Mount Kenya is an ancient extinct volcano, and is believed to have reached over 6,500mt during its active period, around 3.5 million years ago. Today, at 5,100mt, Mount Kenya is the tallest mountain in Kenya and the second tallest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This very beautiful mountain is special in several different ways! Firstly, it is the only snow-capped mountain that straddles the Equator, and secondly, Mount Kenya encompasses several different eco-systems and habitats ranging from Afro-Alpine at the higher altitudes, to semi-arid savannah grasslands in the low-lands. Mount Kenya National Park was established to protect this national treasure, which has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage as well as a World Biosphere Reserve.
At the end of the 19th Century Mount Kenya had 18 glaciers, of which only 11 remain today – a sad reminder of the ravages of climate change. Today there is very little snow-fall to help the remaining glaciers recover, and climatologists estimated that by 2050 they will all have disappeared. (This fact alone should have you packing your bags for a visit right now!).
Although the prime attraction of the Mount Kenya National Park is exploring the mountain itself, there is also a good selection of wildlife to see along the way and the birding is great. Pack some comfortable hiking boots and set off on foot to discover the wonders of this national gem.
Trekking and hiking
Forest and Moorland walks
It’s all about the mountain!! Although there is wonderful flora and fauna to observe, it is the beauty and diversity of the landscape in Mount Kenya National Park that draws throngs of people each year. The main pursuit is hiking or trekking through the ever-changing landscape, dotted with gorges, cliffs, waterfalls, beautiful glacial lakes and alpine vegetation – a rarity in Africa!
It would be wise to carefully consider which of the several trekking routes is right for you. If you attempt the ascent too rapidly you run the risk of developing altitude sickness which is not only most unpleasant, but will also spell the end of your adventure almost before it begins! Using a slow and steady ascent makes reaching Point Lenana an achievable goal for any reasonably fit hiker, and the added bonus is that you will have the necessary time to enjoy the stunning scenery.
At a very respectable 4,979mt, Point Lenana is the highest of the Mount Kenya peaks that you can reach without resorting to technical climbing. From this rocky and usually snow-covered vantage point you will have wonderful views of the glaciers and the two impressive rock towers that form the highest peaks, namely Batian and Nelion.
Note: Recent warming and the recession of the Lewis Glacier means that at certain times of year the final ascent to Point Lenana can require a fairly perilous scramble across a large and stony ice-field, and some technical gear (crampons and ice-axe) could be required! Please check conditions before setting out.)
Chogoria is probably the most scenic of the routes, offering amazing views down sheer cliffs to the Gorges Valley and the stunningly lovely Lake Michaelson.
You will be accompanied on your trek by a guide and porter/s and you will sleep in mountain huts or tents. It’s a great adventure or team-building exercise, a test of your resolve, and an excellent opportunity to acclimatize before an assault on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Read more about trekking Mount Kenya here: Scenic Mount Kenya Climb
There is plenty of wildlife to observe in the Mount Kenya National Park, including some rare and endangered species. The lower mountain slopes are covered with dry upland forest, and are rich in wildlife attracted by plentiful water from the streams and springs. The birdlife is also abundant and you can hope to spot many of the 130 species that have been recorded in the park. You do not need to be worried about encountering wild animals during your walk – they will nearly always spot you well in advance and move out of your path. (And your guide is armed for your protection just in case you should need it!).
Crystal-clear mountain Trout streams and glacial tarns will attract keen fly-fishermen.
Serious technical climbers will relish the challenge of ascending the two highest peaks, namely Batian (5199) and Nelion (5188). Even the easiest route to both peaks is IV (UIAA grading) and is not to be underestimated! In addition to scaling Batian and Nelion, there are some good shorter climbs on a few of the lesser peaks.
If your legs are not up to the walking, but you just cannot leave Mount Kenya National Park without exploring the higher altitudes, there is a solution! Take advantage of an amazing helicopter picnic or trout fishing excursion into the park.
Diverse vegetation zones
Mount Kenya is not just a straight up-and- down mountain! This amazing volcanic structure hides some of the most impressive mountain features you will find anywhere in the world. Imposing rock spires, deep and dramatic gorges, bubbling mineral springs, waterfalls, mountain streams and numerous stunning glacial lakes (or tarns) will compete for your attention.
Diverse Vegetation: Because mighty Mount Kenya is so tall, you will pass through several distinct bands of vegetation between the base and the summit. The lower slopes (2000-3000mt) are predominantly forested, and you will first make your way though montane forest, followed by dense bamboo forest, before reaching a thinner upper forest of smaller trees. Above 3000mt the vegetation gradually changes to heath-land and high-altitude Afro-Alpine, characterized by giant senecio, giant lobelia and giant thistle.
Most of the animals in Mount Kenya National Park live on the forested lower slopes where there is plenty of food and the climate is kinder. There are various species of Monkeys, several antelope including the rare Bongo, Porcupines and Tree-Hyrax. Some of the larger mammals you may come across are Elephant, Buffalo and Giant Hog, while predators are represented by Leopard, Hyena and the occasional Lion. At higher altitudes you may come across the Mount Kenya Hyrax, common Duiker, the Groove-toothed Rat and the Mount Kenya Mole Rat, all of which fulfil an important role in the ecology of the mountain.
Over 130 species of birds have been recorded in the park and you can expect to see Sunbirds, Starlings, and Chats. The raptors include Augur Buzzard, Verreaux’s Eagle and the endangered Lammergeier.
If you decide to trek up Mount Kenya you will either have to camp or stay in one of the several climber’s huts that are dotted along the various trekking routes. These are quite basic, offering bunk-style beds and a place to relax and cook. Some are even more rustic and just provide shelter from the elements. Most have running water. Some of these huts require advance booking while others can be booked at the park gates – this you can leave to your Tour Operator to organize.
There are some comfortable and even luxurious lodges on the lower slopes, and several in the surrounding Aberdare National Park and the private conservancies just beyond the boundaries of the Park. Two of the most popular choices inside Mount Kenya National Park include:
A luxury hotel-style lodge with a country-club atmosphere, the Fairmont offers all the mod cons, including a swimming pool, spa, golf, horse-back riding and lavishly appointed rooms and suites. The hotel offers wildlife viewing excursions to near-by Solio Game Reserve, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Aberdare National Park.
This timbered, tree-house-styled lodge is an excellent base for exploring the Mount Kenya National Park. The lodge overlooks a waterhole and salt-lick which regularly attracts many animals including sizeable herds of Elephant and Buffalo, which can be viewed from your private balcony or from one of the viewing decks. There is also a hide, reached via an underground tunnel, which gives you a great chance of observing the visiting wildlife up close. The lodge arranges guided forest walks, moorland excursions, bush picnics, fishing and even tree-planting!
It is easy to reach Mount Kenya National Park by road from Nairobi in about 2 hours. If you prefer to fly in, there are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi Wilson to Nanyuki Airport, which is close by. Flying time is just 35 minutes.
Are you ready to explore the fabulous Mount Kenya National Park with us? Our team of Kenya experts are waiting to plan the perfect Kenya safari holiday for you, incorporating an exhilarating trek up the second highest mountain in Africa. Those glaciers are shrinking every year – make this the year that you get to see them!
Read what other adventurers have to say about trekking Mount Kenya here on our blog: