Saturday, July 30, 2011

Major climbs of Mount Teide

The first known ascent of Mount Teide by a European was in 1646 or 1650 according to the source by the British Philips Ward, John Webber, John Cowling, Thomas Bridges, George Cove and a friend named Clappham. In 1715 the English traveler J. Edens and his party made the ascent and reported their observations in the journal of the Royal Society in London.

After the Enlightenment, most of the expedition that went to East, Africa and the Pacific had the Teide as one of the most rewarding targets. The expedition of Lord George Macartney, George Staunton and John Barrow in 1792 was about to end in tragedy, as a major snowstorm and rain swept over them, could not reach the peak of the mountain, not really reached beyond Montaña Blanca (Mountain White).

With Romanticism the Teide exhibited a set of natural beauty so unique that it became a hot spot for centuries above.

The German adventurer Hans Heinrich Joseph Meyer was, together with an Australian climber named Ludwig Purtscheller the first European to ascend the peak of Kilimanjaro (Tanzania). Meyer also visit the Teide in 1894, during another expedition to Kilimanjaro to observe ice conditions of the volcano. After the climb to Teide, Meyer compared with Kilimanjaro, those categorized as "two kings, one rising in the ocean and the other in the desert and steppes".

Between June and July 2008, the Guatemalan climber Jaime Viñals in a special issue "bonded" Mount Ararat (Turkey) with the Teide, in an ascent to each of these two peaks in a span of less than a month. Conquering the first summit of Ararat on June 24 and immediately after coming to Tenerife to climb Mount Teide crowning on 8 July. With the conquest of these summits, peaks was 21 achieved the international list of "50 most prominent summits in the world".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Historical eruptions of Mount Teide

Teide is currently dormant; the last eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent. Historical volcanic activity on the island is associated with vents on the Santiago or NW rift (Boca Cangrejo 1492, Montañas Negras 1706, Narices del Teide or Chahorra 1798 and El Chinyero 1909) and the Cordillera Dorsal or NE rift (Fasnia in 1704, Siete Fuentes and Arafo and 1705). The 1706 eruption from the Montañas Negras vent on the Santiago rift destroyed the town and principal port of Garachico, plus several smaller villages.

Historical activity associated with the Montaña Teide - Pico Viejo stratovolcanoes occurred in 1798 from the Narices del Teide on the western flank of Pico Viejo. Eruptive material from Pico Viejo-Montaña Teide-Montaña Blanca partially fills the Las Cañadas caldera. The last explosive eruption involving the central volcanic centre was from Montaña Blanca ~2000 BP. The last eruption within the Las Cañadas caldera occurred in 1798 from the Narices del Teide or Chahorra (Teides Nostrils) on the western flank of Pico Viejo (Old Peak - which is actually younger than Teide). The eruption was predominantly strombolian in style and mostly a'a lava was erupted. These lavas are visible alongside the Vilaflor - Chio road.

The explorer Christopher Columbus reported seeing "... A great fire in the Orotava Valley...," as he sailed past Tenerife on his voyage to discover the New World in 1492. This was interpreted as indicating that he had witnessed an eruption in the Orotava Valley.

Unfortunately radiometric dating of possible lavas disproved the eruption theory. However, radiometric dating indicates that an eruption did occur in 1492 from the Boca Cangrejo vent.

About 150,000 years ago, a much larger explosive eruption occurred, probably of Volcanic Explosivity Index 5. This eruption created the Las Cañadas caldera, a large caldera, at about 2,000 m above sea level. The caldera is ~16 km across east-west and ~9 km north-south. At Guajara, on the south side of the structure, the internal walls rise as almost sheer cliffs from 2,100 m to 2,715 m. The 3,718 m summit of Teide itself, and its sister stratovolcano, Pico Viejo 3,134 m, are both situated in the northern half of the caldera, and are derived from eruptions subsequent to this prehistoric explosion.

Further eruptions are possible at some future unascertainable date, including a risk of pyroclastic flows and surges similar to those that occurred at Mount Pelée, Merapi, Mount Vesuvius, Etna, Soufrière Hills, Mount Unzen, etc. During 2003, there was an increase in seismic activity at the volcano. Many volcanoes e.g. Mount St Helens, Soufrière Hills had similar seismic activity prior to becoming active. Such activity is considered as being indicative of magma rising into the edifice.

Teide is considered to be unstable and has a distinctive bulge on its northern flank. This bulge is not believed to be associated with an influx of magma, but the result of a slow northwards collapse of the edifice. Seismic evidence suggests that Teide may be constructed over the headwall scarp of the infilled Icod Valley, a massive landslide valley formed by edifice failure in a similar manner to that of the Güímar and Orotava Valleys. The summit of the volcano has a number of small active fumaroles emitting sulfur dioxide and other gases including low levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Formation of Mount Teide

The stratovolcanoes Teide and Pico Viejo are the most recent centres of activity on the volcanic island of Tenerife, which is the largest (2058 km2) and highest (3718 m) island in the Canaries and has a complex volcanic history. The formation of the island and development of the current Teide volcano can be summarised into five stages, as shown in the diagram to the right.

A recent study showed that in the future there will be violent eruptions at Teide also revealed that it has a structure similar to that of Vesuvius and Etna.

