A Guide To Mt. Kenya National Park
The 2800km square Mt. Kenya National Park is to the east of the Great Rift Valley, about 175km north-east of Nairobi. The ecosystem lies in Central and Eastern provinces. At 5,199m, the mountain is the second highest peak in Africa. Mt Kenya is an important water tower in the country and provides water for about 50 per cent of population and produces 70% hydroelectric power.
Mt. Kenya National Park – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
UNESCO has identified Mt. Kenya National Park as a World Heritage Site. It is described as one of the most impressive landscapes in eastern with rugged glacier-clad summits, afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests that illustrate outstanding ecological processes.
Facts About Mt.Kenya National Park
Altitude: the mountain ranges between 1,600-5,199 m above sea level.
Area: National Park 715 sq km, National Reserve 2,124 sq km.
Location: Nyeri District, Central Province.
Distance from Nairobi: the nation’s largest mountain, straddles the equator, 175 km north-east of Nairobi.
Gazetted: the National Park was gazetted in December 1949 and the National Reserve in July 2000.
Activities: mountains climbing, game watching, birding, hiking, nature walking.
Climate: as a result of its mountain geography, Mount Kenya’s weather is notoriously unpredictable and varies with altitude.
At points over 4,000 m mountain altitude, Mount Kenya is usually freezing cold, misty and windy. During sunshine, daytime temperatures may rise to over 15˚C (over 4,000 m) and during periods of cloud cover they may drop to nearly 0˚C.
Vegetation: Kenya’s mountain alps feature alpine and sub-alpine flora with montane and bamboo forest, moorland and tundra amongst the highest peaks.
Montain wildlife: includes; giant forest hog, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, elephant, black rhino, suni, black-fronted duiker, bongo, leopard, Mount Kenya mouse shrew, hyrax, duiker and the endemic mole-rat.
Birds: 130 recorded species.
What to see At Mt. Kenya National Park
Visitors are drawn to Mt. Kenya National Park by pristine wilderness, lakes, tarns, glaciers and peaks of great beauty, geological variety, forest, mineral springs rare and endangered species of animals, game, unique mountain and alpine vegetation with 11 species of endemic plants.
They include the elephant, tree hyrax, white tailed mongoose, suni, black-fronted duiker, mole rat, bushbucks, waterbuck and elands. Rarely seen include leopard, giant forest hog and rhino. 130 bird species have been recorded.
Mt. Kenya National Park offers easy and challenging ascents with superb scenic beauty. To the Agikuyu who live near it, the mountain is the home of the Supreme Being Ngai, a name also used in some variation by the Maasai and Kamba people.
Pristine wilderness, lakes, tarns, glaciers and peaks of great beauty, geological variety, forest, mineral springs, rare and endangered species of animals, High altitude adapted plains game, Unique montane and alpine vegetation with 11 species of endemic plants.
Accommodation and hotels in Mt. Kenya National Park
KWS Self Catering
Campsites in Mt. Kenya National Park
- Kinondoni Campsite
- Road Head
- Mintos Hut & Campsite
- Narumoru Gate Campsite
- Met Station Campsite
- Mackinders Campsite
- Sirimon Gate Campsite
- Austrian Hut Campsite
- Judmaier Campsite
- Shipton Campsite
- Liki North Hut 7 Campsite
- Solo Campsite
- Major Campsite
How to get to Mt. Kenya National Park
Mt. Kenya National Park can be reached through the Nanyuki-Isiolo road via Sirimon Track or Nyeri-Nanyuki road near Naro-Moru. Another route is via Chogoria on the Embu–Meru road, about 150km north of Nairobi. The closest commercial airstrip to the park is at Nanyuki.
The KWS offers self-catering accommodation at Batian Guesthouse and Sirimon Bandas. Camping facilities are available at Kinondoni, Road Head, Mintos Hut, Naro-moru Gate, Met Station, Mackinder’s, Austrian Hut, Judmaier, Shipton, Liki North Hut 7 and Solo.
- Roads: 175 Kms from Nairobi, the park can be reached on Nanyuki-Isiolo road via Sirimon Track or Nyeri-Nanyuki road near Naro Moru. The park is also reachable via Chogoria on the Embu – Meru road, about 150km north of Nairobi.
- Mountain climbing routes without an official gate include:
- Airstrips: The closest commercial airstrip to the park is at Nanyuki
Mt. Kenya National Park fees
- Adults KSH: 2350
- Child KSH: 700
- Adults KSH: 4100
- Child KSH: 1800
Non – Resident
- Adults USD: 225
- Child USD: 150
Mt Kenya Peaks
The highest Peaks are;
- Batian (5,199 metres (17,057 ft)
- Nelion (5,188 m (17,021 ft)
- Lenana (4,985 m (16,355 ft)
- Batian and Nelion are within 250 m (270 yd) of each other, separated by the Gate of the Mists gap (5,144 metres (16,877 ft)
- Coryndon Peak (4,960 m (16,273 ft)) is the next highest, but unlike the previous peaks it does not form a part of the central plug.
