Mount Kenya Climbing Details
Although a distinctly separate massif from the Aberdares, Mount Kenya climbing also forms part of the central highlands. Africa’s second highest mountain at 5199 metres, its gleaming and eroded snow-covered peaks can be seen for miles until the late-morning clouds obscure the view. Its lower slopes, like those of the Aberdares, are intensively cultivated by the Kikuyu and the closely related Embu and Meru peoples, along with the descendants of the White settlers who grow mainly wheat on the grassy and largely treeless plains on the northern side. So vast is this mountain that it’s not hard to understand why the Kikuyu deified it, why their houses are built with the doors facing the peak and why it was probably never scaled until the arrival of European explorers. These days it’s every traveller’s dream to get to the top and take home with them a memory which money cannot buy.
The mountain is circled by an excellent tarmac road along which are the area’s main towns — Naro Moru, Nanyuki, Meru and Embu, along with Isiolo at the extreme north-eastern end. We deal first with the towns along this road and then with Mt Kenya itself since the towns are the jumping off points for climbing the mountain.
Mount Kenya Climbing Routes
The normal weather pattern is for clear mornings with the mist closing in from 10 am, though this sometimes clears again in the early evening. This means that if you want to make the most of the trek you should set off early every morning and, for the final assault on Point Lenana (the highest point that can be reached by trekkers), you need to make an early start if you want to see the sunrise from the top.
Naro Moru Route
This is the most straight forward and popular of the routes. It’s also the least scenic, although it’s still a spectacular and very enjoyable trail. You should allow a minimum of four days for the trek up and down this route, Your starting point here is the village of Naro Moru on the Nairobi to Nanyuki road where the turn-off for the mountain is well signposted. The first part of the route takes you along a relatively good gravel road through farmlands for some 12 km to the start of the forest where there’s a wooden bridge across a small river. A further five km brings you to the park entry gate at 2400 metres. Having paid your fees, you continue on another eight km to the road head and Met Station Hut (3000 metres) where you stay for the night.
On the second day, you set off up the Teleki Valley along a well-marked path past the police signals station and up to the edge of the forest at around 3200 metres. From here you scale the so-called Vertical Bog and up onto a ridge from where you can see Mackinder’s Camp. The route divides into two here and you have the choice of taking the lower path which crosses the Naro Moru stream and continues gently up to Mackinder’s Camp (4160 metres). This part of the trek should take you around 4 and a half hours. Here you can stay the night (bunkhouse or camping). The stone cabins at Mackinder’s are quite comfortable with large dorms. The bunk beds have mattresses, there are toilets, and drinking water is available.
On the third day, you can either rest at Mackinder’s Camp (to help acclimatise) or aim for Point Lenana. From Mackinder’s to Point Lenana takes about four to five hours, so it’s usual to leave around 3 am (you’ll need a torch or flashlight) to reach the summit of Lenana in time for sunrise. From the bunkhouse, continue up the valley past the ranger station to a fork in the path. Keep right, and go across a swampy area, followed by a moraine and then up a very long scree slope — this is a long, hard slog. You reach Austrian Hut about three to four hours from Mackinder’s. This is about one hour below the summit of Lenana, so it’s a good place to rest before the final push for the summit. This section of the trek, from Austrian Hut up to Point Lenana, takes you up a steep ridge and then across the edge of a snow-covered glacier. In good weather, the going is fairly straightforward, but in bad weather, you should not attempt to reach the summit unless you are experienced in trekking in mountain conditions or have a guide.
To avoid the long slog in the dark, it is also possible to walk from Mackinder’s to the Austrian Hut on the third day, stay there, then go for the summit of Lenana on the morning of the fourth day. However, conditions at Austrian Hut are very basic, so you need to be well equipped. You can return to Austrian Hut then walk north and north-west around the base of the main peaks to reach the top of either the Sirimon or Chogoria routes, and go down one of those routes. This is on the Summit Circuit path (described briefly in the Sirimon Route section), which is reckoned to be one of the most exciting trekking routes in East Africa. Completely circling the mountain, you cross several major cols and get great views of the peaks and glaciers from all angles. The Summit Circuit path can also be demanding and potentially dangerous. Many people have got lost on this trail and you should not attempt it unless you have plenty of time, proper equipment, and a map and compass that you know how to use.