Stage one

Similar to the other Canary Islands, and Volcanic Ocean Islands in general, the island of Tenerife was built by accretion of three large shield volcanoes, which developed in a relatively short period of time. This early shield stage volcanism formed the bulk of the emerged part of Tenerife. The shield volcanoes date back to the Miocene and early Pliocene[17] and are preserved in three isolated and deeply eroded massifs: Anaga (to the NE), Teno (to the NW) and Roque del Conde (to the south). Each individual shield was apparently constructed in less than three million years and the entire island in about eight million years.

Stages two and three

The initial juvenile stage was followed by a period of 2-3 million years of eruptive quiescence and erosion. This cessation of activity is typical of the Canaries, for example La Gomera is currently in this erosional stage. After this period of quiescence the volcanic activity became concentrated within two large edifices; the central volcano of Las Cañadas and the Anaga massif. The Las Cañadas volcano developed over the Miocene shield volcanoes and may have reached 40 km in diameter and a height of 4500 m.

Stage four

Around 160-220 thousand years ago the summit of the Las Cañadas I volcano collapsed creating the Las Cañadas (Ucanca) caldera. Later a fresh stratovolcano - Las Cañadas II volcano reformed and underwent catastrophic collapse. Detailed mapping indicates that the site of this volcano was in the vicinity of Guajara. The Las Cañadas III volcano formed in the Diego Hernandez sector of the caldera. Detailed mapping indicates that all the Las Cañadas volcanoes attained a maximum altitude similar to that of Teide - which is also referred to as the Las Cañadas IV volcano

Two theories on the formation of the 16 x 9 km caldera exist.

The first is that the depression is the result of a vertical collapse of the volcano. The collapse being triggered by the emptying of shallow (at or about sea level) magma chambers under the Las Cañadas volcano after large-volume explosive eruptions.

The second theory is that the caldera was formed by a series of lateral gravitational collapses, similar to those described in Hawaii. Evidence for the later theory has been found in both onshore observations and marine geology studies.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Name and Legend of Mount Teide


El Pico del Teide (The Peak of Teide) is the modern Spanish name attributed to the volcano. The Lunar mountain, Mons Pico, part of the Montes Teneriffe lunar mountain range, situated in the inner ring of the lunar mare Imbrium, was named after this 18th Century version of the name by Johann Schröter. Prior to the 1495 Spanish colonization of Tenerife, the native Guanches referred to the volcano as Echeyde, which in the Guanches' legends, meant some sort of powerful figure leaving the volcano that could turn into hell.


Echeyde (Teide) was a sacred mountain to the aboriginal Guanches, so it was considered a mythological mountain, like Mount Olympus was to the ancient Greeks. According to legend, Guayota (the devil) kidnapped Magec (the god of light and the sun), and imprisoned him inside the volcano plunging the world into darkness. The Guanches asked their supreme god Achamán for clemency. So, Achamán fought Guayota, and Magec was freed from the bowels of Echeyde (Teide) and he plugged the crater with Guayota. It is said that since then, Guayota has remained locked inside Teide. When entering Teide during an eruption, it was customary for the Guanches to light bonfires to scare Guayota.

Guayota is often represented as a black dog, accompanied by his host of demons (Tibicenas).

The Guanches also believed that Echeyde (Teide) held up the sky. Many hiding places found in the mountains contain the remains of stone tools and pottery. These have been interpreted as being ritual deposits to counter the influence of evil spirits, similar to the practices of the Berbers of Kabylia. The Guanches believed the mountain to be the place that housed the forces of evil, the most evil figure Guayota.

Mount Pico del Teide highest mountain in Spain (although geographically in Africa)

Mount Teide (Spanish: Pico del Teide, "Teide Peak"), is the highest elevation in Spain and the islands of the Atlantic (it is the third largest volcano in the world from its base, after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea located in Hawaii). It is an active volcano which last erupted in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the Santiago (northwestern) rift and is located on Tenerife, Canary Islands. The volcano and its surroundings comprise the Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide in Spanish). The park has an area of 18900 hectares and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on June 29, 2007. Since the end of 2007, it has also been one of the Twelve Treasures of Spain. Midway up the mountain are the telescopes of the Observatorio del Teide. Territorially it belongs, for the most part, to the municipality of La Orotava, but also to Icod de los Vinos, Los Realejos, Guía de Isora and ten more.

Teide is the most visited National Park in the Canary Islands and Spain, with a total of 2.8 million visitors, according to the Instituto Canario de Estadística (ISTAC). According to data for 2004, with its 3.5 million visitors annually, this volcanic landscape receives a large number of international visitors, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. In 2010, Teide became the most visited national park in Europe and second worldwide. Teide is the most famous natural landmark in Tenerife and the Canary Islands.

Teide is a stratovolcano. At 3718 m above sea level, and approximately 7500 m above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, it is the highest mountain in Spain and the highest point in the Atlantic Ocean. (Note: The actual summit stands 3 metres (10 ft) higher than the triangulation station, and associated bench mark, which has an altitude of 3,715 m (12,188 ft)). The island of Tenerife itself is the third largest volcanic ocean island on Earth by volume. Teide is also the third highest volcano on a volcanic ocean island. It is also unstable and possibly in a more advanced stage of deformation and failure than the much publicised Cumbre Vieja. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide as a Decade Volcano, because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns, of which the closest are Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz. Teide together with its neighbour Pico Viejo and Montaña Blanca form the Central Volcanic Complex.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Climate of Mount Mulanje

The climate of the larger Mulanje area is strongly influenced by the equatorial low pressure area, where the north-east trades of the Northern Hemisphere converge with the south-east trades of the Southern Hemisphere. This area is known as the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). On satellite Images the ITCZ is mostly seen as a long band of clouds in the Equatorial region, the main effect of the ITCZ is the creation of dry- and rainy-seasons in the Equatorial area.

