The African continent offers a wide array of scenic landscapes and a vast wilderness area – perfect for avid hikers and trekkers. Hiking in Africa is one of the unique ways to experience its flora and fauna as well as witness the natural beauty of its mountains. While the continent is huge and has gorgeous canyons, volcanoes, gorges, and sea-side mountains ranges all over, there is one that should be on top of your list.
Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro, is the most famous attraction of Kenya. This mountain is located in equatorial Africa and stands at a spectacular height of 17,057 feet or 5,199 meters. This ancient dormant volcano was created near 3 million years ago after the outset of the Great Rift Valley. As the mountain was covered with ice for thousands of years, it resulted in eroded slopes and several valleys.
Often overlooked by the Kilimanjaro, trekkers and hikers alike are finally paying attention to the beautiful Mount Kenya and what all it has to offer. This glacial peak is home to dense bamboo and rainforest found on its lower slopes that are populated by species of buffalos, monkeys, and leopards. Mount Kenya also has various vegetation bands seen from the base of the peak, and the rare Afro-Alpine moorland and plant life at higher elevations.
Witnessing thriving wildlife, mountain lakes, forested slopes, dramatic panoramic views, and a more off-beaten path than other ranges, Mount Kenya is an important climb in its own right. Mount Kenya also holds a deep cultural value for the Kenyan tribes who believe that the mountain is a throne of the Gods.
Opposed to its natural beauty, Mount Kenya is more challenging to hike, known for being extremely steep and having high altitudes. For a successful and rewarding hiking experience, choosing the right path is essential. Mount Kenya has different peaks that are best suited for casual hikers as well as professionals.
Here is everything you need to know about hiking in Mount Kenya
How to get to Mount Kenya?
Mount Kenya is located approximately 180 kilometers away from Nairobi. Depending on the route, you can either hire a private car or ride a train or matatus (privately owned minibuses) to Nanyuki or Naro Moro. Those opting for air travel can fly into Jomo Kenyatta (JMO), Nairobi’s international airport. From the airport, the starting point for the hike becomes accessible via private transfer or a bus.
What are the three main summits of Mount Kenya?
The three main peaks of Mount Kenya range from casual hikes to intermediate level trekking and even highly technical climb:
- Batian – It is the highest peak of Mount Kenya, towering at 5,199 meters or 17,057 feet in elevation. Batian is the main summit, best suited for advanced rock climbers and mountaineering enthusiasts. The summit climb usually takes 11 to 13 hours to complete. It is very important to have good acclimatization, fitness, and the correct technical gear to hike Batian.
- Nelion – Batian’s slightly smaller twin peak, Nelion stands at 5,188 meters or 17,021 feet. Nelion proves to be a challenging climb that requires experience with multi-pitch rock climbing. The climb to Nelion takes between 6-9 hours to complete. A hike at this summit serves as a great warm-up for those attempting to climb the Batian later.
- Point Lenana – The third summit is Point Lenana, which is also the lowest summit and rises at 4,985 meters or 16,354 feet in elevation. Unarguably, it is the most popular peak for hikers because it does not need any technical climbing skills to reach the summit. However, it does require excellent physical fitness to hike.
What are the Mount Kenya climbing routes?
There are five main routes that reach Point Lenana on Mount Kenya. To enjoy an adventurous hike, it is common to combine and choose different trails. Not only can you save time through this but it also helps you witness diverse sceneries and vistas surrounding the mountain. Even if you wish to climb Batian and Nelion, you will need to reach Point Lenana first.
Here are the five major routes that you can take while hiking Mount Kenya:
- Naro Moru
Naro Moru is known to be the shortest and the most direct route out of all. Due to this reason, it tends to be frequented more by tourists. While it may not be scenic, Naro Moru is relatively cheaper than others. It is best suited for a great ascent and descent route.
Yet, Naro Moru is more challenging as it has a steep section, the Vertical Bog, which is a marshy area that gets waterlogged during the rainy season. The plant life here is incredible, and the route passes through the open Teleki valley and displays a striking view of the Tyndall Glacier. This trail can be done on one long day but it is recommended across two days and one night.
