All you need to know about hiking to Lake Ellis

Photography by Black Cypher and Sonscript Photography

I recently went hiking to Lake Ellis, Mt Kenya. Let’s just say, it was a VERY long day. The journey was long but seeing the lake was absolutely worth it. Here is all you need to know about visiting Lake Ellis and hopefully you will have a much better and smoother experience.

Let’s backtrack a little bit- to about three years ago when I first saw pictures of Lake Michaelson and Lake Ellis online. I couldn’t believe that Mt Kenya has glacial lakes, let alone such gorgeous ‘Game of Thronesesque’ landscapes. I immediately added Mt Kenya to my bucket list. When a friend of mine sent me the poster Tranquil Adventures put out about three weeks ago booking the trip was a no-brainer.

First things first

The trip was organised by Tranquil Adventures and was Kshs 3,000 per person and Kshs 5,800 per couple which was inclusive of transport, lunch, and photography.

Mt Kenya is home to five glacial lakes and quite a number of tarns. The lakes are Lake Ellis, Lake Michaelson, Lake Rutundu, Lake Alice and Lake Hohnel. The most popular being Lake Ellis and Lake Michaelson. 

Getting to Lake Ellis

To get to Lake Ellis and Lake Michaelson, you use the Chogoria Gate which is located in Chogoria, Meru County. The Chogoria Route also doubles as the most scenic hiking route on Mt Kenya.

If coming from Nairobi, use this route via Embu.

If coming from North of Mt Kenya, you get to Chogoria via Meru.

A few minutes after Chogoria Girls beyond Chogoria town, is where the Mount Kenya Forest Gate is. To get to the Mount Kenya Chogoria Gate, you proceed another 21 km.

Payment is made at the Chogoria Gate and this is where we kicked off the hike.

Mt Kenya Charges

Mountain ClimbingCitizens/ResidentsCitizens/ResidentsNon-ResidentsNon-Residents
AdultChild/StudentAdult($)Child/ Student($)
Day Trip2502153020
3 Day Package7006458555
4 Day Package95086011075
5 Day Package1,2001,07514095
6 Day Package1,4501,290175115

P.S. Payment is made via MPESA or card, cash is not accepted.

We started with some warm-up exercises and some instructions from our guide.

Immediately you get to the trail, the atmosphere changes. You are greeted by golden moorlands which are a sight in themselves though I found it difficult to walk on as the tufts were long and slippery so if you don’t watch your step you could easily fall.

Mugi Hill on the background

Right after that stretch, you get into the forest, which is a welcome transition because of the shade. The air was very crisp and clean, I definitely wish it was possible to pack and carry air because I could really use some of that fresh air here in Nairobi. At this point in the hike, I found it a bit harder to breathe and I guess my body was adjusting to the change in altitude.

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We were then spat out into the hot and stony trails. From this point, all we could see was hills, valleys, winding roads, and the most beautiful flowers. 

We also noticed lots of dead trees, a result of the devastating wildfire in Mt Kenya around February of last year. 

By this point in the hike, I was done talking hehe, I was really just saving up the energy to hike up the numerous treacherous hills. Climbing down the hills was a relief and I considered any “plateaus” a blessing.

IMG_3635

We continued our ascent and the weather started changing drastically. It got to a point where we had to wear our warm clothes. It became really foggy as well and I think this was the hardest stretch of the hike. My Monster Energy definitely gave me a jolt of energy to keep pushing.

It was so cold, you’d swear someone was cutting through your hands with an icicle. Somehow I also pulled a muscle and had to stop, which was quite scary as I was alone at the time, but the good thing about muscle pulls is that they don’t last long. When you are hiking ensure that you’re not alone, if possible, not just for companionship/motivation reasons but also for your safety and security.

Bear in mind that we were also hiking up some steep hills. On the plus side, I spotted an animal- not sure whether it was a waterbuck, bushbuck, or eland as they are all inhabitants of Mt Kenya National Park. I was super exhausted and kept wondering how far the Lake was. Which did not help- at all.

