Mount Kenya routes
The nature and shape of Mount Kenya is such that there are different ways to get to its summits and then to climb them. Each route has its own different properties and characteristics. The following descriptions are a brief introduction to the main routes to help you choose which one might suit you best. In addition, there are lots of different permutations for traverses where you go up one and down another.
Mount Kenya is almost circular in shape and quite symmetrical in all directions. This is due to its origin as a volcano where most of the activity happened at one central vent. As a result, the main peaks are pretty much in the middle and there are a series of different ridges and valleys that all radiate out from the summits like the spokes of a wheel. Most of the routes follow one of these valleys most of the way up.
The main peaks themselves are all grouped together in the middle of the mountain. They are the remains of the volcanic magma that solidified in the main vent. All the different routes, therefore, converge on a roughly circular path (the Summit Circuit) that goes in a circle round the main peaks. If we ignore the routes up the technical climbing peaks, there are only really two main routes up to Point Lenana (the highest trekking peak) from the Summit Circuit. So whichever route you take to the summit circuit, it is almost certain that you will use one of these two routes from there up to Point Lenana.
A group of trekkers enjoying the views on the top of Point Lena.
The two main routes up to Point Lenana are from Harris Tarn to the North and from Austrian Hut in the South. When climbing from the North, most people will have spent the night at Shiptons Hut, though some may have camped at Hut Tarn on the summit circuit or Minto's Hut/Hall Tarns. When climbing from the South, most people will have slept at Mackinders Hut, though some might stay at Austrian Hut instead.
The main routes up to the summit circuit are shown below, along with some brief information.
|Name||Starting From||Distance||Start Altitude|
*Rarely used **Very rarely used
The Sirimon Route is accessed via the North West corner of the mountain and the Kenya Wildlife Service have the Sirimon National Park Gate at the road head where you can pay your fees, there is also accommodation available here. The route is usually considered one of the easier routes as it climbs relatively gradually with only a couple of steeper sections to reach the top camp. It is also currently the most popular route, though it is by no means busy. There are two Huts with dormitory rooms as well as toilets and camping sites; Old Moses (3400m) and Shiptons (4200m). The route follows a vehicle track for the first day, open moorland and the MacKinder Valley for the second day and then the North approach to Point Lenana on summit day.
The forest is relatively sparse on this route and the bamboo zone is not really evident. Most of the second day is spent in the alpine heath and moorland. Crossing the ridge into the MacKinder Valley is a good viewpoint if it is clear and the approach to the peaks along the classic U-shaped MacKinder Valley can be spectacular in clear conditions. The MacKinder Valley shows quite a lot of the giant Lobelia and Groundsel which are the classic Mt Kenya Flora. You are also quite likely to see Rock Hyrax at Shipton's cave or hut.
Enjoying the striking features along the Sirimon Route.
Naro Moru Route
The Naro Moru Route approaches from the West and KWS have a National Park Gate there and also their main headquarters for the mountain. There is accommodation available here also. This route used to be by far the most popular route as it is relatively short and has huts at Met Station (3050m) and MacKinders (4200m). However, it has been overtaken by the Sirimon route as the most popular. The huts are good at both locations and they also have camping space. The first day up to Met Station is on a vehicle track through the forest and bamboo. The second day goes through more bamboo and forest before emerging onto the alpine heath and following the Teleki Valley to MacKinders. You would usually then use the South approach to Point Lenana, passing another hut (Austrian Hut) at 4790m.
The forest is still dense on this route, as is the bamboo zone. You are quite likely to see bushbuck, Colobus monkey and Sykes Monkey and also evidence of Buffalo and Elephant. The hygenia forest is also in good condition with a lot of flowers and other plants. The giant heathers above the forest were heavily damaged by a fire in 2013 but the alpine moorland has a lot of Giant Lobelia as well as MacKinders Gladiolus higher up. The Teleki Valley has a lot of the classic Tree and Cabbage Groundsels as well as Lobelia Telekii and Deckenii. Some of the cabbage groundsels in particular absolutely massive. On the approach to or at MacKinders you are almost guaranteed to see Rock Hyrax.
A look at camp along the Naro Moru Route of Mount Kenya
The Chogoria route approaches from the East and there is a National Forest Reserve gate near the village of Chogoria and a National Park gate further up. The route is often described as the most attractive route on Mount Kenya. However, there is no hut for its high camp and it is quite a bit longer unless you use 4x4's to cut out the lower part. It is normal to drive 4x4's through the forest until close to or as far as the Meru Bandas (3000m). The next stage is following a 4x4 track a bit further up to the "Roadhead" where you can either branch left for a more direct route, or right to pass Mugi Hill and Lake Ellis. Both tracks re-converge near the head of a spectacular amphitheatre of cliffs know as The Temple, in the bottom of which is Lake Michaelson and at the West end, a large notch where the Nithi River enters. Just above the junction (4300m), is an old rickety hut that porters often sleep in, but clients have to camp. From here the path continues to rise, up to Simba Tarn, here it splits to head either North or South for Shipton's or Austrian huts respectively.
