Mt. Satima. Nothing I had read weeks leading to this day prepared me for the Mountain. At an elevation of about 4000m, I imagined something more difficult than Elephant Hill – also in the Aberdares – which was my last serious hike more than a year before. There was a voice telling me not to go. But my hiking boots had been hanging for a long time!
The bus ride to Mount Satima (Shamata Gate)
“The journey, not the destination matters…”, said T.S Elliot. But my goal was Satima. I slept through most of the journey only to wake up at the mention of Chapo’s. We had stopped and fellow hikers were storming a roadside restaurant to buy Chapatis.
A road sign indicated that Wanjohi was 2km away. A few meters ahead was Wanjohi Valley guest house which evoked the history of the place. Between the 1920s and 1940s, Wanjohi Valley was the playground of rich Europeans who believed in hedonism. It was in this region that Sir’s, Lords, Lady’s, Earls, Counts, and Countess sought amusement and pleasure through drugs, drinks, and sex.
During the rest of the journey, I looked out for any evidence of the “Happy Valley Set” but saw nothing other than one large colonial building a few meters from the road. The bus went up the bumpy winding road past villages and farms. From the window I saw men carrying milk gallons, others supported their waists on jembes while women bent double tilling fields.
A group of boys playing football that early in the morning reminded me of my childhood. A week at school was the longest. Being sent back home for a pencil was always better than staying in class for a double English lesson. We never looked forward to cramming endless verbs, adjectives, and their close cousins. A typical punishment was fetching water from a distant dam to quench the ever thirsty and cracked floors of our classrooms. Towards the dam, we would walk telling stories from the previous weekend. Of hunting, hanging on slow truck’s tailgates, and fun things which made our mothers yell.
At 11:00 am we arrived at the Shamata Gate and met up with a second group.
The 10.5 Km drive to Twin Rocks through “Fangorn forest“.
After clearing with the forest service, both busloads proceeded into the forest towards twin rocks where our day hike would begin.
The drive was scenic by all means which gave me a thought that we should have started hiking at the gate. Through the window seat, this forest was a great adventure movie. The green undergrowth and tall ancient trees with noodle-like branches gave it similarity with the Fangorn forest. An eland heard the buses and stood still watching interrupters of her peace drive by.
I spotted a tree with a marking on its length indicating a distance of just over 5 kilometers from the gate. From here the landscape started changing to what was to accompany us for the rest of the hike. A land of rocks, flora, fauna, marshes, grass and distant hills.
Welcome to Satima: The Twin Rocks
We got off the buses and took a group photo before the hike. The twin rocks of Satima stood there with pride welcoming us to their territory. And so did the arrows on the wooden signpost.
Lesatima: 8.5 km (pointing north) Rhino gate: 12.2 km (pointing west) Shamata gate: 10.5 km (pointing east)
“…… I will be in front and my friend here will be at the back. Please don’t rush. It is a moderate hike and everyone will get to the summit. Tuanze sasa”, said our guide from the KWS.
I joined the first group and followed the footsteps of the leading guide. We walked in a file along vehicle tracks and branched off to the trail after about one kilometer. The guide looked back and said, “That was a rehearsal, we are now getting started”. And true to his words, we were soon in the bogs and marshes going uphill.
Everyone went quiet apart from the lady in the app who kept announcing the distance traveled. I hated the guy and his mobile phone for that and wished he could drop behind. The wind sang, hiking pants whistled to the friction of feeble legs, butterflies gave us company and the yellow flowers completed the fellowship.
Just after the “6.75 km to go point”, Satima opened up to wonderland. Streams of cool water popped out of the marshes. Rock formations became more pronounced and bogs slowed us down even more. This stretch was a rock climbers paradise and I swore that if I was into the sport, I would revisit and camp here for a weekend.
Towards the Dragon teeth
The hike became more fun as we approached the Dragon teeth. Marshes and bogs laughed at our sorry feet mockingly. I accepted the fact that being soaked was inevitable and started walking carefree. It was a pattern of one foot forward and the second half dipped into the marshes. But the closer we got to the dragon the more excitement built up.
Life in the wild is wonderful. You fill your eyes with wonder until your brain cannot process the beauty anymore. The rocks, the flora and fauna, the bogs and marshes, tussock grasses, breeze, and humans marching on with soaked boots. All these things put a blanket on reality. And a traveler forgets the traffic and noise awaiting them in the city.
We entered the dragon and took a short break on its tongue – the soft grass.
The rocks (Dragon’s teeth) were baked whole brown by the dragon’s fire. It was an amazing sight that seemed to take us back in time. This space looked like an ancient kingdom with teeth giving it an impenetrable wall. The middle is like a king’s throne and the heart of the citadel. Around him were rocks that had a natural formation similar to the Moai heads on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). These were soldiers guarding their kingdom. We were the invaders….
The group behind us shouted and we could hear their echoes bouncing back from the animal’s jaws. We had fought our fight; it was time to move on!
Quitting voice in my head
We started down the valley in a single file. The ground was dry but the air became thinner as we trekked uphill. I slowly started to lose my senses. The landscape became blurred. Everything was ghostly-silent save for my heart which seemed to beat from the knee. And suddenly my mind gave me ideas. Conflicting voices fought for my attention.
The Loud voice said, “Hey man, we’ve come too far. Let’s take a short break. Afterall there are a bunch of other people behind us. We stop here for five minutes and then proceed.”
And the soft voice objected, “One step at a time buddy. Just one. It will take us closer to the summit. Don’t allow yourself to fall behind the pack. Keep moving. You can do this.”
I was about to give in to the loud voice when I heard the guy in front of me say “Hii kitu sio mchezo”. He mumbled something else and then stopped and fell behind. This gave me some energy to keep going.
Before long, we were at the “1.75km to go mark”. The summit was visible and the trail leading to it looked like something achievable. I made a stop at this point and the group behind caught up.
On the dot of twenty-eight past two in the afternoon, we were at the Peak of Mt. Satima. My feet complained and my hands shouted at the chill. I sat on a rock, looked beyond the Aberdares towards Nyeri and thought to myself; This is a great comeback!
Done with Satima: The Journey back
After staying up on the summit for close to half an hour we started back. We rushed past the low hills and valleys and the dragon’s teeth, sinking our boots in the bogs without care. No one seemed to say goodbye to the rocks or the flowers or the streams. The waiting bus was our target.
On the bus, I settled on a window seat and watched the world in the darkness fall behind. The winding village roads down the mountain, the solar-lit houses, and people heading home. We hit the tarmac and cruised through towns and shopping centers. I saw the road sign to Wanjohi illuminated by a reflective strip, and then Engineer, Njabini, Flyover, Kimende, Limuru….
When the bus stopped for my turn to alight, I said goodbye to my companions and headed home. Back indoors I looked at my dirty boots and for a minute reminisced on the hike. This wasn’t the greatest of achievements. But it felt good to have reached the third highest point in Kenya after hanging my hiking gear for over one year.