We kept pushing through and we finally got to the lake. I have seen the pictures online and I was taken aback by the scale of the lake IRL. It was way bigger than I anticipated. It was absolutely breathtaking. The view was definitely worth the hustle. Even though the lake was covered by fog, I think it added a beautiful flair and drama to the already picturesque sight. I would still love to see the lake on a clear sunny day or a starry night though.

Lake Ellis on a sunny day via Mwarv

Some campers had set up by the shore and there were some people fishing, one by the shore and two in a boat in the lake. Lake Ellis is a popular fly fishing spot. The brave amongst us got into the chilly waters attempting to swim but the water was too cold.

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We were to visit Nithi waterfalls as well, however, we started the hike very late and it would have been impossible to head back in good time. I didn’t get to spend much time at the Lake as time was far spent and our guide warned us about buffaloes roaming in the evenings. Safe to say I turned away quickly and did not look back. A group of us hitchhiked a ride that was going back to the gate while the others soldiered on with the descent.

The hike is about 14 km in total and it takes around 4 hours 30 minutes to hike to the lake and back.

I wasn’t at my best during the hike, probably because I had only eaten breakfast and hadn’t been snacking or had lunch and my bag was also quite heavy. So my energy levels were low. Pretty sure I’d have done a better job. It is not a difficult hike and if I did it trust me you can too. All in all, I’m grateful and I can’t wait to go back to the beautiful Lake Ellis, this time much slower and probably spend the night rather than do a day trip.

Things you should know about visiting Lake Ellis:

  • You can hike to the Lake like I did or opt to drive to the lake. However, the road is off-road and very rocky. You would need a 4WD with good ground clearance. The road is not for the faint-hearted and it gets worse when it rains.
  • Mt Kenya (and all national parks in the country) banned the use of single-use plastic. So do not carry single-use plastics with you such as plastic water bottles and if you do make sure to carry them with you at all times. Do not litter.
  • Time is of the essence, especially if you are hiking on a day trip. The hike was approximately 18 km so about two hours to climb up and two to descend. It is best to get there during the morning hours if you want to hike a good pace, enjoy the lake and visit the waterfalls and cave nearby.
  • If you decide to spend the night/nights, make sure you are fully equipped with everything you need to have a comfortable stay. So carry your food, water, firewood, sleeping bags, etc as it is quite a distance from the lake to the nearest shopping centre/town.
  • Carry warm clothing. The weather changes drastically. It can be sunny and almost immediately become freezing cold or even worse rain. Carry a raincoat just to be safe and an extra change of clothes just in case. 
  • Mindset. Mindset. Mindset. That is what will get you through when you get tired and when you start questioning why you chose to put yourself through the hike. Have a positive attitude and be optimistic. In the words of one Legend, if the will is strong it shall carry the body.
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Where to Stay- Mt Kenya Chogoria Route

Meru Mount Kenya Bandas

Hiking to Lake Ellis, Mt Kenya

Rutundu Log Cabins

Via Rutundu Log Cabin’s website

Camping– The Road Head campsite, Lake Ellis Campsite, Lake Michaelson Campsite, Mintos Hut

Enjoy the hike and have fun. I know I say this a lot but it’s so easy to get caught up with complaining but no one wants to be around Negative Nimo ( no shade if your name is Nimo).

and as always, Seek Discomfort.

I hope this mini-guide is of help. I highly recommend visiting Lake Ellis, it is a sight to behold and one you will live to remember.

P.S. I am also in support of the opinion that these glacier lakes be renamed to indigenous names. If you do know of any efforts to rename them or any changes made please let me know.

Will you be visiting Lake Ellis? Let me know in the comments below

and if you like this post share it with a fellow traveller 🙂

Until next time, bye!

3 Comments

  1. JAMES WASWA SIMIYU

    12 August 2020 at 1:52 pm

    Waaaw this is so educative and it really preps you if you have never been there,
    Thank you Ivy.
    As she said the hike was Great, i was there too and I really enjoyed it to the fullest. If asked i will Love to go there for the hike again and again

    Fitness Trainer

    1. Ivy Miricho

      13 August 2020 at 12:33 pm

      Thanks James, it really was a good experience and I can’t wait to go back.

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