Move over, Mount Kilimanjaro – there’s a new adventure in town for the world’s expert climbers. OK, not that new. Mount Kenya, the country’s highest peak and African’s second-highest mountain, is an ancient, extinct volcano. It takes anywhere from three to seven days to summit the monstrous peak, which can be seen on the northern road from Nairobi on a clear day. Twelve glaciers and forested slopes define the mountain’s impressive East Africa landscape. The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve are part of the area as well, connected via a wildlife corridor that allows elephants to pass uninhibited between Mount Kenya and the larger Somali/Maasai ecosystem.
Here’s what you need to know if summiting Mount Kenya is on your bucket list.
Where Is Mount Kenya?
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed mountain is in central Kenya immediately south of the Equator. It is about 200 miles north of Kilimanjaro. The base of the mountain is at approximately 5,250 feet, while the summit boasts several pyramidal peaks: Batian at 17,057 feet, Nelion, at 17,022 feet and Point Lenana, at 16,355 feet. Lewis and Tyndall are the largest glaciers on the mountain and all drainage eventually flows into the Tana River and Ewaso Ng’iro River.
Mount Kenya National Park includes the lower sections of the mountain and its environs, encompassing 277 square miles. Within this area, there are elephants, buffalo, black rhinos and leopard as well as endangered and rare species such as the sunni buck and albino zebra. The Kikuyu and related Embu and Meru peoples have cultivated and the fertile
There are several possible routes up Mount Kenya, including the popular Chogoria route, which passes through green meadows, past alpine lakes and across lunar-like landscapes. Hikers without specialized climbing gear can go as far as Lenana, more than 16,000 feet above sea level.
The most common routes up Mount Kenya include:
Chogoria Route: From Mount Kenya Bandas, you’ll trek to Minto’s campsite with incredible views of the Gorges Valley. On day three, you’ll summit Point Lenana, then descend back to Shipton’s Camp. Overnight at Judmiere Camp. On day four, you’ll return to Nairobi.
Sirimon Route: This is the easiest ascent of Mount Kenya, taking five days and four nights. You’ll spend your first night at Old Moses, then two nights at Shiptons Camps before summitting on day four. There are no difficult, exposed summit ridges to grapple with.
Naro Moru Route: This five-day/four-night climb is more scenic (less fire damage from the Mt Kenya fires of 2012), but also more challenging than the Sirimon Route. Spend the first night at Met Station, then climb to Mackinders Camp for two nights before summiting. The second day includes passage of the “Vertical Bog,” which isn’t vertical at all and is only a bog during the rainy season. As you near Met Station, look for colobus monkeys, buffalo, elephants and antelope. The final summit is longer on this route than Sirimon. You’ll reach a scree slope and climb toward the Austria hut – the final part is along via ferrata (iron ropes and cables). The Austria Hut is the highest hut on Mount Kenya (except for the Howell Hut on Nelion). It’s a typical base for ascending Point Lenana, as well as Point Thompson, Point Melhuish and Point John.
Traverse (ascend Naro Moru/descend Chogoria): This is an interesting blend of challenging and scenic routes. In five days and four nights, you’ll climb to Met Station, then Mackinders Camp, then summit on day four before coming back down on the Chogoria route. Spend your fourth night at Lake Ellis or Nithi Falls before returning to Meru Bandas.
Summit Circuit: Similar to the Naro Moru/Chogoria traverse, this six-day/five-night climb spends more time in the summit circuit and its tarns, cols, ridges and glaciers. Many climbers enjoy searching for the remains of “Icy Mike,” an elephant that once tried to climb Mount Kenya. The remains are a day hike from Shiptons Camps, above 14,000 feet!
Batian and Nelion (technical): These technical climbs up the two highest peaks of Mount Kenya are for the most advanced mountain climbers. The North Face route is usually tackled during the northern hemisphere’s summer when there is less snow and ice. If you have to climb in the January or February timeframe, consider Nelion via the South East Face. These technical climbs include hiking to Point Lenana, then following a lot of the summit circuit (described above).
When Is the Best Time to Climb Mount Kenya?
One can climb Mount Kenya at any time of year, but for optimal weather, aim for January to March or June to October. This avoids the rainy season and provides the best views.
How Fit Do You Have to Be to Climb Mount Kenya?
Although you should certainly be in reasonable shape and used to regular exercise, the most important aspect of training for a Mount Kenya trek is acclimatization. A few tips if you plan to train:
Improve your cardio fitness. Power walk, hike, run, trek with a pack, cycle or swim. Aim for one hour of cardiovascular exercise three to four times a week.
Work on your endurance. Introduce longer, steady-state cardiovascular exercise into your routine. If you’re able to hike comfortable for several hours, you’ll be fine on Mount Kenya.
Plan to arrive a few days before starting your climb of Mount Kenya. This will give you ample time to acclimatize. Even before you leave home for your trip, you can include higher-altitude walks and hikes in the hills and mountains where you live.
Get proper gear. Nothing thwarts a hike for a seasoned, fit hiker quicker than using brand-new equipment on day one. Break in your backpack and your boots well before arriving in Kenya.
Listen to your body. Only you can know when something feels off. If you have any question about your abilities to do the hike in the first place, talk to your doctor. During the hike, pay attention to how you’re feeling, if you’re hydrated, how the altitude feels, etc.