Where Glaciers Top the Equator
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN KENYA
JOHANN LUDWIG KRAPF, a 39-year-old German missionary, claimed that on December 3, 1849, he caught a glimpse of a white-capped mountain in equatorial Africa. His report was treated by geographers in Europe with derision. They said that what he had seen was mere chalk. Krapf, who was more than 80 miles [140 km] from the mountain, admitted that his view lasted only a few minutes because of a fast-moving cloud cover.
The derision of European geographers did not surprise Krapf. A year earlier a reported sighting of Africa’s highest mountain, some 200 miles [300 km] to the south, had also been doubted. However, before long, the existence of that mountain, 19,340-foot [5,895 m] Mount Kilimanjaro, was confirmed. Krapf’s claim, on the other hand, was not vindicated until 34 years later—two years after his death.
In 1883, Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson verified the existence of the mountain with glaciers that Krapf had seen—17,058-foot-high [5,199 m] Mount Kenya—the peaks of which are located immediately south of the equator. It is the second-highest mountain in Africa. Some think that Mount Kenya, which is now an extinct volcano, was once more than 20,000 feet [6,000 m] high. Years of erosion, it is believed, removed the dust and ashes, revealing two jagged peaks that are over 17,000 feet [5,100 m] high and a third that is 16,355 feet [4,985 m] high.
Long before Europeans arrived in Africa, people who lived on Mount Kenya’s lower slopes venerated the mountain. Some believed that the maker of the universe dwelt on its highest point and that it was there he created man. This creator was also believed to be responsible for the rains watering the fertile grounds below. To appease him, animal sacrifices were offered—and they still are by those who cling to such beliefs.
Because of the snow and ice near Mount Kenya’s dark pinnacles, early inhabitants called it both speckled mountain and mountain of whiteness. The mountain’s three highest peaks—Batian, Nelion, and Lenana—are named after great ancestral chiefs of a local community. The many jade-green mountain lakes that are near the rocky peaks enhance the area’s beauty.
Rich in Flora and Fauna
The mountain provides many spectacles for nature enthusiasts to enjoy. Over the years, melting glaciers have turned the desert of lava into a large seedbed for diverse forms of flora. The lower slopes are covered with dense forests. The trees include cedar, yellowwood, and camphor, which produce woods valued by furniture manufacturers. Common, too, is tall bamboo, which makes up “forests” of grass that grow to heights of over 20 feet [6 m] and choke the undergrowth.
Animal life abounds in this region. Larger mammals include lions, leopards, Burchell’s zebras, Cape buffalo, bushbuck, and waterbuck. Elephants and black rhinos have found refuge on this mountain as well. Smaller animals include Sykes monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, tree hyraxes, and several species of rodents.
The local birds are vast in number and varied in type. Preying on the rodents and snakes are white-backed vultures, black kites, crowned eagles, long-crested hawk eagles, mountain buzzards, and red-tailed augur buzzards. Adding contrast to the lush green forests are crimson-colored Hartlaub’s turacos, violet-colored starlings, and silvery-cheeked hornbills, as well as orioles. Several species of sunbirds with their eye-catching plumage are constant features in the mountain forest.
Above 10,000 feet [3,000 m] the forest breaks to reveal an expanse of moorland that extends upward as far as the eye can see. Here, tussock grass covers the ground like a mat. Another plant with interesting characteristics is the cabbage groundsel, which flowers once every 20 years. Here also are tree groundsels with broad leaves at the topmost part of the stem and lobelias that reach a height of over 20 feet [6 m]. These, as well as giant heather, combine to provide alpine scenery in this vast area.
Few animals inhabit the lofty rough terrain, and most of them live there for just part of the year. The only full-time residents are rock hyraxes. They live at a higher altitude than any of the other animals on the mountain, being found at nearly 14,000 feet [4,300 m]. Their bodies are adapted to live at such heights—in spaces between rocks, as their name suggests. They feed primarily on vegetation. Friendly and welcoming, these rabbit-size mammals have been known to grab food items from tired and unsuspecting hikers!
Around the Magnificent Peaks
In sharp contrast with the lower parts of the mountain are the picturesque pointed peaks. The highest points of Batian (17,058 feet [5,199 m]) and Nelion (36 feet [11 m] lower) are shaped like two large horns. These points consist of huge, black volcanic boulders that seem to float high above the clouds. Below this, 11 glaciers mock the hot equatorial sun, which no doubt contributed to the disappearance, over time, of at least 7 of their kin. The largest glacier is now but half the size it was a hundred years ago. Some of these glaciers are visible from Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, 80 miles [130 km] away.
This high island of rock has attracted climbing enthusiasts from all over the world. Halford Mackinder was the first European recorded to have reached the summit of Batian, having done so on September 13, 1899. It would be 30 years before report was made of another person reaching the summit. The mountain has paid out harsh retribution to some who dared to try to reach its top. By 1987 more than 60 had died attempting it.
Various forms of mountain sicknesses have taken their toll on climbers. In fact, the mountain, it is said, accounts for half the world’s high-altitude pulmonary edema cases. The book On God’s Mountain—The Story of Mount Kenya observes: “For those who do not fall to this malady [mountain sickness], trekking and climbing can still be a tortuous affair, each step an exercise in foot-dragging exhaustion. At your side, a sheer drop of several hundred feet. In your head, a splitting pain. In your stomach, nausea. On your feet, blisters. In your eyes, water.”
Although the peaks of Mount Kenya may be weather-beaten and its glaciers receding, the splendor and majesty of this fortress in the sky remains undimmed. Its beauty, however rugged, continues to give silent praise to its Creator, Jehovah God.—Psalm 148:9, 13.
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One of the many mountain lakes
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The three highest peaks of Mount Kenya
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The higher peaks attract climbers from around the world
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Birds, such as this red-chested sunbird, are common
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Rock hyraxes live at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet [4,300 m]
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Trees, including this yellowwood, cover the lower slopes
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Page 16: Pictures Courtesy of Camerapix Ltd.
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Picture Courtesy of Camerapix Ltd.
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All inset photos except climber: Pictures Courtesy of Camerapix Ltd.; background: Duncan Willetts, Camerapix