Introduction to Mount Kenya
It had been four years since mine and Leo’s last adventurous climbing trip to Wadi Rum in Jordan. We were both yearning for some adventure and early in January we started to hatch a plan. This time though, we decided to combine it with a more conventional holiday and invite the girls along.
Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro, to reach its highest point you must rock climb. Our objective was to reach the summit of Batian via the North Face Standard Route IV+ which is an 800m Rock Climb (Equivalent UK trad grade of severe). Like Kilimanjaro, it is an extinct volcano which was created approximately 3 million years after the opening of the East African Rift. An area of 715 km2 around the centre of the mountain is designated a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The landscape is complex and feels more like a small mountain range with a wide variety of vegetation bands and environments. Lower down the slopes are covered in forest, as you move higher the landscape changes into moorland and bog before finally becoming more Alpine. As you head towards the centre of the park the highest peaks of the mountain become visible. Batian (5,199 m), Nelion (5,188 m and Point Lenana (4,985m). Interestingly it lies right on the equator, meaning both winter and summer conditions are found on opposing sides of the mountain depending on the season.
The rough plan was to walk up the mountain and acclimatise as a group of four over a period of three days. On the fourth day we would attempt to summit Batian, Zoe and Charlotte would summit Point Lenana the walking peak. We set about organising the trip. I was given a number for Peterson a local guide, from Fiona our family friend and a member of the Mount Kenya Climbing club. Peterson helped immensely with logistics of the trip (more about this later on).
Preparation was far from ideal, due to conflicting schedules and the busyness of life we did not manage to get much climbing done. A few multi-pitch routes in Snowdonia and a few climbing wall sessions. I did manage to get out to the Swiss Alps with my brother and we managed to complete the Cassin Route on Piz Badile an 800m north face rock climb. This was good preparation for understanding how quick we would need to be on the route in order to to get up and down in a day.
Despite climbing lots together in the past and being experienced climbers, we decided a few weeks before to use a local climbing guide to help us complete the route. Firstly being honest with ourselves, despite the grade being low, we had not done many routes of this length before and at such high altitude. We had read on UKC and on multiple online blogs that route finding was not obvious, and that cloud consistently covers the mountain by early afternoon. To get up and down in a day we would need to reach the summit by midday and then descend the route most likely in poor visibility. We had also read the descent was a lengthy complex affair. We came to the conclusion that it would be a tall order to get up and down the route in one day without some guidance.
Luckily, we had a weather window and the mountain remained dry. Due to the rain and cloud on previous days it was looking touch and go for an attempt on our scheduled summit day. We woke up at 4.30am to a beautiful clear morning, the stars were incredible. We had a quick breakfast and at 5am we set off from Shiptons camp with our guide David. We walked up to the base of the route and racked up. David carried a light rack with a small range of medium size cams and lots of slings.
We pitched the first six pitches to the broken slabs which took a few hours. Across the slabs we started to move roped together. David was moving at a ferocious pace without a hint of being out of breath. This same could not be said for me and Leo. I felt like my heart and lungs were about to explode, the altitude was not treating us kindly. As we started to pitch again up Firmins tower my heart rate started to drop and breathing became easier. The climbing was pretty straight forward, and the views were fantastic. We made sure at each belay to work together to ensure slick rope work and minimise any faff.
We finally made it to the ridge and a mix of scrambling and interesting climbing took us to the summit. We reached the summit at 12.30 pm, six hours after setting off. Luckily for us we were bang on time and enjoyed a twenty-minute lunch on the summit. It was amazing to sit for a short while, reflect on the climb and soak in the spectacular views.
As with any summit you must get down safely, so can’t celebrate too soon. We set off with a mix of down climbing and 30m abseils, almost on cue the cloud engulfed the mountain and it became very cold. We both developed strong headaches. David expertly navigated us down the mountain pointing out the various loose blocks of rock which are more of an issue when abseiling. At this point we were grateful not to be in charge of the route finding.
After five and half hours we finely made it to the bottom of the route, relieved to be back down safely and happy we had reached our objective. We walked back down to Shiptons camp making the day a 14 hour round trip. An enjoyable evening was spent drinking tea and exchanging tales with the girls who had successfully managed to summit Point Lenana.
The next day we walked out via the Sirmon route where we were picked up at Old Moses camp. We spent a few days chilling by the pool at our lodge then flew to the Maasai Mara for a week long safari. Which I would highly recommend!
We flew direct from London Heathrow to Nairobi with Kenya Airways which comes with 23kg of luggage as as standard which is plenty for all your gear. We stayed at a hotel near the airport, and the next morning we took a taxi towards Nanyuki, this was arranged by our guide. We stayed at the Naro Moru river lodge which is fairly budget friendly place to stay with good food and pleasant surroundings.
Visas, permits, local guides
For UK passport holders visiting Kenya you can apply for a holiday visa online. I would recommend doing this a week in advance as the online form is a bit time consuming. The cost is $50 USD.
Whilst in Mount Kenya National Park, there is a charge of $50 USD per person per day. Payment system to enter the NP has recently changed so it is best to discuss this with your guide. It is a legal requirement to be accompanied by a local guide whilst in the park. We contacted Peterson, have a look at his website.
Communication was excellent and they helped to organise our itinerary to fit the requirements of our trip. They organised our accommodation in the huts, porters, cooks and transportation. I would highly recommend them if you are interested in doing a similar trip. They also put us in touch with David the climbing guide we used.
Approaches, Huts and Route information.
Mount Kenya is right in the centre of the National Park and there are approach routes from every direction. We approached via the Naro Moru route and left the park by the Sirimon route. This worked best with our stay at the River Lodge.
Acclimatisation on Mount Kenya is important to get right, by the second day you will be over 4,000m. Standardly it takes 3-4 days to get to the final hut before summit day. Huts are basic, I would recommend bringing a decent sleeping bag and water purification tablets. It is also possible to camp next to each hut.
This guide book has useful information on the different approaches and logistics.
For climbing topos and beta, better information is found online. We found this very useful.
If you are looking for a unique Alpine Adventure away from the crowds. I would highly recommend a trip to Mount Kenya. There are so many options and routes to do and the wildlife and natural environment is truly memorable. Plus, you can combine it with a safari afterwards!