Date: 18th of March 2017
Venue: Castle Mountain lodge, Mt. Kenya
Nairobi to Kutus 120 kms, Kutus to Rukenya 4 kms. At Rukenya, you’ll get onto a comely traffic shy road for a steady upward 16kms drive from an altitude of around 1300 metres to the Castle Station gate and a further 4 kms of forest dirt road to the Castle Mountain Lodge sitting at 2057 m asl.
At the lodge there will be quite a number of runners, some spent the night either camping or in the Lodge. Kick off time for the run is 9am, having arrived 40 mins early there is good time to take a tour around the lodge, the mountain looks stunning from here, the forest too, and there is a waterfall a few metres away tucked in thick forest… there are signs warning you to ‘Beware of Wild Animals’.
Approximately 30 runners gather around for the routine chairman’s pre-race sermon and the run is on. Shortest distance will be 14 kms and longest 40 kms. Deviating from tradition, you’ll carry your phone to capture the sights… and the odd chance of being chased by a wild animal. The photos appearing here are of course amateurish and a little underwhelming, but one Davis has clearly refused to share his superior ones…
Run starts up, through the forest straight towards the mountain. 4 kms and two rivers later there is a wide road, freshly dug with thick dust. Turning right leads up the mountain, left leads down. A pack of six runners take the left turning and head down the mountain. As you run down, you are puzzled at the need of such a road in the forest.
You’d expect a run starting at 9 am to be one hot run; not this one. The cool mountain air will freshen you up and the kilometers will drift by such that before you know it, 8 kms have flown past and you get to a gate and exit the forest. From here the run is along the electric fence marking the forest boundaries.
Running along the forest edge will take you through some steep descents and ascents with the runners quenching their thirst from the cool, clear mountain waters at the bottom of each descent before embarking on the uphill tasks.
You’ll now be running sandwiched between the forest on your one side and tea plantations on your other. You’ll notice that the tea plantations are largely Nyayo tea zones forming a buffer between the forest and human habitation. The run briefly ventures into human habitation where you run through intense small scale farming of coffee, more tea etc… and of course Nduma (Arrow Roots). You soon get back to the forest edge and work your way back to the Castle gate, the run is 19kms thus far.
By this time you will have realized something is amiss, you took the wrong turn on the mountain road. You were to first go up the mountain before turning back down to the gate. Knowing that you are unlikely to forgive yourself for missing what the run had in store further up the mountain, you make up your mind to run all the way back up the mountain and explore the missed section of the run. One problem; with 19 kms done, your energies will be running low, not to mention that the next section is an uphill affair. Buying a 500ml Fanta from a nearby shop solves the problem.
From the gate to the camp was 4 kms while driving, it is now 4 uphill kms while running. There is one sure way to handle the run up, start slow then go slower. The forest is good company, plus the odd waterfall and dam with pipes ferrying water to humanity downstream.
At the camp you go on up. There are a number of runners (hikers is more accurate) walking leisurely down the last stretch of their 14kms. On reaching the mountain road, you take the ‘up’ turn.
You’ll run through more forest, the dust soon giving way to muddy patches. Rain clouds congregate up above. The mountain has since retreated into the clouds; you can now tell you are in mountain zone proper. You will hardly be struggling at this point, partly because the mountain air efficiently cools your engines and partly because of your pedestrian pace and photo stops.
A large expanse of clearing comes up. This would be a horror scene to a hardcore conservationist. The so called ‘sustainable’ logging is going on in earnest, the kind where top dollar trees are grown in degraded forest sections for harvesting at maturity. This is also where the mystery of the road is solved -a conduit for the gigantic felled pine trees. If you were to ask that hardcore conservationist to name the road they’d look you in the eye and say ‘highway of sin’… but you have your more pressing conservation efforts directed towards your fast depleting levels of Fanta.
The highway of sin gives way to a ‘Mountain boulevard’, a cozy little lane leading further up. You now have the forest all to yourself. The tree line comes up soon after and the forest gives way to random shrubs and lush vegetation, the bamboo zone a little farther up. If you’ve hang around the mountain climbing types, you probably have heard this phrase ‘the mountains are calling’ whenever they get the itch to scale yet another peak…the call of the mountain can be heard from here.
Just when you start thinking it’s about time to turn back, what with the dark pregnant clouds hanging low and falling energy levels, you get to an old forest house, a little farther is a mountain cabin complete with a lounging terrace overlooking the world below and two seats just asking to be sat on (which you do). The run this far is 31 kms.
The lane comes to a dead end at the cabin and therefore turning point for the run. Farther on is bamboo and more bamboo. This is a Mt. Kenya climbing route-‘Kamweti’ route- climbers have to beat a track through thick Bamboo from here.
At this point, you are plotting how you’d attempt to venture a little further up the mountain in the next edition of this run, through bamboo and whatever else… but those are dreams. The sane immediate action would be to turn back and make your way down to the lodge, 7 kms of downhill… easy-peasy… the rain just manages not to fall denying you a more complete experience. The run ends, 37.92 kms, decent mileage.
Lunch is taken at the lodge. If you are in a hurry to travel back to your origin, don’t sit, take your lunch standing up, or else you risk being seduced by the surroundings and interesting tete a’ tete going on as you lounge on the Castle’s raised wooden patio overlooking the Forest. By the time you drag yourself to your feet, its two hours later…