She sits majestically along the Rift Valley. As thousands of people make their journey down the escarpment, she holds her head up high and dares anyone who has an ounce of adventure to come and climb her. It had been ages since I took on that dare. Every time I passed her, I’d always say “I’ll be back”. Her peak would proudly gleam, pointing to the heavens in response. She would call out to me and say “I am waiting”. She rises from the floor of the Great Rift Valley, an extinct volcano – she is Mount Longonot.
Hiking is my passion, my Zen. My call to the universe to satisfy this craving to hit peaks and to dare to explore, attracted a group of people who share this same desire – Women Who Hike (and the men who support women who hike). The name was befitting.
On the 8th of October 2017, the deed to climb Mount Longonot was set. We were 28 strangers who were meeting for the first time with only one thing in common – hiking. It was an early morning start. There was a buzz of excitement, quick introductions, and curious conversations – an overall sense of building adventure.
The sun was shining already at 7 a.m. The sky was getting bluer and not a cloud could be seen. A day that was going to be absolutely gorgeous (if you love summer), but the worst weather to go hiking in. And yet, everyone grabbed their snacks and drinks, and amicably got on the bus, to continue this journey. There were a lot of first time hikers on this trip.
We reached Mount Longonot National Park, and with all the formalities out of the way, the group’s fitness guru took us through basic stretches to get us ready for the climb.
And we were off. As we started pacing, smaller groups were forming. The chatter continued as the 28 strangers became one unit. As the sun kept rising, the incline started. Mount Longonot was eroding, and thus to keep the paths open and safe to explorers, sandbags and concrete steps were built. This may sound like it made the trek easier, but it wasn’t. As we climbed, we would stop for a few minutes to take in breath taking views of the Rift Valley, all the way to Lake Naivasha.
The first set of hikers reached the first hut within forty minutes. This was an opportunity to catch our breath, give nature a call, grab a quick bite and get re-energized for the rest of the way up. As the second set of hikers strolled in, we moved on. We started another incline, and the heat continued to beat down on us. There was dust everywhere as it hadn’t rained in many months. The key to the climb was going at your pace, staying hydrated and of course, taking a moment to breathe in the stunning scenery.
Hut number 2 on the rim was visible as we kept on climbing. Keeping it in sight, we reached the crater rim exhilarated and hungry. It was only 10:30 a.m. As the rest of the hikers slowly reached up top, people got an opportunity to take a good break and get themselves organized. Reduce the weight of your backpack, drink enough water, have a sandwich. There was a young Kenyan up there, with a bucket of freshly cut pineapple and watermelon! God bless this fellow! The sweet taste of watermelon was the perfect re hydration solution. I felt like superwoman!
Most of us were now ready for phase two – the climb to the peak and the walk around the crater. As we started this trek, the path narrowed with drops on either side of the Mountain. We climbed twisted rock faces, meandered in and out of bushes and swung around thorn trees. Thirty seven minutes later, we passed fellow hikers who let us know the peak was just around the corner.
And so it was. We summited Mt Longonot, pride gleaming in our faces. The view from here was incredible. To be up here was to be at peace. The strangers who had started off this journey this morning had formed a special bond. We high-fived, posed for photos together, shared mixed nuts, waved at someone’s drone and didn’t feel shy if we needed to lie down on the dusty mountain top. We were united.
The trek back was another story. What goes up must come down. There were those among us who were natural born guides. There were others who picked up on the etiquette of hiking, and others who understood Mother Nature’s power; but everybody here today, found peace and friendship in each other. We walked the crater path in search of the hut (number 2 mentioned above) as our end point. The Hut became our lifeline – a comical display of desperation to escape the scalding heat. As we kept on walking, the crater path was never ending. We climbed up and down, up and down, with a constant call for the hut! Two hours later, (an eternity under the midday sun), the hut finally appeared. You could hear shouts of glee as if one had discovered gold, and I could swear some had tears of joy, at the sighting of the precious hut.
The entire group reunited and came together for a final bow to Mount Longonot. We bid her goodbye as we started our descent. Today, I witnessed strangers lending a hand to each other, people coming together in confidence and cheer, sharing a passion that was larger than life. It had been a journey of strength and courage, and the birth of new friendships, and for me, a euphoric gratitude to a group that understands the value of hiking and the call to adventure – Women Who Hike.
Aleema is an avid hiker and explorer. Visit her blog idaretoexplore and read all about her adventures.