If we focus on equatorial and central Africa, we can see, that the ITCZ moves as southern as northern Zimbabwe. Therefore also the greater Mulanje area is affected by the ITCZ despite of is location, roughly 1800 kilometers south of the equator.

Most affected by the ITCZ in the Mulanje Area, is the Mulanje Massif, because its unique position as a “mountain island”, rising up more than 2500 Meters above the plains around. This setting is responsible for the Massifs role as a rain barrier that forces the clouds to come down in the form of rain. This becomes very visible if we take a look at the annual normal rainfalls, on and around the massif. On plateau level, at around 2000 m.a.s.l., we annually experience more than 100 inches of rain, however, in the low plains around the foot of the Massif, the annual rainfalls, range around 40 inch. In the plains around the Mountain, it normally only rains in the rainy season, while it rains all year long, on plateau level. The rains are just more intense and frequent then in the dry season.

But, there are still differences in the amounts of rain, around the Massif. The south-west face of the Mountain, is the weather side, around Likhabula, Lichenya and Mulanje Boma, which experiences the highest amounts of rain, due to the south-east trades of the southern hemisphere, that drive the moist air from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the Mulanje region. Therefore the North-west face of the Massif experiences lesser rains, as it is situated in the shadows of the high Peaks of the Massif.

Temperature wise, the months of the dry season are the coolest months of the Year, and probably the nicest climate to go hiking in the massif (May-August), the wet season (November-April) is not the recommended time to hike in the Massif, as the hiker faces strong rains on the plateau and high temperatures at the ascent.

Mount Mulanje Massif

The Mulanje Massif, also known as Mount Mulanje, is a large monadnock in southern Malawi near the city of Blantyre, rising sharply from the surrounding plains of Chiradzulu, and the tea-growing Mulanje district. It measures approximately 13x16 miles (22x26 kilometres) and has a maximum elevation of 3,002m at its highest point, Sapitwa Peak.

Much of the Massif consists of rolling grassland at elevations of 1800-2200m, intersected by deep forested ravines. It has many individual peaks reaching heights of over 2500m, including Chambe Peak, the West Face of which is the longest rock climb in Africa.

The Massif was formed by the extrusion of magma into the Earth's crust about 130 million years ago. The surrounding rock eroded away over time, leaving behind the erosion-resistant igneous rock of the Mulanje Massif. The first European to report seeing the Massif was David Livingstone in 1859, but archeological investigation reveals evidence of human visits to the Massif from the Stone Age onwards. The elevation of the mountain is high enough for it to disturb upper level air flow and induce rain clouds to form around it, making it an important source of rain water at the head of almost every river that runs through this part of Malawi.

The forested slopes of the Massif support a sizable timber industry. At one time there was a cableway to transport timber from the edge of the plateau down to the Likhubula Forestry Station, but it fell into disrepair, and currently planks are carried down manually.

The mountain itself is part of the protected Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve. The native Mulanje Cypress (Widdringtonia whytei) has been so heavily logged that it is considered endangered and the park contains the last remaining stands of this tree, as well as a number of other plant and animal species—many of them endemic to the area. Examples include forest butterflies, birds such as the cholo alethe and White-winged Apalis, a dwarf chameleon, geckos, skinks, the Squeaker Frog, and a rare limbless burrowing skink species. The land around the park is threatened by growing population, land use patterns such as forest clearing for farming and firewood, and invasive species such as Mexican Pine and Himalayan Raspberry.

The Massif is popular for hiking and climbing, and has several mountain huts scattered across it. Sapitwa peak was first climbed in 1894, and is now the most popular climb on the plateau.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mountaineering of Mount Kenya

Climbing routes

Most of the peaks on Mount Kenya have been summited. The majority of these involve rock climbing as the easiest route, although some only require a scramble or a walk. The highest peak that can be ascended without climbing is Point Lenana, 4,985 m (16,355 ft). The majority of the 15,000 visitors to the national park each year climb this peak. In contrast, approximately 200 people summit Nelion and 50 summit Batian, the two highest peaks.

When ascended directly, Batian is usually climbed via the North Face Standard Route, UIAA grade IV+ (or 5.6+ YDS). It was first ascended on 31 July 1944 by Firmin and Hicks. The route is usually climbed in two days. The Normal Route is the most climbed route up Nelion, and thence across to Batian. It was first climbed by Shipton and Wyn-Harris on 6 January 1929. It is possible to traverse between the two peaks, via the Gates of Mist, but this often involves spending a night in the Howell hut on top of Nelion. There is a bolted abseil descent route off Nelion.

Mount Kenya's climbing seasons are a result of its location only 20 km (12 mi) from the equator. During the northern summer the rock routes on the north side of the peak are in good summer condition, while at the same time the ice routes on the south side of the peak are prime shape. The situation is reversed during the southern summer. The two seasons are separated by several months of rainy season before and after, during which climbing conditions are generally unfavorable.

Mount Kenya is home to several good ice routes, the two most famous being the Diamond Couloir and the Ice Window route. Snow and ice levels on the mountain have been retreating at an accelerated rate in recent years, making these climbs increasingly difficult and dangerous. The Diamond Couloir, once climbable in summer or winter, is now virtually unclimbable in summer conditions, and is seldom deemed in climbable condition even in winter.