Sirimon is a scenic route that stretches a little longer than Naro Moru. It is also the most famous ascent as the altitude gain is steady. It takes hikers through a beautiful valley and passes wildlife-filled yellow wood forests which give direct access to moorland.
This route offers the best hike for those who do not have much experience with high-altitude mountains. Moreover, as Sirimon is protected from rainfall, the track remains dry. There are two camps on this route – the Old Moses and Shipton’s camp, which allows hikers to rest and recharge before resuming the climb. The hike starts at Nanyuki and takes a minimum of two days to complete.
The dramatic Chogoria route is well-known for its spectacular surroundings and is much longer than most common routes. It starts from Chogoria town and begins 20 miles from the park gate. Hikers find themselves walking through a forest filled with beautiful fauna where one can sight few wild animals. The route also passes through waterfalls and tarns.
Moreover, the Chogoria route provides views of the scenic Lake Michaelson from the ‘Temple’ which is a sheer cliff. Hikers can also enjoy long walks along the Gorges Valley. This hike is typically completed in five days.
The Burguret route is a more challenging route where one can experience a wild trek to reach Point Lenana. There are far fewer hikers on this route than elsewhere due to paths being overgrown and having dense vegetation.
This trail takes hikers through a few tropical rainforests at the start of the climb. Hikers need to stay in the wilderness huts at night found along the route. The Burguret route is also challenging as it is often muddy and rough to climb. The trail takes a minimum of three nights and is commonly combined with a different trail to descent.
Timau route is very rarely used as it is older and does not have any facilities along the way nor any places to stay overnight.
There are two main routes that require advanced technical climbing. These routes help to reach Batian and Nelion, some of the best technical alpine peaks in the world.
The Normal Route which is South Ridge to Nelion is located on the southern side of Mount Kenya. The south face of the mountain offers impressive and breathtaking views. The route requires at least 8 hours to complete and has around 18 pitches. Only those who have previous experience can opt for the normal route which is a heavily technical climb.
The North Face Standard Route which is north face to Batian is an advanced climbing route. It has the most direct access to the highest point of Mount Kenya and passes along the northern side. This challenging climb is for advanced climbers, taking around 12 hours to ascent and additional five hours to descent after an overnight camp.
What is the best time to hike Mount Kenya?
Mount Kenya sits directly on the equator and generally remains warm and sunny during the day while temperatures substantially drop at night. Although one can take a hiking trip to the mountain, all year round, the best time to visit typically depends on personal preference and weather conditions.
The dry season occurs from December to March and sometimes even from July to September. Since there are very few chances of precipitation during these months, it is the best period to hike Mount Kenya. One must avoid rainy seasons between Mid-March to June and as well as from October to December.
The Normal Route should be undertaken between December and March while the North Face Standard Route is trekked from July to September. Although the temperatures at Mount Kenya are constant throughout the year, it does change significantly during ascent when day temperatures range from 15˚C to 5˚C while night temperature drops below freezing.
What is the fitness level required to climb Mount Kenya?
The trekking or hiking routes up to Point Lenana does not require anyone to be a professional mountaineer. But one needs to have hiking experience prior to climbing the mountain. You also need to have overall good fitness. For Nelion and Batian peaks, one needs to be in an excellent climbing shape and have good strength as well as stamina.
Hikers can also face altitude sickness or AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) while reaching the summit. The common symptoms are headaches and nausea which can be minimized by keeping oneself hydrated properly and acclimatizing to the thin air. Hikers must be fully informed about AMS as well as other sicknesses that may occur before climbing Mount Kenya.
What should you carry while hiking Mount Kenya?
Along with personal items, proper clothing is of utmost importance. Opt for long or short sleeve moisture wicking fabric shirts, warm fleece top, hardshell jacket, a lightweight poncho, hiking or waterproof trousers, hat, gloves, mitten, hiking boots, and thick wool socks for the night.
You should also carry a warm sleeping bag, rucksack, duffle bag, sunglasses, water bottles, toiletries, first aid, and other essential items. Before you start hiking, refer to your personal guide and follow all that they advise.
Hiking Mount Kenya and enjoying the exceptional views of the African savannah from the top of the summit is a dream come true. Refer to this guide when you think you are ready to take over the mighty peak!
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