When we set out Saturday morning at 6.00 am for the 2 hills we anticipated to have a fun filled weekend full of memorable moments.
After making a series of wrong turns, we ended up lost in the Aberdare forest, tired, wet and shivering from the frequent rains and unbearable winds that battered us all night through. The fun hike turned out to be a number of lessons on how quickly mistakes in preparation can turn a fun excursion into a possible search and rescue mission. Luckily enough the 14 of us made it out safe and sound albeit 24 hrs later.
- Proper planning and preparation.
We all gathered and waited for Simon at the base of the Kinangop hill to come back with the guys who were behind. At exactly 7.00 pm they finally joined us and we embarked on our journey out of the forest. At this point it was quite dark and Simon had earlier on expressed concerns of visibility as he uses the topography to map out his routes. Nevertheless he still insisted that he could still get us out.
As we headed out I remembered what Julius had told us before we set out for Kinangop. He had warned that time was far too gone and we would better hurry not to be caught out in the dark, his tone was more pessimistic about the whole idea, I guess his intuition and experience in the forest was at play.
I consider this to be the first lesson, Simon the guide should have mapped out the area a couple of days before and tracked out the routes in a map just in case it got dark and he could not rely on the mountains for direction.
Secondly the group was not prepared for an emergency situation. We should have packed extra food, warm clothing, temporary shelters and proper GPS gadgets.
- Trust your gut.
In a single file we followed Simon up and down the ridges through the forest. At about 10.00 pm we realized that we were not really losing altitude, we kept going through the same mountain vegetation. At this point we decided to question Simon whether he was sure he was really up to the task, we had now spent a total of 13 hrs trekking needless to say we were very tired, in addition to that our food supplies were slowly diminishing, we had not anticipated to be out for so long.
Simon finally admitted that he was having difficulties locating the correct route at night and conceded to what I had suspected all along, we were officially lost. The only strategy he had left was to locate a certain waterway that flowed down all the way to Mtarakwa town – the exit point. We relentlessly followed one stream after the other. This too did not seem to help, there were many streams already forming in the forest and we seemed to still be going in circles.
- Stop agonizing and take one step at a time.
At around 12.00 am in the morning we reached what seemed to be an actual river, we dared not cross over as we had no idea how deep it was and once more Simon stated that he was finding it difficult to get the correct route. He advised that we had to go back up the trail and gain higher ground and start a fresh, news that I did not want to hear.
The constant descent and ascend had started taking toll on my knees and quads. I fell a couple of times and almost lost a shoe in the mud, in many occasions I held on to stinging nettles unsuspectingly for support. My energy levels were very minimal and I just wanted to give up already. It felt like we were in a constant battle with the forest, it tried to keep us in while we fought to get out, many of us now had cuts and bruises all over our hands (we called them battle scars 🙂 ).
I started questioning myself whether we would really get out of the mess we were in. I wished I was in my warm bed a cup of hot chocolate in hand catching up on my favorite series, a total contrast of what I was going through at the moment. What on earth was I thinking when I signed up for this! I chose to stop agonizing and started concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, slowly as the hours went by we made it to higher ground.
- Identify reliable emergency services.
At 3.00 am we stopped to rest. Cell service was close to non-existent in the forest, luckily enough this point had service. We decided to first consult Julius on whether he could call his colleagues, the KWS rangers, to start a search and rescue, his response took me aback. Apparently when it gets dark no one will dare come look for you, your only option is to sit it out till morning when a team would be sent.
Very disappointed we at least thought Amref flying doctors emergency service would be in a better position to help. They responded by stating that they also do not evacuate at night!
Lesson learnt: Identify reliable emergency evacuation services beforehand.
- If you’re stranded and it’s really cold keep moving.
The forest was dangerously cold, the longer we stayed without making any movement the more prone we were to getting hypothermia we therefore unanimously agreed to keep moving to warm up the body. Since we still had cell service we decided to check how far we were from the nearest town. According to Google maps we had about 26kms to cover before emerging in Njabini town. We noted that we needed to keep heading east just in case cell service was no longer available.
- A lucky lifeline.
The route led us straight back to the river, this was around 5.00 am. Funny enough the first time we made it to this place we did not notice street lights in the far distance, luckily enough someone spotted them. We were all filled with immense joy and renewed strength, we were getting out of the forest! Still cell service was very unstable but thank God for those street lights truly our light at the end of the tunnel. Whenever cell service was low and we couldn’t rely on Google maps we simply followed the light.
Lesson: always be on the lookout for that sign of hope.
At 6.00 am in the morning we finally made it to the bamboo forest, an indication that we were following the right route out, the bamboo forest is located on the edge of the Aberdare forest. Once the sun was up, Simon was able to trace the correct route and we finally made it out at exactly 10.00 am Sunday morning.
The most intriguing bit about the whole adventure is that we did not come across any wild animal! Aberdare forest is commonly inhabited by leopards, elephants and buffaloes, we only spotted one elephant in the morning hours and that was it. No one got seriously hurt and no wild animal attacked us a true testament that God is real if you ask me.
The below screenshot summarizes how far we walked and calories consumed.
We almost made a complete U-turn here.
So next time you go hiking always prepare for the worst.