Mount Kenya at glance

Mount Kenya at glance, the history, namings, tribes alienation, best times for climbing from any of the trekking routes can be climbed year-round.


It is the second-highest mountain in Africa. It is among the world seven-second summits. With Batian standing at 5,199m (17,057ft) is the highest point in Kenya. Other peaks are Nelion 5,188(17,021ft), Lenana 4,985m (16,355ft) among other peaks.

Mt Kenya is a stratovolcano created approximately 3 million years after the opening of the East Africa Rift. It is believed that before glaciation, the mountain was over 7,000m and was ice-capped. This resulted in very eroded slopes and numerous valleys emanating from the centre. Global warming has tremendously reduced the number and sizes of glaciers.

Currently, there are only 11 permanent glaciers namely Northey, Krapf, Gregory, Lewis, Diamond, Darwin, Forel, Heim, Tyndall, Ceasar, and Joseph.  It became a national park in 1949, designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and in 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Serving as a water catchment area, it feeds river Tana to the south and river Ewaso Ngiro to the north.

Climate and Seasons

The climate of Mount Kenya has played a critical role in the development of the mountain, influencing the topography and ecology amongst other factors. It has a typical equatorial mountain climate which Hedberg described as winter every night and summer every day. Mount Kenya is home to one of the Global Atmosphere Watch’s atmospheric monitoring stations erected above 3,300m a.s.l

In January the Intertropical Convergence Zone is at its southern extreme over the Indian Ocean. In July it is at its northern extreme over Tibet and Arabia. As it passes over the equator, Mount Kenya experiences a wet season. Distinct wet seasons and dry seasons every year mirror the wet and dry seasons in the Kenyan lowlands.

From mid-March to June the heavy rain season, known as the long rains, brings approximately half of the annual rainfall on the mountain. Followed by the wetter of the two dry seasons which lasts until September. October to December are the short rains when the mountain receives approximately a third of its rainfall total. Finally, from December to mid-March is the dry, dry season when the mountain experiences the least rain.

 European sighting

The first European to report seeing Mount Kenya was Dr Johann Ludwig Krapf, a German missionary, from Kitui in 1849, a town 160 km (100 miles away from the mountain. 3rd December 1849 was the first sighting, a year after the discovery of Kilimanjaro.

Eventually, in 1883, Joseph Thompson passed close by the west side of the mountain and confirmed Krapf’s claim. He diverted his expedition and reached 1,737 m (5,700 ft) up the slopes of the mountain but had to retreat because of trouble with local people. However, Count Samuel Teleki made the first European exploration high onto the mountain in 1887. He managed to reach 4,350 m (14,270 ft) on the southwestern slopes of the current Rangers post.

In 1893, Dr John Gregory, a British geologist managed to ascend Mount Kenya as far as the glaciers. They managed to ascend the mountain to around 4,730 m (15,520 ft), to the Lewis glacier. George Kolb, a German physician, made expeditions in 1894 and 1896 and was the first to reach the moorlands on the east side of the mountain. More exploration occurred after 1899 when the railway was completed as far as the site of Nairobi.

On 28 July 1899, Sir Halford J. Mackinder set out from the site of Nairobi on an expedition to Mt. Kenya. Mackinder pushed on up the mountain and established a camp at 3,142 m (10,310 ft) in the Höhnel Valley. His first attempt at the summit was on 30 August with Ollier and Brocherel up the southeast face. Nevertheless, they had to retreat when they were within 100 m (110 yd) of the summit of Nelion due to nightfall.

On 5 September, Hausberg, Ollier, and Brocherel made a circuit of the main peaks looking for an easier route to the summit. They could not find one. On 11 September Ollier and Brocherel made an ascent of the Darwin Glacier but were forced to retreat due to a blizzard. New approach routes were cleared through the forest, which made access to the peaks are far easier.

In 1920, Arthur and Sir Fowell Buxton tried to cut a route in from the south, and other routes came in from Nanyuki in the north, but the most commonly used was the route from the Chogoria mission in the east, built by Ernest Carr. Carr is also credited with building Urumandi and Top Huts. In the early 1930s, there were several visits to the moorlands around Mount Kenya, with fewer as far as the peaks. Raymond Hook and Humphrey Slade ascended to map the mountain and stocked several of the streams with trout.

Pinnacle attempts.

