Mount Kenya is Africa’s second highest mountain at 5,199m (17,058 feet) and the highest of all Kenya Mountains. Mount Kenya is roughly circular, about 60km across at the 200mm contour, where the steep font hills rise out of the gentler slopes of the centered highlands.
At the centre of the massif, the main peaks rise sharply from around 4,500m to the main summit of Batian 5,199m, Nelion 5,188m and point Lenana 4,985m. Other major summits on the mountain include Point Piggott 4,957m, Point Dutton 4,885 and Point John 4,883m. Of the three main peaks (Batian, Lenana and Nelion), only point Lenana can be reached by trekkers and the other two being only for technical climbers.
Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano with just one central vent. The main peaks are pretty much in the middle with ridges and valleys that radiate out from the summits like the spokes of a wheel. The routes follow the valleys up to the massif and the trekker then ascends scree and rock to the glaciated summit of Lenana.
The two main peaks are the remains of the volcanic magma that solidified in the main vent and there is a roughly circular path that goes round them which is the Summit Circuit route. Point Lenana is a smaller sub peak to one side of the main peaks.
Apart from the superb climbing potential on Mount Kenya, its tarns and alpine meadows; exotic, equatorial, high-altitude vegetation; sunbirds, hyrax and soaring eagles make the walk around the peaks one of the most beautiful expeditions in the East African mountains.
After the cultivated farmlands on the lower slopes the trails pass through the rain forest, rich in trees of many species but noticeably camphors, then onto a bamboo zone growing to heights of more than 12m or more up through open moor land before reaching the moonscape of higher slopes. The forests are rich in wildlife including elephant, buffalo and monkeys with even the moor lands offering a long list of mammals including the rock hyrax, the nearest living relative of the elephant.
Although, climbing Mount Kenya can be done all year round, the highest rainfall occurs between late March and the middle of May. The rain is slightly less between late October and mid December. Maximum rainfall occurs in the forest belt and on the south-east side of the mountain where it reaches 2500mm. per year at 3000m.
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. 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 months.
The best months and safest time to climb Mt. Kenya is during the dry seasons: January – February and August to September off the most reliably fine weather. The main routes are likely to be more crowded at this time of the year. If you favor complete solitude over the sunny skies, try going slightly off the peak season. It’s best to avoid the two rainy seasons from mid March until June and from late October to the end of December.
Mount Kenya is home to some fascinating high-altitude alpine vegetation including giant groundsels and lobelias.
In the lower-altitude forest zone trekkers may come across some rather large and uncompromising African wildlife such as elephants and buffalo – fortunately these are mostly active only at night. Lions, leopard, rock hyrax, various antelope species and a wide range of other creatures large and small occur in the park.