Hiking Mt. Longonot; the Volcanic Mountain at the Heart of the Great Rift Valley.
Do you fancy a short yet strenuous hike that offers you the freedom to experience the pristine East African wilderness? Its time you made a trip to Mt Longonot. You first get a glimpse of this mountain rising from the floor of the Great Rift Valley as you cruise along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, barely 60 km from Nairobi. Standing at a magnificent 2,776 m above sea level and about 750 m from base, the view of this dormant volcanic mountain is breathtaking!
It is aptly named Mt Longonot after the Maasai word oloonong’ot meaning steep ridges or mountain of many spurs. It is one of those adventure destinations that are easily attainable over a weekend, even for the most novice of hikers.
The 3.1 km hiking trail runs from the park entrance to the crater rim with a further 7.2 km loop round the crater. The hike can take 3 – 5 hours depending on your preferred pace. It is one of those destinations that you would like to visit over and over again.
Quick Guide on What to Expect.
There are numerous strategic viewpoints on the highway that allows you to take in the view of the Great Rift Valley in its entire splendor. You can stop at some of them and enjoy the scenery and purchase a few souvenirs.
Once you get to the Mt Longonot National Park, prepare to flex your muscles. The trail has several sections with a resting area after each of them. Like all other good, uphill hiking trails, this one will lull you into a false sense of ease with a gentle rise to the first hill. This gets your limbs and lungs free in preparation for the second section of the trail. At the end of the section, you can take a rest.
The second section of the Mt Longonot hiking trail is a total workout, not for the faint hearted! The steep terrain is nothing short of hair-raising. Add that to the copious amounts of dust and the unforgiving scorching sun and body heat and you have one of the best workouts of your life. Here is the good news; once you are done with this section, you will be closer to the rim.
The third section is gentle as if to tell you that life isn’t all huff and puff. This eases you to the tough fourth section. But as demanding as the fourth section is, it doesn’t come close to the adrenaline induced by the second section.
After the grueling fourth section, all sweaty and panting, nature rewards you with a breathtaking view of the crater. The massive crater floor bears a thick carpet of dense, green vegetation, quite a contrast from the dusty, dry, sparsely vegetated mountain sides. Once you get up to the rim and look down at the bowl, you will be glad you endured the hike.
You can go round the crater if you so wish; it is about 7.2 km. Now here is the deal, the circumnavigation path is less than a meter wide, and at some parts, you come really close to a precipitous plunge down either side of the rim! But you get to enjoy spectacular views of the Rift Valley and you can also see Lake Naivasha at a distance.
The hike down the mountain is a little easier; you are so full of the majesty of the views that you do not even feel the strain. Additionally, you already know what to expect.
Some Tips to Keep In Mind.
Now, if you want to conquer Mt Longonot, here are some nuggets to make the expedition easier.
• Try to be there as early as you can so that you can beat day-heat. Alternatively, you can plan a hike in June/July as the weather is much cooler
• A walking stick will help you keep balance; get one. They are readily available at the park
• You need your energy so carry a few snacks. Remember to carry plenty of water too.
• Be psychologically prepared to get down and dirty. The hike up the mountain is very steep, dusty and slippery. On more than one occasion you will be forced to be on all fours to get by. You will also get to enjoy some slides down dusty paths on the descent.
• When going round the crater, hike counter-clockwise as it is less steep compared to the clockwise descent.
Hiking Mt Longonot is one of the most exciting, invigorating and rewarding experiences despite the rough sections. This is one destination that will get you to fall in love with nature.
It is always advisable to take a guide with you as you go up the mountain. They are familiar with the terrain and will guide you appropriately in case of any mishaps.
Fun Facts on Mt Longonot.
• Mt Longonot is a stratovolcano. This means that it is built by layers upon layers of hardened pumice, lava, tephra and volcanic ash.
• The volcanic mountain, according to history, last erupted in 1860, and the hot lava left ridges on the mountain sides
• The Mt Longonot National park is a protected area under Kenya Wildlife Services
• You can enjoy a range of activities at the park such as game viewing, rock climbing, walking, biking and scenery viewing.
• The national park is home to birds of prey and a paradise for bird watchers (binoculars comes in handy)
• Mt Longonot crater is home to a range of flora and fauna, as well as streams and bushes
• You can enjoy an overnight stay at Oloongonot Campsite
• The park is only 60 km northwest of Nairobi, accessible via tarmac road
• Longonot is home to Kenya’s most famous satellite earth station
What to Carry On a Hike to Mt Longonot
There are a few must-haves that make your hike enjoyable, pleasurable and unforgettable. Here is a brief list of items you cannot afford to miss.
• Park entry fees
• Identification documents (ID/Passport)
• Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat
• Suitable hiking shoes with good sole grip
• Snacks/picnic lunch and water
• A camera, binoculars and a guide book
• Food and camping gear for intended overnight stay.
Hiking at Mt Longonot is for the fit, strong willed and adventurous souls. If you enjoy nature, a good workout and a cruise through the scenic Kenyan countryside, this is one activity you will enjoy. The park is not far from the capital Nairobi and the hike takes about 5 hours – quite manageable even for novice explorers.