By 1938 there had been several more ascents of Nelion. In February, Miss C Carroll and Mtu Muthara became the first woman and African respectively to ascend Nelion, in an expedition with Noel Symington, author of The Night Climbers of Cambridge, and on 5 March Miss Una Cameron became the first woman to ascend Batian. In 1949 the MCK Mountain Club of Kenya was designated a National Park. A road was built from Naromoru to the moorlands, allowing easier access.

Many new routes were climbed on Batian and Nelion in the next three decades, and in October 1959 the Mountain Club of Kenya produced their first guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. On Kenyan independence in 1963, Kisoi Munyao raised the Kenyan flag at the top of the mountain. Mount Kenya National Park Mountain Rescue Team was formed in the early 1970s, and by the end of the 1970s, all major routes on the peaks had been climbed.

There are several established walking routes up to the main peaks. Starting clockwise to the north these are the: Rutundu, Meru, Themwe, Chogoria, Irangi, Kamweti, Chehe, Naromoru, Burguret, Sirimon, and Timau Routes. Chogoria, Naromoru, and Sirimon are the most frequently used and therefore have staffed gates. The other routes require special permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service to use.


The peaks of Mount Kenya have fetched names from different sources.

Several Maasai chieftains have been commemorated, with names such as Batian, Nelion, and Lenana. They commemorate Mbatian, a Maasai Laibon (Medicine Man), Nelieong, his brother, and Lenana and Sendeyo, his sons, Terere is named after another Maasai headman.

The second type of names that were given to peaks is after European climbers and explorers. Some examples of this are Shipton, Sommerfelt, Tilman, Dutton, and Arthur.

Well-known Kenyan personalities’ names take the remainder, with the exception of John and Peter, which were named by the missionary Arthur after two biblical disciples. There is a group of four peaks to the east of the main peaks named after European settlers; Coryndon, Grigg, Delamere, and McMillan.

Several communities which resided around the mountain believed that the mountain had a direct link with their God. It was either His dwelling place or He would descend here to visit his people. There are various versions connecting the communities, mountains, and God.


Several ethnic groups that live around Mount Kenya believe the mountain to be sacred. They used to build their houses facing the mountain, with the doors on the side nearest to it.

The Kikuyu live on the southern and western sides of the mountain. Kikuyu are agriculturalists and make use of the highly fertile volcanic soil on the lower slopes. They believe that God, Ngai or Mwene Nyaga, lived on Mount Kenya when he came down from the sky. They believe that the mountain is Ngai’s throne on earth. The place where Gĩkũyũ, the father of the tribe, used to meet with God.

Thus according to the Kikuyu records, Gĩkũyũ is the first person on Earth to ascend the mountain. ‘Mwene Nyaga’ in Kikuyu language can also translate as the “Owner of Snow” where ‘Mwene translates to ‘owner’, and ‘Nyaga’ to snow. ‘Nyaga’ can also translate to ‘Ostrich’ or the crown. Kikuyu used to build their houses with doors facing the mountain. The Kikuyu name for Mount Kenya is Kĩrĩ Nyaga (Kirinyaga), which literally translates to ‘God’s Resting Place’ or ‘Where God Lives’, referring to Mwene Nyaga.


The Embu people live to the southeast of Mount Kenya and believe that the mountain is God’s home (the Meru word for God is Ngai or Mwene Njeru). The mountain is sacred, and they build their houses with the doors facing towards it. The Embu people are closely related to the Ameru and Mbeere people. The Mbeere and Akamba are the settlers of the southeast side of the mountain.


The Ameru occupy the east and north slopes of the mountain. They are generally agriculturalists and also keep livestock. Therefore, they occupy what is among the most fertile land in Kenya. The Meru God Murungu was from the skies. Their name for Mt. Kenya is Kirimara, which means ‘mountain with white features‘. Mt. Kenya features a lot in the Ameru folklore and songs.


Mount Kenya lies in the Kenyan highlands, 150 kilometres (93 miles) north-northeast of Nairobi.

The Samburu/Maasai are semi-nomadic people, who use the land to the north of the mountain to graze their cattle. They believe that their ancestors came down from the mountain at the beginning of time. The Maasai name for Mount Kenya is Ol Donyo Keri, which means ‘mountain of stripes’, referring to the dark shades as observed from the surrounding plains.

At least one Maasai prayer refers to Mount Kenya: “God bless our children, let them be like the olive tree of Morintat, let them grow and expand, let them be like Ngong Hills like Mt. Kenya, like Mt. Kilimanjaro and multiply in number”.

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