so elated that we’re wondering why despite them being so exhausted.
They have seen the very rare vulture – a pair of bearded vultures soaring above the peak of Mtelo. Also called the lammergeyer, these handsome birds were once found on all the peaks of Kenya’s mountains – the Cheranganis, Elgon, Kenya, Mau and even Longonot and Hell’s Gate – until four decades ago. Their signature habit is to fly high with the bone of a carcass and drop it on the cliff face so that it breaks open and the vulture can then feed on the marrow. The site where the bones drop is called an ossuary and Mtelo’s ossuary is still to be found.
Today, there are only about four pairs in the country.
For the team to see it so unexpectedly calls for a celebration.
Climbing the sacred mountain of the Pokot has been an amazing climb, tell the men. No one is allowed to cut a tree on the mountain and so the forest on Mtelo is intact. “We saw colobus monkeys and so many forest birds,” tells Jagi Gakunju, an intrepid traveller. “But when we saw the lammergeiers high in the sky, we were in denial at first. We just could not believe our eyes.”
Drive Down and Out
The following morning, it’s time to leave paradise. Mtelo’s clear in the morning sky. Driving down the concrete rail-road like tracks on murrum, it begins to get hotter with a whole range of dryland plants replacing the moist forest of Mtelo. Stopping so often to admire the dramatic views from so many angles, we catch glimpses of dik diks scampering through the dry scrub and multi-coloured agama lizards sunning themselves on the rocks. They truly indicate that we are approaching the dry plains below.
Back on the flat earth, everything is suddenly scrub on barren land. It’s such a sharp contrast that it takes a few minutes to absorb it. A large kori bustard struts through the thorny scrub – it is the largest flying bird.
And then we’re on tarmac driving through the narrow gap between the Sekerr and the Cheranganis that is the famous Maarich Pass. Moruny now reveals her dramatic self with the earth-coloured water flowing fast over the rocks and boulders. In this water-stressed land, the Moruny is sacred.
Nairobi to Mt Mtelo via Kitale is 550 kilometers. It’s an exciting route.
Check in at Mt Mtelo Eco Lodge. Its luxury in the remote place.
Email Ywalasiwa: firstname.lastname@example.org
Best is to call Ywalasiwa on 0718 281 729.