Mama Flo lost in Aberdare forest – a thrilling escapade

Categories Aberdares


Kieni Natural Forest, Aberdare Forest Reserve, Kenya

I was certain I had made the right turn only to find myself deep in a forest with no option of turning back. I checked my phone and panic set in, no signal. It would be dark in a few hours. I had no idea where the forest path would lead us. Certainly not to our intended destination!

Down the path around Sasumua Dam

One Sunday afternoon, 3pm, two friends and I decided to do a quick road trip from Nairobi to the serene Sasumua dam, some 70kms away. Our intention was to drive around the dam starting at Kinamba side and ending at Njabini town, map below.

Blue was the intended route. Red was the escapade, revealing secrets of Kieni Forest

From Kinamba we drove along the dam for 6kms and made our first stop at the dam wall. We parked and walked up the steep wall curious to see what lay beyond. As I looked across the spillway, picture below, I wondered about the little house vaguely visible at the end of the pier. It was too foggy to see much. But I was certain we would drive by it. All we needed to do was find our way to that side of the dam wall. It was 4pm so there would be plenty of time to check it out and take photos before dark.

I am standing on Sasumua Dam Wall, overlooking  the spillway. It’s July, ‘winter’ season and notoriously foggy

Wrong move – no warning

Done with the dam wall, we continued on our path to go around the dam. About 1km down the road one of us remarked how curios it was that we were no longer seeing the dam. Instead we were in a thick bamboo forest.

It was good to know that someone was finding out the best way to harvest bamboo without causing harm to this  important water catchment. There being no logo, I assumed it was either  Kenya Forest Service or Kenya Forestry Research Institute

The path was no longer well-marked and had tall grass between the fading tyre tracks. Mmmmh, maybe just a little bit ahead we would see the dam again! But it was not to happen. By 3km we had all started to panick because it was apparent we could not turn around. The path was too narrow and the sides too steep. Someone asked, ‘Florence, you said you had seen a map on the internet showing a way around the dam?’ I replied with a faint ‘yes, I thought I did’, but started to doubt myself.

The secrets of Kieni forest

Fortunately for me no one pursued this interrogation because suddenly our attention turned to the sound of a waterfall, and then an unusual concrete bridge, below. We made our second stop to weigh our options. There was space to make a three-point turn and return to Kinamba.

Would we take this chance? We had already covered 5km inside the forest and Njabini should not be far from here, we figured. We decided to continue.

Unique slab bridge. Typically, most streams in the Aberdare Ranges have wooden bridges

I was feeling jittery about driving over this bridge with no guard rails, especially after seeing the river plunging into the abyss a few feet downstream, picture below.

Lovely Giant Ferns downstream to the bridge. Notice the small distance between the bridge and the waterfall

As I admired the beautiful scenery below I could not help note that the river seemed to be flowing towards the dam rather than from it. Very odd indeed. Disorientation had set in. We debated whether to walk to the waterfall but looking at the time, 4.30pm, we thought otherwise – an adventure for another day.

The water was not sparkling. Was it reflecting the fog and greenery or why the creamy colour?

Panic triggers survival mode

Alas! 10km and one hour of driving deeper into the forest, another concrete bridge and no end in sight. By this time the merriment was all gone and survival mode had set in. It was now 5pm. Someone asked for water and we had none. How about fruit or snacks? None. Without knowing it, my driving had become frantic and my passengers increasingly nervous. But we had to get out of this forest and fast. Little did we know we were only halfway through our emerging ordeal. Adrenalin was flowing with all of us realizing that our phones were no longer useful. We started to wonder how anyone would find us in case we got stranded – this path was rarely used!

Nature calls – but what if? Do you decipher fear in my face? Listening keenly in case something emerged

A terrified lot – time is against us

Our biggest worry now was time, 5.30pm. Another one hour and we would be in darkness and faced with an unpredictable night in the forest. I remembered I had washed my resident blanket and not put it back in the car. No torch either. One of us was asking all the right questions in this situation ‘What shall we do if we find an elephant in our path?’ Silence! And just then two of us announced we had to stop for nature’s call. Oh dear! Another 5kms on we crossed two streams this time on small wooden bridges, but still no end in sight.

Parts of the forest still recovering from earlier degradation

A light in the tunnel – huskies & a private camp

And then, just as we were giving up we saw smoke. Yes! Freedom at last we thought. To our consternation 4 handsome dogs ran towards our car. No, not mongrels or even German Shepherd. To the best of my knowledge these had to be either Alaskan or Siberian Huskies, a rare sight in Kenya. But what on earth were they doing in the middle of a forest? Our answer came soon when a young man slipped into the road ahead of us evidently shaken by the unexpected visitors. His first words were ‘where are you coming from and how did you get here? This is a private camp’.

We explained that we got lost in the forest and were eager to get out before dark. We had two choices he said. We could either go straight on this path through Mataara Forest Block which would take us to Mataara village. Here we could cross the Chania River and drive on a nice tarmac road, in Muranga County, to Thika town. The second option was to take a right turn a few meters from the camp to get to the Thika-Naivasha road which obviously would take us to either  Naivasha or Thika towns.

‘What?’, I asked. ‘We are going to Njabini not Thika!’

