OverviewFar from being a just single peak Mount Kenya is in fact a massif consisting of a multitude of imposing spires, cliffs, complex ridges and peaks. These are the weathered remnants of a large extinct volcano that was active several million years ago. Mount Kenya straddles the equator but is sufficiently high to receive significant snowfall and to be circled with several glaciers.
The main summits are the twins Batian and Nelion, and these can only be reached by means of technical climbing via a variety of rock or ice routes. The third highest peak, Point Lenana, is a popular destination for trekking parties. Point John and some of the other subsidiary peaks also offer good rock climbing routes.
Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa and stands somewhat unjustly in the shadow of it's taller neighbour Kilimanjaro, which lies some 320km away in the south and is visible on a clear day. Kili may see much more traffic - due to the possibility of summitting via several non-technical trekking routes and due to the sometimes dubious honour of being one of the Seven Summits - but Mount Kenya offers a wealth of excellent and diverse climbing possibilities on rock, snow and ice.
The rock on Mount Kenya can be of variable quality but is at it's best high on the mountain where the syenite rock is similar to granite - rough, hard and well endowed with features.
Apart from the superb climbing potential on Mount Kenya, its tarns and alpine meadows; exotic, equatorial, high-altitude vegetation; sunbirds, hyrax and soaring eagles make the walk around the peaks one of the most beautiful expeditions in the East African mountains.
Getting ThereMount Kenya is about 200km north of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and is accessible by road by a variety of transport options. Buses, minibuses (matatus), taxi or a hire car will get you to the close to mountain on tarred roads to the nearest town: Nanyuki for Naro Moru and Sirimon routes or Meru for Chogoria route.
The last stretch from the nearest town to the various trailheads (typically +/- 25km) will be on dirt roads and these can be in poor condition (especially in wet weather!) and require a 4WD, or an approach on foot.
Trekking RoutesThere are three principal trekking routes on Mount Kenya that approach the base of the technical climbing routes and the popular destination of Point Lenana.
There are several other trekking routes on the mountain (such as the Timau, Meru or Burguret Routes) but for various reasons these are not frequently done.
There is also a Summit Circuit path that circumnavigates the whole mountain in a day or two's walking, passing along the way (in clockwise direction) the American Camp in the Teleki Valley, Two Tarns, Hausberg Col, Kami Hut / Shipton's Camp, Simba Col, Tooth Col, Austrian Hut and then back down to the Teleki Valley.
The Austrian Hut at 4800m is the base camp for the parties doing the Nelion Normal Route and this is reached easily from any of these three routes. Parties doing the North Face Normal Route on Batian will use Shipton's Camp or Kami Hut as a base.
Climbing RoutesThe following table gives an overview of the climbing routes on Mount Kenya:
The easiest descent from Nelion and Batian is the bolted abseil route described here.
East African Climbing GradesMost of the Mount Kenya guide books and route descriptions classify routes by means of the East African Grading System, which combines both the technical difficulty as well as the overall seriousness of the route. A rough translation to other grading systems is given below:
When To ClimbThe highest rainfall occurs between late March and the middle of May, and slightly less between late October and mid December. Maximum rainfall occurs in the forest belt and on the south-east side of the mountain where it reaches 2500mm. per year at 3000m. Rain and, higher up, snow can however be encountered at any time of year - even in the driest periods (January and February). Normally the drier seasons are associated with clear, dry weather which can last for many days on end. The best weather is generally in the mornings, and convectional rainfall, if any, tends to come in the mid-afternoon.
Temperatures vary considerably with height and with time of day. At 3000m. frosts can be encountered at night while day temperatures range from 5 to 15°C. Night time temperatures on the summit are well below freezing. The south-facing side of Mount Kenya receives more sunshine in the December to March period. During this time rock climbs are "in-condition" and snow and ice climbs gradually deteriorate. In the June to October period the north-facing rock climbs and south-facing ice climbs are best.
Global Warming and Melting GlaciersWe are cooking our planet. Global warming is having a pronounced effect on our environment and this is clearly evidenced in the rapid melting of many of the world's glaciers in recent decades. Mount Kenya is not immune and of the 18 glaciers that were recorded on the mountain by early explorers in the 1890's at least 7 have disappeared completely. The rest are all shrinking and may still disappear within our lifetimes. Similarly dire predictions have been made about the glaciers on Kilimanjaro.
The implication of the increased mean temperatures and changed precipitation patterns is that any of the snow and ice routes on Mount Kenya should be tackled with extreme caution. Any statements made in the guide books about snow and ice conditions should be treated with suspicion and are probably no longer applicable. An attempt should be made to get updated current information before setting out.
Some routes, such as the famous Diamond Couloir ice climb, have in fact disappeared completely and are unlikely to re-form any time soon before the next ice age. The inclusion of this the route in the overview above is of historical interest only. Furthermore, the melting glaciers have lead to increased risk of stone-fall on some routes. (NOTE: see the update below)
The Mountain Club of Kenya puts it quite succinctly: "Anyone attempting either the Diamond Coulouir or the Ice Window between Christmas and March is stretching the limits of calculated risk."
Having said all of that, there are actually still snow, ice and substantial glaciers to be found on Mount Kenya. Snow and ice routes are still climbed when they are in condition - it is just a bit more of a lottery than it was previously.
Recent Ascents of the Diamond CouloirIt seems that tales of the demise of the famous Diamond Couloir are premature. There have been some recent ascents of this route in August to October 2005, though at a substantially harder grade than the original ascent and requiring modern mixed techniques.
For further information see the following:
Flora and FaunaMount Kenya is home to some fascinating high-altitude alpine vegetation including giant groundsels and lobelias.
In the lower-altitude forest zone trekkers may come across some rather large and uncompromising african wildlife such as elephants and buffalo - fortunately these are mostly active only at night. Lions, leopard, rock hyrax, various antelope species and a wide range of other creatures large and small occur in the park.
Red TapePark fees are payable at the three main park gates, and the current tarrifs are available on the Kenya Wildlife Service website.
The mountain is open all the year round.
Huts and CampingThere are a number of huts around the base of the mountain and on the various trekking routes. Additional fees are payable for staying in any of these and reservations should be made in advance. The major huts are as follows:
Note that Baillies Bivi on the normal route of Nelion is essentially in an unusable state. The Howell hut is however a superb facility that enables one to spend a (reasonably) comfortable night on the summit of Nelion. It can accomodate 3 persons - maybe 4 at a tight squeeze.
Camping fees are included in the Park Fees, and camping is thus essentially free once you're in the park.
Guides, Outfitters and PortersThere is a fairly well established range of outfitters, guides and porters that specialise in arranging and supporting trips to Mount Kenya. For example
When hiring porters make sure that these are bona fide and have an accreditation card that is issued by the Kenya Wildlife Services.
Maps and Guide Books
Not really a guide book, but a good read nevertheless:
Additonal InformationThe following websites have additional information on Mount Kenya:
The Mountain Club of Kenya also runs a message board that hosts discussions on Mount Kenya.
- Adventure Kenya Safaris
Adventure Kenya Safaris specialises in arranging private tailor-made climbs.
- Bruce Spottiswoode's account of Kenya
A great article describing Bruce's assent of Kenya with some great photographs.
- Mount Kenya & Kilimanjaro
Vast information and photographs of the mountains and full trip organisation with daily departures
- The Mountain Club of Kenya
The official web site. Lots of good info.
Official page of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
- Mount Kenya Climbing & Trekking Kilimanjaro
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