October 12, 2011

Bouts of unsustainable gusto

What do Lara Croft and Simba have in common?  

Are you stumped yet?

They were both the stars of movies that were filmed at Hell's Gate national park, Kenya.

That's right, sources (our national park guide) say that The Lion King was "filmed" at Hell's Gate.  I assume the production department must have had some kind of fancy film-editing software that renders video into animation, kind of like how Photoshop can make your photos look like oil paintings or charcoal drawings.  Disney has always been ahead of it's time.

Reputed inspiration for Pride Rock, on your left.

Yes, Hell's Gate was the destination du jour this weekend.  Rather, the greater Rift Valley was the weekend destination, and Hell's Gate was simply one component, with Saturday kicking off from another Mt. Longonot hike.  

I've realized that I tend to exercise in the way I assume other people crash diet: with sporadic bouts of unsustainable gusto.  Would I care to join a gym or develop a moderate jogging routine?  No thanks, I'd rather sit here on the couch with this glass of wine and watch The Daily Show.  How about going away for a final, multi-day training expedition with a group of people who are leaving next week to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro?  Of course!  Why in heavens not?  I'm sure I can't possibly be that out of shape... Right?

My Kilimanjaro companions' footwear.  My footwear.  

Although, actually, the Hell's Gate gorge hike isn't all that taxing (if you have a car and don't have to start by biking several miles to the entrance under the blazing Kenya sun).  The majority of the walk is flat, along the gorge floor, punctuated by a scramble down into it, several scrambles over flash-flood-dislodged boulders, and a scramble back up to the top.  And the geological rewards are pretty awesome:

Cradle of life...

Lara Croft...


Of course, I imagine it's a little less scenic during a flash-flood, to which the gorge is prone.  One story suggests that Hell's Gate is so-named after the dying wailings and screams of animals caught in the gorge during the rainy season.  It's a theory I'd rather not test.  

And yet, at our half-way point (even though it's the dry season), along came the waters.  

So it begins.

The source still hasn't been determined, since it hadn't rained all weekend, and I desperately cling to the hope that it wasn't just a campsite emptying out their latrines.  But it was actually quite a robust amount of water.  And Hell's Gate has geothermal springs, so in some places the water falling from the cliffs is of scalding temperatures.  

Hot cliff showers.

But, okay, sure, my canvas Sauconys aren't ideal for walking through muddy rivers, but I'll live.  The larger challenge came back upon reaching those "scramble" bits that had since morphed from pleasant rock-climb to hot, muddy waterfall.  Below, our guide building a make-shift dam to divert the river to the left side of the cliff as we scramble down the right.  

The dam didn't hold up very well...

Lone backpack climbing down past the diverted waterfall.  

But really, Lara Croft, hot springs, flash-floods.... who am I kidding?  We all know that the real Hell's Gate highlight is when you climb up to the top of the cliff from whence Scar threw Mufasa down into the gorge full of stampeding wildebeests.  Right here:

~ It's the ciiiiiiiircle of liiiiife ~

Ok, so really the circle-of-life pose (with backpack subbing in for baby Simba) should be at Pride Rock instead of Scar's cliff of death, but it's still pretty cool.  Even more so when somebody's phone goes off to an Hakuna Matata ringtone.