Riding a bike through the entrance of Hell’s Gate National Park on a hot and sunny afternoon came with a flood of memories.
My first time to visit one of Kenya’s less visited National Park established in 1984 was back in Primary School. I was about 12/13 years old. It was an excursion trip to the park and the Olkaria Geothermal Power Station the main goal covering some topics in Social Studies subject. Our experience at Hell’s Gate involved visiting the gorges and learning how they were made which would be done after going through a long lecture at the power station on how the country will benefit from this source of power years to come. In 2004/2005 geothermal power was in its early stages of development.
Our excitement as children was getting to see the gorge. We also wanted to feel the hot springs which are the belching plumes of geothermal steam. This was earlier mentioned while we were learning about geothermal activities within the park’s boundaries at the power station.
I can totally agree my first time to experience the gorges was surreal. Imagine walking between towers, jumping on boulder rocks and small streams careful not to get wet since your mother would question why your shoes are wet when you got home. As we were still young and carefree, we shouted and enjoyed listening to our own echoes.
My second experience was back in high school an excursion trip too. This experience was sought of different since I already knew what to expect. However, I was keen to notice the depth at which the gorge kept on ‘sinking’. I then returned back while I was in my third year of undergraduate studies.
Clearly, I and this park have stories to tell. My footprints from the first time I visited Hell’s Gate National Park have been washed away but the memories still remain. Maybe even the writings which I wrote on the rocks when I was a carefree teenager still remain and are now out of reach as they are way high considering the gorge continues to sink and expand with every naturally occurring activity.
Hell’s Gate National Park, due to its name has resulted in fear and respect among Kenyans and those who visit the country. The park comprises of Fischer’s Tower, Central Tower columns and Hell’s Gate Gorge. Few understand the geological activities that resulted in their existence. Many would rather go and see elephants in the Tsavos and Amboseli National Park than go through gorges and cliffs. Why would I want to do that? Some ask. An interesting fact is it believed that Hell’s Gate was the outlet for the pre-historic freshwater lake that stretched from the park to Nakuru which would have supported early human communities on its shores.
My fascination with Hell’s Gate has occasionally increased because of watching movies and documentaries that have featured the Grand Canyon which is in Yellow Stone National park in North America. Maybe I shall visit the canyon in my well abled and energetic life someday soon.
Unfortunately, the park has experienced tragedies as church members died while they on an excursion. In 2018, there was an ongoing construction of an amusement park a few metres from the entrance of this beautiful park. This raised a lot of questions.
The park may not host the big five. It may actually even host few herbivores. But if you understand the ecology of the area you will see that it boasts a variety of birds, up to 100 bird species especially raptors, numerous snake species and other reptiles. This is a rich biodiversity according to me as they are ecological indicators. The fact that there is limited to no human development suggests the park is an immense carbon storage as the cliffs are still in place. Once we break down rocks, just like other minerals and resources, we release carbon into the atmosphere. Hell’s Gate at one point was home to plenty of lions and leopards. Today, there is the occasional leopard and spotted hyenas which call the park home. To think the park is dead is a disservice to the cultural history of the park. When we allow ourselves to lose it we shall lose plenty of our own history.
As I climbed Fischer’s tower which I had been saying I would every time I visited the park I could not believe the day had finally come. Rock climbing is a skill. I learnt this on that Sunday. A day I also rode a Mountain Bike in the park for the first time. The rock surface and crevices in my fingertips while climbing the tower made me feel vulnerable. The skin contact with the rocks was so surreal. At some point, I thought I couldn’t make it. I had to convince my mind ‘We have to do this’. We should not falter. No looking back. It’s not the height that scared me, it how the rocks curve and the challenges that lay ahead.
Being at Hell’s Gate National Park climbing the tower that felt massive yet after reaching the top I was wondering why I was so scared in the first place was breathtaking. I looked up to the sky in gratitude for not only reaching close to the top where the harness had been fastened (my goal is to reach the top in my next rock climbing session) but for the people who have fought to protect the park. Despite the fact that it will continue to face challenges and a tag of war for the ignorance of its beauty and nature, it continues to be heaven for the species who call it home. It has become a haven for rock climbers, adventure seekers, campers, hikers and endurance mountain bike activities. With its great geographical characteristics, it remains an amazing place for students, both young and old, to understand the volcanic processes that led to its existence.
Hell’s Gate National park has a special place in my heart. To say I am happy at its state now would be biased considering the fact that for all the years I have been there, I have witnessed immense change. I have changed too as it has. We shall both not be the same in the years to come.
Kenya Wildlife Service refers to the park as “A walk on the Wild Side.” For the longest time, my blog’s tagline has been “On the Wild Side”. Coincidence? Maybe.