This should have been the first mountain I’ve hiked without reading anything about it. I searched for Instagram or YouTube videos on it, and I just got little snippets about the hike. Nothing conclusive. Except one person who said that the hike took them 9hrs 41 minutes, and in my head, I thought that they meant everything- like the journey from Nairobi, the hike and the journey back, but how wrong I was!!
We started the hike at around 8.30am. I had been picked along the way, and Xtreme Adventures, the travel agency that was taking us through the hike, did keep time in that we didn’t wait for them for more than 20 minutes in our pick up point.
We then got to the town where the tarmac ends, where we were supposed to pick the local guide and a Kenya Forest Services (KFS) guide. Nzaui has a forest reserve or is a forest reserve that is under KFS. The local guide was the one arranging with KFS, and though he got to our bus on time, the KFS guy had to follow us to the start of the hike.
The hike starts almost suddenly. Unlike other hikes where there is a whole stretch of a few kilometers of just walking on a low terrain, this one had ups and downs almost immediately.
Given that it’s my first hike of the year, I was unfit for it. Which had influenced my choice of it, because I had underestimated how tough a mountain in Ukambani would be. The fact that it’s not that hiked or hyped didn’t help matters. But it had been in my bucket list for a long time, so hoping onto this chance with Xtreme Adventures seemed like my best bet.
Anyway, so we start the hike and by 9.30 I’m panting and tired. And naively asked the local guide if we were quarter way through. Dude was like we haven’t even began yet.
So off we went. With the normal chatter and people getting shocked with just how many acres of mangoes, pixies and oranges this area had. For a long time now, Ukambani has been known as a dry area with famine and lack of water. Nevermind that areas like Kitui Central are greener than alot of the stereotyped green areas in central Kenya.
So for a lot of the people in the group, it was a surprise to find people with farms full of produce that would retail for a few million bucks for an average farm. We did have to pass by people’s farms though, especially at the start of the hike when there were no clear pathways.
The issue of no clear pathways would persist to the end of the fifth hill or so. I assume that because Nzaui is not one of the most common hiking destinations, the trails are not that well marked.
This caused issues because besides the local guide who could tell where the trail was, the rest of us couldn’t. Which means that the last group separated from the first group did get lost at some point. It’s like trying to find your way in a dense forest with undergrowth.
Luckily the travel agency had radios that they had given to the lady that had been chosen as the pace setter, while the other one was with the last group. This reminded me of the people who get lost in Aberdares. And how easy it is for that to happen here as well. My take as a hiker is that one should be careful when choosing a travel group to go with. If possible chose one with a good ratio between number of guides who know the place and number of hikers.
So to curb the issue of people getting lost, we had to ensure that one can see whoever is Infront of them and behind them. This meant maintaining a distance of less than 6 metres. Which in a way worked against anyone who wanted to take a slow pace throughout the whole hike.
But that wasn’t the only thing that worked against taking the hike slowly. The local guide was quite adamant that we should pick up the pace. Like extremely focused on that. He was always ahead and since he was the only one who knew the trail well, we had to hurry up. Making this I think the fastest I’ve ever walked in a hike start to finish.
At some point, around 1pm, people asked if they could take lunch. Energy levels were going down and we had had a few short breaks for snacking only. Our guide requested that we take lunch where other hikers usually do. Somewhere with water. Given that he had been underestimating time to us all along, like telling us half an hour when he meant an hour, we were a bit skeptical about his idea that it would only take an hour for us to get to the water point. But we agreed to take lunch there nevertheless.
And in two hours time, around 3.20pm, we got to the lunch point. It wasn’t as magical as I had expected though. It was a small spring that had been tapped for water. So barely any river or water body to look at.
But by this time, the truth had dawned to us. So turns out that Nzaui has 7 hills, meaning 7 summits. With the last one the one with the famous Nzaui Rock that can be seen from afar and is probably the reason most of us had wanted to hike Nzaui in the first place.
And right now, at 3.30pm, we had two more summits to go and a downhill trek to cover. When the person said that it took them 9hrs 41 minutes to do the Nzaui Hike, they didn’t mean plus the to and fro the Nairobi commute, they actually meant the actual hike. If anything, I would place it at 10hours 30 minutes if doing it while unfit and slightly faster than a normal hike.
Alternatively, we heard that some people just do the last two hills as they are the tallest and also contain the tourist attraction that is Nzaui Rock. And this kinda makes sense given that the two hills are the only ones with a well marked trail. Like you can’t miss it.
So we finished our lunch break and this time round we picked up the pace as chances of descending in darkness were quite high at this point if we weren’t careful enough.
My body had gotten used to being stretched beyond it’s limits at this point and was in an autopilot. Which would work against me while descending.
So from the top most part of Nzaui, there is only one small rock that can’t fit more than three people. That’s the summit. And one small misstep and one goes tumbling down over a hundred metres down.
But the real view of the whole rock, is seen from the descent. The majestic rock comes alive an hour or two after descending it.
Talking of the descent, this was the most riskiest and hardest descent I’ve ever done. You know the way despite stability issues the descent is not usually taxing to the body? I did sweat more descending rather than going up.
And this descent also explained to me the lack of pictures when searching for Nzaui before the hike. So turns out that you are going directly down a rock. Like the hill is a rock. And since you can’t go around it, you are going directly down. And weirdly enough, someone had crafted a small path down the rock. Small enough that you can’t stand with your two feet side by side, you have to put one foot in front of the other.
And one small misstep and you go tumbling down to your death. No one needs to tell you. If one has fear of heights, this is thoroughly not the descent for them. But we had no choice at this point. So off we went. And at this point, even if one wanted to take pictures, it’s not necessarily an option as it’s a choice between death and life. Which means that Nzaui Rock remains that mysterious hike that one discovers while on it.
But the views on the descent! Once one finishes that death threatening part that takes an hour and thirty minutes or so,the rest becomes slightly bearable. I did fall severally here, but at this point, it’s just the ground that’s the threat, not the cliff 20 centimeters from your foot. So this made us relax a bit and just push ourselves to finish the hike that I had been asking if we are quarter way through over 8 hours ago.
Finally, at around 7.00 pm, we finished the hike by having to pass through a river. Those who wanted to test if their boots were truly waterproof got the chance, while the rest of us enjoyed the cooling effect of sand and water on our overworked feet. Some people even went back to take a quick shower as it was dark and the water was really soothing.
Ultimately this was one hike that I was so glad that I went to. Despite knowing that my body would have all sorts of pains during the next week.
Enjoy some pictures from the Nzaui Hike below