Mount Kenya Nelion Peak
We offer guided ascents of the South East Face standard route to the summit of Nelion (5188m), the second highest of Mount Kenya and only around 10m lower than the highest peak of Batian. After the trek in and acclimitisation, the technical climb is completed in one long day as a series of 18 - 20 pitches.
The crux of the climb is UIAA IV- or V Diff, but most passages are II-III or Diff. The route is long, about 400 vertical metres, and doesn't follow a direct line; route finding can be tricky in low visibility. The descent is a series of rappels following a different line to the ascent and using bolted rings in the rock.
It is worth reading through the suggested kit list for a climb on Mount Kenya and there is a list of climbing equipment needed below. The best months to summit Nelion are generally December - March.
For strong climbers it is possible to ascend this route and cross to Batian on the same climb, though this may be prevented by snow or ice conditions on the traverse of the 'gate of the mists'.
The last part of the fly-over in the video below is from North to South up to the main peaks of Nelion and Batian and goes through 'The Gate of The Mists' between the summits (with Nelion being the left hand summit). The South East Face Standard Route climbs a face to the left side of the shot as it flies in.
Nelion Peak difficulty
How hard is Nelion Peak?
To trek to the third peak of Point Lenana on Mount Kenya is accessible to anyone with good basic fitness. Four days hike on a variety of terrain taking in the beautiful surroundings and unique flora and fauna is a lovely experience, and you can camp or stay in huts on the way.
The climb of Nelion takes between 6 and 9 hours to complete. Plus an additional 1-2 hours if the crossing of the gate of the mists to Batian is made. The route starts at around 4800m above the Lewis Glacier and topping out at 5188m. Most people start the summit day at Austrian Hut and trek to the base of the route but it is also possible to bivouac at the base of the route the day before in order to get as many hours in for the climb.
Objective hazards include rockfall, long runouts, exposure from the weather, time limitations due to the length of the day and route finding. The route is usually tackled in 15 to 20 pitches, varying from scramble to UIAA IV+ (UK VDiff to Severe, US 5.5) but with most being at around UIAA II (UK Diff, US 5.3).
The rock is Nepheline Syenite which is similar to granite and can be quite abrasive in places. The rock is quite 'blocky' with large weathered fissures running vertically and horizontally usually offering lots of obvious holds and good friction. However, there is some loose rock especially in the bottom of some of the couloirs and notches.
Most of the standard belay stations are made with slings/tat around rock spikes and boulders but there are a number of pitons in place along the way too. Protection between belays is almost exclusively traditional with nuts & cams placed and cleaned by the guide or lead climber. There is a standard descent route with bolted rappel rings which makes it a lot quicker and more direct than on the Batian North Face Standard route.
Whilst the technical grade of the individual pitches is not particularly high you need to bear in mind the other factors:
The first and most obvious is the length of the climb. An average rope-pair will take around 8 hours for the complete climb and rappel back down (a 1:2 guide-client team will inevitably take longer). Therefore you need to be comfortable climbing the required grade many hours into the climb and at altitude. It is important to climb and also handle belay change-overs and rappels efficiently because the day is so long.
Further considerations include the cold and weather. We have two potential summit days to allow for bad weather and a potential third day if the walk out to the gate is condensed into a single day (this would be hard though, it's a long way).
A final consideration is that although Austrian Hut is just below the start of the route, and there is a Ranger station below in the Teleki Valley, we are in a remote location without the rescue facilities that would be available in somewhere like the European Alps for example. Therefore the implications of even a minor problem or accident on the climb could be quite severe. The only option would be manage any situation yourselves and reach a safe point where the guide can quickly descend and bring help.
Also the route-finding is not always obvious and the standard descent route does not follow the ascent route. We always advise taking a local climbing guide who is familiar with the route; with visibility potentially dropping through the day, it would be easy to go off route or spend time looking for well known anchor points or rappel rings, and run out of time.
Due to the long nature of the climb it is important to get a prompt start in the morning, to keep an eye on the clock and be prepared to retreat especially if you are not prepared for a bivouac.
