Mount Kenya Is Africa's Second Highest Mountain

Mount Kenya, second highest mountain in Africa, is a rugged mountain with glaciers and rock walls.
Mount Kenya, second highest mountain in Africa, is a rugged mountain with glaciers and rock walls. Photograph copyright Martyn Colbeck/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa and the highest mountain in Kenya. Mount Kenya, with an elevation rise of 12,549 feet (3,825 meters), is the 32nd most prominent mountain in the world. It is also on the Second Seven Summits lists, the second highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

Elevation: 17,057 feet (5,199 meters)
Prominence: 12,549 feet (3,825 meters)
Location: Kenya, Africa.
Coordinates: 0.1512°S / 37.30710°E
First Ascent: Sir Halford John Mackinder, Josef Brocherel, and Cesar Ollier on September 13, 1899.

The 3 Summits

Mount Kenya has several summits, including its three highest peaks—17,057-foot (5,199-meter) Batian, 17,021-foot (5,188-meter) Nelion, and 16,355-foot (4,985-meter) Point Lenana.

Near Nairobi

Mount Kenya lies 90 miles (150 kilometers) northeast of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The mountain is south of the equator.

Formed by Volcanism

Mount Kenya is a stratovolcano that arose over 3 million years ago. Its last eruption was between 2.6 and 3 million years ago. The volcano rose as high as 19,700 feet (6,000 meters) before being eroded to its present height. Most of the mountain’s volcanic activity was from its central plug, although satellite craters and plugs indicate active volcanism in nearby areas.


Two extended glacial periods sculpted Mount Kenya. Moraines indicate that the lowest elevation the glaciers reached was 10,800 feet (3,300 meters). The entire summit was also covered by a thick ice cap. There are currently 11 small but shrinking glaciers on Mount Kenya. Little snow now falls on the mountain so no new ice forms on the glaciers. Climatologists predict that the glaciers will disappear by 2050 unless current temperature and precipitation changes occur. The Lewis Glacier is the largest on Mount Kenya.

Mount Kenya Is Equatorial

Since Mount Kenya is an equatorial mountain, the day and night are each 12 hours long. Sunrise is usually about 5:30 in the morning and sunset is about 5:30 in the evening. There is only a one minute difference between the shortest day and the longest day.

Meaning of Its Name

The origin and meaning of the word Kenya is unknown. It is thought, however, to derive from the words Kininyaga in Kikuyu, Kirenyaa in Embu, and Kiinyaa in Kamba, all of which mean “god’s resting place.” The names of Mount Kenya’s three major peaks—Batian, Nelion, and Lenana—honor Maasai chiefs.

1899 Was the First Ascent of Mountain

The first ascent of Batian, Mount Kenya’s highest summit, was on September 13, 1899, by Sir Halford John Mackinder, Josef Brocherel, and Cesar Ollier. The trio climbed the southeast face of Nelion and bivouacked. The next day they crossed the Darwin Glacier and climbed the Diamond Glacier before climbing to the summit. Mackinder led a large expedition with six Europeans, 66 Swahilis, 96 Kikuyu, and two Maasai to the mountain. The party made three unsuccessful attempts in early September before success.

Mount Kenya National Park

Mount Kenya is the centerpiece of Mount Kenya National Park and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique geology and natural history. The mountain’s unique afro-alpine flora or plant life is considered an outstanding example of alpine evolution and ecology. Mount Kenya also has Dr. Suess-fantasy forests of giant groundsel and lobelia, as well as moors blanketed with giant heather and dense bamboo forests. Wildlife includes zebras, elephants, rhinos, antelope, hydraxes, monkeys, and lions.

Difficult to Climb 

Mount Kenya is much more difficult to climb than Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. To reach the twin summits of Batian and Nelion requires rock climbing skills and equipment, whereas Kili only requires stout legs and lungs. Few climbers reach the summit of Mount Kenya every year. Besides being more difficult than Kilimanjaro, an ascent of Mount Kenya is cheaper since neither porters nor guides are required.

Climbing Seasons

Climbing on Mount Kenya depends on the equatorial season and the position of the sun. The ice climbs on Kenya’s southern faces are best climbed when the sun is in the north from July to September. This season also offers the best rock climbing conditions on the north and east faces. When the sun is in the south from December to March, the southern faces are best for rock climbing while the north faces offer ice climbing conditions.

Standard Climbing Route 

The usual climbing route up Batian is the 20-pitch North Face Standard Route (IV+ East African grade) or (V 5.8+). The first ascent was in 1944 by A.H. Firmin and P. Hicks. This is the easiest and most popular route up Batian. It’s best climbed between June and October. The route ascends the northeast side of Batian up cracks and chimneys for seven pitches in a rocky couloir before traversing up left into The Amphitheater. Scramble up the right side of The Amphitheater to a good bivouac ledge. Above, the route climbs more cracks and chimneys up Firmin’s Tower, the crux of the route, to Shipton’s Notch on the West Ridge, and then follows the airy ridge to the summit. The descent reverses the route. Many climbers also traverse over to Nelion and descend it.

Books About Mount Kenya

No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, A Perilous Climb by Felice Benuzzi. Classic adventure story of two escaped WWII Italian prisoners-of-war who climb Mount Kenya.

Kenya Lonely Planet What you need to know before you go. Lots of great Lonely Planet info.