The Magic of Rutundu: Part 1
All images by KG Brian.
Link to his instagram page https://www.instagram.com/kg_brian/
Link to his Youtube page https://www.youtube.com/user/Briantoze
We should never make the grave mistake of underestimating our vulnerability to nature.
A curious word to use, understandably, but all the same fitting. That complete exposure in the face of the elements. Yet, even more curious, that vulnerability, what you choose to do with it matters much more than its presence.
If you choose to fear it, then you miss out.
If you choose to lean on it, give yourself over to it, then that is when you begin to live.
I can't begin to explain when things started to go wrong. It was all a sequence of events which individually wouldn't seem out of the ordinary, but pieced in to the bigger picture makes for a compelling story. Somewhat, dare I say, of an adventure.
3 O'Clock in the afternoon of a sunny Friday in February. 9 wide-eyed adventurers have somehow found themselves stuck on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. The tires of the 4x4 are slipping hopelessly on the muddy volcanic soil. It's a gentle slope that leads to a steep rocky incline. At the end of this one-way road is our destination for the weekend. The fabled Rutundu Log Cabins, two rustic log cabins overlooking one of the four major crater-lakes on the mountain, Lake Rutundu.
There are two important pieces of information to note whenever travelling to Rutundu.
One, carry your own firewood as this could be the difference between a nice hot shower or a cold bath on a chilly morning at an altitude of over 3,000 meters.
Two, and this is the most important bit, make the journey on a 4x4 vehicle with good ground clearance and an experienced driver.
We had gotten only one out of these two correct and we were now running out of time as check-in at the cabins is only open till 5 P.M.
Panic had begin to set in. Our challenge? The differential of the Land Cruiser hired from a local tour company had disconnected and the car could not engage the low gear.
We were an hour away drive from the KWS gate and there absolutely no network service around. Even worse, the radio signal in the vehicle was of no help so all comms were down.
Mt. Kenya is known to change weather very rapidly and we feared it would start raining soon.
After deliberating all options, a decision was made. From the provided maps, the cabins seemed some 10 kilometres away from our location. We thought it best to split up the team, one half would attempt to walk ahead and try get to the cabins and return with help and the other half would remain and man the vehicle and our supplies.
After gathering our jackets, water bottles and mobile devices incase we stumbled on network, we set off on this desperate mission. Buoyed by the idea of a steaming hot shower and some roast beef patties after a stressful afternoon, we were determined to succeed as we trekked up the majestic Mt. Kenya.
The scenery all around us was breathtaking. To our left, the Billiards Table Mountain stood defiantly amongst the rolling green hills. With the cool mountain breeze dancing lightly on our skin, the path we were following wound up and down a series of hills that eventually opened up to reveal Lenana, partly hidden inside a blanket of clouds. We felt tiny in the midst of this vast mountain and partly anxious as we still hadn't registered any network.
It was eerily quiet, the kind of quiet that makes you feel like you are being watched. The only sound we could hear was thunder from afar and the sound of a stream of water that gave us hope that the lake wasn't too far away.
We had now been walking for an hour and still no sign of neither the cabins nor the lake. It was now sundown and the sun was disappearing beyond the hills behind us. The kind of sunset you don't want to watch since it spells trouble for you. Being alone with no ranger in the middle of seemingly nowhere up this mountain was already uneasy, but with enough light we had some confidence. As the light grew dimmer, a knot began forming in our stomachs. We pressed on and hoped the lake would somehow materialise behind one of these hills.
Without warning, one of us stopped and pointed to the ground. We approached and immediately tensed up. There were a series of prints on the ground, one of them a clear paw-print as well as fresh dung from what looked like an elephant's.
We were now concerned for our safety. We had been walking for over 2 hours and we didn't know where we were going. We didn't know how much further we had to walk and it was common knowledge most wild animals come out at night. Our best option was now the devil we already knew, the hike back to the vehicle. We filled up our bottles with water from a nearby stream and started our trek back.
It was a cloudless night and above us was an array of stars. The universe in all her splendour. The darkness all around us however was thick. We couldn't see anything past the 1 metre distance our phone torch lit, in fact, we weren't even looking around lest we see something we did not want to see.
The problem with the unknown is that it leaves space for imagination. Even worse, this imagination was being fuelled by the rustling leaves and breaking branches that definitely confirmed movement all around us. Night wasn't as quiet as daytime.
The risks racing through your mind had our hearts pumping and adrenaline at an all-time high. The fear was palpable as we were well aware we exposed and vulnerable.
It was now an hour in to the hike back and we felt it best to take a break. Our bodies were completely worn out and de-hydrated. We had been walking for a total of over 3 hours in steep terrain. The temperatures had now dropped and our hands were freezing.
With the wind howling ominously, there was a certain energy all around us. It felt like the mountain had come alive and we were exposed to Kenya at it's wildest. It's very easy to think of Kenya as just her major cities and forget that this land is as untamed as it is stunning. We had gone through all emotions by that point and in as much as we had pushed the envelope further than we would have wanted to, our souls were lit with an unmatchable flame.
In the distance, very faintly and when the wind subsided, we could hear some music. This was definitely coming from the vehicle and that meant we weren't too far away. We jumped up and prepared for our final trek. Suddenly, the mood grew darker as we could hear some movement very close to us. First, the sound of leaves rustling then a crack of a twig. Then came this really low grunt. We looked at each other and gave each other a grave knowingly look.