To trek to the third peak of Point Lenana on Mount Kenya is four days hike on a variety of terrain taking in the beautiful surroundings and unique flora and fauna is a lovely experience, and you can camp or stay in huts on the way. Initially on a dirt track through bamboo forest and then forest and onto heathland as you gain height. Plenty of wildlife to see including colobus monkey, elephant and buffalo (round the camps), bushbuck, Sykes monkey and rock and tree hyrax. The Teleki valley has wonderful giant lobelia and, tree and cabbage groundsels and gladioli.
Cross the Lewis Glacier from the Austrian Hut across ice and then some steep scree about 50 metres left of a couloir to the start of the route. Initially a rock climb up to a terrace and a left leaning couloir and then back right to ledges and a rib to the start of MacKinders chimney.
Down and right a short distance to an obvious platform and then up a rib to the right of a hole in order to reach the top of the chimney. From an easy platform climb one o-clock gully anout 40m up and to the right, then another 60m diagonally right to gain the South ridge and traverse across to Bailies bivvy which is at the base of a pinnacle of rock (MacKinders gendarm).
Down climb round the pinnacle and ascend the couloir to the bottom of a wall and here is the crux of the climb known as de Graaf's variation which is a left leaning corner up to a ledge followed by a ridge to an ampitheatre and finally the couloir up to the summit.
There is a small bivi hut on the summit and a book to sign your name, and the descent follows broadly the same route with around eight rappels on a double rope.
Brief history of the mountain
Mount Kenya is an extinct volcano created by tectonic disturbance of the Great Rift Valley. Over the course of the last couple of million years it has been eroded down by glaciers and the elements to around two thirds of its original height. It has a circular massif with valleys and ridges emanating from the central summit peaks. The peaks are the remains of the volcanic plug where the magma left in the vent solidified underground. This hard Nepheline Syenite and Phonolite rock is much harder than the lavas around and as such has eroded much more slowly, leaving the summit spires.
Mount Kenya is also the source of the name of the country of Kenya. In British colonial times it was only the mountain that was known as 'Kenya'. Local tribes all had their own names for the peak, some of them resembling the word 'Kenya' phonetically. Traditionally these peoples saw the mountain as the seat of their gods on earth, commonly known as Ngai. Mount Kenya is therefore bound up with the modern and traditional culture of the area.
Nelion was first climbed by Eric Shipton and Percy Harris on 6 January 1929 and they crossed the gate of the mists to summit Batian too.
The itinerary is based on starting the journey from Naro Moru town and finishing in Embu town but all our Mount Kenya climbs have lots of optional extras if needed, including private transport from Nairobi, accommodation arranged in Nairobi, Naro Moru or Embu, extra nights on the mountain, tailor made safaris or visits to our Moving Mountains projects on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.
The rainy seasons in Kenya are usually April, May and November. Therefore the normal times for a climb are January and February with December and March also being an option. If you would like to climb in the July-September season then please see our page for climbs of Batian via the North Face Standard Route.
The following is a suggested itinerary to give a great overview of the mountain in general and also to promote good acclimitisation ahead of the climb.
|1||Transfer from Naro Moru town to the Sirimon National Park Gate and trek to Old Moses Camp|
|2||Trek from Old Moses Camp to Shipton's Camp|
|3||Acclimatisation hikes / R&R and second night at Shipton's Camp|
|4||Trek Shipton's - Point Lenana - Austrian Hut|
|5||Climb Day: Austrian Hut - Nelion Peak - Austrian Hut|
|7||Trek from Austrian Hut to Lake Ellis and on to Nithi Falls|
|8||Trek from Nithi Falls to Meru Bandas for 4x4 transfer to Chogoria town and transfer to Embu|
You are welcome to adjust the itinerary and add a safari, please do discuss options. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is very close to Naro Moru (or a reasonably short drive from Embu) and is a great location for a safari.
