Mount Kenya National Park
Atop dazzling 17,058-foot (5,199-m) Mount Kenya, Kenya’s highest mountain, is one of the world’s highest and most beautiful national parks—286 square miles (704 km2) of forest, moors, ice, snow, rock, and jewel-like lakes straddling the equator and containing rare and interesting natural life, some found only here.
Heathers grow 30 feet (9 m) high. Lobelias of similar giant proportions offer nectar-filled blossoms to long-tailed scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds, and their leaves to furry little Mount Kenya rock hyrax.
Black forest hogs up to 500 pounds (225 kg) (tell them from smaller warthogs by skinny tails held down, not up, when they run) root under towering camphor trees 150 feet (46 m) high alongside reclusive bongos, seldom-seen reddish antelopes with bold tiger-like white stripes and thick spiraled horns. Elephants and buffalo are common. Rarely seen elsewhere, but found here, are attractive large-spotted genet cats and greater galagos or bushbabies. Endemic but hard to see are Mount Kenya shrews and mole rats.
Each elevation has its special habitat niche. The lower forest and its clearings have waterbucks, bushbucks, block-fronted duikers, and handsome, acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkeys. Around 11,000 feet (3,350 m) forest ends and moors begin, with less abundant but equally interesting flora and fauna—lumbering ox-like elands, Africa’s largest bovids; mountain reedbucks, wild dogs, leopards, and birdlife which includes Mackinder’s eagle-owls with wild flame-orange eyes, and confidently tame little mountain chats.
Above 14,500 feet (4,500 m) the mountain becomes a world of rock and ice. Mt. Kenya has seven major glaciers whose gradual melting is the basis for Kenya’s most important permanent watershed, providing fertile loams to the country’s richest farmlands lower down, and to the 700 square miles (2,000+ km2) of its largest forest reserve.
Its beauty is unsurpassed—“a gleaming snow-white peak” said Joseph Thomson “with sparkling facets which scintillated with the superb beauty of a colossal diamond.”
There are four tracks up the mountain. Anyone moderately fit can attempt the ascent of 16,350- foot (4,885-m) Point Lenana, third-highest peak. Be warned, however: it’s not the easy walk it is sometimes described and should be taken gradually to avoid acute mountain sickness. More than half the world’s cases of sometimes-fatal climbers’ pulmonary edema occur here.
Another and fine way to see wildlife is to stay at Mountain Lodge where animals come to saltlicks all day and through the night, visible under lights.
Mt. Kenya is 120 miles (193 km) drive northeast of Nairobi.
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