Climbing Mount Kenya is an adventure and although it is the second highest mountain in Africa it is accessible to the non-technical hiker. Superb mountain moorlands, glaciers and wildlife can all be seen on the way to the snowy summit.
Mount Kenya is actually an extinct volcano and made up of a number of ragged white peaks. It rises majestically out of the highlands to tower over the plains below and can be seen for miles around. The pristine wilderness that clings to it is a wonder in itself and the home of high altitude game and also rare animals and endemic plants.
Mount Kenya National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. It covers just over 700 square kilometres which includes the peaks and any land above a certain height. Surrounding the mountain is Mount Kenya National Reserve which is more than 2 000 square kilometres in range.
This national park is exceptional in its beauty and features inspiring peaks which are blanketed in unusual equatorial snow. The mountain slopes are thick with lush rainforests but climbers will also discover an exciting range of scenery and wildlife habitats. Gorgeous mountain moorlands, rivers, lakes, mineral springs and glaciers are just some of the highlights.
Bation and Nelion are the 2 main peaks (both are just under 5 200 metres / 3 231 miles with a 100 metre / 62 mile difference in height between them). There is also another slightly smaller peak called Lenana which can be ascended without technical climbing - this is by far the most popular option. Most trekkers take between 3 and 5 days to reach Lenana.
There are a number of walking routes up the mountain which all meet at a circular path around the main peaks. This is the location of Shipton's Camp. The Peak Circuit Path can be walked in a couple of days, or you can use it to descend by a different route. Of the walking routes, Chongoria, Naro Moru and Sirimon are the most used.
To ascend Bation and Nelion, rock climbing is required. Of these 2 peaks Nelion is the most climbed. You can get between the 2 peaks but only by spending a night in a mountain hut on Nelion. Experienced technical climbers can reach Bation directly in about 2 days.
Climbing Mount Kenya requires a person to be fit for a long trek - you should be able to walk steadily for between 6 and 8 hours a day and feel comfortable. Going with an experienced mountain guide is a must. For a successful summit you need to walk at a slow and easy pace and be well hydrated, otherwise you could miss summiting due to altitude sickness.
It is worthwhile to plan in an extra day to explore the Peak Circuit Path while staying at Shipton's Camp which has magnificent views of the 3 main peaks. The night before you ascend to the summit of Lenana is an early one, as you will need to rise long before dawn. A highlight is the sun rising over the plains just as you reach the peak. Wildlife
Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, primates, antelopes and sometimes Lion can be seen on the lower slopes, while Leopard, Hyrax and Duiker can survive in the alpine region. A great variety of birds can also be seen including Verreaux Eagles, Sunbirds and Chats.
The Mountain can be climbed all year although there are 2 rainy seasons which will need to be taken into account. The long rains fall between the middle of March and June and the short rains fall between October and December. Days are generally hot and sunny, even during the long rains, but the nights are well below freezing - a drop to -10 is common and even -20 degrees C (14 to -4 degrees Fahrenheit) can occur.
Non-trekkers can relax in the invigorating highlands, walking and game viewing, horse-riding, trout fishing in the clear mountain streams and also enjoy cultural interaction.
Many trekking companies organise road transfers from Nairobi (it is about a 4 hour drive). Alternately, the closest airstrip is in Nanyuki.
Self-drivers can get to the towns in the foothills on tarred roads from Nairobi, but the last section to the park gates is not tarred and will require a 4x4 in rainy conditions. Road access routes are via Nanyuki and Isiolo, via Nyeri and Nanyuki or via Chongoria on the Embu / Meru road.
by Heather Willowmore