You have to get up early to see the sparkling spires of Mount Kenya. As day dawns, so she appears. A few hours later, cobwebs of cloud drift in to create a coronet around her ice-glinting towers and, within minutes, she’s disappeared leaving only the outline of her massive khaki-coloured shoulders. One of the world’s highest national parks, Mount Kenya is the ultimate contradiction: she straddles the equator and yet is crowned with ice.
Perhaps it’s her very elusiveness that gives Mount Kenya her aura of magic. Perhaps it’s her mist-wreathed forests or the giant water-holding cabbages that dot her slopes. Perhaps it’s that fact that she offers sanctuary to over 2,600 elephants, or that she harbours a mysterious ‘golden cat’. Whatever the reason, Mount Kenya has always been shrouded in mystique. Reputedly the home of the Mountain God, Ngai, who lives among her peaks, Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano some three-and-a-half million years old. She is also Kenya’s highest mountain, a national icon, a climbers’ Mecca, the nation’s namesake, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and a wildlife stronghold. Striated with glaciers, she offers a unique mosaic of forest, moorland, rock and ice crowned by the glittering twin peaks of Batian (5,199 m) and Nelion (5,188 m).
Once the highest mountain in Africa
Like most of East Africa’s mountains, Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano with a massive volcanic cone, circular in shape and around 70 km in diameter. Born between 2.6 and 3.1 million years ago, this cone formed as successive layers of volcanic lava erupted with massive force from a central vent. Now the second highest mountain in Africa (after Mount Kilimanjaro), experts believe that at her birth, Mount Kenya may have towered at least one thousand meters higher than Kiliimanjaro.
Namesake of a nation
The Kikuyu people call the mountain Kirinyaga, which roughly translated means, the ‘white’ or ‘bright’ mountain. The Embu people call it Kirenia (the mountain of whiteness), and the Maasai call it both Ol Donyo Eibor (the white mountain) and Ol Donyo Egere (the speckled mountain). Anthropologists believe that Kenya gets her name from the Akamba people, who call the mountain Kiinyaa, meaning the ‘Mountain of the Ostrich’, because in their opinion the dark rock and speckled ice fields looked like the tail feathers of the male