The mountain’s vegetation is zoned by altitude. Above about 2000m, shambas and coniferous plantations cease and the original, dense cloud forest takes over, with the best areas on the mountain’s southern and eastern, rain-facing slopes. At 2400m, forest gives way to giant bamboo, with clumps up to 20m high. The bamboo, a member of the grass family, appears impenetrable, but dark-walled passages are kept open by elephants and buffalo. Again, it’s the south that has the best bamboo areas; on the dry, northern slopes, there’s very little of it.
Above the bamboo at about 2800m you come into more open country of scattered, twisted Hagena and St John’s Wort trees (Hypericum), then the tree line (3000m) and the start of peculiar, Afro-Alpine moorlands. Above about 3300m, you reach the land of the giants; giant heather, giant groundsel, giant lobelia. Identities are confusing: the cabbages on stumps and the larger candelabra-like “trees” are the same species, giant groundsel or tree senecio, an intermediate stage of which has a sheaf of yellow flowers. They are slow growers and, for such weedy-looking vegetables, they may be extraordinarily old, up to 200 years. The tall, fluffy, less abundant plants are a species of giant lobelia discovered by the explorer Teleki and found only on Mount Kenya. The name plaque below one of these (there’s a little nature trail along the ridge above the Naro Moru stream) calls it an “ostrich plume plant” (Lobelia telekii), and it’s the only plant that could fairly be described as cuddly. The furriness, which gives it such an animal quality, acts as insulation for the delicate flowers.
Any nights you spend up in the mountain huts will normally be shared with large numbers of persistent rodents, which you won’t see until it’s too late. Remember to isolate your food from them by suspending it from the roof. The familiar diurnal scavengers that you’ll see are rock hyraxes, which are especially tame at Mackinder’s Camp; the welfare service provided to them by tourists preserves elderly specimens long past their natural life span. Hyraxes are not rodents; the anatomy of their feet indicates they share a distant ancestry with elephants. You’re likely to come across other animals at quite high altitudes, too, notably duiker antelope on the moorlands.