The physical landscape on this route is its biggest attraction. Whereas the other routes above generally follow a U-Shaped glacial valley for much of the way, the Chogoria traverses around the head of the spectacular 'Temple' with the Hall Tarns perched on the rock ledge above it and Lake Michaelson in the base of the amphitheatre. The additional features of Lake Ellis, the Giant's Billiard Table and the Nithi Falls further add to its interest. The Chogoria is very often used as a descent route after ascending one of the other routes.
Stunning alpine lake along the Chogoria route.
The Burguret route approaches from the West, not far from the Naro Moru route. It is not well used and does not have a distinct path which can be followed in the way that the others above can, neither does it have any huts or facilities. There is also no KWS Park Gate so prior arrangement has to be made with the rangers and payments made and receipts collected at another gate beforehand. The lower section through the bamboo forest is likely to need 'route-finding' by the guides unless another group happens to have been through recently. This means that the actual precise route taken will vary from time to time until out into the moorlands and the first normal camping place at Kampi Ya Machengeni (3000m). The next stage is easier in terms of route finding as the ground is more open, however, it is again a matter of making a route rather than following one up to the next usual camp at the rocky outcrops of Highland Castle, 3700m. From here the route continues up thinning flora along the ridge to Hut Tarn where it meets the summit circuit. From here ascent to Point Lenana can be made via either the North or South, though MacKinders Hut or Austrian Hut are the closest.
The Burguret route is not well used due to its added difficulties of route finding and lack of facilities. However, this lack of development and the chances that you will be the only party on the route add to the attraction for some people. In addition, it is along a route very similar to this that Felice Benuzzi, Giovanni Balletto and Vincenzo Barsotti made their remarkable climb of the mountain when they escaped from the British PoW Camp in Nanyuki in 1943. The story is recorded in Benuzzi's fantastic account- 'No Picnic on Mount Kenya'.
Trekking along the lesser-established routes of Mount Kenya evokes feelings of isolation and untouched wilderness.
The Timau Route approaches from the North from near the village of Timau. It used to be a popular route for ascending in a 4x4 as it follows a meandering route through the gentler northern slopes until they steepen at around 4200m. From here it drops abruptly into and across the Hinde Valley and the Nithi North river before climbing up to meet the Chogoria Route at Hall Tarns. Conditions vary on the route but vehicles generally do not ascend above about 3400m. It is still theoretically possible to climb via this route, though specific advice would need to be sought from the KWS Rangers regarding current conditions.
The Kamweti Route approaches from the south by first driving up from the village of Kutus to the Forest Castle Lodge in the forest zone. You can begin the trek at the lodge or drive a further 6km up to the Kamweti Forest Station at around 2600m. From here it is as much a case of making a track as following one for around 6km through the bamboo and giant heather before emerging out onto a ridge and along to the head of the Kiringa river where it flows out of a large bowl in the mountainside. The next 10km or so sees the heath thin out as the trail reaches a feature known as The Scoop, at the end of a long ridge leading to the peaks. From here the route options are to follow the ridge along to Austrian Hut via Tilman Peak or to traverse West round to MacKinders Hut via lake Hohnel.
Technical Summits - Batian & Nelion
Point Lenana is the third highest point on Mt Kenya after the technical peaks of Nelion and Batian. These peaks are part of the same large body of rock and are separated by a large notch called the gate of the Mists. There are two main 'standard' routes to the technical summits. As the peak is essentially on the equator, the sun is on the North faces during UK summer and South faces during the UK winter, though note that on the equator there isn't really a summer and winter, only really dry and wet seasons. You, therefore, climb the routes that are in the sun so that they are more free from ice and your hands and feet don't go numb from being in the shade hanging off ice cold rock! Therefore broadly speaking, you would go via the North face to Batian in the UK summer and via the south side during UK winter. The standard south route is the South East face of Nelion, this requires crossing Nelion (and the gate of the mists) to get to Batian.
A look at a trad pitch along Mount Kenya's Batian Route.
Technical Summits - Other Peaks
As well as Batian and Nelion, there are a number of other peaks in the summit area that are beyond the definition of a trekking summit but of a great range of levels of difficulty from low grade scrambles to very difficult rock and ice climbs.
Some of the lower grade climbs are as follows (grades are given indicatively only)
- Midget Peak SW Gulley; UIAA III+
- Point John SE Gulley; UIAA III
- Point Peter NE Gulley/Ridge; UIAA III
- Point Dutton NW Face; UIAA II
- Delamere Peak N Face; UIAA II
- Point Pigott NW Face; UIAA III
- Sendeyo S Face; UIAA III
- Tereri NW Ridge; UIAA II
- Krapf Rognon SE; Grade 3 Scramble
- Point Melhuish; ~Grade 3 Scramble
- Shipton's Peak; ~Grade 2/3 Scramble
- Tilman Peak; ~Grade 2/3 Scramble
- Grigg Peak; ~Grade 2/3 Scramble
- Sommerfelt Peak; ~Grade 2/3 Scramble
- Castle Hill; ~Grade 2/3 Scramble