Posted in travel

Hiking in Macmillan’s Land

Activity: Climbing Mount Kilimambogo

Date: 22nd April 2019.

Isn’t it funny how one can live in a city and not explore it fully? The only feature in my direction when on the move is Mount Kilimambogo. At times I go like ‘today it is very clear’ and other times am like ‘I have never climbed it.’ It is like living in Thika town and not eating the famous pineapples or drinking the Delmonte juices! We need to explore our cities first before venturing out. What confuses me most is which part of this land is in Kiambu County and which is in Machakos County. Where is the division? When my brother told me he was breaking for the University holiday I knew this was it. I needed to hang out by climbing Macmillan’s property.

Situated on the Thika-Garissa road, the mountain is found at Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park. From Thika Town, the matatus to this locale are accessed at the U-shop terminal-Kilimambogo Sacco just right after the Red Cross offices and you have to part with Ksh 120 as fare. It is a 1 hour drive and this can even take longer as this matatus will first make another stop over at Makongeni bus stop to get other passengers since it leaves its original stop with fewer commuters. And they are the slowest operating vehicles!

Kilimambogo from a distance

Along the Garissa highway, you make a right turn at Makutano junction. The road shifts from tarmac to a murram one that heads all the way to Tala Town. Pineapple plantations are the major attractions en route and Athi River as you head to the shopping center. The final stop been at Donyo shopping center, one boards a motorcycle at Ksh 50 to the National park gate. Here you pay an entry fee of Ksh 300 per head via Mpesa since no cash is accepted. You might want to take the mobile number of your cycle guy to fetch you once done.

Mount Kilimambogo with an elevation of 2,145 meters above sea level was named by the Maasai pastoralists to mean ‘a big mountain.’ However, extracting its name Mbogo which actually means Buffalo in English and Nyati in Swahili, the community here refer it as the ‘buffalo mountain.’ Buffalo skulls can be seen once you get to the park. The community around this locale uses Kikamba as their dialect.

The park according to KWS is home to 45 species of birds, colobus monkeys, baboons, buffalos, bushbucks, leopards, impala and duiker. We spotted a duiker but the camera was too late to get a shot before it ran away.

Brief history about MacMillan
The history behind this park is that Lord William Macmillan owned it. It comfortably rests on his land and he loved the mountain so bad that his wish was to be buried at the peak of it. His workers did their best but got tired on the way and he is actually laid to rest on the 4.6km stretch to the summit just before you get to the 3.6km signage. For a man who was seven feet tall, had to turn sideways when using a door and had a seat reserved for him at the then National Bank of India (current as The Kenya National Archives) this I fathom. However, his tombstone is vulnerable as thieves have been vandalizing it with the aim that he was buried with some treasure. His wife Lady Lucie, their dog and that of Louise their worker graves are also here. Unfortunately, one can’t tell where Lucie’s and the dog’s grave are since no marking is done.

On November 15, 1901 after the death of his father, Macmillan inherited a fortune of close to $8million.  In 1905 he acquired a 99 year lease on 10,000 acres 32km north of the city which eventually became Juja Farm. The same year he constructed the five bedroom Juja House on the property followed by a three bedroom manager’s bungalow. A two bedroom bungalow and three other bungalows. His mansion is used by Muka Mukuu Farmers’ cooperative society who for once don’t know how valuable the property is in terms of tourism. It is rarely known but this mansion was so big that Macmillan and his wife would stay at one part of the house before shifting to another side of it. The house can be found on the murram road that leads to Tala. As for the manager’s bungalow it is on your way to the guest house in the park. That is something we never visited since we even didn’t know it was there till the guy at the peak who keeps an eye on the communication boosters told us so. The guest houses are accessed via the main road in the park for those who use vehicles to hike. If you use the footpath you will miss the post. My next destination should be to visit Macmillan’s castle.

Saturday nation paper dated 3rd February 2018 article by John Kamau has an interesting history of the house;
https://mobile.nation.co.ke/news/Kilimambogo-house–The-forgotten-marvel/1950946-4290134-krx25pz/index.html

Hiking

It will take you approximately 2 hours to get to the top if your legs are fast enough and if you don’t take many breaks in between. We started our hike at 10.20am and got to the top at 12:40pm. The 9km climb welcomes one to the world of monkeys, baboons that walk majestically on paths while scaring the hell out of you by those thunder jumps. Some are so big that at one point when I heard heavy stamping of feet in the forest I thought this was it- coming face to face with a buffalo. We had no guard and my next journey was me praying to not encounter life threatening wildlife.

There are two major foot paths in case you don’t want to walk under the scorching sun using the main road that can be long and tedious. The first path is an uphill of rocks with views traversing to hills, dams and the pineapple farm. Short it is. It then connects to the road before coming to the second path which is the longest, dusty and requires grip since so much soil makes it slippery. Deforestation maybe. After this path the rest of the journey is via the main road. There are observation views for those who want a glimpse.

Two major camping sites are found within the park. The first is right after the main entry gate known as the Turaco public camp site. The Look Out camp site is on your way to the summit. The Rock Hyrax picnic site provide tourists with a resting place and is also on your way before you get to the second foot path. And no this venues are not within an eye reach apart from the Turaco site. It is like another hike to view them. Couldn’t get to them.

The higher we went the cooler it became and the more the clouds turned to nimbus. Higher altitudes are home to dense forest covers and vegetation so was it here. At the summit there are many communication boosters that belong to KBC, Royal Media, Kenya Power, Airtel, CID, Kenya Police, Telkom and Delmonte. We had our remaining snacks, rested before descend. This time round we used the main road to get a glimpse of things we might have missed while on the footpath. My advice: stick to the footpath. The guest houses and the warden’s house are the only things on the road just a few meters from the main gate. The warden’s house is out of bound while the route to the guest houses is longer.

PS: We had another destination out of the park to catch: The 14 falls. Next post.

NB:// In my next hikes I will be taking note of plants and tree species since they are usually marked but take no time in learning them. It is a shame Eva!