An ancient row boat floats on the shore of Lake Rutundu, surely the fond childhood memory of an old man somewhere. It has one oar and a lifetime of stories. The lake beneath it is teaming with Jurassic sized trout weighing several pounds, which could only flourish at 10,200 feet on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya, far beyond the casts of most of the world’s anglers.
The Rutundu log cabins perch right above the lake’s shore, and as the night descends on them, the staff place warm water bottles in your bed wrapped in plaid flannel sleeves. By morning the ground is frozen, but the skies are clear, the coffee is hot and the fire is still smoldering from the long night. Mists rise off the lake, obscuring its surface and you tiptoe into the old boat, sliding the oar gentling below the surface, and cast custom made flies across the lake with names like Flashy Bugger, Olive Nymph and Alice Devil.
Leopards are said to lurk in these morning mists as they return back to their mountain dens after nights on the prowl, and the lore of the first western explorers to the region also tell of mountainous dwarf lions with trim manes that wander the lands. The Kikuyu, one of the tribes that inhabit the mountain’s slopes, tell ageless legends of how their god Ngai descended to upon the mountain to create the first human.
The cabins themselves do feel as if they are from a fairy tale, guarded by the spirits of the fish eagles that stand like sentinels around the lakes, surrounded by little white everlastings flowers, giant cabbage-like tree groundsels, and heathers reminiscent of the Scottish moorlands. Moss hangs like an old man’s beard through the trees where forest elephants roam, and beautiful flowers bloom only to harden into wood pine cones as if under a witch’s curse.
The rustic cabins blend into the surrounding forest of Australian blue gum trees, red cedars, and Kenyan Rosewood. Cabin walls are built from stacked logs, with moss pushed between them for insulation. Hurricane lanterns compliment the star light at night and showers are heated from wood fires. The shadow of Mount Rutundu shelters the cabins, enforcing an alpine silence so that when laying in the bath or out in the row boat, it is quiet enough to hear your heart beat.
Rutundu is just eight kilometers south of the equator, which combined with its altitude means that most days seem like summer, yet the nights are wintery cold. The altitude means the weather can change quickly and while the peak of Mount Kenya is visible at dawn, clouds can swoop in ferociously, shrouding the valley with fog and rain, leaving droplets on the thorns of the purple thistle and long strings of red hot poker flowers.
When the weather is good, you must hike up to Lake Alice, sitting 1,500 feet above the Rutundu log cabins. It involves a couple hours of pushing through giant heather, on a small winding path up to the lip of the crater of Ithanguni, in which it rests. From here, the icy peak of Mount Kenya rises like a beacon in the distance, over the sapphire surface of Lake Alice, which is only broken by the reflections of passing clouds and shadows of fish eagles. Staying at the Rutundu cabins is a unique Kenyan experience most travelers do not know exists, and is one worth some planning to ensure you can enjoy.