The satellite peaks around the mountain also provide good climbs. These can be climbed in Alpine style and vary in difficulty from a scramble to climbing at UIAA grade VI. They are useful for acclimatisation before climbing the higher peaks and as ascents in their own right.

Walking routes

There are eight walking routes up to the main peaks. Starting clockwise from the north these are the: Meru, Chogoria, Kamweti, Naro Moru, Burguret, Sirimon and Timau Routes. Of these Chogoria, Naro Moru and Sirimon and used most frequently and therefore have staffed gates. The other routes require special permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service to use.

The Chogoria route leads from Chogoria town up to the peaks circuit path. It heads through the forest to the south-east of the mountain to the moorland, with views over areas such as Ithanguni and the Giant's Billiards Table before following the Gorges Valley past the Temple and up to Simba Col below Point Lenana. The Mountain Club of Kenya claims that Ithanguni and the Giant's Billards Table offer some of the best hillwalking in Kenya.

The Naro Moru route is taken by many of the trekkers who try to reach Point Lenana. It can be ascended in only 3 days and has bunkhouses at each camp. The route starts at Naro Moru town to the west of the mountain and climbs towards Mackinder's Camp on the Peak Circuit Path. The terrain is usually good, although one section is called the Vertical Bog.

The Sirimon route approaches Mount Kenya from the north-west. The path splits on the moorlands, with the more frequently used fork following the Mackinder Valley and the quieter route traversing into the Liki North Valley. The paths rejoin at Shipton's Cave just below Shipton's Camp on the Peak Circuit Path.

The Peak Circuit Path is a path around the main peaks, with a distance of about 10 kilometres (6 mi) and height gain and loss of over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). It can be walked in one day, but more commonly takes two or three. It can also be used to join different ascent and descent routes. The route does not require technical climbing.


Accommodation on Mount Kenya ranges from very basic to luxurious. The more luxurious lodges are found on the lower slopes, in and around the forest. These lodges have hotel-style accommodation, often with log fires and hot running water. Many offer guided walks and other activities such as fishing and birdwatching. The huts higher on the mountain are more basic. Most have several bunkrooms with beds, and also offer somewhere to rest, cook and eat. Some also have running water. A few huts are very basic bothies only offering a space to sleep that is sheltered from the weather. Beds in the huts can be reserved at the park gates. Camping is allowed anywhere in the National Park, but is most encouraged around the huts to limit environmental impact. It is possible for campers to use the communal spaces in the huts for no extra fee.

Friday, July 15, 2011

History of Mount Kenya

Joseph Thomson
European sighting

The first European to report seeing Mount Kenya was Dr Johann Ludwig Krapf, a German missionary, from Kitui in 1849, a town 160 km (100 mi) away from the mountain. The sighting was made on 3 December 1849, a year after the discovery of Kilimanjaro.

Dr Krapf was told by people of the Embu tribe that lived around the mountain that they did not ascend high on the mountain because of the intense cold and the white matter that rolled down the mountains with a loud noise. This led him to infer that glaciers existed on the mountain. It was Krapf who gave the mountain the name "Kenya", but the derivation of this is not known with certainty (see the various local names below, some of which are similar).

Dr Krapf also noted that the rivers flowing from Mt Kenya, and other mountains in the area, were continuously flowing. This was very different from the other rivers in the area, which swelled up in the wet season and completely dried up after the rainy season had ended. As the streams flowed even in the driest seasons he concluded that there must be a source of water up on the mountain, in the form of glaciers. He believed the mountain to be the source of the White Nile.

In 1851 Krapf returned to Kitui. He travelled 65 kilometres (40 mi) closer to the mountain, but did not see it again. In 1877 Hildebrandt was in the Kitui area and heard stories about the mountain, but also did not see it. Since there were no confirmations to back up Krapf's claim people began to be suspicious.

Count Samuel Teleki

Eventually, in 1883, Joseph Thomson passed close by the west side of the mountain and confirmed Krapf's claim. He diverted his expedition and reached 1,737 m (5,700 ft) up the slopes of the mountain but had to retreat because of trouble with local people. However, the first European exploration high onto the mountain was achieved in 1887 by Count Samuel Teleki and Ludwig von Höhnel. He managed to reach 4,350 m (14,270 ft) on the south western slopes. On this expedition they believed they had found the crater of a volcano.

In 1892, Teleki and von Höhnel returned to the eastern side, but were unable to get through the forest.

Finally, in 1893, an expedition managed to ascend Mount Kenya as far as the glaciers. This expedition was travelling from the coast to Lake Baringo in the Rift Valley, and was led by Dr John W Gregory, a British geologist. They managed to ascend the mountain to around 4,730 m (15,520 ft), and spent several hours on the Lewis Glacier with their guide. On his return to Britain, Gregory published papers and a narrative account of his achievements.

George Kolb, a German physician, made expeditions in 1894 and 1896 and was the first to reach the moorlands on the east side of the mountain. More exploration was occurred after 1899 when the railway was completed as far as the site of Nairobi.

Sir Halford John Mackinder

Mackinder's expedition

On 28 July 1899, Sir Halford John Mackinder set out from the site of Nairobi on an expedition to Mt Kenya. The members of the expedition consisted of 6 Europeans, 66 Swahilis, 2 tall Maasai guides and 96 Kikuyu. The Europeans were Campbell B. Hausberg, second in command and photographer, Douglas Saunders, botanist, C F Camburn, taxidermist, Cesar Ollier, guide, and Josef Brocherel, guide and porter.

