Your Essential Guide to Climbing Mount Kenya

Your Essential Guide to Climbing Mount Kenya
Summit of Mount Kenya. Nigel Pavitt/ Getty Images

Despite peaking at over 16,400 feet/5,000 meters, Mount Kenya still seems dwarfed by neighboring Mount Kilimanjaro. Nevertheless, it's the second tallest mountain in Africa, and the highest peak in Kenya... and what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in beauty. Jagged snow-capped peaks, sweeping glacial valleys and diverse vegetation make climbing Mount Kenya a strong contender for Africa’s greatest trek.

One of the many highlights is its unique Afro-Alpine zone with its Dr. Seuss-like landscape of giant lobelias and Senecio daisies.

Choosing Your Peak

Mount Kenya has no fewer than three peaks, the highest of which is Batian at 17,057 feet/ 5,199 meters. However, this peak is out of reach for all but the most advanced climbers as it sits atop a series of treacherous chimneys, pitches and gullies. Instead, most trekkers aim for Point Lenana, which sits independently of the twin peaks of Batian and Nelion at 16,355 feet/ 4,985 meters. It is a challenging climb, made even more so by its relatively steep approach and rapidly increasing altitude. From the summit, 360º views stretch out over the African plains to distant Kilimanjaro. 

The Basics

The mountain's nearest town is Nanyuki, and for most independent trekkers, this is an obvious starting point. From here, it is relatively easy to organize a trek with a local company (although make sure to do your research and choose one with a reputation for safety).

If you decide to join an organized trek ahead of time, your fee is likely to include transport to and from Nairobi, located a four hour drive away. Trekkers can choose to camp (at designated sites) or stay in a series of mountain huts. All food needs to be brought with you and most trekkers choose to climb with a guide, cook and porters.

Mount Kenya's Most Popular Routes

There are several routes to choose from when planning your ascent. Most take between three and seven days to complete. 

The Sirimon-Chogoria Route
The Sirimon-Chogoria traverse is arguably the most rewarding Mount Kenya trek. It enters at the Sirimon Gate, ascends up towards Point Lenana and then down the Chogoria route to the Chogoria Gate. The ascent is the most popular route up the mountain, beloved by trekkers for its stunning scenery and relatively easy pace. The descent is unequivocally the mountain's most striking, featuring incredible sheer-sided gullies, tarns and waterfalls. The route is 37 miles/ 60 kilometers in length and includes an ascent of 7,875 feet/ 2,400 meters. It usually takes six or seven days in total.

The Sirimon-Naro Moru Route
The Sirimon-Naro Moru traverse is the most popular route for trekkers on Mount Kenya. It owes its popularity to the steady rate of ascent (up Sirimon) and the quick descent that is possible down the Naro Moru route. While it doesn’t cover all the features of this beautiful mountain, the route itself is very scenic, passing up the sweeping Mackinder’s Valley towards Shipton’s Camp and then descending through the notorious vertical bog and dense rainforest on the Naro Moru route.

The route is just under 37 miles/ 60 kilometers in total and involves an ascent of 7,875 feet/ 2,400 meters.

The Burguret-Chogoria Route
The Burguret-Chogoria is an intriguing alternative traverse for Mount Kenya trekkers. The Burguret route was recently reclaimed from the forest after years of neglect. As a result it still sees very few trekkers, so this is the route to choose if you're looking for real solitude and wild camping. Having climbed Burguret to the trekker’s peak at Point Lenana (4,985m), the traverse descends along the most beautiful route on the mountain, Chogoria. The Burguret-Chogoria traverse spans a distance of 38 miles/ 61 kilometers. Be warned that this route can be especially challenging due to its rough, often overgrown trail. 

Best Time to Trek Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya has several small glaciers (although these are fast disappearing); and as such its climate can be chilly all year round.

At night, temperatures on the higher elevations can drop as low as 14ºF/ -10ºC. Typically, early mornings on the mountain are sunny and dry, with clouds often forming by midday. While it is possible to hike Mount Kenya throughout the year,  it gets considerably more difficult (and less comfortable) during Kenya's rainy seasons. These usually last from mid-March to mid-June, and from October to mid-December. Try to plan your hike for the dry seasons instead. 

Accommodation on Mount Kenya

Accommodation on Mount Kenya ranges from the very basic to the relatively luxurious. The most comfortable lodges are found on the lower slopes, in and around the forest. These lodges have hotel-style accommodation, often with log fires and hot running water. Many offer guided walks and other activities such as fishing and birdwatching. Top picks include Bantu Mountain Lodge, with 28 spacious rooms and a restaurant set within a landscaped garden; and Serena Mountain Lodge, a luxury choice with en-suite bedrooms and balconies overlooking a waterhole.

Higher up the mountain, accommodation takes the form of simple huts, most with dormitories and communal spaces for cooking and eating. Some also have running water, while others are little more than a sheltered space to sleep. Beds in the huts can be reserved at the park gates. Top choices include Mackinder's Camp, Shipton's Camp and Old Moses Mountain Hut, all of which offer bunk beds and bathroom facilities. If you decide to take on the twin peaks of Batian and Nelion, one of the most popular huts from which to launch your summit attempt is the Austrian Hut, with space for 30 people. 

Recommended Mount Kenya Treks

Every trekker must register at the park headquarters, and no one is allowed to attempt the hike alone. One of the best ways of achieving a successful summit is to book a space on an organized trek. The trek operator will provide knowledgeable guides, porters and cooks; and arrange your on-mountain accommodation for you. Some of the most reliable operators include Go to Mount Kenya, which offers four day treks on the Sirimon-Chogoria and Sirimon-Naro Moru routes; and Tourdust, which offers itineraries for all of the routes listed above. 

Mount Kenya's Flora and Fauna

Apart from the stunning mountain scenery, one of the highlights of a Mount Kenya trek is the extraordinarily diverse wildlife and flora you're likely to see along the way. The lower slopes of Mount Kenya are thickly forested and play host to elephant, buffalo and eland. The upper slopes have a rare Afro-Alpine habitat with heathland, glacial valleys and some unusually large plant life. Keep an eye out for scurrying rodents, rock hyraxes and of course, a plethora of rare bird species.

This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on November 29th 2017.