For Rangers Ultra – Day 6 (see day 5 blog)
Today’s stage is the one I’ve been looking forward to most. I know almost nothing of the area as Lolldaiga is not a wildlife conservancy – it is a ranch, but perhaps the most beautiful ranch in Kenya, home to several large herds of elephant. The translation of Lolldaiga means the braids of mount Kenya and it comes from the Massai people, who’s young boys wear the hair in braids until they reach man hood. The area is lined with long ridgelines and dotted with gullies ‘lagas’ and rocks outcrops. Rumour has it that is maybe the toughest stage of the course.
It was indeed a bitterly cold night and the fire is reignited, with many runners thawing out when I wake up. Everyone looks dashing, their feet covered in blue tape. We are treated to the most beautiful sunrise and the light reveals a huge herd of buffalo just outside of camp. It also reveals the hill runners must navigate straight from the start. I’m not as jealous as I was yesterday.
Lolldaiga does not have as many rangers as Borana and Lewa, so teams from the previous day’s are helping out. Recent grants from ForRangers has paid to train and equip the rangers in Lolldaiga but there’s just not enough coverage to protect the whole team and the runners.
As we wait at Checkpoint 1 we see runners being held on the road by rangers. We don’t see why but we know it must be because of wildlife. It’s elephants, a large herd of 20 crosses the road only metres ahead of everyone. A short while later a bull comes through too.
Our main aim of today is to set up Checkpoint 4 and get there before the first runner. It’s on the border of Ol Jogi and at the bottom of the steepest track I’ve ever seen. This section cuts through thick bush on the side of a steep mountain pass. When we get there we meet Jamie Gaymer, quite possibly the most charismatic man in Kenya. He’s joking and telling stories and before we know it, we spin round to see the first runner is heading for us at a rapid pace. Suddenly a switch is flicked and the rangers help us set up the checkpoint, before escorting us up the track and into base camp.
The next 30 minutes are intense. I’m not exaggerating when I say we weren’t sure the truck would make it up the hill. Progress was very slow and we instantly feel dread for the runners that will have to do this on foot. For the first and only time, we put the truck in low gear and switch on the four-wheel drive. We make it over the top, but only just.
Coming back down the other side is just as severe, it will be equally tough on the runners. The jealousy I held yesterday has dissipated a little; it will take a gutsy effort to top out on this hill. There is a small reward with the view as down the valley into Lewa is incredible. As always, rangers are patrolling and everyone greets us with a smile and a wave, maybe they’re laughing at our rubbish driving skills.
We make it to Ol Jogi’s pyramid camp and get straight to work when only a few minutes later the first runners come through. They all talk about how gruelling the day was and the last hill in particular.
I worry a little for the guys in the rhino costume, they must really be suffering out there. At about 4 pm, 8 hrs after setting out, Oli marches home in the costume. He backs up what every other runner has said all day that it was a tough day, the toughest so far.
Sadly today saw our first DNFs (Did Not Finish). Three guys don’t make it today. It’s a shame but the exile medics kick into action and at least one runner says they’re going to give it another shot tomorrow. Good on them is what I say.
As a special surprise, Jamie arranges to bring an orphaned elephant into camp, it’s a special moment to get close to a tame animal after seeing wild ones from a distance today.
Another fire is called for tonight but we see fewer people gathering around. Those who do partake in a spot of stargazing. It’s a nice moment but it doesn’t last too long. Runners will have to cover another marathon distance tomorrow. The fourth of the week.