Our surgery finished, four of us drove out to Mount Longonot National Park to climb the volcano that towers over the Rift Valley in front of the ENT House. The walk begins gently across the valley floor, surrounded by cactus and even more thorny acacia bushes. The trail quickly changes to a steep climb straight up the mountainside, in a slippery scree of volcanic pumice. At the next plateau, the cactus gives way to fragrant eucalyptus bushes, and animal tracks are readily apparent. A herd of Elan graze across the ravine. On previous trips, we have seen zebras and even been stopped by cape buffalo. Climbing again, we ascend a trail carved into a white powdery volcanic ash as fine as talcum powder. The trail is eroded 2-3 feet into the soil, and sometimes 6-8 feet deep. We reach the rim of the volcano after an hour, and peer down the sheer cliff into the crater, 1,000 feet below. The crater is an oasis of green, protected from the harvesting of trees for firewood that has turned the Rift Valley into an arid plain.
Circling right, we follow a well-worn path that is often no more than 2 feet wide, with a steep drop off on both sides. We spy a giraffe drinking from a stream in the valley. At noon we reach the summit at 9,700 feet, and eat fish sandwiches while gazing back at Kijabe. Small steam vents can be seen along the cliffs. The volcano has not erupted since 1863, and is stabilized by geothermal electric plants in Naivasha that help vent the pressure.
The summit is less than half way around the volcano, which is named Longonot after the Maasai phrase oloonong’ot, which means “mountain of many spurs.” The trail goes up and down each tooth, often requiring us to climb on all fours. After 2 and a half hours we have circled the dusty mountaintop and begin our slippery descent. We returned to Kijabe filthy, exhausted and satisfied. I phoned home while watching the sun set over my conquered mountain.