Other peaks around the central plug include;
- Pt Piggot (4,957 m (16,263 ft)), Pt Dutton (4,885 m (16,027 ft))
- Pt John (4,883 m (16,020 ft))
- Pt John Minor (4,875 m (15,994 ft))
- Krapf Rognon (4,800 m (15,748 ft))
- Pt Peter (4,757 m (15,607 ft))
- Pt Slade (4,750 m (15,584 ft))
- Midget Peak (4,700 m (15,420 ft)).
Significant craggy outlying peaks include;
- Terere (4,714 m (15,466 ft))
- Sendeyo (4,704 m (15,433 ft))
Other notable peaks include;
- The Hat (4,639 m (15,220 ft))
- Delamere Peak
- Macmillan Peak
Mt Kenya Location
Located in Central Kenya region Mount Kenya sits on the Equator.
Mt Kenya National Park
The park was created to encourage tourism, to preserve the area’s natural, outstanding beauty, and to conserve the animal habitat and protect it as a water catchment area. Mount Kenya National Park is located between Kenya’s other safari parks – Aberdare, Samburu and Meru National Park.Mount Kenya National Park consists mainly of the three peaks of Mount Kenya. This gives it a different landscape than the other national parks, but the African animals are still evident, including African elephants, monkeys and a host of birds.
Mt Kenya Pictures
Mt Kenya Height
At 5,199 m, Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa. It is an ancient extinct volcano, which during its period of activity (3.1-2.6 million years ago) is thought to have risen to 6,500 m. The entire mountain is deeply dissected by valleys radiating from the peaks, which are largely attributed to glacial erosion. There are about 20 glacial tarns (small lakes) of varying sizes and numerous glacial moraine features between 3,950 m and 4,800 m asl. The highest peaks are Batian (5,199 m) and Nelion (5,188 m). There are 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain, all receding rapidly, and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the U-shaped glacial valleys.
Mt. Kenya National Park Contacts
Attraction Type: Wildlife, Scenery & Landscapes, Adventure
Category: National Park, Mountain, Mountain Climbing
Region: Mt. Kenya
City / Town: Nanyuki
Road / Street: Nanyuki – Isiolo Road
Telephone: 254 20 356 8763
Entrance Fee: Yes
Mt. Kenya Guide
You have to get up early to see the sparkling spires of Mount Kenya. As day dawns, so she appears. A few hours later, cobwebs of cloud drift in to create a coronet around her ice-glinting towers and, within minutes, she’s disappeared leaving only the outline of her massive khaki-coloured shoulders. One of the world’s highest national parks, Mount Kenya is the ultimate contradiction: she straddles the equator and yet is crowned with ice.
Perhaps it’s her very elusiveness that gives Mount Kenya her aura of magic. Perhaps it’s her mist-wreathed forests or the giant giant water-holding cabbages that dot her slopes. Perhaps it’s that fact that she offers sanctuary to over 2,600 elephants, or that she harbours a mysterious ‘golden cat’.
Whatever the reason, Mount Kenya has always been shrouded in mystique. Reputedly the home of the Mountain God, Ngai, who lives among her peaks, Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano some three-and-a-half million years old. She is also Kenya’s highest mountain, a national icon, a climbers’ Mecca, the nation’s namesake, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and a wildlife stronghold. Striated with glaciers, she offers a unique mosaic of forest, moorland, rock and ice crowned by the glittering twin peaks of Batian (5,199 m) and Nelion (5,188 m).
Mt. Kenya was once the highest mountain in Africa
Like most of East Africa’s mountains, Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano with a massive volcanic cone, circular in shape and around 70 km in diameter. Born between 2.6 and
3.1 million years ago, this cone formed as successive layers of volcanic lava erupted with massive force from a central vent. Now the second highest mountain in Africa (after Mount Kilimanjaro), experts believe that at her birth, Mount Kenya may have towered at least one thousand meters higher than Kiliimanjaro.
Mt. Kenya – Namesake of a nation
The Kikuyu people call the mountain Kirinyaga, which roughly translated means, the ‘white’ or ‘bright’ mountain. The Embu people call it Kirenia (the mountain of whiteness), and the Maasai call it both Ol Donyo Eibor (the white mountain) and Ol Donyo Egere (the speckled mountain). Anthropologists believe that Kenya gets her name from the Akamba people, whocall the mountain Kiinyaa, meaning the ‘Mountain of the Ostrich’, because in their opinion the dark rock and speckled ice fields looked like the tail feathers of the male.
