Attractions in Tharaka Nithi County
1. Mount Kenya National Park
Originally known as Mount Kirinyaga, loosely translating to the “Mountain of God” or “Kirima kia Nyaga”, Mount Kenya is, without doubt, the most pleasing scenery around Central Kenya. Overlooking Kikuyuland, this UNESCO World Heritage Site takes up all the land around the mountain over 11,000 ft and the lower lying regions of Lewa Conservancy and the Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve which were included in the world heritage area in 2013. Mount Kenya National Park is more scenic than faunal, and is most venerated as a hiking destination. It offers exciting prospects for day excursions as well as a rewarding challenge for the strong-minded and avid mountain climbers aiming for Point Lenana (3rd highest peak), Point Nelion (the 2nd highest peak) and Point Batian (the highest peak). Point Lenana is the most popular destination for hikers, which is easily accomplished in three days (round-trip) by almost anyone who is fit. It was once summitted by a girl of 8 years. There are seven diffrent hiking trails in Mount Kenya National Park to Point Lenana. As with many mountain parks, a good watch for weather is important and hikers should only consider the dryer parts of the year. Between December to March, or between July to October (the dryer seasons) conditions are optimum for a hiking-adventure to Point Lenana.
2. Chogoria Route
Most hikers aiming to hike Chogoria Route make Chogoria Town 58 kms north of Embu and 41 kms south of Meru along B6 Road their starting-off place. The Chogoria Route leaves Mutindua Village above Chogoria Town (to the east of the mountain) and follows a ridge north of the Nithi River to the Urumandi Hut (10,100 ft.) at the forest edge. It continues along a well-marked path along the north ridge of the Gorges Valley to Hall Tarns and finally traverses the eastern and southern slopes of Point Lenana to reach Top Hut. It was the traditional trail up the mountain in the 1920’s, and is still used occasionally by hikers who require the assistance of Meru porters. Its drawback is its length, for the ascent to Top Hut requires three days. Chogoria Route stretches out for 30 kms from Chogoria Gate to Point Lenana on the eastern side of Mount Kenya and it is the longest route to Point Lenana, and perhaps the most difficult of the seven trails.
For all the difficulties of using it, hikers are rewarded with once-in-a-lifetime views including Lake Ellis, the Temple, Lake Michaelson, Hall Tarns, the Giant Billiard Table, Ithaguni Hills, Nithi Falls, Vivienne Falls and Mugi Hill. It has spectacular cliffs too. Chogoria has been vouched for as the most scenic route to Point Lenana. From Chogoria Gate it takes on average 5 days, round-trip. Most hikers on arrival at Chogoria Gate opt to drive up through the Bamboo Forests to Mount Kenya Bandas and the first stopover. This shortens the trip down to 4 days. Day 2 takes on the 17 kms stretch to River Nithi Camp over a wide forest track with plenty of wildlife to sights en route. The popular Urumandi Hut near Nithi Falls is no longer in service. From here hikers can scout Nithi Falls, Lake Ellis or Mugi Hills. From Nithi Camp it is 5 hrs to Minto’s and the jumping-off camp to Point Lenana. The pre-dawn final push for Point Lenana begins around 3 am and takes about 3 hours, arriving just in time for sunrise. The descent goes through Shimpton, Mackinder’s Valley to Judmiere’s Camp and the last layover.
From Lake Ellis to Lake Michaelson is a jaw-droppingly beautiful six hour walk, rejoining the main Chogoria trail then rising along the sweep of the Gorges, or Nithi, Valley. Far away up to our right, the main peaks – Batian, Nelion and Lenana edged into view. – The Literary Traveller
3. Lake Michaelson
Although this lies just over boundary in Meru County, no description of Mount Kenya, and for that matter hiking Chogoria Route, would be complete without a mention of the splendorous lochan of Lake Michaelson that occupies one of the glacially excavated rock basins in the moorland area of Mount Kenya National Park. It is one of the waxed lyrical natural wonders seen along Chogoria Route, especially of its appearance of grandeur. It is sighted between Nithi River Camp and Camp Minto, on day-3. The first impression on the hiker is just how blue the lake is, despite this being the most photographed of the 27 tarns in Mount Kenya National Park. Lake Michaelson is encircled on three of its sides by the steep crags formed from centuries of erosion, grandly carving pier-like obelisks which are spectacularly distinguished as “the Temples”. The magnificent Lake Michaelson, with mirror-like reflection and crystalline clarity, beautifully cited at 14,000 ft., is also a treasured campsite for mountaineers as well as a popular sojourn on air-trips. On most days Vivienne Falls can also be sighted from here.
4. Vivienne Falls
Below Lake Michaelson, high above the gorges, is the exceptional but unpraised 80 ms Vivienne Falls, which is both impressive for its indelible beauty and as a relic of the extraordinaire adventures of Vivienne de Waterville – British travel writer and adventurer – after whom the falls was named in the 1930’s. Vivienne Waterville arrived at Mount Kenya National Park on December 25, 1928, aged 28, and she would spend the next two months at Urumandi Hut nearby Nithi Falls, the base from which she explored the mountain highlands. “She had come there to seek solace in nature after an early life marked by epic loss” – Literally Traveller. She was the only child of Swiss-French naturalist and artist Bernard Perceval de Watteville who had been killed a few years prior by a lion in Congo. Not easily accessible, Vivienne Falls takes about 3 hours (round trip) to explore, most conveniently from Lake Michaelson. It is a relatively short distance but an incredibly treacherous one. The Falls is reached by going down two steep drops from Lake Michaelson and across a vertical rock face that leads to the rock pool.
5. Kinondoni Lodge
Constructed in 1983 to revamp the engaging Chogoria Route up Mount Kenya, this alpine backcountry lodge, set at 3,000 m in the hushed montane scape, is a perfect launching base for hikers. “Anyone touring Mount Kenya National Park through Chogoria Gate in Tharaka-Nithi County must visit Kinondoni Lodge. Located about 33 kms from Chogoria Town at the heart of Mount Kenya forest and 3,000 metres above sea level, it offers a resting and viewing point for those touring the mountain. Right from the lodge you can sight various interests of Mount Kenya” – Alex Njeru. Kinondoni Lodge sleeps up to 40 in a series of wooden cottages with fine views of Point Lenana, Giant Billiard Table or Baren Table, Mpaku Marshlands, Lake Ellis, and Mau Mau Caves. It can be reached using 4×4 vehicles for trippers not planning to hike up to Point Lenana. Some highlights at the lodge are spotting plenty of wildlife in the vicinity, particularly in the morning and evening, and evening bonfires which warm the crisp nights.