There are ecosystems on the slopes of Mt Kenya that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.
This extinct volcano hosts, at various elevations, upland forest, bamboo forest (2500m), high-altitude equatorial heath (3000m to 3500m) and lower alpine moorland (3400m to 3800m), which includes several species of bright everlasting flowers. Some truly surreal plant life grows in the Afro-alpine zone (above 3500m) and the upper alpine zone (3800m to 4500m), including hairy carpets of tussock grass, the brushlike giant lobelias, or rosette plants, and the sci-fi-worthy Senecio brassica, or giant groundsel, which looks like a cross between an aloe, a cactus and a dwarf. At the summit it’s all rock and ice.
Unfortunately, there’s more rock than ice these days. Warmer weather has led to disappearing glaciers, and ice climbing in Mt Kenya is largely finished. The impact of reduced snow melt upon the region's rivers – Mt Kenya is the country’s most important permanent watershed – is already being felt.
While you generally don't come to Mt Kenya for the wildlife, there are some unique life forms that cling to the mountain slopes.
At lower elevations large wildlife are around; you may need to clap and hoot as you trudge to stave off elephants and buffaloes. Rock hyraxes are common, as are, rather annoyingly, bees. There are also Sykes’ monkeys, Mackinder’s eagle owls, waterbucks and (very rarely spotted) leopards, hyenas and servals; these animals tend to stay hidden in the thick brush of the lower forests.
At around the 3000m-above-sea-level mark, watch for the side-striped chameleon, one of the world's highest-altitude reptiles. Whenever the sun breaks through, watch for it sunning itself on a branch at right angles to the sun, its scales dark like a solar panel. Once warm, it turns a vivid green colour.
Higher up the mountain watch for the distinctive ostrich-plumed lobelia plant attended by sunbirds, and for the highland rock hyrax, an endemic hyrax sub-species that is larger and thicker-furred than its lowland cousins.