The young man’s revelation was shocking. It was then that it downed on me that all this time we had been driving away from Njambini and into Kieni Forest Block. No wonder the disorientation – remember the river that flowed in the wrong direction? But how could that have happenned? Was there no way to drive around the dam? None of us had the answer, all we knew was we needed to get out of this forest chap chap (soonest).

The last stretch – a near miss

Tricky situation: Muddy surface, sharp corner landing on a tiny wooden bridge, picture below, next to a waterfall

As we left the young man, he called out to inform us that we had 10km more to go. Our hearts sank. How would we ever make it before dark? It was not possible. Instinctively I bore hard on the petrol pedal but had to slow down almost immediately. We were driving into a deep valley and the road was suddenly muddy and slippery. The car slipped into deep tractor tyre tracks. It would be a disaster if we got stuck here.

We began to hear a waterfall meaning we were about to cross another river – my heart sank an inch further. I just hoped it had a wider concrete bridge and not those little wooden ones.  And indeed the little wooden bridge was there at the bottom of the valley, but this time worse than those before. It was precariously placed at a sharp corner. Picture this – a muddy surface, a sharp corner leading to a tiny little wooden bridge, and a roaring water fall a couple of meters downstream.

Despite our desperation to get out of the forest and paranoia that an elephant would emerge from the bushes, we had no choice but get out of the car. We needed to strategize how best to approach the bridge and who would take up this do or die feat.

With my heart in my mouth, I wondered whether the planks of wood holding the bridge together could stop the car slipping into the river

So in our wisdom we decided that everyone, except of course the driver, would cross on foot. Because in case of anything they could walk back to the camp or ahead to the tar road for help. And who would drive? My friends argued that the same person who had been driving was best placed because she had gained considerable experience. Ha! My heart was pumping loudly in my ears as I went back to the car. I prayed and slowly made my way to the corner – I just let the car slid down, giving as little fuel as was possible. I looked at the bridge and ignored the fact that the car was just a wee bit off the centre. There was no  turning back.

At last – corner C

Past that bridge we were all silently listening to some strange sound that seemed to be coming from one of the front wheels. I just hoped it was some vegetation trapped in the wheel cap. I was not going to stop because the car needed its momentum to climb out of the valley. Luckily the path was not as muddy except for the deep tyre tracks. Darkness was crawling. Now it was my driving skills and the car to get us out of here. I had no choice but push the poor machine ruthlessly.

This was the most relieving sight in the world at that point in time – emerging at corner C

We made two other ascends and then to our utter joy and disbelieve we suddenly saw something like a tarmac road. What a pleasant surprise! The young man had definitely over-estimated the distance from the camp by 3kms. We made it! Hurrah! 20kms of forest in 2 hours. We stopped to relish the moment, catch our breath and plan where we’d head to celebrate this victory. The obvious choice was to drive straight to ‘Flyover’, about 25kms for refreshments. Here we could have great Pizza at the Kobil petrol station or get roast meat and cold drinks at Longovasha Pub and Restaurant across the road.

The grand finale – off to Thika town to celebrate

My friends thought we should turn left on the tarmac but I was adamant we needed to turn right to go to Naivasha. No one was in the mood to argue so we went by my choice. After 2km of driving I could clearly make out the smart tea estate in the dusky light. We were headed for Thika, 60kms away, and not Naivasha. I owned up and was quickly forgiven.  My friends empathized with my disorientation and nerves following the mad driving stunt I had pulled off. We decided to continue and explore what Thika town had to offer. One hour later we were merrily recounting our adventure at Metro Pub and Restaurant which incidentally is also housed by a petrol station. The boiled chicken was good and the live band played late.

Would you want to take this trip?

So would I do it again? Indeed I intend to go back and explore the many waterfalls and hopefully take some great pictures. This time it will not be by accident. Given the condition of the road, its remoteness and that it cuts across a gazetted forest, I will definitely consult with the Kenya Forest Service. I would recommend this trip for adventure and to those in need of a thrill. The driver needs to be 100% sober. Will you come with me?

Travel tips & Lessons learned

This trip made me realize the importance of keeping in my car: a torch, wooden planks, GPS, map, battery packs, rope, food, water, matches and warm clothes even for  mundane road trips as this was expected to be.

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For your information, I did go back to Sasumua to investigate if one could actually go around the dam – read the story on this site. Thanks for reading, Florence

Kieni Natural Forest, Aberdare Forest Reserve, Kenya

5 thoughts on “Mama Flo lost in Aberdare forest – a thrilling escapade

  1. Goodness me. I am sat at the edge of my seat as I read this. What an adventure! Beautiful story though:)

  2. Flo. Great story. Nerve wracking experience. Happy that it ended well! You are an avid story teller. I will join next time. Maybe something GG could do to bond? Camping combined with sight seeing. Haki, Kenya is so beautiful. So unexplored by us, Kenyans.

    1. Thanks Lilian and Agote for reading the story – your feedback is very encouraging. Indeed we need to enjoy and care for our country more. I am thinking how best to organize for trips as many people are asking. I aim to have a wayforward soon.

  3. Wow…such an amazing story..av really enjoyed every bit of time God’s willing i really hope to go with you

    1. Hi Nyoks, Welcome dear.. definitely we will do something together soon.. thanks for reading.. share with your friends. The idea is to generate interest among the youth to enjoy and protect our environment.

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