The expedition made it as far as the mountain, but encountered many difficulties on the way. The country they passed through was full of plague and famine. Many Kikuyu porters tried to desert with women from the villages, and others stole from the villages, which made the chiefs very hostile towards the expedition. When they reached the base camp on 18 August, they could not find any food, had two of their party killed by the local people, and eventually had to send Saunders to Naivasha to get help from Captain Gorges, the Government Officer there.

Mackinder pushed on up the mountain, and established a camp at 3,142 m (10,310 ft) in the Höhnel Valley. He made his first attempt on the summit on 30 August with Ollier and Brocherel up the south east face, but they had to retreat when they were within 100 m (110 yd) of the summit of Nelion due to nightfall.

On 5 September, Hausberg, Ollier and Brocherel made a circuit of the main peaks looking for an easier route to the summit. They could not find one. On 11 September Ollier and Brocherel made an ascent of the Darwin Glacier, but were forced to retreat due to a blizzard.

When Saunders returned from Naivasha with the relief party, Mackinder had another attempt at the summit with Ollier and Brocherel. They traversed the Lewis Glacier and climbed the south east face of Nelion. They spent the night near the gendarme, and traversed the snowfield at the head of the Darwin Glacier at dawn before cutting steps up the Diamond Glacier. They reached the summit of Batian at noon on 13 September, and descended by the same route.

Shipton and Russell made the first ascent of Pt John up the south-east gully in 1929


After the first ascent of Mt Kenya there were fewer expeditions there for a while. The majority of the exploration until after the First World War was by settlers in Kenya, who were not on scientific expeditions. A Church of Scotland mission was set up in Chogoria, and several Scottish missionaries ascended to the peaks, including Rev Dr. J. W. Arthur, G. Dennis and A. R. Barlow. There were other ascents, but none succeeded in summitting Batian or Nelion.

New approach routes were cleared through the forest, which made access to the peaks area far easier. In 1920, Arthur and Sir Fowell Buxton tried to cut a route in from the south, and other routes came in from Nanyuki in the north, but the most commonly used was the route from the Chogoria mission in the east, built by Ernest Carr. Carr is also credited with building Urumandi and Top Huts.

On 6 January 1929 the first ascent of Nelion was made by Percy Wyn-Harris and Eric Shipton. They climbed the Normal Route, then descended to the Gate of Mists before ascending Batian. On the 8 January they reascended, this time with G. A. Sommerfelt, and in December Shipton made another ascent with R. E. G. Russell. They also made the first ascent of Point John. During this year the Mountain Club of East Africa was formed.

At the end of July 1930, Shipton and Bill Tilman made the first traverse of the peaks. They ascended by the West Ridge of Batian, traversed the Gate of Mists to Nelion, and descended the Normal Route. During this trip, Shipton and Tilman made first ascents of several other peaks, including Point Peter, Point Dutton, Midget Peak, Point Pigott and either Terere or Sendeyo.

1931 to present day

In the early 1930s there were several visits to the moorlands around Mt Kenya, with fewer as far as the peaks. Raymond Hook and Humphrey Slade ascended to map the mountain, and stocked several of the streams with trout. By 1938 there had been several more ascents of Nelion. In February Miss C Carol and Mtu Muthara became the first woman and African respectively to ascend Nelion, in an expedition with Noel Symington, author of The Night Climbers of Cambridge, and on 5 March Miss Una Cameron became the first woman to ascent Batian.

During the Second World War there was another drop in ascents of the mountain. The most remarkable ascent during this period was by three Italian's who were being held in a British POW camp at the base of the mountain in Nanyuki. They escaped from camp to climb the mountain's third peak, Point Lenana, before "escaping" back into camp. Felice Benuzzi, the team leader, retold his story in the classic book No Picnic on Mount Kenya (1946).

In 1949 the Mountain Club of Kenya split from the Mountain Club of East Africa, and the area above 3,400 m (11,150 ft) was designated a National Park. A road was built from Naro Moru to the moorlands allowing easier access.

Many new routes were climbed on Batian and Nelion in the next three decades, and in October 1959 the Mountain Club of Kenya produced their first guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. On Kenyan independence in 1963 Kisoi Munayo raised the Kenyan flag at the top of the mountain. He died in 2007 and was given a heroic funeral attended by the Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki. In the early 1970s the Mount Kenya National Park Mountain Rescue Team was formed, and by the end of the 1970s all major routes on the peaks had been climbed.

On July 19, 2003, a South African registered aircraft, carrying 12 passengers and two crew, crashed into Mount Kenya at Point Lenana: nobody survived. This was not the first aircraft lost on the mountain; there is also the wreckage of at least one helicopter that crashed before 1972.

The Gorges Valley is a major feature on the Chogoria Route.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Climate of Mount Kenya

The climate of Mount Kenya has played a critical role in the development of the mountain, influencing the topography and ecology amongst other factors. It has a typical equatorial mountain climate which Hedberg described as winter every night and summer every day. Mount Kenya is home to one of the Global Atmosphere Watch's atmospheric monitoring stations.


