Africa, January/February, November/December

Guide to Kerio Valley, Kenya

Tuesday 8 January, 2013
Greg Knudson in Kerio Valley, Kenya. Photo: Felix Woelk

Greg Knudson in Kerio Valley, Kenya. Photo: Felix Woelk

Forget about the post-festive credit card and head to Kenya where the Kerio Valley offers fast out-and-return flying in a spectacular natural landscape.

To get here you need to bushwhack your way out to the wilds of Kenya, to the Elgeyo Escarpment. The Elgeyo forms part of the western wall of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, and overlooks the 80km-long Kerio Valley over 1,000m below.

The result is a perfect flying ridge. In fact it is two ridges: an upper ridge with about 200m height difference leading to a shelf before the bigger ridge drops roughly another 1,000m to the valley floor.

Flying infrastructure is in its relative infancy here but since 2011, when a trio of German pilots arrived and bagged five tandem world records, there has been a steady flow of adventurous pilots that have come looking for fast out-and-returns and flat triangles that will put their names at the top of the online XC leagues early in the year.

For those who aren’t against the clock or tape measure the Kerio Valley also offers flying conditions that combine soaring and thermals over a big African landscape. Partners, family and non-flying friends will have plenty to keep them occupied, while you will get enough flying to ward off any amount of winter blues back home.

In winter the monsoon system here sets up an almost permanent northeast wind. The Elgeyo Escarpment is about 1,300m above the valley floor and faces this northeasterly trade wind square-on.

From about 7am until after dark the combination creates perfect soaring conditions. The wind can often be strong, but on a typical good day it blows at 15-20km/h. The dry landscape also produces strong thermals, which mix with the dynamic lift.

Take-off is often early or late, as the dynamic wind mixing with the thermals can make launching impossible later in the day. Record speed attempts don’t allow you to waste time turning in lift, and the escarpment delivers enough of a line that you can afford to bounce your way through the thermals, often skimming along close to the ground.

For pilots with time to turn, the thermal flying provides enough height gain to experience a privileged view of the landscape and explore as far as the limited road network retrieves allows. Flying after the heat of the day in the evening can be perfect.

December to February, although record-hunters have found regular success in the second and third weeks of January.

Launch: the main take-off is next to the Kerio View Hotel, 2,340m.
Landing: topland or drop down to the ‘shelf’ 200m below. Landing in the valley floor 1,300m below means a long retrieve.
Cloudbase: to 4,000m

There are plenty of places to launch and topland, and some options in the valley floor. You can hire a car and driver to help with the retrieve. Customs at Nairobi will probably be interested in your hang glider.

Apart from out-and-returns of up to 200km there is an awesome waterfall about 8km down the ridge to the right from the Kerio View Hotel.

There’s a track 200m below the escarpment but bombing-out can mean a time-consuming journey back up. Landing in the valley floor is hot. There are limited search and rescue facilities. Carry water, food, radio and a tracker and tell people you are going flying.

The best place to stay is the Kerio View Hotel but book early – Jan/Feb books out by August. Lower budget options are in nearby Iten, one of them being the nearby High Altitude Training Centre (www.lornah.com). Walter at Fly Kenya has more options.

Kerio View can arrange retrieves. However, land on the shelf and there will always be motorbikes (picky-pickies) that will take you back.

Check out the birdlife, wild buffalo, elephants and crocs in the nearby uncrowded Rimoi reserve, or even more wildlife in the Kerio Valley reserve in the valley floor.

The flying season is sandwiched between the end of the Short Rain season and the hottest months so expect hot, dry weather. However, at launch altitude, night time and early mornings can still feel fresh. Check www.meteoblue.com for ‘Iten, Kenya’.

The nearest airport is Eldoret, connections to Nairobi around €90. By bus from Nairobi take a four-hour 10-seater ‘Shuttle’ bus to Eldoret. From Eldoret get a taxi for the last 50km to launch.

Fly Kenya: www.fly-kenya.com

Kerio View Hotel: www.kerioview.com


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Back to Africa January/February November/December
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