This is the least used of the three main routes but the driest. It is also the longest approach to Point Lenana and involves some serious sections of trekking. If you are inexperienced in high mountain conditions, this route should not be attempted without a local guide. You should allow a minimum of four days to undertake this trek. On the first day, you walk from the main road to the park entrance gate and on from there to the road head at 3150 metres (a further nine km). The going is straight to this point. At the road head, there’s a good campsite and a bunkhouse called Old Moses Camp.
On the second day, you leave Old Moses Camp, aiming uphill on a gradually deteriorating track. After about one hour you reach a fork — the left branch goes to the Liki North Hut, although this route is not used much. You will take the right branch, which leads to a path over two ridges into the Mackinder Valley. Look out for red and white marker posts. The path leads up the east side of the valley, eventually crossing the Liki Stream and passing Shipton’s Caves (in an obvious cliff on the left side of the path) before reaching Shipton’s Camp bunkhouse and campsite. From the road head at Old Moses Camp to Shipton’s Camp takes about seven hours. Shipton’s Camp is a good place to spend two nights and has a rest day to help acclimatise. However, if you’re feeling OK, one night here is sufficient.
Both of the ways around the Summit Circle path, from Shipton’s Camp to Point Lenana, are among the most spectacular trails on the mountain (indeed, in all of East Africa), but either route is strenuous and can be hard to follow — even in good weather. When visibility is poor the trails can be very difficult to follow, if you can’t use a map or compass, or are inexperienced in mountain conditions, don’t go this way without a local guide. At this point, you have a view of Mt Kilimanjaro from the Lenana peak. Return Routes From Point Lenana you can retrace your route down to Shipton’s and go back down the Sirimon route, or return via the Naro Moru or Chogoria routes.
This route, from the eastern side of the mountain, is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the access routes to the summit and certainly the easiest as far as gradients go. This is a good route if you’ve got some trekking experience. From Minto’s Hut, there are breathtaking views of the head of the Gorges Valley and the glaciers beyond. To get started on this route, you will drive from Nairobi direct to Chogoria village. Unless you get to Chogoria village early in the day, you will probably have to spend the night in Chogoria before setting off up the mountain, as the first day’s hike is a long slog. It’s about 30 km from the village to the park entry gate up to the forest track with nowhere to stay en route. The first day is spent walking up to the park entry gate at 2990 metres through the superb rainforest and on into the bamboo zone. At the road head itself (3200 metres), six km from the park entry gate, there’s also an excellent Mount Kenya Bandas.
The second day is spent walking from Mount Kenya Bandas to Minto’s Hut with spectacular views all the way. The route is well defined and first crosses a stream then climbs to a ridge which it follows all the way to Minto’s Hut. You will spot different animals like elephant and buffalo as well as the hyena. From the road head to Minto’s Hut should take you about six and a half to 8 hours. You can stay at Minto’s Hut for the night.
On the third day, you continue to the head of the Gorges Valley, a steep climb across scree slopes, aiming south-west to reach Square Tarn. The last section of this leg of the route is very steep. From the tarn the route becomes the Summit Circuit path, continuing south through Tooth Col (to the east of Point Lenana), after which it descends briefly and then goes up across a scree slope to the right to reach Austrian Hut. The route is marked with cairns in some places but it is still easy to get lost, especially in mist or snow. It is essential to realise that there is another huge valley (called Hobley Valley) in between the Gorges and Teleki valleys. The route goes around the head of the Hobley, not down into it. From Austrian to Point Lenana (allow another hour) the same day or stay there for the night and make the ascent the following morning.
Mt Kenya’s highest peaks, Batian and Nelion, can only be reached by mountaineers with technical skills. However, Point Lenana, the third-highest peak, can be reached by trekkers and this is the usual goal for most people. As you might imagine, there are superb views over the surrounding country from Point Lenana and other high points around the main peaks, though the summit is often clothed in mist from late morning until late afternoon.