How to climb Mount Kenya, according to adventure guide George Ombuki

George Ombuki shares tales about the wonderful topography of Mount Kenya National Park, from the savannah to the rainforest.

Published 21 Sept 2021, 15:10 BST, Updated 21 Sept 2021, 17:31 BST
The wind whips the snow off the peak of Mount Kenya — the ancient volcano that towers 5,000 ...

The wind whips the snow off the peak of Mount Kenya — the ancient volcano that towers 5,000 metres high above the surrounding Mount Kenya National Park. 

Photograph by Getty

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 820sq-mile 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. 

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.

What advice do you give to hikers and climbers?

The mountain has always been around and the mountain will always be there, so you have all the time in the world to get ready for your climb. 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.

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.

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. 

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.

What has been your most special experience?

When I climbed with Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary and Sibusiso, a famous mountaineer from South Africa. To experience the day climbing with them, to see the Cabinet Secretary — one of the most prominent Kenyans at the time — at his age keeping up with me and Sibusiso was a humbling experience for me. It made me realise that no one should doubt themselves when they’re going up the mountain. It is hard, but you can make it. It’s breathtaking and it’s always new, even when you’ve been up there as many times as I have.

Essentials

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. 

For more information and to book your trip, go to magicalkenya.com

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