National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Tackling Mount Kenya
George Ombuki shares tales about the wonderful topography of Mount Kenya National Park, from the savannah to the rainforest
An ancient extinct volcano and the second-highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya borders the Equator while miraculously supporting no less than 12 glaciers, myriad mountain lakes and bristling carpets of diverse alpine forestry.
Hiking, caving and camping await visitors to Mount Kenya National Park, the 820sqmile UNESCO World Heritage Site that surrounds the mountain and acts as home to a dazzling array of wildlife.
Someone who knows the area better than most is George Ombuki, mountain search and rescue officer at Mount Kenya National Park. Here he discusses the mountain’s allure, the many adventure opportunities it offers and what first drew him to the park almost a decade ago.
1 WHAT’S YOUR LINK TO MOUNT KENYA NATIONAL PARK?
I’m in charge of mountain search and rescue, and tourism in Mount Kenya National Park under the Kenya Wildlife Services — I make sure visitors are safe while hiking or climbing in the area.
2 WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE TO HIKERS AND CLIMBERS?
The mountain has always been around and the mountain will always be there, so there’s no need to rush. We have trained
guides and porters who’ll make sure visitors are comfortable and safe. So even with an experienced hiker, I’ll always recommend taking a guide. You don’t know what will happen, and you may well need assistance from these knowledgeable local people who understand the mountain.
3 HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE PARK’S LANDSCAPES?
You’ll encounter all mountain conditions here, from the savannah and rainforest to bamboo zones, moorland and bare rocks. Between December and March, it’s winter on the northern side and summer on the southern side. So before you visit, decide what you want to do. Do you want to experience total outdoors in the jungle, or hike a normal route with an overnight stay in a hut? Do you want to go fishing or do some game viewing? The options are so varied.
4 WHICH SPOTS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND VISITING?
I’d begin with Lake Alice, the biggest lake on the mountain. Then, if you come from the Embu side, take a route called Irangi and go to Carr Lakes, a group of three small lakes. Here you can catch the biggest and best shellfish on the mountain. For technical climbing, go to Nelion — once you get over the sense of risk, you feel like a real adventurer. You cross over the Gates of Mist from Nelion to Batian, and from here you can see almost the whole of Kenya.
5 WHAT SORT OF WILDLIFE ARE YOU LIKELY TO SEE?
Mostly a range of herbivores: elephants, buffaloes, mountain bongos, bushbacks and waterbucks. During the dry season, we get wild dogs, hyenas and we’ve had sightings of lions, too. Then in the evenings and early in the mornings, you can spot leopards. Rare primates can even be seen on some routes.
There are various tours and expeditions that can be booked to get the most out of your Mount Kenya experience. The park is accessible through the Nanyuki-Isiolo road, and the closest airports are at Nanyuki or Laikipia. magicalkenya.com/mkse
For technical climbing, head to Nelion — once you get over the sense of risk, you’ll feel like a real adventurer