Mount Marsabit is a 4,776 ft / 1,456 m mountain peak near Marsabit, Eastern, Kenya. The nearest peaks are Losai Peak, Ndoto, Bokol, Mount Kulal, Ng’iro, and Mathews Peak.
Misted montane paradise
A remote montane paradise located in the burning wastes of Kenya’s rugged northern region, Marsabit National Park skirts the massive extinct volcano known as Mount Marsabit. Though born of volcanic fire Marsabit is a cool, green, forested realm often swathed in mist. Rising like a mirage above the surrounding burning desert, Mount Marsabit is famous for the dreamy waters of Lake Paradise, which lie on its peak, for the foothills of rugged grandeur that fan out from its volcanic craters, and for the cloud forests which shelter both greater kudu and an ancient dynasty of elephants famous for their huge tusks.
Fact File Altitude: 420-1,700 metres above sea level. Area: 1,554 sq km. Location: Marsabit District, Eastern Province. Distance from Nairobi: 560 km north of Nairobi. 263 km north of Isiolo. Gazetted: 1962. Climate: January-March is hot and dry, April-June is hot and wet, July-October is very warm and dry, November and December are warm and wet. Vegetation: arid thorny bush dominates the lower zone, merging into acacia grassland. Brown olive forest dominates the higher ground. Wildlife: includes; elephant, buffalo, greater kudu, hyena, Grevy’s zebra, dik-dik, reticulated giraffe, lion, leopard and baboon. Birds: 400 recorded species including 52 of birds of prey.
Roads: use of 2WD is possible during the dry seasons but 4WD is necessary during the rainy seasons.
What’s in a name?
Marsabit means ‘Place of Cold’ and with its swirling mists and moss-hung cloud forests it is aptly named.
A long-dead volcano
Mount Marsabit is a fine example of a basalt shield volcano . Shield volcanoes (so-called because of their shield shape) form when basalt lava erupts, either from a single volcanic vent, or from a group of closely spaced vents. Basalt lava, which is determined by its exceptionally low viscosity, can flow over long distances before cooling and hardening; it therefore builds a broad, gently sloping volcanic cone, which is exceptionally wide in proportion to its height.
Land of gofs
Mount Marsabit is peppered with extinct volcanic craters, known locally as gofs. Cloaked in aromatic moss-encrusted forests, the craters are lined with stands of juniper and podocarpus. Gof Bongole, on the eastern periphery of the Park is the largest and most dramatic of the craters, having a 10 km rim; Gof Sokorte Dika lies adjacent to Marsabit Lodge.
Magical Lake Paradise
The natural amphitheatre of Gof Sokorte Guda, with its 150 m high caldera, shelters the freshwater lake known as Lake Paradise. Sublimely beautiful, the lake is ringed by forests where the trees are laced with delicate filigrees of Spanish moss, and silken-cloaked colobus monkey preen.
Wildlife viewing tip
Elephant, buffalo and small numbers of greater kudu tend to emerge from the forest surrounding Lake Paradise in the late afternoon to drink.
Last refuge of the huge-tusked elephant bulls
Marsabit is one of the few places in Africa where elephants with tusks of over 45 kg can still be seen, though they tend to keep to the forests and can be difficult to locate.
A dynasty of giants
Marsabit was once the domain of Kenya’s most famous elephant, the mighty Ahmed. Standing 3m high at his shoulders, Ahmed had 3m long tusks and was so famous that during his final years he was protected from the attentions of poachers by a 24 hour armed guard, ordered by special Presidential decree. Ahmed died in January 1974 at an estimated age of 55 and now stands in life-sized effigy in the Nairobi grounds of the National Museum of Kenya (his massive tusks can also be viewed at the Museum). Following in Ahmed’s giant footsteps came Mohammed, whose tusks were estimated to weigh 45 kg on either side. The descendants of these giants still patrol the Park but are rarely seen because they prefer to keep to the shelter of the cloud forests.
The dense montane forests are home to herds of buffalo and troops of black and white colobus and blue monkey. Reticulated giraffe are also common on the mountain, though unusually for giraffe they have taken to spending much of their time in the forest.
The undergrowth shelters antelope such as bushbuck and suni, and on the lower slopes of the mountain where the forest thins into thorny scrubland and savannah you may see olive baboon and vervet monkey.
The Park also shelters the rare Peters’ gazelle (a local species of Grant’s gazelle), beisa oryx and Burchell’s zebra. Predators include lion and cheetah, striped hyena and the hyena’s smaller relative the insectivorous aardwolf.
The greater kudu
King of the antelopes
Marsabit is renowned as the habitat of one of the most regal of Kenya’s antelope, the greater kudu. Abundant until 1960 when they were decimated by an outbreak of rinderpest, the greater kudu has made a determined comeback; and today their numbers are strong enough to virtually guarantee the visitor a sighting.
A rare antelope, distinguished by a pair of the most magnificent spiral horns in the antelope kingdom (averaging around 130 cm in length), the greater kudu is large, slender and grey in colour. It is also distinguished by six to eight prominent vertical white stripes on either flank (unlike its cousin the slimmer lesser kudu, which has eleven to fifteen stripes on each flank). Despite its impressive weight (280-320 kg), the greater kudu is a phenomenal jumper, clearing two meters at a single bound; it also enjoys acute hearing, accentuated by its ability to swivel its large round ears in almost any direction.
Realm of the raptors
Renowned for its impressive array of rare and little-known birds, this surprising Park boasts 400 recorded species of birds. An ornithologist’s paradise, it also excels in the unusual, such as 52 different species of birds of prey, the rarest of which is the lammergeyer (bearded vulture) believed to nest on the sheer cliffs of Gof Bongole.
The high cliffs at the northern end of Lake Paradise make perfect perches and nesting sites for such birds of prey as the Ruppel’s griffon vulture, peregrine falcon, mountain and common buzzard, black kite and African fish eagle.
The semi-arid plains surrounding the massif are home to such birds as; Somali ostrich, vulturine guinea fowl, masked and Williams’ lark (both endemic to northern Kenya), Somali bee-eater, Heuglin’s bustard and cream-coloured courser.
Water birds include duck (southern pochard, garganey and teal), little grebe and rafts of red-knobbed coot. Hammerkop, ibis, purple heron and saddle-billed and yellow-billed stork feed in the shallow waters of the crater lakes, and darter and cormorant dry their wings on the overhanging branches.
Birds that can be easily spotted on a drive include the emerald-spotted wood dove and tambourine dove, olive pigeon and Hartlaub’s turaco, whose crimson wings flash as they feed among the trailing beard moss.
The People that surround Mount Marsabit
The Marsabit region shelters a fascinating array of nomadic herders. Most noticeable are the Rendille, fantastically clothed in animal skins and elaborate beadwork and with intricately braided hair. Camel grazers like the Samburu and the Maasai, the Rendille show little interest in adopting a more sedentary lifestyle and prefer to roam the desert. Other major ethnic groups include the Boran and the Gabbra, both pastoralists who graze cattle rather than camels. All bring their animals in from the desert to water them in the mountain springs – known as the ‘Singing Wells’.
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