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.
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.
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.
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.|