Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro located 175 km north east of Nairobi in central and eastern province of Kenya. The mountain is surrounded by a forest reserve and together they make up the Mount Kenya National Park which was gazetted in the year 1949 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Mount Kenya is the source of the name of the Republic of Kenya.
Mount Kenya stands at 5199 meters (17,057 ft) and the park covers an area of 750km2. Mount Kenya was once a volcano created 3 million years ago. It is estimated to have been 23,000 ft tall but has since eroded to 17,000 ft. Glaciation has coursed erosion of the slopes creating glaciers (small lakes). The lower slopes of the mountain have been glaciated and are now cultivated or forested, they are distinguished by V shaped valleys.
The higher part of the mountain which is now moorland is distinguished by U shaped valleys. There are about 11 small glacier on the mountain. Mount Kenya has three major peaks namely Batian at 5199 meters, Nelion at 5188 meters and Lenana at 4,985 meters. Batian and Nelion are only 250 meters apart separated by the “Gates of Mist”.
Mount Kenya is one of the five most significant water towers in Kenya that the country depends on for her water supply. It provides water for about 50% of the country’s population and produces 70% of Kenya’s hydroelectric power. There are two major rivers that originate from this water catchment namely Tana River and Ewaso Ng’iro River. Mount Kenya has different zones depending on the altitude.
The base of the mountain is characterized by fertile farmland, followed by montane forest. Above the forest is a belt of bamboo. This zone is almost continuous, but is restricted to small isolated bunches in the north because of low rainfall. Above the bamboo is the timberline forest. The trees here are often smaller than the trees in the forests lower down the mountain. At around 3000m the vegetation turns to heath land and chaparral which paves way for Afro-alpine zone which begins at 3500m, the air here is drier and thinner.
Many of the species here are endemic, with adaptations to the cold and fluctuating temperatures. Typical plants here include giant groundsels (senecios) and giant lobelias. At 4500m we have the nival zone which is characterized by an area that has minimal or no vegetation whatsoever and has been glaciated.
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.