The year is divided into two distinct wet seasons and two distinct dry seasons which mirror the wet and dry seasons in the Kenyan lowlands. As Mount Kenya ranges in height from 1,374 m (4,508 ft) to 5,199 m (17,057 ft) the climate varies considerably over the mountain and has different zones of influence. The lower, south eastern slopes are the wettest as the predominant weather system comes from the Indian ocean. This leads to very dense montane forest on these slopes. High on the mountain most of the precipitation falls as snow, but the most important water source is frost. Combined, these water sources feed 11 glaciers.

The current climate on Mount Kenya is wet, but drier than it has been in the past. The temperatures span a wide range, which diminishes with altitude. In the lower alpine zone they usually do not go below 12 °C (54 °F). Snow and rain are common from March to December, but especially in the two wet seasons. The wet seasons combined account for 5/6 of the annual precipitation. The monsoon, which controls the wet and dry seasons, means that most of the year there are south-easterly winds, but during January and February the dominate wind direction is north-easterly.

Mount Kenya, like most locations in the tropics, has two wet seasons and two dry seasons as a result of the monsoon. From mid-March to June the heavy rain season, known as the long rains, brings approximately half of the annual rainfall on the mountain. This is followed by the wetter of the two dry seasons which lasts until September. October to December are the short rains when the mountain receives approximately a third of its rainfall total. Finally from December to mid-March is the dry, dry season when the mountain experiences the least rain.

Mount Kenya straddles the equator. This means during the northern hemisphere summer the sun is to the north of the mountain. The altitude and aspect of the watersheds and main peaks results in the north side of the upper mountain being in summer condition. Simultaneously, the southern side is experiencing winter conditions. Once it is the southern hemisphere summer, the situation reverses.

Daily pattern

During the dry season the mountain almost always follows the same daily weather pattern. Large daily temperature fluctuations occur which led Hedberg to exclaim winter every night and summer every day. There is variation in minimum and maximum temperatures day to day, but the standard deviation of the mean hourly pattern is small.

A typical day is clear and cool in the morning with low humidity. The mountain is in direct sunlight which causes the temperatures to rise quickly with the warmest temperatures occurring between 0900 and 1200. This corresponds to a maxima in the pressure, usually around 10am. Low on the mountain, between 2,400 m (7,874 ft) and 3,900 m (12,795 ft), clouds begin to form over the western forest zone, due to moist air from Lake Victoria. The anabatic winds caused by warm rising air gradually bring these clouds to the summit region in the afternoon. Around 1500 there is a minimum in sunlight and a maximum in humidity causing the actual and perceived temperature to drop. At 1600 there is a minimum in the pressure. This daily cover of cloud protects the glaciers on the south-west of the mountain which would otherwise get direct sun every day, enhancing their melt. The upwelling cloud eventually reaches the dry easterly air streams and dissipates, leading to a clear sky by 5pm. There is another maximum of temperature associated with this.

Being an equatorial mountain the day light hours are constant with twelve hour days. Sunrise is about 0530 with the sun setting at 1730. Over the course of the year there is a one minute difference between the shortest and longest days. At night, the sky is usually clear with katabatic winds blowing down the valleys. Above the lower alpine zone there is usually frost every night.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flora and fauna of Mount Kenya

Hyrax are able to cope with a more extreme climate and are found up to the highest vegetation.

The flora found on Mount Kenya varies with altitude, aspect and exposure. As the altitude increases, the plants have to be more specialised, with adaptations to strong sunlight with ultraviolet, lower mean temperatures and freezing night temperatures.

Plants in the Afro-alpine zone have overcome these difficulties in several ways. One adaptation is known as the giant rosette, which is exhibited by giant senecio, lobelia and giant thistle (Carduus), which use dead leaves to protect their buds from freezing. Giant rosette senecios form single-aged stand that drive community studture over decades.

Many plant species in the Afro-alpine zone of Mount Kenya are giant vesions of lowland relative. This may be an adaptation against the cold. However, nearer the nival zone the plants decrease in size again.

Safari ants swarm around the forest in long columns.


The majority of animals live lower down on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Here there is more vegetation and the climate is less extreme. Various species of monkeys, several antelopes, tree hyrax, porcupines and some larger animals such as elephant and buffalo all live in the forest. Predators found here include hyena and leopard, and occasionally lion.

There are fewer mammals found at high altitudes on Mount Kenya. The Mount Kenya hyrax and common duiker are able to live here, and are important to the ecosystem. Some smaller mammals, such as the groove-toothed rat, can live here by burrowing into the giant senecios and using their thick stem of dead leaves as insulation. The Mount Kenya mole-rat Tachyoryctes rex occurs at high altitudes, living in visible mounds. Leopards are resident in the alpine zone.

Other mammal species are only occasional visitors. Remains of elephants, monkeys and bongo have been found high in the alpine zone, and, and other sightings are remembered in names such as Simba Tarn (simba means lion in Swahili).

Several bird species live in the Afro-alpine zone, including sunbirds, alpine chats and starlings and the raptors auger buzzard, lammergeier and Verreaux eagle, the latter of which specializes in hunting hyraxes. Birds are important in this ecosystem as pollinators.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Natural history of Mount Kenya

The timberline forest is commonly in cloud
Mount Kenya has several distinct ecological zones, between the savanna surrounding the mountain to the nival zone by the glaciers. Each zone has a dominant species of vegetation. Many of the species found higher up the mountain are endemic, either to Mount Kenya or East Africa, and are highly specialised.

There are also differences within the zones, depending on the side of the mountain and aspect of the slope. The south-east is much wetter than the north, so species more dependent on moisture are able to grow. Some species, such as bamboo, are limited to certain aspects of the mountain because of the amount of moisture.


