Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala will climb Mt Kenya this weekend as he seeks to tap into hiking and mountaineering experiences as one of the drivers of tourism recovery.
Last week, Mr Balala climbed Mt Longonot and announced plans to build a cable car and zip line to attract adventurer lovers.
In recent years, Kenyans and international tourists have rekindled their love for the outdoors, seeking fun in extreme activities such as ziplining, days-long hikes, rock climbing, and kayaking.
In 2017, the Tourism secretary embarked on a five-day excursion to Mt Kenya’s Lenana peak to raise awareness of Kenya’s adventure tourism potential as well as profile the mountain as a favourable tourist destination.
He said despite the increase in the number of hikers, which according to the Kenya Wildlife Service stands at 270,783 people between January 2010 and December 2021, the mountain has been silently battling a sanitation crisis.
The drop-toilets are old and few, hence strained by the high number of users, forcing hikers to answer the call of nature in the wilderness and contaminating water sources.
It is more than a century since English geographer Halford John Mackinder made the first ascent to Mt Kenya’s highest peak on September 13, 1899.
Since then, huts have been built and trails marked, allowing more people to successfully summit at least one of the three peaks named after Maasai chieftains. Batian is the highest peak, followed by Nelion, then Point Lenana.
Other lesser-known peaks are Terere and Sendeyo. Nelion and Batian require good climbing experience, but Point Lenana can be climbed by most people with a fitting attitude, decent general fitness, the correct equipment, and an experienced guide.
Stellah Kaburu, a warden and guide who has successfully climbed the mountain at least 20 times says the mountain is also a birdwatchers’ haven.
Numerous rare bird species have found a home in a forest that flanks Lake Rutundu, one of the lakes in Mt Kenya.
The most outstanding, she says, is the scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird. Lake Rutundu also attracts anglers, people coming to fish with a rod and line as a hobby, and campers. Winnie Rioba, a Nairobi-based travel influencer, has also organised countless girls-only trips to experience the afro-alpine flora, crisp air, and over 30 trout-laden lakes and tarns.
Other popular mountaineering and hiking destinations include Ngong Hills, Menengai Crater, and Mt Elgon. The Aberdare Ranges is particularly preferred by most hikers for its diverse topography that features waterfalls, rocky outcrops, canyon-like V-shaped valleys, and mountain ranges.
Mt Longonot National Park is a domestic tourism magnet boasting at least half a million visits from Kenyans since 2010. About 50, 000 Kenyans visited in 2020 when the pandemic led to the closure of entertainment spots.
The Tourism CS said the cable car will add to the attractiveness of the park.
“To make the park even more attractive, we have laid the framework for a cable car and zip line for the benefit of adventurers. It might be of historical interest to note that we have identified and protected a historical site for a plane crash that happened back on December 24, 1968. Two passengers and a pilot died and we are in the process of locating the graveyard at which the three were buried,” he said.