Mt Kenya is an ancient extinct mountain of volcanic origin. It is the highest mountain in Kenya and second highest in Africa. It is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Mt Kenya National Park was established in 1949 and become a biosphere reserve in 1978. The highest peak is Batian at 5,199 metres. It straddles the Eastern and Central regions, south of the equator.
The lower parts of the mountain are covered by forests of different types. Many alpine plant species are endemic to Mt Kenya. They include the giant lobelia and senecios and the local species of rock hyrax.
Mt Kenya is also habitat to many sought-after hard woods, including the East African rosewood, (hagenia abyssinica), camphor (ocotea usam-barensis), cedar (juniperusprocera) and the wild olive (olea europaea).
Mt Kenya is an important water reservoir for a population of about seven million who live on its foothills and adjacent areas. It is a water catchment area for the Tana and Ewaso Nyiro rivers. It contains a mixed mountain and highlands ecosystems.
Climbing Mount Kenya
Most of the peaks on Mount Kenya have been summited. The majority of these involve rock climbing as the easiest route, although some only require a scramble or a walk. The highest peak that can be ascended without climbing is Point Lenana, 4,985 m (16,355 ft). The majority of the 15,000 visitors to the national park each year climb this peak. In contrast, approximately 200 people summit Nelion and 50 summit Batian, the two highest peaks.
When ascended directly, Batian is usually climbed via the North Face Standard Route. It was first ascended on 31 July 1944 by Firmin and Hicks. The route is usually climbed in two days. The Normal Route is the most climbed route up Nelion, and thence across to Batian. It was first climbed by Shipton and Wyn-Harris on 6 January 1929. It is possible to traverse between the two peaks, via the Gates of Mist, but this often involves spending a night in the Howell hut on top of Nelion. There is a bolted abseil descent route off Nelion.
Mount Kenya’s climbing seasons are a result of its location only 20 km from the equator. During the northern summer the rock routes on the north side of the peak are in good summer condition, while at the same time the ice routes on the south side of the peak are prime shape. The situation is reversed during the southern summer. The two seasons are separated by several months of rainy season before and after, during which climbing conditions are generally unfavorable.
Mount Kenya is home to several good ice routes, the two most famous being the Diamond Couloir and the Ice Window route. Snow and ice levels on the mountain have been retreating at an accelerated rate in recent years, making these climbs increasingly difficult and dangerous. The Diamond Couloir, once climbable in summer or winter, is now virtually unclimbable in summer conditions, and is seldom deemed in climbable condition even in winter.
The satellite peaks around the mountain also provide good climbs. These can be climbed in Alpine style and vary in difficulty from a scramble to climbing at. They are useful for acclimatisation before climbing the higher peaks and as ascents in their own right.
There are eight walking routes up to the main peaks. Starting clockwise from the north these are the: Meru, Chogoria, Kamweti, Naro Moru, Burguret, Sirimon and Timau Routes. Of these Chogoria, Naro Moru and Sirimon and used most frequently and therefore have staffed gates. The other routes require special permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service to use.
The Chogoria route leads from Chogoria town up to the peaks circuit path. It heads through the forest to the south-east of the mountain to the moorland, with views over areas such as Ithanguni and the Giant’s Billiards Table before following the Gorges Valley past the Temple and up to Simba Col below Point Lenana. The Mountain Club of Kenya claims that Ithanguni and the Giant’s Billards Table offer some of the best hillwalking in Kenya.
The Naro Moru route is taken by many of the trekkers who try to reach Point Lenana. It can be ascended in only 3 days and has bunkhouses at each camp. The route starts at Naro Moru town to the west of the mountain and climbs towards Mackinder’s Camp on the Peak Circuit Path. The terrain is usually good, although one section is called the Vertical Bog.
The Sirimon route approaches Mount Kenya from the north-west. The path splits on the moorlands, with the more frequently used fork following the Mackinder Valley and the quieter route traversing into the Liki North Valley. The paths rejoin at Shipton’s Cave just below Shipton’s Camp on the Peak Circuit Path.
The Peak Circuit Path is a path around the main peaks, with a distance of about 10 kilometres (6 mi) and height gain and loss of over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). It can be walked in one day, but more commonly takes two or three. It can also be used to join different ascent and descent routes. The route does not require technical climbing