If you’re planning an ascent of Mount Kenya, there are a few important things you need to know before you go. If it’s not yet on your list of mountains to climb, it definitely should be.
Revered by Kenyan people, Mount Kenya is seen as a holy place. The country is even named after it, that’s how special it is. When people think about climbing mountains in Africa, it’s often its slightly taller cousin, Kilimanjaro that comes to mind. However, Mt Kenya is an important climb in its own right. Sitting at 5,199 meters, it’s only slightly lower than Kilimanjaro, yet it’s more cost effective and provides a more off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Mount Kenya is situated around 200 km Northeast of Nairobi. You’ll need to fly into Nairobi’s international airport, Jomo Kenyatta. From the airport, the start point of the hike can be easily reached easily via the highway in a bus or private transport. It’s a very accessible mountain but it’s important to tackle it with an experienced guide so that you approach the climb correctly.
You can still enjoy peace and solitude while climbing Mount Kenya. This is something that you won’t necessarily find climbing Kilimanjaro due to the huge crowds it attracts. From the summit, you get excellent 360º views of the Kenyan planes and the mountainous area below. You’ll make the final ascent early, which means you’ll get to enjoy watching the sun rising over the savannah. If you’re really lucky you may even get a glimpse of Kilimanjaro off in the distance.
Mount Kenya actually has three peaks: Batian, Nelion and Point Lenana. Depending on which one you choose to climb, the ascent can range from a medium-difficult trek to a challenging rock climb.
Batian, Mt Kenya’s highest peak, sits at 5,199 meters and is a challenging ascent with many technical points. This peak is for the experienced mountaineers. Slightly lower you’ll find the twin peak of Nelion at 5,188 meters. This again is a challenging climb that requires experience in multi-pitch rock climbing.
The third peak is Point Lenana which sits at 4985 meters. This is the most popular peak for hikers. It’s a challenging ascent but you don’t need to have previous experience to attempt it. You will need a high level of fitness though, as there are many steep sections. You’ll also need to hike considerable distances over multiple days. Altitude can also make this ascent more difficult. This is where a guide really is important, to make sure that you’re not gaining altitude too quickly. Plus, if you do suffer from altitude sickness, you’ll want an experienced guide on hand to help you manage this.
If you chose to tackle Batian or Nelion, it’s essential that you bring the right equipment as you cannot complete these climbs without rock climbing gear.
There are five main routes to reach point Lenana on Mount Kenya. It’s pretty common to combine these and to choose different trails for the ascent and descent. This helps you control the time of your trip and it also means you get to see different scenery and experience the diversity of landscape in the area. If you wish to take on one of the two more technical summits you will still first need to reach Point Lenana before carrying on.
The Sirimon route allows you to ascend more steadily and gives you a stunning approach to the final peak. For this track, you’ll need a minimum of two days but it’s better to take an extra day to really adjust to the altitude. This is one of the most popular routes to the summit. There are a few good things about this route, one is that it’s somewhat protected from the rainfall so the track stays drier. The other is that there are two camps along the way, Old Moses at 3300 m and Shipton’s camp 4200 m. This allows you to recharge on your way up and take the walk at your own pace.
This route is excellent if you want to really feel alone on the mountain. Plus, you get to hike through some tropical rainforest at the start of the hike. You’ll spend your night in wilderness huts. This is a challenging route as it’s less used so there are times when you’ll have to hack your way through wild vegetation. It can also get pretty muddy. The plus is that it’s a pretty special experience feeling alone as you hike up this majestic mountain. This trail takes a minimum of 3 nights and it’s ideal to combine it with a different trail for the descent.
This trail is the shortest and most direct route. As such it tends to be busy and popular. It’s great for the descent as it’s relatively quick and easy. The plant life on offer on the way is spectacular. However, it has sections such as the notorious Vertical Bog, which can get waterlogged. This trail can be done in a long day but it’s better across two days and one night.
The Chogoria route is an awesome option for your descent. It takes a bit longer so you’ll need more time. It’s well worth it though. The scenery is spectacular and you’ll be able to take in views of waterfalls and an amazing gorge. This descent takes around three days.
This is an older track and is really not used much these days. It’s not the best route as there is nowhere to stay overnight along the way nor are there any facilities.
If you want to go beyond Point Lenana, Nelion is the next highest peak. The route to this summit takes you along the south face of the mountain. The views along the way are breathtaking. This route requires around eight hours of climbing with around 18 pitches. It’s a heavily technical climb that requires previous experience. The descent is then done in 3 hours the next day. If you want, you can also extend your climb by crossing over to Batian, the highest peak via what is known as the “Gates of Mist”.
If you’ve not approached Batian already from Nelion you can reach it via a climb on the north face of the mountain. This is a more challenging climb and is for advanced climbers. It takes around 12 hours to ascend and then 5 to descend, which is done after a nights sleep on the mountain.
Even though Mt Kenya literally sits on the equator, 4,000 plus meters of altitude makes for some pretty cold conditions. Before making the final ascent, you’ll be sleeping in high altitude camps and it gets very cold there. It’s important that you go prepared for these weather conditions. So, that means bringing a suitable sleeping bag, thermal base layers, fleeces, and protective outer layers.
The other weather factor that must be considered is the rainy season. Kenya actually has two of them, the short rains (September to October) and long rains (March to June). The long rains can make walking the track difficult due to excess mud along the trail. You can still hike it during this time but it may not be as enjoyable.
The good news is that it is usually quite sunny on the climb, even during the rainy season the sun does come out again when the rain stops.
The cost depends a lot on how many days you want to do the climb. For a guided climb to Lenana Peak, you’re looking at a cost of around $2,000-$4,000 USD. This would include food, accommodation, both in Nairobi and on Mt Kenya and equipment.
So, now that you know more about what it takes to reach the summit, it’s time to make it happen. Check out our awesome options to climb with a certified guide. Then, you’ll be one step closer to taking on the mighty Mt. Kenya and enjoying exceptional views of the African savannah.
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