INTRODUCTION AND TREKKING GUIDE
Mt Kenya Climbing Guide
Mount Kenya (5199m) is the second highest mountain in Africa. Although it lies only a few km from the Equator, it is heavily glaciated. The summit area consists of several smaller peaks surrounding the 2 main peaks of Nelion (5188m) and Batian (5199m). The majority of these are composed of syenite, a superb rough rock for climbing. The whole upland area is a national park and the walk in through forest and moorland is for many visitors the most pleasant part of a trip. Climbers are strongly recommended to adopt a leisurely pace. (The opposite approach was adopted in 1964 by Barry Cliff and Rusty Baillie who drove, ran and climbed from Batian to Kibo in a record 21h40.) Acclimatisation problems on Mt Kenya are underestimated by many parties; they rush up to the peaks in one day and find themselves too sick to climb. Note comments on Diamox in the Introduction. There have been many cases of pulmonary oedema, mainly as a result of high altitudes being reached too fast. In the event of pulmonary oedema rapid descent is imperative.
To ascend the highest summits requires technical rock and snow climbing of at least grade IV (Severe) standard, and many parties bivouac on the mountain. Batian was first climbed by H J Mackinder with C Ollier, J Brocherel, 13 September 1899, and not again until 1929. The third highest peak, Pt Lenana (4985m), can be reached by walkers and is ascended by hundreds of people each year.
The flora and fauna of the park is very diverse. The forest zone is inhabited by buffalo and elephant and care should be taken when these are encountered. Hyrax, related to the elephant but looking more like an overgrown rat minus the long tail, and various rodents inhabit the moorland. These scavengers will dig up litter or rummage through tents and sacks in search of food. For this reason do not leave food lying around. Carry all litter off the mountain and do not bury it.
The weather has been discussed in the Introduction. Even in the best season (end December to mid March) there are periods of 2 or 3 days when the weather might be bad, and snowfall could prevent rock climbing. After several wet days access roads in the park may be closed to avoid damage to them, and the moorland paths can become very boggy - particularly on the Naro Moru and Sirimon routes. The usual walking access routes are: (i) The Naro Moru, the normal tourist and fastest way up to the southern peak area. A good vehicle track leads to 3050m, and from here the peak area can be reached in about 7h. (ii) The Sirimon and (iii) The Chogoria; these are longer, scenically more rewarding, less used and less developed. The Chogoria is especially beautiful. (iv) Other routes include the Kamweti from the south and the Timau from the north. Several other approaches provide magnificent wilderness walks through unspoilt forest and moorland mainly on the northwest side of the mountain.
Another fine expedition is the Round the Peaks walk. It provides a circular tour linking the main access routes. Walking on the main routes, though physically demanding, is generally straightforward and paths are well-marked. Access routes to climbs often skirt near the edges of glaciers where their recession has left precariously balanced and potentially dangerous boulders. The Krapf glacier below the east face of Nelion is particularly bad in this respect.
Unmanned huts on the mountain are generally small and dirty. Camping is recommended, though this does mean heavier sacks. The Chogoria Route is soon to be designated a campers route only.
Facilities available on the 3 main access routes and approximate costs per man night are as follows. Naro Moru route, at the 3050m roadhead, clean and pleasant bandas ($6 per night) or it is possible to camp. In the Teleki Valley, Mackinder's Camp provides a simple bunkhouse. Camping here is possible (extra to park charges). A small hut located in the Teleki Valley is for the exclusive use of MCK members (free). On the Sirimon route, good campsites at the road-head, by the Liki North Hut (small and often dirty) and near Shipton's Caves. Bantu Lodge run two bunkhouses; at roadhead and above Shipton's Caves. The lodge must be contacted if these are to be used. On the Chogoria route there are very comfortable self-catering bandas (Meru Mt Kenya Lodge) beside the park gate ($12). A short walk from the gate, climbers may prefer to use the Urumandi Hut. This hut and the bandas are situated in the picturesque area called Parklands which abounds in game and offers many short walks hereabouts. Several good campsites near the roadhead, and beside Minto's Hut - itself small and rather dirty.
Bookings for any of these (other than MCK hut in the Teleki) should be done through one of the following: Naro Moru River Lodge, PO Box 18, Naro Moru, tel. Naro Moru 23. Alliance Hotels, College House, P0 Box 49839, Nairobi, tel.337501. Let's Go Travel, PO Box 60342, Nairobi, tel.29539, 29540, or 340331. Meru Mt Kenya Lodge is booked exclusively through Let's Go Travel. Roadhead facilities on the Naro Moru route together with Mackinder's Camp are booked through Alliance Hotels or Naro Moru River Lodge. Halfway from Naro Moru to the park gate, on left side of the road, is a Youth Hostel; clean and pleasant.
