Mount Kenya National Park

At 17,058 feet (5,199 metres), Mount Kenya is Africa's second highest mountain. The mountain offers both easy and challenging ascents with superb scenic beauty.

To the Kikuyu tribes people of the area, it is the home of the Supreme Being, Ngai, a name also used by the Masai and Kamba tribes. Kere Nyaga, the Kikuyu name for the mountain means Mountain of Brightness, Ngai's official home.

Part of the mountain's fascination is the variation in flora, including Giant groundsel and Lobelia, and fauna as the altitude changes. The lower slopes are covered with dry upland forest; the true mountain forest begins at 6,000 feet and is mainly cedar and podo.

At 7,500 feet begins a dense belt of bamboo forest, which merges into the upper forest of smaller trees interspersed with clear glades. In this area the trees are festooned with high altitude lichens.

The high altitude heath at the top (9,000 - 10,500 feet) is generally open and dotted with shrubs: African Sage, protea and helichyrum. Above 10,500 feet is open moorland.

These various forest belts are host to many different animals and plants with at least 11 unique species. Game to view includes: Black and White Colobus and Sykes Monkeys, bushbuck, Rock Hyrax, buffalo, elephant, waterbuck, Black Rhino, duikers, leopard, giant Forest Hog, genet cats, bush pigs and hyena. More elusive is the Bongo, a very rare forest antelope.

There are a variety of routes allowing exploration of Mount Kenya, the majority of which take approximately 5-7 days. The majority of the ascents consist of hiking and no technical climbing skills are required. Most fit hikers may reach the lowest peak of the mountain, Point Lenana, at just over 16,000 feet. Points Nelion and Batian at over 17,000 feet require technical expertise and knowledge.

Forest roads allow vehicular exploration up to a level of 10,000 feet. The remainder of the mountain must be traveled on foot. Porters and guides provide both information and a helping hand to mountain enthusiasts.

With its easy access, knowledgeable and well-organised guiding services, complimented by the incredibly beautiful scenery, Mount Kenya is a hugely popular destination for hikers of all ages.

© Melinda Rees of Best of Kenya