May 222012
 

“We passed the night without disturbance, and rose with the sun. Mount Kenya’s peaks glittered superbly in the sky.” – Halford John Mackinder in his diary, August 26, 1899.

 

In 1997 UNESCO inscribed Mount Kenya a World Heritage Site as “one of the most impressive landscapes in Eastern Africa with its rugged glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests that illustrate outstanding ecological processes”. Since 1978, the area is also an International Biosphere Reserve. Mt. Kenya, an extinct volcano that last erupted between 2.8 to 3.2 million years ago, was gazetted a National Park in 1949 and a National Reserve in 2000 and is managed by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

In the 2800 sq km National Park and National Reserve are over 800 recorded plant species with 81 species being endemic to Mt. Kenya; There is also a wide variety of wildlife such as elephant, buffalo, eland, bushbuck, waterbuck, zebra, hyena, colobus monkey, white-throated guegnon and common at higher altitudes, the ubiquitous Monte Kenia rock hyrax. Animals rarely seen include leopard, bongo, giant forest hog and rhino.

The elevation range is approximately 2200 metres to 5200 metres and includes several distinct vegetation zones: Mixed broad-leaf forest, Gallery Forest, Bamboo, Giant Heath and Hagenia, moorland tussock grasses, Giant Senecio and Lobelia-and, at the uppermost elevation, rock and ice.

The peak area is formed from the hard core or plug of the volcano, the crater having long since been eroded away, and rises steeply on all sides some 450 m above the glaciers and scree slopes. There is excellent rock and ice climbing of a high standard to the twin summit peaks of Batian (5199 m) and Nelion (5188 m). The third highest peak is Pt. Lenana (4985 m) which can be reached by any fit walker, suitably equipped.

Remember that Lenana is the same altitude or higher than many Himalayan passes, and that altitude sickness can be a problem. Even on the shortest route to Point Lenana, trekkers should allow 3 days at the very least to allow for acclimatization on the way up. This will let you enjoy the trek even more, and improve your chances of success.

Despite its size, it is possible to gain altitude rapidly on Mt. Kenya and overzealous climbers run the risk of high altitude sickness. Mt. Kenya is responsible for a large proportion of the world’s high altitude pulmonary oedema cases (a potentially fatal form of High Altitude sickness). This can be prevented (and the experience made more enjoyable) if a sensibly slow approach is made.

Also, because Mount Kenya is so close to the equator, night can descend with surprising rapidity, only about half an hour after the sun has set, which can catch out visitors from further latitudes.

Mount Kenya, like most mountains, can be a very dangerous place. Many people are injured and even killed each year. Do not attempt the mountain if you suffer from any health problems, or if you do not have the appropriate gear.

KWS regulations require all visitors to register upon entrance to the mountain and sign out on departure. Hiking alone is prohibited. No burning is allowed. Take all litter out with you.

Weather, Climate and Seasons

Although, Mount Kenya can be climbed all year round, the highest rainfall occurs between late March and the middle of May, and slightly less between late October and mid December.

Lying on the equator Mount Kenya is affected by the passage of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which brings with it the main rainy periods.

Maximum rainfall occurs in the forest belt and on the south-east side of the mountain where it reaches 2500mm. per year at 3000m. Precipitation decreases with altitude and is about 700mm. per year at 4500m. Rain and, higher up, snow can however be encountered at any time of year – even in the driest periods (January and February). Normally the drier seasons are associated with clear, dry weather which can last for many days on end.

The best weather is generally in the mornings, and convectional rainfall, if any, tends to come in the mid-afternoon.

Temperatures vary considerably with height and with time of day. On the plains surrounding Mount Kenya the average day temperature is about 25°C. At 3000m. frosts can be encountered at night while day temperatures range from 5 to 15°C. Night time temperatures on the summit are well below freezing. The south-facing side of Mount Kenya receives more sunshine in the December to March period. During this time rock climbs are “in-condition” and snow and ice climbs gradually deteriorate. In the June to October period the north-facing rock climbs and south-facing ice climbs are best.

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!

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