The most outstanding hike I’ve ever done…
“The most outstanding hike I’ve ever done…”
We’ve been writing about our Great Walk of Africa safari for so many years now that we are starting to run out of adjectives. In 2019 we therefore, brought over to Kenya several journalists from the U.K. and the United States. The following is an article, written by one of them, which will shortly be appearing in one of the major London newspapers. It’s time for Tropical Ice to let others tell the story of our magnificent safari across Tsavo West and East National Parks:
“Ok, if you look way over there, ” Iain says as he halts at the front of the line, pointing to the east, “at the foot of the escarpment…six or seven large bull elephants.”
Our group behind him stops, and there follows that inevitable period where the untrained eyes of eight visitors, search in vain for what Iain and his Samburu tracker, Lajori, have seen. Slowly we see seven tiny dots, which look different to the stunted bush covering the plains before us.
“So, ” says Iain, animated enough to make us realise this is very special, “we’re in a perfect position to figure out the wind direction, and move in closely. They’re heading for the river, and if we lift our pace a little, we can cut them off. It’s important that we maintain absolute silence, no unzipping of daypacks, and try to avoid stepping on twigs as we approach.”
We set off across the plains, and as the tiny dots take on the forms of elephants, I am acutely aware that we are about as far into the African wilderness as it’s possible to get; there is no vehicle within five miles of us, and the nearest town is about sixty miles away. Iain leads at the front of our line, and behind him his tracker, Lajori, moves along with his eyes steadily fixed on the elephants, which are now several hundred yards off to our left.
We are on a Tropical Ice walking safari called the Great Walk of Africa, a 100 mile (160 kilometre), walk that traverses Tsavo, following the splendidly atmospheric Tsavo River, and the spectacularly exotic Galana River. We have so far stayed in seven stunning camps along the way, and we have one more to go before the end of the safari. During the past week we have seen Cape buffalo, hippo, elephant, and every kind of common plains game imaginable. We’ve even had an exciting up close and personal experience with lions. This will be our first opportunity to get in close to elephants.
Iain halts, bends down and picks up a handful of earth. He slowly lets it drain from his hand, and gets a perfect read on the wind direction. He turns and speaks to us in a low whisper, “They are heading to the river to drink, we’ll move around behind them, then close in and walk with them for a while. Follow my directions precisely, when I stop, you must stop too, and hold your position.”
Iain Allan started Tropical Ice in 1978, mainly as a guiding company on the mountains of East Africa. After an expedition to the Himalayas, he experienced the wonders of trekking, and upon his return to Kenya – which coincided with the government’s prescient decision to ban big game hunting – Iain noticed the potential for walking safaris in wilderness regions, and “hunting with cameras” became Tropical Ice’s brand.
We have now angled around the elephants, approaching directly behind them. The atmosphere is electric! They are lumbering across the plains in single-file, and we are now only sixty paces behind the last one. We can smell them, hear their giant ears swishing, their bellies rumbling, and I feel as if I’ve stepped back into some prehistoric world. They are oblivious of our presence and I feel an overwhelming calmness. There is no sense of fear. Elephants can only see about sixty feet, but they have an uncanny sense of smell and hearing. I’ve seen elephants from vehicles before, but never have I fully appreciated their size until now. I may be experiencing no fear, but I’m feeling very small.
With his business partner, Alex Fiksman, who also guides for Tropical Ice, Iain has made the Great Walk of Africa truly one of the finest hiking experiences on the continent. They won Outside Magazine’s Trip Of The Year in 2006, and became one of their 25 bucket list trips in 2012. Every camp is deluxe, with the friendliest staff imaginable, and Iain’s wife Lou, oversees the cuisine, which is as good as anything to be found in a New York or London restaurant.
We have followed the elephants now for about 30 minutes, and covered several miles. Although we are at the back of their line, I can clearly see the length of their tusks. They are larger than any I’ve seen before. We are obviously following a frequently used elephant trail, perhaps one that is centuries old. We will not be with them for much longer, their paces intensify as they near the river. Iain raises his arm and we halt. “That’s about as far as we can safely go,” he says, as the elephants one by one disappear into the salt bush that hugs the river’s edge. He turns, and his excitement and pleasure at what we’ve just witnessed is as palpable as ours is. “It just never gets old, ” he says quietly, “we’ve just hiked in the company of seven full-grown elephant bulls for over two miles, and they never for a second knew we were there.”
We still have about three miles to go to our next camp. The elephants have gone but I still feel as if I’m walking on air. My blood pressure hasn’t quite normalised, and I’m not sure I want it to. I am however, certain of one thing: This has been the most outstanding morning’s hike I’ve ever done in my life.
2021 Departure Dates
Please see our Great Walk of Africa for 2022 departure dates