When to climb
Rain and snow can be experienced any time of the year on Mount Kenya, with maximum rainfall over the forest and on the south east of the mountain between March and May and slightly less so from October to December. The driest time is late December to February but still expect snow potentially up high, although long stable days are typically excellent conditions for the climb.
Generally the morning time is best for climbing with convection rainfall occurring mid afternoon. The south facing side of the mountain gets the most sunshine from December to March so this is an excellent time to climb this route with the rock in condition and less likelihood of ice, but do still expect patches in the gullies. Conversely June to October is best for the north facing rock climb on Batian and south facing ice climbing.
Temperatures vary substantially, obviously getting colder with altitude and depending on time of day. Expect 5 to 15°C during the day, with night time temperatures well below freezing and frost around the 3000 metre mark.
Clothing and kit
Trekking clothes to cover the warm humid forests up to the glaciated peaks, good hiking boots and a sleeping bag. We provide foam mattresses but feel free to bring your own mat for extra insulation. Don't forget headtorch and spare batteries, especially since the climb often begins in the dark and may end in the dark. Water bottle and flask and snacks for the days. Take plenty of warm clothes for the summit days, and several pairs of gloves as the rock can be icy and cold early on.
For the climb bring your own harness, helmet, crampons, axe and poles. The route is not often icy but the hike across the glacier will require a light walking axe just in case. Crampons can be mini spikes.
Do bring your own normal rock climbing gear; a medium rack of cams, hexes and nuts along with slings, prussiks, screwgate karabiners and a descending device. You will need to make your own personal anchor system for security at belay and rappelling points (note that daisy chains should be clipped end to end for optimal use, and adjustable daisy chains are not recommended as primary anchor attachment).
Mount Kenya Nelion Peak cost £2295.00
Price is per person for group of two, the single person supplement is currently £400.00. Full details of any extras that we can provide can be found under 'Mount Kenya optional extra costs'.
- Transport from Naro Moru town to Sirimon Gate and from Chogoria Gate to Embu
- Transfer of your travel clothes and bags to Embu town
- Park fees
- Camping fees for 4 nights) and Austrian hut fees for 3 nights)
- All meals on the mountain
- Park rescue fees (Ranger assistance in the event of an accident)
- Park certified trek guide for the trek
- Climbing guide for the summit days only* (maximum ratio 1:2)
- Porters and cook
- Group equipment - tents, cooking kit
- Climbing ropes and protection - the guide will have a rack.
* The climbing guide will not be with you on the trek in, he normally is either already at the Austrian Hut or at another camp and meets you at Austrian Hut in time for the summit day. The trekking guide normally keeps in touch with the climbing guide to agree when to meet up, depending on weather.
- International airfare to Nairobi Airport
- Transfer to Naro Moru at the start of the trip*
- Kenyan Visa
- Vaccinations and malaria tablets
- Personal expenses
- Travel insurance **
- Personal Climbing Gear ***
- Upgrade to Mountain Hut accommodation
* The itinerary starts at Naro Moru but we can provide transfers from Nairobi and accommodation in Nairobi and in Naro Moru if you wish. Similarly the itinerary ends in Embu and we can provide transfers back to Nairobi or any additions such as safaris. There are some options available when you book, or contact us for a bespoke package.
**Please note that you will need insurance in place to cover trekking to 4985m and technical climbing to 5199m (if planning an attempted summit on Batian after the Nelion summit) including search, rescue and helicopter evacuation. Not many companies will offer coverage for technical climbing so you may have to go to more specialist providers such as the BMC or the Austrian Alpine Club.
*** Make sure you bring your own harness, helmet, several slings, descender device, prussiks, screwgate karabiners and feel free to bring your own selection of cams and nuts. You will need to make your own personal anchor system for security at belay points and rappelling points (note that daisy chains should be clipped end to end and adjustable daisy chains are not recommended as primary anchor attachment).
Choose a scheduled date or contact us to set up private dates or a bespoke itinerary. The minimum deposit is £100.00 and the balance is due six weeks before travel.
- Duration 8 days
- Numbers 2
- Altitude 5188
- Grade VDiff, Severe