The Geography of the Region
The northern Great Rift is a land of stark contrasts. Warm, flat-bottomed valleys, that follow the Rift's north-south alignment, are separated from cool tablelands by steep cliffs that, in some regions, extend as continuous escarpment for more than a hundred kilometers. Isolated hills may rise from the valleys (usually remnants of old volcanoes, such as Tiati, Kulal, Masol, etc.), but all significant ranges with summits above 2800m are uplifts or upward extrusions from the tablelands (plateaux).
In general, easy to moderate hiking and biking is to be enjoyed on the tablelands (Tugen Hills, Uasin Gishu and Laikipia plateau) and the best routes, because of the fine views they offer, are those following, or frequently nearing, the escarpment edges. Good examples are the: 1. Chesoi – Kamogo; 2. Iten – Chepkorio; 3. Kabartonjo - Kipsaraman and 4. Kabarnet - Tenges roads.
Other advantages of the high tablelands are the equable climate and the ready availability of refreshments and supplies (water, soft drinks, mobile-phone recharge, etc.) in the many villages along the way.
The valleys (Kerio and Baringo) can also provide interesting and not too demanding routes, but the high temperatures and the lack of supplies (particularly reliable water) rule them out for more than 1-day excursions and for most visitors ---- unless accompanied by some sort of support team.
Serious walkers and bikers will head for the hills (Cherangany, Sekerr, Kamasia and Mt. Elgon), that range from 2800m to over 4000m in height, and the escarpments (Keiyo-Marakwet, Laikipia, Tugen and Nandi).
Walking can be done almost anywhere; there are few restrictions other than private land and some parts of government land and national reserves. The areas to be highly recommended are:
1. Slopes of Mount Elgon (access from the Kimilili – Kitale – KWS Chorlim road);
2. The Sekerr Hills (access from the Kapenguria – Ortum – Marich Pass road);
3. The Cherangany Hills (access from the Iten – Cheptongei – Kapenguria road);
4. The Tugen Hills (access from the Eldama Ravine – Kabarnet – Kipsaraman road).
4. The Karasuk Hills (access from the EKapenguria – Konyao – Alale road)
For trips of more than 1 or 2 days, the problems are availability of good water and accommodation. However, local guides can greatly assist by doubling up as porters for tents and other items. Simple lodgings may be available in some larger centres, but don't rely on this and it is definitely not the case in the vast rural area. Sometimes local people will be willing to put you up, particularly if it is an emergency or you have made prior arrangements.
The most suitable roads are the tarmac (asphalt) roads ---- and occasionally good murram (compacted laterite soil) roads ---- that traverse the plateaux and escarpments. However, you are advised to get out of the large towns as quickly, and safely, as possible: urban motorists are not very sympathetic to cyclists.
For those who are not in good condition, suitable training routes include:
1. Kitale - Makutano - Kitale (70 km good tarmac on A1);
2. Eldoret - Iten - Eldoret (70 km good tarmac on C51);
3. Eldoret - Kaptagat - Nyaru - Eldoret (85 km reasonable tarmac on B54);
4. Eldoret - Moiben - Eldoret (80 km mixed surface, including bad tarmac, on C50/C51/D328; use 25-28 tyres). Those coming into condition can move to moderate escarpment routes such as:
5. Kapsabet - Kaimosi - Serem - Kaptumo - Kapsabet (100 km good tarmac on D39/D291/C37);
6. Kapsabet - Chemelil - Kapsabet (100 km good tarmac on C37).
Those believing themselves fit enough can move to the real challenges such as the double escarpment ride:
7. Iten - Kabarnet - Iten (110 km good tarmac on C51). This involves about 1900m of vertical climb and is probably the most difficult asphalt ride in all of Kenya. It starts at about 2300m, plunges 25 km to Chebloch Gorge at 1200m and climbs up to Kabarnet at 2000m. For Tour de France aficionados, it is close in profile to the Savoie-Galibier-Alpe d'Huez stage (that is 109 km). The section from Biretwo to Tambach is an 11 km climb at 7%; almost an “hors category” climb !!
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT KENYA'S PROFESSIONAL RIDING TEAM: See "Kenyan Riders"
Basically, anywhere there is a dirt road a mountain-biker may venture and such roads are the great majority all over Kenya. The best places, however, are probably the Cherangany and Tugen Hills and the forest tracks of Elgeyo-Marakwet, Nandi and Mt. Elgon. You will get information from KWS and Forest Department offices.
Because of the lack of technical trails, mountain-bike skills training will be limited and rides will be essentially for fitness development.
Rain presents a particular threat. Glutinous, red mud is guaranteed to clog the vital organs of even the most rugged mountain bike. To avoid a miserable experience, avoid the rainy season entirely.
The same escarpments that challenge the bikers, the hikers and the rally car drivers are also an alluring invitation to paragliders. They have started to come from all over the world to fly over the Rift Valley.
Because of easy accessibility and the generally-suitable wind direction, the Keiyo escarpment is the most favourable place.
Many of those who come here to fly return year after year, enchanted by the scenery and captivated by the friendliness of the local people. Good quality food, accommodation and services are available in the area.
Of course, of paramount importance is the quality of the paragliding; but, one only has to see, along the escarpment edge, the great variety of hovering buzzards, swooping hawks and patrolling eagles to know this is real “gliding territory”. The strong rising thermals from the hot valley below allow gliders to rise to high altitudes, stay in the sky for long periods and even travel great distances. World records have been set here and, no doubt, will continue to be achieved in the future.
Paragliders are very independent people with their own glider (parachute) and equipment. Those who wish to view the sport should telephone and ask when paragliders are expected to be around. This is most likely to be in the period January to mid-March; and this is when a “tandem” glider is usually available to take up “passengers”.