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Northern Rock, Kenya

Olokwe seen from the approach to the Cat and Mouse

Peter on Animal House wall, Sabache Crag

Departing under the shadow of Mt Kenya driving past the wheat fields and flower farms dotted along what’s dubbed as the Kenyan highlands with the Rift Valley Adventures team the road comes to an abrupt and long downhill to Isiolo. The view as the road dips stretches as far as the eye can see with what many may think of as the classic Africa, orange dirt studded with Acacia trees and colourful Masai. What lies beyond is what was formally known as the ‘Northern Frontier’ which does to this day hold a very wild west feeling about it. We had a loaded land cruiser with climbing gear and keen instructors from Rift Valley Adventures with our sights on taking a closer look at some climbing on a mountain called Olokwe and also two towers known as the Cat and Mouse. We plunged down the long hill which drops off the Laikipia Plateaux down to the hotter plains of Samburu. We darted through Isiolo and carried on crossing the Ewaso Nyro river to Archers Post where the team deemed a quick stop necessary to collect some goat meat for the evening meal. I have had some upset tummies in the past although in 24 hours time I was to have one of the most violent I think I have ever had and should I wish to pin point where this may have come from then this butchers may be a valid starting point. Im pretty keen on ‘mbuzi’ goat meat but I prefer out in the wild to choose a live goat that looks healthy prior to cooking that way you can ensure that the meat is of good quality. Once we had passed the sketchy butchers we continued onto to base camp.

The sketchy butchers in Archers Post

This was a place we had stayed many times before on trekking trips with groups before heading to the summit camp on Olokwe mountain. This time though we where looking at steeper options and what climbing possibilities lay there.

We quickly geared up with climbing gear to take a closer look at a recently developed sport climbing crag only a few minutes walk from the camp. Accompanied by one of the local guides we headed up keeping a close eye on the Elephants only a short distance away in the bush to check we wouldn’t cross paths. Once at the crag we found some excellent well bolted routes offering some very good steep climbing. We climbed as much as we could before heading back down to the camp for supper.

The following day we had an early start in order to catch the cooler part of the day turning our intentions towards the two impressive features which lie beyond the mountain. Known as the Cat and Mouse two towers shoot up from the plains looking from a distance to be fairly small.

The Cat and Mouse towers
Nearing the top of the Cat on good rock

Certainly when you get a little closer this is not the case they are huge towers. There are some established routes on there but very hard on steep orange compact gneiss.

We crossed the tarmac road and dipped into the bush following a faint track leading deeper into the bush towards the towers as far as we could before it was no longer possible to drive. Ahead lay the looming Cat with a long stretch of very thick and spiky bush to get through to the wall. With a considerable amount of scratches and rips to my shirt we arrived at a short set of slabs which brought us above the dense bush and onto to ledge below the imposing main wall. Traversing a ledge from here brought us into a deep chimney between the main tower and what seemed to be a series of towers coming off the back of the main one. Climbing up this we got through to the flat top where we could find a notch to climb into gaining the main tower where some short pitches gave way to the upper exposed slabs and onto the top.

An incredible situation on the top with views so big across the bush that they eye can’t quite take it all in.

With some awkward descents and short abseils we got back to the spikes and spent some time shedding skin back to the car and onto camp. With a quick refuel we headed back to the known crag and carried on climbing and also drilling some more bolts to add some more to the crag for future trips. When we started to cook dinner I started to have some strange and unmistakeable rumblings in my stomach that all was not well.

Masai sport climbing with drill and rungu!

As the night continued my stomach got far worse with numerous trips to the loo with a bit of a walk from the tent. At around 2am I had some horrendous cramps which was a signal to vacate the tent quickly and get to the toilet block before something unfortunate happened. Making it just in time I left to head back to the tent but as I walked only a couple of metres from the block I heard the unmistakable cracking of branches very close by and the sound a deep guttural clicking noise which an Elephant makes when its saying ‘I know your there don’t come any closer.’ I panicked slightly as I couldn’t tell where they where in the dark and ran quickly back into the toilet block however the door had swung open and I ran straight into the side of the open door which sent me crashing back into the bushes, I crawled back into the block only to throw up all over my legs. So it was into the shower for a full scrub down. While I was enjoying a 2am cold shower I could hear the Elephants moving round the block on towards the lugga beyond. After that I sprinted quicker than a Kenyan runner back to the tent got in and didn’t move until morning. Not my most enjoyable night in the bush to date.

Big country, the Mathews Range and Northern Kenya

The following morning things where feeling a bit rough on my side but we checked out another possibility called Waterslide Crag which didn’t yield much. We struck camp and headed out making our way back up to the cooler climes of Laikipia. This time we didn’t stop for any Nyama, A great trip and certainly some great discovery’s made in a very wild setting. As climbing gains popularity hopefully the area will play host to lots more climbing development as its one of the best untouched areas I have come across.

The top of the Cat and Olokwe beyond

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