From To The Summit, by Joseph Poindexter...

(a GREAT book given to me by my sister-in-law Jackie for Christmas)

Mount Kenya

Snow high on the flanks of 17,058 foot Mount Kenya was regarded by the native Kikuyus as a supernatural substance. But when German missionary Ludwig Krapf reported seeing snow in British East Africa near the Equator in 1849, the report was dismissed as fantastical -- as had been similar sightings by his colleague Johannes Rebmann the year before. But once Scottish geographer Joseph Thomson confirmed the existence of Mount Kenya in 1883, mountaineering expeditions began to arrive.

The first successful ascent of the mountain, however, was achieved by geographer Halford Mackinder in 1899, a scientist with little climbing experience. Mackinder's party, which included six Europeans and 150 to 200 porters, encountered its greatest hazards not on the mountain but during the thirty-day approach from Nairobi. The team successfully warded off the charges of angry rhinoceros but lost two men to attacks by hostile tribes. After repeated attempts on Batian, the higher of Kenya's twin peaks, Mackinder and his two guides finally prevailed, etching a complex rock and snow route on the steep and technically demanding summit tower.

The mountain was not climbed again for thirty years when renowned English mountaineers Eric Shipton and Wyn Harris climbed both Batian and, for the first time, Nelion Peak (17,022 feet). The most antic attempt on the mountain occurred during World War II when three Italian POWs escaped from a nearby British camp just to relieve the boredom of incarceration, leaving a note saying they would return after they had climbed Mount Kenya. Astonishingly, they did return -- with tales of skirmishes with wild animals, steep snow faces and bad weather, but no summit.

With the end of the war, interest in Mount Kenya bacame intense. Dozens of routes were added, including the most difficult ice climb in Africa, the fourteen pitches of the Diamond Couloir that reaches the col between Batian and Nelion, called the Gate of Mists. The long South Face provides an easier route to the col, but there is no easy ascent of either summits. Non-technical climbers head for Kenya's third peak, Point Lenana (elevation: 16,355 feet) with its stunning view of Nelion six-tenths of a mile to the west.

The dry seasons for Mount Kenya, like that of Africa's other Equatorial mountains, are January to early March and July to August. Most climbers approach the mountain from Naro Moru, a town seventy-five miles northeast of Nairobi, situated on a road that circles Kenya's massif. The walk to the Mackinder campsite and Teleki Lodge at 13,500 feet can be done in two days -- or one if a ride can be caught over the rough road to a weather outpost, called the Met Station, seventeen miles inland. From the Met Station a road (for authorized vehicles only) continues to a radio tower and then narrows to a path that climbs through a forest to a broad heath. It soon begins to climb steeply up the so-called vertical bog and then eases off along the south bank of Naro Moru River as it ascends to the campground and lodge. Most climbers spend two nights to acclimatize -- with a day of side trips to the snout of the Tyndall Glacier or to views of the Diamond Couloir and the Gate of Mists. The walk from Mackinder Camp to the Austrian Hut at 15,700 feet, takes two to three hours up a steep scree slope.

The ascent of either Batian or Nelion is a serious undertaking requiring advanced rock climbing skills and a full day from one of the high camps. Those more interested in the view than the challenge of high altitude technical climbing can hike to the summit of Point Lenana, visable from the hut, which can be reached in an hour and a half following a rocky route to the right of the Lewis Glacier. From Lenana's peak, if the morning is clear, the shimmering snows of Kilimanjaro, 120 miles to the south, seem to float on the horizon.