Above: Mtelo Peak from Mtelo View Eco Lodge. Copyright Rupi Mangat.
Published: The East African Nation media
It’s dark and the sky is blanketed in stars. We’re following John Yaposiwa Ywalasiwa riding on his pikipiki up a road through the Sekerr mountains in the land of the Pokot in north-western Kenya. It’s an area only visited by few intrepid travellers. The road is unusual – two rail-like tracks cemented on murram leading to the booster. An hour later, we’re finally on one of the peaks facing Mt Mtelo, the sacred mountain of the Pokot.
Ywalasiwa is the owner of Mtelo View Eco Lodge and welcomes us warmly. It’s almost midnight but his wife brings out a hot meal of chicken curry, chappatis and chai. After a whole day of driving from South Nandi Forest in western Kenya to this end of the world, the eco lodge takes us by surprise. My banda is beautiful with a spacious bathroom and ENJOY painted in silver by the instant hot-water shower. And we thought we were journeying into the last of the wild.
The morning is a jaw-dropping moment. I’m literally staring at the peak of Mt. Mtelo from my banda.
The plan is to scale the peak of Mtelo. From my vantage point, it looks incredibly easy. That’s until you start walking.
At 6 a.m. in the company of Jagi Gakunju, Timothy Mwinami and Robert Muchungu and escorted by our local guides, we step out of the gates to conquer the summit.
“Take your time. Even if you come back at 10 at night, don’t worry,” says Ywalasiwa wishing us happy climbing.
We walk through the Pokot fields of onions, sugar cane and maize on terraced farms. My three companions vanish into the horizon. My guide Alex Dite and l arrive at the saddle between the peak of Katugh and the rest of the range which peaks at Mtelo. It’s now midday and we’ve been hiking since 6 a.m. The thought of hiking through the darkness is out of my league.
Instead we spend an hour on the saddle surrounded by peaks in all directions with the expense of the Great Rift below. A silver streak shows the flow of the Moruny that starts in the Cheranganis and flows into the drylands of Turkana. Parallel to it is a thin straight line that is the tarmac road to Lodwar near great desert lake.
The saddle is decked in soft green grass. Little Pokot kids study at the nursery school under a tree and then show me their skills at football that’s made with bits and pieces of plastic and rags.
Thunder echoes through the hills and white mist races above Mtelo. I silently curse myself for not asking everyone to carry tents and sleeping bags so that we could have camped up there. One of the reasons for this is that in 2008, a friend picked up a chameleon on Mtelo while camping up there. It turned out to be a new discovery. It’s the Trioceros nyirit also called the Mtelo chameleon described by Jan Stipala from the University of Exter, UK. And if you want to search for chameleons the best time is at night.
A Pokot couple reaches the saddle and make haste to Mtelo. “We are going there to pray for rain,” tells the man. There’s a drought now. All Pokot people face Mtelo when praying.
Scanning the mountains, only Mtelo and the peaks are forested. Beyond that every inch has been cleared in the last decade for farming.
I stagger back to camp late afternoon. As dusk falls my very tired men stagger in. They made it to Mtelo and are super elated.
The Bearded Vulture
“When we reached Mtelo, we thought the pair of birds in the sky was the Augur buzzard,” narrates Muchumu. But on closer inspection with the powerful binoculars, they could not believe their eyes.
They were looking at the very rare Lammergeier or the bearded vulture. To confirm their sighting, the men did a playback – a recording of the birds from the bird app – and the birds above sounded exactly like that.
Lammergeiers were until four decades ago common everywhere on the mountains in Kenya. They were last seen in the Cheranganis a few years ago. Today there are only about four pairs in the country. A habit of this bird is that it drops the bones of the carcass from great heights by the cliffs they dwell in. They then scoop down to devour the marrow.
For two days we’ve enjoyed hiking and meeting the highland Pokot. On the drive down, we take in the enormity of the land we drove through the night. The Moruny in full flow and we drive through that narrow gap between the Cheranganis and the Sekerr range called Maarich Pass. It’s no longer a hardship road like it was until a few years ago.
Nairobi to Mt Mtelo via Kitale is 550 kilometers. It’s an exciting route.
Check in at Mt Mtelo Eco Lodge. Email Ywalasiwa: firstname.lastname@example.org Best is to call on 0718 281 729.
It’s haven on earth. There are many hiking trails to enjoy through Pokot land and for naturalists an open book of secrets to discover.