Mount Kenya National Park prides itself on being the home of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second tallest mountain standing 5,199 M above sea level. It was established in 1949 to protect the mountain, the wildlife and the surrounding environment. The 524,852-acre park began as a forest reserve. In 1978 it was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In 1997, the combined national park and forest reserve became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So when you visit this global icon, do it with a sense of pride and make sure to do these seven things.
1. Climb Mount Kenya
Of course, you would not go all that way and miss out on this now, would you? The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian (5,199 M), Nelion (5,188 M) and Point Lenana (4,985 M), if you are up for a challenge. The current summit region is a series of sharp ridges interspersed with glaciers which surround the two twin summits separated by a gap known as the Gate of the Mists. Otherwise, you can try Point Pigott (4,957), Point Thomson and Thomson Flake (4,955 M), Point Dutton (4,885 M), Point Melhuish (4,880 M), Point John (4,863 M), Point Peter (4,757 M) or Midget Peak (4,700 M).
Here, the presence of snow on the mountain’s seven permanent glaciers is a crowd-puller because no one expects snow in the tropics. Of Mount Kenya’s many high-altitude plants, 81 are endemic. They possibly are relic forms of plants which were once widely distributed during the cold climate of the Pleistocene period. As the world warmed, these plants retreated to the colder weather that now exists on the mountain. The highest points of Mount Kenya are characteristically arid due to the extraction of moisture. Over 100 species of wildflowers exist here and to find a variety in flower is a near guarantee.
2. Watch Birds at Lake Rutundu
Lake Rutundu sits about 3,100 M (10,000 FT) above Mount Kenya’s forest. The lake is a residence for rare birdlife and vegetation. It is not only a nature lovers’ bliss, but it is also an ideal spot for hikers and anglers hoping to catch rainbow trout. Horse riding is also a popular activity here. You can see over 130 bird species here.
3. Catch Trout at Lake Alice
Lake Alice is the largest of Mount Kenya’s great lakes. The others are Lake Michaelson, Lake Ellis and Lake Rutundu. Well-known for its rich stock of trout, Lake Alice is one of the best places for trout fishing in Kenya. Surrounded by exotic vegetation, such as the enormous Senecio and giant lobelia, the 3,550 M Lake Alice, like Lake Rutundu, is stocked with rainbow trout, and provides an excellent spot for fishing. However, casting can be a challenge at the northern end of the lake because of the steep bank behind it. Many fishing enthusiasts, therefore, prefer the southern end of the lake where the shingle beach makes casting much more straightforward.
The lake, which is a two-hour walk further up Mount Kenya, is named after the Duchess of Gloucester. She visited Kenya just after the lake’s discovery. You are only allowed to fly fish, and it is encouraged to catch and release as much as possible. If fishing is not your thing, then you will find the beautiful walk around the lake, through Giant Groundsel and Heather forests very refreshing. This place, perhaps because of its proximity to Mount Kenya, can get extremely cold once the sun goes down. You are better off being out of there before sunset, or you will have to contend with some crazy temperature drops. Interestingly, Lake Alice was discovered by accident by a team of explorers who were searching for mythical creatures believed to reside in these parts.
4. See Endemic Plantlife
Mount Kenya National Park is well-known for its rich diversity of unique montane and alpine vegetation with 11 species of endemic plants.
5. Interact with High-altitude Game
See a variety of high-altitude adapted plains game, including rare and endangered species of animals like the bongo, the giant forest hog and the rhino. You can also see elephants, tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, suni, black-fronted duiker, mole rats, bushbucks, waterbuck and elands. Though not endangered, the leopard is a rare sight.
6. Crack the Mima Mounds Mystery
Mima Mounds, also known as Hog Wallows, are mysterious landforms which occur at elevations of 1,500-3600 M on Mount Kenya. They rise to between 1 and 3 M high and stretch to 6 M in diameter. They also occur in the Aberdares, near Nyahururu and near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. These landforms have continued to puzzle scientists the world over for decades. The scientific community cannot agree on the process of their formation. However, one theory by Andrew Berg, a former Geologist with the US Bureau of Mines, seems to be gaining popularity. Berg hypothesised that vibrations from violent earthquakes could have formed the mounds. Interestingly, recent research now shows most termite mounds in the Kenyan highlands could indeed be Mima mounds!
7. Climb the Via Ferrata
The Via Ferrata, which is Italian for ‘Iron Road’, is the world’s highest ladder located 4,985 M above sea level in Mount Kenya. The only one of its kind in the region, it is known locally as Olonana. The ladder was commissioned by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to open up isolated and challenging routes in the mountain. Now both novice and experienced climbers can summit the mountain more easily. It will also provide more scenic views of the park. Olonana has dethroned the hitherto highest Via Ferrata on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Malaysia at 3,800 M above sea level. The first phase of the Via Ferrata of Mount Kenya will get erected on the challenging sections of point Lenana. Climbers may approach the summit either from the Shipton camp or the Austrian hut on the Naromoru route.
Have you ever been to Africa’s second-tallest mountain? If you have not, maybe the time is now to visit Mount Kenya National Park. Here’s an interesting thing to inspire you. Out of its eighteen recorded glaciers in 1893, only seven remain today. Experts now warn the existing ones may vanish in 25 years. Of course, many human predictions never go as foretold but is that not reason enough to add it to your bucket list now?
Despite being a volcanic mountain, Mount Kenya has shown no sign of volcanic activity for over two million years since it last erupted. So you might not experience much of this, but glacial erosion is at its peak. It is busy eradicating all traces of the summit crater and caldera and removing much of the mass from the upper slopes of the mountain. When are you going already? Visit the KWS website to get the latest park entry rates for your planning.