Naro Moru River Lodge provides bandas in Naro Moru, equipment hire, transport to and from the 3050m roadhead ($80 per vehicle journey, one way) and will organise guides and porters ($10 per load carried to the Teleki Valley). Mountain Rock Hotel (formerly Bantu Lodge), PO Box 333, tel. 017662625, just north of Naro Moru, offers similar facilities, with good porters and guides, at a lower price. 4WD vehicles at Chogoria cost $55 for one trip to the park gate, $100 to roadhead.
Porter and guide services on the mountain have not been too reliable and efforts are being made to smarten-up their organisation. The Naro Moru route porters are based 7km from the lodge on road to gate (PO Box 128, Naro Moru, tel.017662015). For guides and porters serving the Chogoria route contact Kenya Mountain Scenes Club, PO Box 461, Chogoria, tel. 01622204.
Park fees have to be paid at the park gates as follows: Entrance $15 per day and camping fee $8 per night. All park gates have radio contact with each other and the Park Rescue/Ranger post in Teleki Valley. Camping is possible at all park gates and water is available. Food for the mountain should be brought from Nairobi. Water is plentiful and with few exceptions is clean. Garage facilities will be found at Naro Moru, Nanyuki (for Sirimon route) and Chuka near Chogoria village.
When making arrangements for a visit to the mountain beware of bogus operators. Make sure you only deal with reputable companies. This problem is mainly encountered in Nairobi.
Naro Moru Route: Tarmac roads in 170km from Nairobi. The park gate at 2400m is 17km from Naro Moru along a good dirt road. Several buses and matatu services Nairobi-Naro Moru. From here matatus only go part way to the gate; a ride on passing vehicles can be tried. From the gate it is occasionally possible to get a lift to the 3050m roadhead. See also the Naro Moru River Lodge vehicle service mentioned above.
Sirimon Route: Tarmac roads to Nanyuki, 190km from Nairobi. Continue 15km north on tarmac and at a signpost turn right onto a dirt road up to the Sirimon Gate (2700m) in 10km. Buses and matatus ply tarmac road; from the turning to the Sirimon Gate, failing a lift, one must walk.
Chogoria Route: Tarmac roads to Chogoria, 180km from Nairobi, then a dirt road for 9km to the forestry gate, and in a further 22km the park gate and Meru Mt Kenya Lodge bandas are reached at 2900m. Good bus and matatu services to Chogoria. From here a lot of luck would be needed to get a lift to the park gate. It is possible to book a 4WD vehicle to take you from the Chief's Camp to the gate; the booking should be made through The Manager, Meru Mt Kenya Lodge, PO Box 365, Chogoria; it is also possible to obtain a vehicle at short notice through the porters and guides offices by Chogoria Hospital (for prices, see above).
Other Routes: Bantu Lodge is the best base. The lodge lies one km off the main tarmac road and 5km north of Naro Moru town. It is important to check on the status of these routes beforehand.
Access to Mount Kenya
Trails to Mount Kenya
Peak Area Map
Approaching Chogoria roadhead
Chogoria Mount Kenya Bandas
Lake Alice from Ithanguni
Naro Moru Route. To south side of Mt Kenya, well marked throughout. The Vertical Bog is often the rather unpleasant, muddy crux of the walk. From the park gate (2400m) the track rises through splendid forest for 9km to the Meteorological Station (3050m) and roadhead for private cars (2h30-3h on foot). Radio contact with gate, possible to store equipment with a caretaker. Beyond barrier continue up track to top of forest. Now ascend the Vertical Bog (marker posts) till a drier ridge leads to a vantage point commanding the Teleki Valley (4000m). No water on this section (4h).
Now ways diverge. Hut Tarn (4490m) can be reached by following a steep trail diagonally up and north from the Ranger Post. The hut is small with good campsites nearby (2h). For Top Hut (4790m) take the main path from the Ranger Post, traverse northwest side of the valley and cross the Naro Moru stream to the right side. The trail goes up long screes and zigzags to finish on a ridge before reaching the hut; spacious but bleak interior (3h).
Again, from Ranger Post, instead of crossing the stream, a gently rising path just left of a low, bouldery moraine ridge, follows left side of the valley to the highest flat, grassy area - American Camp (4320m, 1h). Above this screes rise to a terminal moraine below the snout of the Tyndall Glacier (possible bleak campsite at Tyndall Tarn). Scree and easy rocks on the right lead to a flat bouldery area at 4600m between the Darwin Glacier and Pt John; so reach base of this glacier (1h from American Camp). Just south of tiny ponds a good shelter can be found under a boulder. From here the foot of the Normal Route on Mt Kenya or Top Hut could be reached by scrambling over the col (4649m) between Midget Peak and Pt John, traversing below the sheer walls of Pt John, then crossing scree on northwest side of the Lewis Glacier (cairned) - either crossing glacier to Hut, or rising to foot of the Normal Route.