The climate of Mount Kenya changes considerably with altitude. Around the base of the mountain is fertile farmland. The tribes living around the mountain have cultivated this cool relatively moist area for centuries.

Mount Kenya is surrounded by forests. The vegetation in the forests depend on rainfall, and the species present differ greatly between the northern and southern slopes. As time has passed the trees on the edge of the forest have been logged and the farmland has encroached further up the fertile slopes of the mountain.

Above the forest is a belt of bamboo. This zone is almost continuous, but is restricted to samll isolate bunches in the north because of low rainfall. The bamboo is natural, and does not require forest disturbance. Tracks are common through the bamboo. Bamboo suppresses other vegetation, so it is uncommon to find trees or other plants here.

Above the bamboo is the timberline forest. The trees here are often smaller than the trees in the forests lower down the mountain. The forest here is more intact, because it is less accessible and better protected.

When the trees can no longer grow the vegetation changes into heathland and chaparral, at around 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Heathland is found in the wetter areas, on the west side of Mount Kenya, and is dominated by giant heathers. Chaparral is found in the drier areas and grasses are more common. and bush fires are still frequent.

As the altitude increases the temperature fluctuations become extreme and the air becomes thinner and drier. This region is known as the Afro-alpine zone. The environment here is very isolated, with the only similar area nearby being the Aberdares, which are 80 km (50 mi) away. Many of the species here are endemic, with adaptations to the cold and fluctuating temperatures. Typical plants here include giant groundsels (senecios) and giant lobelias.

The region where the glaciers have recently retreated from is nival zone. It is the area that plants have not yet been able to colonise.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rivers of Mount Kenya

Runoff from Mount Kenya provides water for over 2 million people
Mount Kenya is the main water catchment area for two large rivers in Kenya; the Tana, the largest river in Kenya, and the Ewaso Ng'iso North. The Mount Kenya ecosystem provides water directly for over 2 million people. The rivers on Mount Kenya have been named after the villages on the slopes of the mountain that they flow close to. The Thuchi River is the district boundary between Meru and Embu. Mount Kenya is a major water tower for the Tana river which in 1988 supplied 80% of Kenya's electricity using a series of seven hydroelectric powerstations and dams.

The density of streams is very high, especially on the lower slopes which have never been glaciated. The ice cap which used to cover the mountain during the Pliocene eroded large U-shaped valleys which tend to only have one large stream. Where the original shape of the shield volcano is still preserved, there have been millions of years for streams to erode the hillside. This area is therefore characterised by frequent deep fluvial V-shaped valleys. The gradual transition from glaciated to fluvial valley can be clearly observed.

Rivers which start on Mount Kenya are the tributaries of two large Kenyan rivers: the Tana and the Ewaso Ng'iro rivers. A lot of Mount Kenyan rivers flow into the Sagana which itself is a tributary of the Tana, which it joins at the Masinga Reservoir. The rivers in the northern part of the mountain, such as the Burguret, Naro Moro, Nanyuki, Liki, Sirimon flow into the Ewaso Ng'iro. The rivers to the south-west, such as the Keringa and Nairobi flow into the Sagana and then into the Tana. The remaining rivers to the south and east, such as the Mutonga, Nithi, Thuchi and Nyamindi, flow directly into the Tana.

Glaciers of Mount Kenya

The Lewis glacier is the largest on Mount Kenya
The glaciers on Mount Kenya are retreating rapidly. The Mountain Club of Kenya in Nairobi has photographs showing the mountain when it was first climbed in 1899, and again more recently, and the retreat of the glaciers is very evident. Descriptions of ascents of several of the peaks advise on the use of crampons, but now there is no ice to be found. There is no new snow to be found, even on the Lewis Glacier (the largest of them) in winter, so no new ice will be formed. It is predicted to be less than 30 years before there will no longer be ice on Mount Kenya. Glacial retreat and disappearance can be caused by change in temperature trends, or by change in precipitation trends.

The glacier names are (clockwise from the north):
  • Northey, Krapf, Gregory, Lewis, Diamond, Darwin, Forel, Heim, Tyndall, Cesar, Josef. 
The area of glaciers on the mountain was measured in the 1980s, and recorded as about 0.7 km2 (0.27 sq mi). This is far smaller than the first observations, made in the 1890s.

Frost heaving causes patterned ground below Mugi Hill.

Periglacial landforms

Although Mount Kenya is on the equator the freezing nightly temperatures result in periglacial landforms. There is permafrost a few centimetres (inches) below the surface. Patterned ground is present at 3,400 m (11,155 ft) to the west of Mugi Hill. These mounds grow because of the repeated freezing and thawing of the ground drawing in more water. There are blockfields present around 4,000 m (13,123 ft) where the ground has cracked to form hexagons. Solifluction occurs when the night temperatures freeze the soil before it thaws again in the morning. This daily expansion and contraction of the soil prevents the establishment of vegetation.

Lewis Glacier

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Peaks of Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya was a stratovolcano and probably looked similar to Mt. Fuji
Mount Kenya is a stratovolcano that was active in the Plio-Pleistocene. The original crater was probably over 6,000 m (19,700 ft) high; higher than Kilimanjaro. Since it became extinct there have been two major periods of glaciation, which are shown by two main rings of moraines below the glaciers. The lowest moraine is found at around 3,300 m (10,800 ft). Today the glaciers reach no lower than 4,650 m (15,260 ft). After studying the moraines, Gregory put forward the theory that at one time the whole summit of the mountain was covered with an ice cap, and it was this that eroded the peaks to how they are today.

