Approximately 90 km north-west of Nairobi, just south of Lake Naivasha lies the famous (infamous) Hell’s Gate National Park. It was named so by British explorers Fisher and Thomson (1883) who upon seeing the narrow break in the cliffs spouting horrible smelling sulphurous gases and suffering a subsequent defeat by the hostile Maasai warriors in the area, decided that the area was at the very gates of hell. The national park itself was established in 1984 and has since become renowned for its breath-taking landscape and unique gorges.
Departure time for the Satima trip to Hells Gate was slated for 2p.m Saturday, 6th September, but as is the norm in this great continent, actual departure time was an hour later. And so eleven intrepid adventurers set out to Hells Gate at 3pm. It was an uneventful two-hour journey and we were soon paying the fees at the park gate. The first thing that hits one about Hells Gate National Park is that its geography is unbelievably beautiful. It has the kind of beauty that you see in a photograph and the first thought you have is ‘Photoshop!’
We were able to find a campsite with a direct view of a watering hole near which some buffaloes were grazing. Some of the more daring among us even attempted to get closer to the herd to get some close ups. We divided the firewood collecting (we could only collect fallen branches), setting up the tents and unpacking of the food among ourselves. By 6.30 we were settled in. We played a game of bluff as our chefs prepared ugali, kales and some beef (ugali for eleven men is no joke!). After supper, we shared a few stories by a blazing fire. Maybe it was the heavy meal or maybe we were tired but by 11 pm we had turned in for the night.
We were awake by seven the following morning. Washing utensils, pulling down the tents, making breakfast and packing took us to ten o’clock, at which point we left for the gorge. On the way we were able to photograph herds of buffaloes, zebras, antelopes and little families of warthogs. We were lucky enough to see giraffes who liked to hide in the bushes as they munched on tree leaves. We got to the gorge in no time. A number of us had been to Hells Gate before so we opted to hike through the gorge without the help of a guide.
Jumping over the muddy patches of land, moving from stone to stone, we progressed through the gorge. Every now and then, a few of us would stop and take selfies. However we soon noticed that a young boy seemed to be leading us for he would walk ahead of us and then stop to wait if we lagged too far behind. When we stopped at the Devil’s Shower, a place where water cascaded down the cliff walls, the boy took a moment to tell us how Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider was filmed at that location. He also told us that the creators of The Lion King used some of Hells Gate scenery as part of the setting in the movie. He showed us a part of the gorge where erosion was very active and we were able to see the point where previous travellers had engraved their initials on the gorge walls. It was amazing in the fact that the engravings from 2012 were as high as three metres from the current ground level. The boy then led us up an emergency exit to go climb to the base of the Central Tower an iconic land feature in Hells Gate. The boy then gave us a story on how white tourists used to climb the towering landscape until one day a climber fell to his death. No more climbing takes place.
The boy then led us to a hot spring whose water was dangerous to use as it was full of sulphurous compounds. Afterward he led us up the cliff wall to a breath taking view of the gorge that was the final destination in the hike. We thanked the boy for his trouble and some of us even bought a few handmade artefacts some Maasai women were selling (out of gratitude). We drove to the Lake Naivasha viewpoint where we had lunch. It was time to leave Hell’s Gate and we were mostly sad to leave.
We had a surprise stop on our way back at Crayfish Camp where we went on a thirty minute boat ride tour of Lake Naivasha. We saw hippo families where the male hippo (there is only one male in a family of hippos) would give us a warning look if we got too close, beautiful water birds and houses that had become flooded due to the steadily rising waterline of the lake. We left for home.
Stinking of smoke and sweat, we arrived at 5pm where we had to do a race against time to wash the van and have a shower in time for mass at 5.30pm. We made it, barely, and ended our trip to Hells Gate almost ironically with a mass service.
by Vincent Kabiru