Sirimon Route. To north side of Mt Kenya. Here is some of the best forest walking in the park; a long hike crossing a high ridge while the Mackinder Valley can be boggy in wet periods. From the park gate a track winds up to roadhead at 3350m in the moorland; bunkhouse, campsite and water. Saloon cars can get most of the way, and 4WD vehicles all the way, unless the track is very wet (4h). Then follow the gradually deteriorating track till a horizontal traverse right is made; cross a small stream, gain a ridge top and descend into the Liki North Valley. One km up the valley, on the west side, is the Liki North Hut (3940m), a small, often dirty building with pleasant campsites nearby (3h30). Shortly before the hut a path rises diagonally west over the hillside to cross a ridge at 4180m, then drops southwest into the Mackinder Valley. After one km it crosses the stream and passes right of a band of rocks. Near the left end of these is located a poor shelter, Shipton's Cave (4050m), with good campsites before and after it. Shortly beyond the cave is a bunkhouse (2h45).
The route divides. One way goes south, rising high above the valley floor to reach the Kami Huts and their Tarn (4439m); campsites nearby (1h45). By following the main stream southeast, Simba Col (4620m) is attained. From here it is possible to reach Top Hut by a long traverse round the east and south faces of Lenana, or to descend to Minto's Hut and the Chogoria Route. Going south from the bunkhouse a cairned trail leads up a gully to a flat area, then up steep screes to the base of the north ridge of Lenana.
Chogoria Route. To east side of Mt Kenya. The most spectacular approach to the main peaks, with beautiful views into the Gorges Valley. From the forest gate at 1700m follow good track for 22km in the forest to the park gate at 2900m (9h). Halfway up the track pass a big clearing on the right which provides a possible campsite; water available one km north in a valley in the forest; difficult access.
Now by a vehicle track towards the Kinithi River and after a few hundred m take a turn off left onto a grassy trail. Go down and cross the stream. Then the Urumandi Hut (3063m) is reached in about 30min (1h). Access to water on south side of the stream and some 30m east of the natural bridge. Cross the natural bridge below the hut and follow a path upstream to reach the track-head and a small campsite by the Nithi North stream at 3300m. Fine waterfall 100m below campsite (1h). It is possible to walk directly to the roadhead by taking the main vehicle path (R fork) to the Kinithi River. Cross this and follow the main trail to reach the roadhead in 2h from the park gate.
Cross the stream and gain a ridge. Follow the well-marked path to Minto's Hut (4270m), beside Hall Tarn (campsite) in a magnificent situation. No water on this section (5h). The path continues up the valley and finally climbs steeply on scree to Simba Tarn, just below Simba Col (1h30). This is a good start point for the north ridge of Lenana.
Various ways to continue. From Simba Col a traverse west leads in just over lh to Kami Hut. Initially keep high, then drop down a moraine ridge and lastly take a well-cairned traverse over scree and boulders to hut. From Simba Tarn a traverse south over a col, then E, leads in 2h to Top Hut. By going straight down northwest from Simba Col the Sirimon route is reached.
Other approaches. Several unspoiled routes exist. As they are ill-defined it is important to obtain more information and possibly a guide and porters.
Peaks from Mackinders Valley
View from Hall Tarns
View across Parklands to peaks
ROUND THE PEAKS WALK AND POINT LENANA (4985m)
A well-cairned tour giving remarkable views of the peaks.
Hut Tarn to Kami Hut. From the hut go northwest, past the second tarn (Nanyuki). Drop slightly, then traverse between 2 cliff bands and ascend scree to a col just right of the Western Terminal. Descend the other side to Oblong and Hausburg tarns, an unspoilt area suitable for camping. Continue east over boulders then scree to Hausburg Col (4591m). Kami Hut lies a short way below this col; trend right (3h).
Kami Hut to Top Hut. Losing no height, traverse southeast across steep scree, then among rocky bluffs, to reach Simba Col (4620m). Descend to Simba Tarn, then go south along a gently rising path, past Square Tarn to a col in jagged ridge. Traverse west till the ridge just below Top Hut is reached (3h30).
Variations: (a) From Kami Hut, before the rocky bluffs, move higher (southeast) and reach Harris Tarn (4725m). From here scramble up the north ridge of Lenana, turning a gendarme right just below the summit. A very sporting route (grade I+); rope useful, ice axe and possibly crampons necessary from mid December to end March when ridge is snow covered. Descend the easy southwest ridge on rock and snow to Top Hut (in ascent, 1h). First ascent: C B Hausburg with guides C Ollier, J Brocherel, August 1899.
From Top Hut follow down the tourist path towards the Teleki Valley. Coming down, Lewis Tarn can be seen below and right at the snout of the Lewis Glacier. A stream issues from this and shortly plunges over a rock band; below, it flows across a flat area before dropping down a steep slope. Leave the path and aim for the flat area. Cross it then follow a cairned route northwest, traversing below Midget Peak to reach the crest of terminal moraine below the Tyndall Glacier. A gently rising traverse west with some scrambling leads to Hut Tarn (4490m) (2h15). Going the other way round the walk to Top Hut would be 1h longer.
Peaks from East
Peaks from Teleki Valley
West Face of Batian from Hut Tarn