The lower slopes of the mountain have never been glaciated. They are now mainly cultivated and forested. They are distinguished by steep-sided V-shaped valleys with many tributaries. Higher up the mountain, in the area that is now moorland, the valleys become U-shaped and shallower with flatter bottoms. These were created by glaciation.

When Mount Kenya was active there was some satellite activity. The north-eastern side of the mountain has many old volcanic plugs and craters. The largest of these, Ithanguni, even had its own ice cap when the main peaks were covered in ice. This can be seen by the smoothed summit of the peak. Circular hills with steep sides are also frequent in this area, which are probably the remains of small plugged vents. However, as the remaining mountain is roughly symmetrical, most of the activity must have occurred at the central plug.

The rocks that form Mount Kenya are mainly basalts, rhomb porphyrites, phonolites, kenytes and trachytes. Kenyte was first reported by Gregory in 1900 following his study of the geology of Mount Kenya.

The geology of the Mount Kenya area was first proposed to the Western Community by Joseph Thomson in 1883. He saw the mountain from the nearby Laikipia Plateau and wrote that it was an extinct volcano with the plug exposed. However, as he had only seen the mountain from a distance his description was not widely believed in Europe, particularly after 1887 when Teleki and von Höhnel ascended the mountain and described what they considered to be the crater. In 1893 Gregory's expedition reached the Lewis Glacier at 5,000 m (16,400 ft). He confirmed that the volcano was extinct and that there were glaciers present. The first thorough survey by Europeans was not undertaken until 1966.

Name Reason for naming Named by Date named
Batian Named after Mbatian, the chief medicine man (Laibon) of Maasai when Europeans first discovered Maasailand. Mackinder 1899
Nelion Named after Nelieng, the brother of Mbatian Mackinder 1899
Pt Lenana Named after Lenana, the second son of Mbatian and next chief medicine man. Lenana was the medicine man at the time of first ascent of Batian. Mackinder 1899
Coryndon Peak Named after Sir Robert Coryndon, the Governor of Kenya Colony between 1922 and 1925.

Pt Piggott Named after J. R. W. Piggott, the administrator of British East Africa in 1893. He assisted Gregory's expedition to Mount Kenya. Gregory by 1900
Pt Thomson Named after Joseph Thomson, who, in 1863, confirmed Krapf's claim of the existence of Mount Kenya. Mackinder by 1900
Pt Dutton E. A. T Dutton explored the mountain.

Pt John Named by a Scottish missionary after the disciple. Arthur
Pt Melhuish Named after J. D. Melhuish, who was responsible for most of the first maps and photographs of the mountain. Arthur
Krapf Rognon Named after Dr Krapf, who was the first European to see the mountain in 1849. Mackinder
Pt Peter Named by a Scottish missionary after the disciple. Arthur
Pt Slade Named after Humphrey Slade who explored the moorland zone of Mount Kenya. He possibly also made the first ascent of Sendeyo.

Terere Named after Terere, a Maasai laibon. Mackinder 1899
Sendeyo Named after Sendeyo, the eldest son of Mbatian and brother of Lenana. Mackinder 1899
Midget Peak

The Hat

Delamere Peak Named after Rt. Hon. Lord Delamere, who was one of the early explorers of East Africa. He arrived in Kenya Colony in 1897. Melhuish and Dutton
Macmillan Peak Named after Sir Northrup Macmillan, an early pioneer. Melhuish and Dutton
Grigg Peak Named after Lieut-Col. Sit Edward Grigg, who was the Governor of Kenya Colony from 1925. Arthur
Höhnel Peak (The Castle) Named after Lieut. Ludwig von Höhnel, who was the cartographer on Teleki's expedition to the mountain. When he drew the mountain from the Ndoro, to the south, he clearly marked this peak, so Gregory named it after him. Gregory by 1894
Arthur's Seat Named after Rev. J. W. Arthur, who made several attempts to reach the summit. Melhuish
Sommerfelt Peak Named after G. A. Sommerfelt, who climbed Batian with Shipton and Harris on 8 January 1929. Dutton
Three Sisters Named for their appearance. "Three slim columns of rock separated from each other by the merest cracks." Melhuish and Dutton
The Tooth Named for its appearance. Melhuish and Dutton
The Castle (Höhnel Peak)

Gate of Mists Named for its physical appearance, and because "Kenya" is a corruption of the Maasai word for "mist". Mackinder 1899
Shipton Peak Named after E. E. Shipton, who made the first ascent of Nelion and second ascent of Batian in 1929. Dutton
Grand and Petit Gendarmes Named for their physical appearance. Shipton and Tilman 1930
Tilman Peak Named after Tilman, who made many climbs with Shipton in 1930.

Pt John Minor

Thomson's Flake

Western Terminal

Eastern Terminal



Giants Billiards Table (also known as Kilingo) Visually the mountain is very flat topped. Name mentioned on Mackinder's 1900 map by 1900
Kilingo (also known as Giants Billiards Table)

Mugi Hill

by 1926
The Barrow


East Mountain (later renamed Ithanguni)
Mackinder 1899
Highland Castle


The Twins Photographed (and potentially named) by Melhuish.

The central peaks of Mount Kenya are volcanic plugs that have resisted glacial erosion.

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