Among the many tragic mistakes of the British colony and later the Kenyan republic is allowing human settlement between Nairobi National Park and Ngong Hills.
Atop Ngong Hills, you will notice the blight of humanity – the tin roofs and ugliness of Kiserian and Ongata Rongai towns. The unplanned towns are growing by the day, literally choking the two pristine areas – the park being ringed by quarter-of-an-acre plot investors and the mountain heading into that predicament shortly. Paradise is under siege.
Anyway, let me climb this mountain but let me start with its name. Ngong Hills is a strange name with no meaning. The real name is Oldoinyio Loolaiserr or Mt. Oloolaiserr. The Maa people named it after its Laiserr clan.
The name Ngong came from an original name of a spring in the area called Engong’u Enchorro Emuny (Source [Eye] of the Rhino Spring). The Brits who “discovered” and renamed it, in their “wisdom” called it “Ngong.”
There are still a few names that have remained to remind us of the true roots of the area – Oloolaiserr High School and PCEA Enchorro Emuny.
We arrived at the entrance of the climb just past Ngong town at 8AM – there is no barrier but a small building for the Kenya Forestry Service and a parking area. There was no one at the office so we decided to ascend and hopefully pay our entrance fee at the exit.
A few meters from the entrance, you will be ushered in by windmills run by KenGen – it harvests wind energy and connects to the country’s national power grid. It is not a pretty site but development does have costs and sacrifices. The Mountain has seven hills (peaks) that stretch from here to Kona Baridi in Kiserian – 11Kms.
We hit the first two peaks – quick and easy, may be motivated to put the windmills behind us.
The walking trail is a well-beaten path and very visible. It stretches forward from peak to peak and rarely diverts. The peaks are steep but give you a relief with about 100-200 metres before the next climb. In their usual character of urban Kenya, hikers have left behind plastic water containers and other ugly things.
The views are undoubtedly magnificent – the mix of forests and open areas give this mountain character. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind blows freshness to your face.
There are quite a number of wildlife species here – buffalo spoor crossed our path several times. Monkeys and small antelopes can be seen. It is definitely birds’ paradise too!
As we approached the highest peace at 2,460 metres (8,071ft) above sea level, there was pandemonium on the valley facing Olosho Oibor – monkey noises – it started with a few then the whole valley was awash with echoes of unhappy primates. Then I heard a grunt – the unmistakable rumble of a leopard. It must have been trying to stalk but was discovered by the clever eye of the monkeys. A ranger would later tell me that there are many leopards in the mountain.
As we descended towards Kona Baridi, Kiserian area, we found young Maasai men herding goats and sheep. The area looks overgrazed. Soil erosion from the train is becoming a problem but not being controlled.
We reached the exit gate, but, again, there was no attendant. We walked on for lunch at Lesolio Restaurant with the hope of returning to the mountain and make it 22Km but it started to rain.
We rode a motorbike to Kiserian town, a matatu to Ngong and picked up our vehicle. We met an anxious ranger who has been wondering about the occupants of the vehicle that was left before they arrived. He had actually asked rangers to be on the lookout for us. We paid the Sh200 a person fee and head out.
To paraphrase Donald Miller, “This mountain which has seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.”
And that was Oldoinyio Loolaiserr!
*John Kisimir is a Kenyan journalist, nature enthusiast and current Board Chair of Friends of Maasai Mara.