The Eye of the12 Apostles, Aberdares

About the 12 Apostles

Hiking the 12 Apostles could be one of the most challenging decisions a hiker makes, partly because of the reviews and ratings the hike is given but more of the inner and self-decisions you will make on the trail to make it. The fact that it is not a trail for every hiker has left many sinking in mental meetings to determine whether to attempt it or forego the thought. Before you continue sinking into thoughts and need to choose when to do it, or whether to do it at all, I thought the experience and ideas of a person who has been there severally would help you paint a better picture to help you face that fear and decide when to go or not go at all.

The Twelve Apostles is one of the three famous peaks geographically in Muranga County, Kenya. The other two are Elephant Hill and Mount Kinangop. It is accessible through these other two peaks, approached from Nyandarua. You can start with either Mount Kinangop or Elephant Hill when going to the 12 Apostles, Elephant Hill being the best place to begin your journey to the majestic Apostles. Still hiked by few, the 12 Apostles attract many as most still want to satisfy their curiosity and the explorers in them. Besides, there is no better joy than conquering what avid hikers consider challenging. You are now wondering what a frequent visitor has to say about these 12 Apostles. And here you go.

Enthusiastic Start and Focus

Most hikers, who have no doubt about their resilience, come armed with their daypacks and torches as the hike starts when there is no light. 33km must start early to be complete in a day. At the start, at South Kinangop forest station (Njabini Gate), everyone is energetic and enthusiastic about the day, and beating the 2km to the forest gate is like a blink of an eye. You can imagine all the energy reserved for a tough day meeting 2km of an ideally flat area. Like photos are not a thing, you will find most saying we can take the photos way ahead to avoid time wastage on these starting sections. The next two kilometers also see similar energy, and most will zoom past the Elephant Hill starting point as if it’s a monkey business to pause in these easy sections.

Energy Drain Starts

In a few moments, the bamboo region dawns, and here, I don’t know what starts sucking the energy. I know you know or have heard about the bamboo region at Elephant Hill. It’s getting steep, and you still have a long way to go. It’s a step and a bog at a time, especially during the wet season. One photo at the desperado, and then everyone starts tackling the tail. This one sucks the rest of your energy, and by the time you are completing it, you are wondering whether the trek from the tail to the summit is not steep since it feels like another tail. Time targets fuel all this because getting to the 12 Apostles and avoiding the buffalos on their return from their errands in the evening requires you to meet the dark farthest at Elephant Hill summit on your way back. Some people go to the Elephant Hill summit for a photo, while others choose to rest and proceed with the others when ready.

The Way to the 12 Apostles

At the base of the pinnacle of the Elephant Hill summit is a diversion on the right that goes to Mount Kinangop and the 12 Apostles. Here is the punisher, the steep wall on the other side of Elephant Hill, right below the plane crash. You only understand the meaning of ‘punisher’ when coming back tired. Though not too steep, the trek to the rear peak of Mount Kinangop sucks the remaining energy, and by the time you get to the diversion to the 12 Apostles, you are back to your mental meetings. Past the stream crossing, near Mount Kinangop, I have seen tired people, and sometimes I have to look for a safe to store their ‘heavy’ luggage for collection when coming back. An ascent of 200m feels like 5km by now. A friend reached this diversion and gave up. Looking at them, their eyes had a look, ‘My life is more important than this.’

Here, you take a short rest and rise to the challenge ahead. The next section is very boggy, followed by very steep, and in the first 1km, you don’t understand the ‘waterproof’ of your hiking boots. You are all soaked, but you don’t care anymore. The best thing about this section is that it is mostly a descent when going to the summit of the 12 Apostles. I hope you understand what that means because if you don’t, I’ll bring you back here when the tale is sweeter. In this section, you will cross rivers and find steps of buffalo that just passed or fresh dung, and if you are lucky, you will spot one or several of the wild cows. Past the last river, there are two ascents to the base of the steepest rock. The reserves are almost empty here, and the body is probably busy converting any glycogen to support your next step.

The Summit Chronicles

When you get to the base of the steep rock, the fatigue is covered by a sense of safety because climbing here is scarier. You might wish to climb Mount Kinangop’s rock instead of this one. A friend reached here, looked at it, and asked for water. They took a moment, deep down, I knew what moment, and then said, ‘When done, just find me here.’ That’s how our friend started going back. So, one by one, a step at a time, we navigate, and once atop this rock, I have told people we are very close many times and don’t want to tell them again that this is not the summit, although we are at the 12 Apostles. The answer raises more trust issues when foggy because you can’t see past 10m. But in good weather, it is usually easy to point at the eye of the 12 Apostles and say it is right there, comfortably as if we will move straight ahead.

The Apostles Creed

Even when you can see the summit, everyone is tired, and you are okay giving up now. Still, to satisfy curiosity, people meander through two hills with one last demanding hill that shows you how close you can get to Nyeri if you miss a step. A friend crawled on their belly when going down this section. It was a risk, safety, and fun affair watching them crawl, praying hard that they do not miss a step because the drop on the other side is nothing you will be comfortable looking at thrice. Reaching the eye of the 12 Apostles feels like being in heaven after beating all the hell along. Ninety percent of the people I took here swore never to return. At the back of your mind, you are partially happy to get to the top, but you also remember the price to pay on your way back. I have seen the 12 Apostles Summit several times, and my recent time was wet as if I had swum my way there. The hailstones, which are popular there, had no mercy on me. Now, here is a sweet story.

An Ascent Instead of a Descent?

Yes! On the way back, remember the way to the Apostles was mainly a descent. And back you are ascending. Also, remember that your fuel tank is in an alarm state. It’s afternoon, and you have about 15 km to cover. Here, it is usually three steps, and pause until you are out of the steep ascent. You look at yourself and don’t want anything that feels like it’s adding weight to you, regardless of how useful. I remember a friend who was tired of their heavy, warm fleece and threw it away. A few moments up the hill, another friend asked me innocently if a motorbike could go there.

Once out, the view of the punisher gives goosebumps, but here you say, ‘Let me worry about it when I get there.’ Though exhausted, you push yourself through the descent, hoping the path gets shorter. By the time you get to the bogs near the base of the punisher, again, you ask the heavens to bring a parachute to fly you down. You don’t want to be on the mountain anymore. Having no option, you push yourself up. I remember a day I was so tired, and the noise of the stream here felt like the sound of elephants crossing. I have met elephants in worse scenarios, and I am almost not scared of elephants that are not attacking me.

The Punisher

Climbing the punisher milks not only energy but also hope and mind. The only motivation here is a movement away from the hyenas and buffalos, popular in Kinangop Valley, and the famous quote, ‘Going up is optional, but going down is mandatory.’ You will be lucky if you are done with the punisher before dusk and luckiest if dusk finds you at Desperado on your way back. Desperado is another headache. If it rains here in the dark, the section never seems to end. You will get to a point and be convinced that you are lost. The best time I recorded back to the starting point with a team was 9 pm. Time differences have been very minimal at other times. The worst is 11 pm. Once you get home, sleep, and relax, the reward comes when you wake up the next day. You have done what is a nightmare to many and are back safely.

Special Thanks

My appreciation goes to everyone I have met here. Your resilience is untamable. Special appreciation to the Hikers Arena team. The experience you have had on the trails, I am sure, will make you survive anywhere. Many thanks to everyone referred to as ‘a friend’ in this story. If you can relate to any section of the story, always say hi when we meet on the trails.

Thank you all for the read. I hope to see you on the next short one about how to hack ultra hikes in a day.

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