The Great “Around Lake Turkana” Expedition (Nov / Dec 2016)

In late 2016, a group of 7 intrepid adventurers got together to attempt the land circumnavigation of Lake Turkana, the biggest desert lake in the world, using standard 4-WD vehicles. The objectives were:

 1. To follow the shoreline of the Lake as closely as possible and only divert inland when absolutely necessary;

 2. To return to a nominal starting point ---and so complete the circuit of the Lake. This point eventually turned out to be  
    Baragoi, in Samburu ; a bit further from the Lake than hoped for.

For those familiar with the geography of Lake Turkana, it will come as no surprise to learn that the expedition could not always stay in sight of, or even reasonable proximity to, the coastline in several places. The coastal barriers are 5 in number:

1. On the central east lakeside, the Moite / Barigole lava hills.
These are the very hills that, in 1888, forced the Teleki – VonHohnel expedition inland, leading to the deaths of many guides, porters and animals due to dehydration.

2. At the north of the Lake, The Omo delta.
This is a complex of swamps, small lakes and watercourses. However, this failure to follow the shore can be regarded as only a technicality, as the Omo river itself, the source of Lake Turkana, is never far away.

3. On the central west lakeside, the Turkwel river and delta.
The river itself might be crossed during the dry season using special equipment; but, as said for the Omo, this should not really be an issue, as the river itself is an extension of the Lake   ----- and the 30 km drive west to Lodwar, to cross the only bridge, should not be considered “cheating”.

4. On the southwest shores of the Lake, the Loriu Range.
The foothills of these mountains slope down very steeply into the blue-green waters of the Lake. This is a formidable barrier more suited to passage by camels than wheeled-vehicles.

5. At the south end of the Lake, the “lava shield” or “The Barrier”
This separates the Lake from Lake Logipi in the Suguta Valley.
This is indeed a challenge, if only for the extraordinary high temperatures that can be experienced. But, not an insurmountable challenge; some of the expedition members did this ‘leg” earlier in the year (March) and, as described elsewhere, so did a party of Czech visitors, on motorcycles, in early 2017.

Apart from these shoreline obstacles, what else was challenging ?
Well, without a doubt, this has to be the Suguta Valley -- which is usually easy to get into but, often, verging on impossible to get out of !
On this occasion, the route across was the track from Lokori (via Kamuge) to Baragoi --- the last section of the safari in order to complete the circuit. Although relatively far south in the valley --- and, hence, far from Lake Turkana and not absolutely in the depths of the Suguta --- the crossing is hazardous and fraught with risks. This is disguised by the dangerously-alluring, surreal beauty of the place. It is only when the few human beings one can find in this vast, hot expanse of alkaline sand and lava, cannot tell you where to go to try to find vague traces of a track, that one starts to get worried.
The trepidation and sweating continue for many hours more as the vehicles attempt the steep, sinuous trail of boulders and rubble out of the valley, through the so-called “Samburu Gate” and Samburu Hills towards cold drinks and safety.

All in all, the expedition was considered to have succeeded in its objectives and, without a doubt, was a tough, enjoyable and never-to-be-forgotten experience.
The 2 vehicles used were a LandRover and a LandCruiser and both returned safely;   though the former required some repairs to the steering system in Maralal, before it could get back home. The expedition was 11 days/10 nights in total; but could have been done in 9 days/ 8 nights if 2 days of sightseeing in Ethiopia had been avoided.
The actual overnight campsites were:    (a) Loiyengalani  (b) Moite  (c) Ileret  (d) Omorate (Ethiopia)  (e) Nachakui   (f) Eliye Springs  (g)Elelea (Nachorugwai desert)   (h) Lokori.

God willing and strong cars available, the current “circuit” around Lake Turkana will, in the future, be drawn tighter. At the moment it is too ‘loose’ in the south and southwest. The following observations may prove helpful:

  1. It is already possible to include Logipi - Nebuyatom in the circuit.
    Locals in Parkati say there is some attempt to construct a motorable track from Logipi, heading south, to Aruba Rock and the “Gates of Samburu”. If this should come to pass, there is the possibility of driving north up the Suguta and linking Lokori directly to Parkati (thereby leaving aside Baragoi and all that side so far from the Lake).
  2. There is a track marked on old maps that, if possible to follow, would bring a vehicle from Kangatet (near Lokori) to the foot of Kalolenyang (the highest peak in the Logipi-Turkana volcanic barrier). From there, another track, linking Kalabata to a fishing village, through the Loriu Mountains, is tantalizingly close (26 km).

These possibilities, (and others ?) remain to be explored.
Let me know when we are leaving ! !

Chairman