It's possible to land a Kilimanjaro-like experience without the crowds and costs. How? Target Africa’s second-highest peak via the non-technical, 8,200-foot-gain, three-day, 15.5-mile (one-way) Naro Moru Route to 16,355-foot Point Lenana. Then, for more thrills, rope up and ascend 17,057-foot Mt. Kenya (pictured), where you’ll see the morning’s first rays alight the mile-long Lewis Glacier 8,000 feet above game plains. From the Naro Moru Park Gate, climb 2,000 feet in 6.2 miles under evergreens, fuchsia heathers, and 50-foot-tall bamboo to the Met Station shelters (first-come, first-serve; your guides will pack in tents if full). Next day, tackle the switchbackless “Vertical Bog” at mile 7.1—a mile-long section of boot-sucking marshland that climbs 1,000 feet at a 25-degree slope (gaiters advised)—and 4.1 miles through alpine moorland to Mackinder’s Camp, a dorm-style bunkhouse (mile 12.2). Day three (alpine start recommended for prime sunrise views), walk 4 miles across bare granite and use cables to navigate a mile over an exposed, icy ridge to one of Mt. Kenya’s snowy peaks, Point Lenana. See the rising sun cast a golden glow over the surrounding 17,000-footers* and, on a clear day, spy the perfectly symmetrical cone of Kilimanjaro (230 miles south) casting a shadow on surrounding cloud banks. Bag the tallest gendarme on Mt. Kenya, 17,057-foot Batian, with ropes and technical mountaineering gear via a 5.8-grade ascent, or return to the trailhead. Retrace your steps or veer onto the rainforested Sirimon Route.
Season January and February for driest weather; avoid rain season (late March to mid-May) and Christmas crowds Guide (required) Go to Mount Kenya ($700; gotomountkenya.com)
*In Africa, only the highest point in each massif, or mountain group, is ranked in elevation lists. Mt. Kenya, therefore, counts as the second-highest peak because 17,057-foot Batian is the tallest after Kili, even though Mt. Kenya encompasses more than 10 individual pinnacles above 15,000 feet.