The allure of the rocks, the gorges, the caves, the hot water springs and the way nature has crafted them into a marvel keeps visitors to the Hell’s Gate gawking in awe.
Hell’s Gate is a picturesque park whose enthralling beauty undoubtedly epitomises the marvels of Mother Nature. From the blood-chilling name, Hell’s Gate National Park has unique and awesome sceneries.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service, the state corporation that manages it, it’s the second smallest park in the country covering 68 square kilometres with a diverse geology.
The park easily courts controversy due to the naming of the popular sites, including the Devil’s Bedroom, Devil’s Shower, Devil’s Mouth and Hell’s Kitchen.
Gazetted in 1984, the park has consistently attracted large numbers of domestic and foreign tourists. More than 100,000 people go there annually, despite a series of tragedies that have left nature lovers baffled.
Just last week, Hell’s Gate snuffed out the lives of seven young members of the Presbyterian church in Nairobi, who had gone sightseeing. The seven were swept away by raging floods in the gorge.
Many other people have had mishaps or been involved in accidents there. For now, the Gate is closed to visitors until the current rains subside.
The impressive number of visitors who turn up at Hell’s Gate has been attributed to the curious names that identify key sites, with 90 per cent of the visitors trooping to the gorge to witness the rare spectacle – a canyon.
The history of Hell’s Gate can be traced to volcanic eruptions that happened ages ago leaving indelible landmarks that remain the talking point of campers as they while their day on cliffs on the edges of the recreational area.
During the Second World War, the place reverberated with the deafening the sounds of artillery fire as it was used as a training ground.
But today the beautiful scenery is a sight to behold for holiday makers who love sightseeing while a climb to the towering cliffs is literally breathtaking.
Still, nature lovers can walk and savour the beauty of the game sanctuary.
The camping is not complete without getting a glimpse of the obsidian rocks which, then hit by the sun’s rays, reflect them into the rainbow colours.
The gorge that the park derives its name from is virtually endless. It baffles and awes observers and it is said to resemble “hell,” hence the name Hell’s Gate.
Wild animals roam the park which is home to the rare Klipspringer of the antelope family. Other species that are a joy to watch include the ostrich, waterbuck, impala gazelle, African buffalo and warthogs.
Yet Hell’s Gate is not just about the unique canyon. Just a few metres from the entry point, the towering Fischer’s tower captures one’s imagination. The famous tower stands stoically in the middle of the park and it is here that the brave test their nerves in rock climbing.
Going up more than 25 feet, climbing the rock is usually a sweaty affair, but a proud moment for those who manage to get to the top.
According to a brief provided at the park, the Fischers Tower and Central Tower, also known as Ol Barta (the Horse), were formed after hot lava was pushed to the exterior through the cracks on the earth surface. The lava cooled and solidified forming the two rock plugs.
The Fischers Tower is named after a Germany explorer, Gustav Fischers, who passed through the park in 1883.
But the indigenous inhabitants of the area, the Maasai, have a different version on the story. They believe the rocks are statues of a chief’s daughter who went against the order of the society by turning to have a last look of their home before leaving to get married.
Mythical or not, the Fischers tower remains a revered site at the park, with both the young and old attempting to conquer its heights under the watchful eye of trained rock climbers.
The narrow, bushy paths leading to the gorge can be treacherous. The slippery and rough terrain tests the faint-hearted to the limits but the temptation to reach the focal point of the park is overwhelming for many.
Inside the gorge visitors experience a breathtaking landscape and rare vegetation that includes leleshua, whistling thorns and the yellow fever tree.
The Hell’s Kitchen has steam jets gushing out due to the presence of belching plumes of geothermal energy. All these combined give those visiting the sanctuary lingering memories.
The path meanders through the cave and comes to a dead end near the Devil’s Bedroom. Those who have visited the Devil’s Bedroom have their moment of glory and have inscribed their names on the walls just to indicate that they arrived, saw and conquered.
From the bedroom, one makes a detour to the kitchen and shower before exiting through the Devil’s Mouth. Triumphant, one would say.
The cave named the Devil’s Bedroom is said to have shelves that resemble a typical bedroom in modern homes.
“You cannot walk farther after reaching the Devil’s Bedroom. One has to turn back,” says the park’s senior warden, Ms Nelly Palmeris.
She says the peculiar names were coined by the locals, but is quick to add that the Devil’s Shower, where hot water emanates from the rocks, has presumed medicinal value that can cure skin diseases.
“We have people coming from far and wide just to shower at the place,” she says.
The Devil’s Mouth is just an exit point after having a feel of the bedroom and the shower. Shiny black obsidian rocks hang loosely on the cliffs, which are the main walls of Hell’s Gate. The walls vary in height from 300 feet to over 400 feet.
The cliffs are home to different species of birds like eagles and vultures. Predators like leopards and hyenas have also found a home in “Hell”.
According to Ms Palmeris, despite the park being inhibited by dangerous animals, no visitor has ever been reported to have been attacked by the animals. She says the recent tragedy at the park has compelled the management to review and enhance safety measures.
“The high attendance by local tourists is the impetus we require to drive our vision of ensuring an accident-free park and a strong indicator that we are headed in the right direction,” she says.
Ms Palmeris laughs off the strange names, describing Hell’s Gate as a paradise.