Climbing Mt. 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
Sunset on Mount Kenya
This description is given of sunset on Mount Kenya by E. Dutton, one of the earliest Europeans to climb the mountain between 1910 and 1930.
And at the end of the day, when the sun drops behind the peaks, the sky becomes a miracle of colour… When it is all over, I have felt as though I have listened to the beautiful voice of a fine singer. There is a point in the sun’s setting which is the highest, a poignant note before the voice dies away into an enchanted silence.
Everything for one moment is still; it is a stillness made the deeper by the desolate and void surroundings. For some reason, sunset in Africa always brings a momentary silence, a pause – a silence ‘when you may hear the shadows of the leaves as they fall on the ground’ – and then, in less empty surroundings, there is the happy chorus from frogs and grasshoppers and night birds and the hyrax, and the many prowlers of the night.
Sometimes you may hear the deep note of the lion, or the bark of the leopard, or the inhuman cackle of the hyena. But here on the mountain the silence is complete. When that still moment has passed, when the sun’s reflection no longer lights up the sky, perfect silence begins her reign and the peaks stand out, strongly silhouetted against the cold blue of the western sky.
The Peaks of Mount Kenya
The peaks of Mount Kenya were named by Halford Mackinder, the first European to climb the mountain (in 1899). He named them after the great Maasai laibon (medicine man), Mbatian and his brother, Nelieng (now known as Nelion); and Mbatian’s sons, Lenana and Sendeyo. Mbatian died around 1890 when an outbreak of rinderpest swept through East Africa.
The legend of his death lives on, and is given below:
The Legend of Mount Kenya
When he was on the point of death, the great Mbatian called together the elders of his clan and said, ‘I wish my successor to be the son to whom I give the insignia of the laibon. Obey him. And do not move from this country for I am about to die and I will send you cattle from heaven.
If you move you will die of smallpox and your cattle will perish. You will also have to fight with a powerful enemy and you will be beaten.’ When the elders had left, Mbatian called his eldest son, Sendeyo, and said to him, ‘come tomorrow morning for I wish to give you my laibon’s insignia.’ Unbeknownst to Mbatian, however, his other son, Lenana, was hiding in the cowshed next to his father’s hut, and he overheard the entire conversation.
Next morning, Lenana rose very early and went to his father’s hut. ‘Father, I have come,’ he said. But Mbatian, who was very old and had only one eye, could not see which of his sons stood before him so he reached out to Lenana and said, ‘thou shall be great amongst they brothers and amongst all people,’ and blessing him he gave Lenana the iron club, medicine horn, gourd and the stones in the bag, which are the sacred insignia of the laibon.
Some time later, Sendeyo came to his father’s hut. But he was refused admission and told by the old man’s attendants that Lenana had already been given the insignia of the laibon. This made Sendeyo very angry and he said, ‘I will not be subject to my brother; I will fight with him until I kill him.’
A few days later Mbatian died but confusion arose as to who was to succeed him. Some proclaimed Lenana as the laibon saying, ‘Mbatian told us he would give his insignia to the son he wished to succeed him: and that is Lenana.’ Others said, ‘we will not acknowledge Lenana for he is a cheat.’ So it was that the tribe split into two groups and Sendeyo’s tribe left the area.
Soon, disease broke out amongst Sendeyo’s people. Then their cattle perished. And finally they were defeated in battle by the white men. Those who had remained with Lenana, however, did not fall ill and they obtained cattle just as Mbatian had predicted. The two rival brothers waged war for many years, but eventually Sendeyo was beaten and, in 1902, he came to beg his brother to forgive him and allow him to live together with him. And peace was concluded between the two parties.
Adapted from The Masai: Their Language and Folklore by A.C Hollis
Mt. Kenya Fact file
Climate: At points over 4,000 m the mountain is usually freezing cold, misty and windy. During sunshine, daytime temperatures may rise to over 15˚C (over 4,000 m) and during periods of cloud cover they may drop to nearly 0˚C. Nocturnal temperatures habitually drop to around -10˚C.
Vegetation: alpine and sub-alpine flora with montane and bamboo forest, moorland and tundra.
Wildlife: includes giant forest hog, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, elephant, black rhino, suni, black-fronted duiker, bongo, leopard, Mount Kenya mouse shrew, hyrax, duiker and the endemic mole-rat.
Birds: 130 recorded species.
Getting there: the mountain can be accessed by road (175 km north-east of Nairobi) or air. Nanyuki offers the nearest commercial airstrip.
Where to stay: accommodation choices range from Kenya Wildlife Service campsites and self-catering accommodation to picturesque home-stays and five-star hotels.