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Mount Kenya Exerts Great Pull for Many

July 24, 2003

MOUNT KENYA, Kenya (AP) _ The jagged slopes of Mount Kenya, where 12 members of one family died in a plane crash this week, have long drawn climbers looking for a challenge and religious believers who say their god dwells there.

It may be second to Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro in height and yearly number of visitors, but Mount Kenya’s mythic image and beauty have a powerful allure _ that was, after all, what brought the Brumley family on the trip that killed them and their two South African guides last week.

``Most climbers who do both mountains in Africa prefer Mount Kenya,″ Bongo Woodley, senior Kenya Wildlife Service warden in charge of Mount Kenya National Park, said. ``Mount Kenya is just more dramatic.″

The plane crashed July 19, striking Point Lenana on the ragged edge of the extinct volcano.

George Brumley of Atlanta, Ga., had climbed Kilimanjaro in 2001 and was so moved by the experience that he wanted his wife, children and grandchildren to see the beauty of Africa for themselves, a friend said later.

Point Lenana _ at 16,450 feet the smallest of Mount Kenya’s three peaks _ attracts most of the park’s 16,000 annual visitors, said assistant park warden David Sitienei. It is accessible to casual climbers, while the two-day hike still offers the feel of a real expedition.

In the mid-19th century, Dr. Johann Ludwig, a German missionary, reported to Britain’s Royal Geographical Society that he had seen snow atop Mount Kenya. His fellow members scoffed at the notion of snow falling at the equator.

According to the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, the mountain is where their god took one of tribe’s first men and showed him the green, fertile highlands where many Kikuyu still live.

Because the snow resembles white feathers, the Kikuyu call the mountain ``Kirinyaga,″ or the place of the ostriches.

``The Kikuyu regard this mountain as a sacred place where they can find God,″ said Sitienei. ``People believe that if they go up there to pray, God will respond to their prayers.″

For determined climbers, reaching the highest peak represents an important notch in the belt. The summit of Batian is only attainable by those with extensive training, said Willy Shikuku Ooko, who has climbed Mount Kenya for nearly 20 years.

Ooko has lived in the mountain’s shadow for nearly all of his 42 years; he trained most of the men on the rescue team who were the first to reach the Americans’ plane wreckage.

Ooko said Mount Kenya differs from Kilimanjaro because of the variety it offers. There is ice climbing, while Batian offers technical rock climbing. Across the mountain, there are streams for drinking water and fishing; Kilimanjaro has neither.

``Mount Kenya is a climber’s dream,″ said Ooko. ``But it is also one of the most dangerous mountains to climb.″

Ooko said Kilimanjaro _ 19,583 feet _ can be summited more easily because the incline is gradual. Batian’s summit is almost straight up. Expert climbers can reach the top faster, but many experience altitude sickness.

But neither Mount Kenya’s elements nor the news of the plane crash deterred Cullen Griffith and three friends from setting off for the top.

The men, from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, said they have climbed many of the world’s highest mountains. After Mount Kenya, they were headed for Kilimanjaro.

``Mount Kenya is one of the great mountains to climb,″ said Griffith, who had been planning for the climb since February. ``It’s kind of an ominous day to start. Coming upon the wreckage will be a bit spooky. It’s right in our path.″

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