Welcome to our complete guide to climbing Mount Kenya!
Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa and offers breath-taking hikes suitable for adventurers with a range of abilities.
Preparation is now the key to your success on the mountain.
Below we have provided a summary of useful information that you will want to read before you go. These are our most frequently asked questions about climbing Mount Kenya.
Located in equatorial Africa, Mount Kenya boasts the second highest point on the continent and stands at an impressive 5,199m (17,057ft) tall. The main peaks rise from about the 4,500m mark to the summit of Batian (5199m), Nelion (5188m) and Lenana (4985m) amongst others.
This natural wonder is often overlooked by potential travellers in favour of the taller African alternative, Mount Kilimanjaro. However, many experienced hikers report that they preferred Mount Kenya because of the thriving wildlife and idyllic mountain lakes it has to offer. It is also much more off-the-beaten path. With snow-covered peaks and panoramic views of its forested slopes and the surrounding African planes, hiking Mount Kenya promises the adventure of a lifetime.
Hikers can expect to pass through distinctive zones characterized by a variety of vegetation. Gentle farmlands give way to dense rain forest which is populated by camphors and several species of monkeys, buffalo, elephant and even leopard.
As hikers ascend, they will encounter a belt of natural, homogenous bamboo followed by a region of low-lying shrubbery. Finally, the altitude becomes inhabitable for flora and fauna, yielding a barren moonscape of jagged rock and ice. These eroded, volcanic slopes are 3 million years old, and present a challenging and awe-inspiring final push.
Choosing the right path is essential to a successful hiking experience, and the different peaks of Mount Kenya provide options suited for the casual fit trekker as well as for advanced technical climbers. Of the highest peaks, point Lenana alone can be reached without technical climbing experience, but there are numerous routes to get to this point. From the base to summit generally takes from three to five days.
To help you make the right choice of route, and to help you prepare for this unique journey, we have compiled a comprehensive overview of all you need to make this experience the best it can be.
There are 8 main trekking routes on Mount Kenya, all of which summit the lowest peak, Point Lenana at 4,985 metres (16,355 ft). The majority of the 15,000 annual visitors to the mountain go on to summit the lower peak, but for those with technical climbing skills, the second peak Nelion and highest point Batian, are there for the taking too.
Hikers usually choose different routes for their ascent and descents, the most common combinations being the Sirimon-Chogoria (six or seven days) and the Sirimon-Naro Moru (five days) options.
These lesser-used routes require special permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service: the Burguret Route, the Timau Route, the Meru Route and the Kamweti Route.
Below is a summary of the most popular routes to point Lenana, the highest point that can be reached without advanced rock-climbing.
This is the most popular and fastest route to Point Lenana, but can often be overcrowded with hikers. It also does not pass through some of the more scenic regions of the mountain.
The ascent generally takes only three days and there are bunkhouses available along the route for overnight accommodation.
The terrain is mostly manageable, but it includes the “Vertical bog”, a steep and challenging marshy area. Otherwise, this route passes through the wide Teleki Valley with a striking view of the Tyndall glacier.
Ascent on the Naro Moru route:
* One day at Naro Moru River Lodge, or another base camp is recommended for acclimatization
This is definitely the most off-the-beaten path and physically manageable route on the northern side of the central peaks and takes three to four days from base to summit.
It is the driest region, avoiding much of the rainfall which falls on the mountain experience. Nevertheless, drinking water is ample and there is always enough to refill bottles.
The route passes through unique, wildlife-filled, yellowwood forests which give way directly to moorland – the bamboo forest is not present on this part of the mountain.
Typical Itinerary for casual hiking to Point Lenana – Sirimon via Chogoria traverse:
This is a typical itinerary for the combination of the two most scenic routes, Sirimon via Chogoria, and includes one mandatory camping night.
Hikers usually choose different routes for their ascent and descents, the most common combinations being the Sirimon-Chogoria (6 or 7 days) and the Sirimon-Naro Moru (5 days) options. This allows hikers to see much more of the mountain.
If you are looking for a more challenging, wild trek, this option might be for you.
Because the Burguret route has only recently been reclaimed from the surrounding forest, the paths are very overgrown and other hikers are few and far between.
The Chogoria route can then be followed down the mountain.
These lesser-used routes require special permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service, so check with your tour operator if the fees are included in your quote:
Batian and Nelion are the highest peaks on Mount Kenya and are known to be some of the best technical climbing alpine peaks in the world. There are approximately 35 recorded technical climbing routes on Mount Kenya– this guide will focus on some of the most frequently used, guided technical climbing routes.
This route is situated on the southern side of Mt Kenya, accessed from the Austrian hut. The hike requires 8 hours of climbing, 18 pitches, 1 overnight camp and a 3-hour descent. Before dawn, the Lewis Glacier is crossed using head torches until you reach the base of the climb.
Once the sun rises, the views become increasingly impressive as you pass the “1-o’clock gully”, “The Amphitheatre” and “De Graf’s Variation” which present areas with a variety of technical difficulty. Nelion is generally summited in about 7 hours and ambitious climbers can extend their expedition by staying overnight in the Howell Hut and then crossing over to Batian via the “Gates of Mist”.
This is option takes an additional 3-4 hours and is dependent on the ice levels in the Gates of Mist. Otherwise, the descent can commence first thing in the morning after a stay over in the Howell Hut.
Typical itinerary for the Normal route to Nelion.
Click on each toggle to see more details for each day.
Naro Moru town to National Park Gate and hike to Met Station
Hike from Met Station to MacKinder’s Hut
Hike from MacKinder’s Hut to Shipton’s Hut via Tyndall Glacier and Hausberg Col
Hike from Shipton’s Hut to Point Lenana and back to Austrian Hut
Climb from Austrian Hut up Nelion Peak and back down again
Insurance day (in case of bad weather)
Hike from Austrian Hut to Nithi Falls via Lake Ellis
Hike from Nithi Falls to Meru Bandas for transfer out to Chogoria
This advanced climbing route is the most direct to the highest point of Mount Kenya and traverses the northern side of the massif.
This route is more challenging that the “normal” alternative, and requires about 12 hours of climbing, an overnight camp, followed by 5 hours of descent. The climb to the summit normally starts from bivy at the Amphitheatre.
Typical Itinerary for the North Face Route. Click on each toggle to see more details for each day.
Naro Moru town to the National Park Gate. Hike to Met Station via the Naro Moru route
Hike from Met Station to MacKinder’s Hut
Hike from MacKinder’s Hut to Shipton’s Camp via Hausberg Col
Hike from Shipton’s up to Point Lenana and back
Early climb up Batian and return to Shipton’s
Insurance day (in case of bad weather)
Hike from Shipton’s Camp to Sirimon Park Gate and on to Naro Moru town
The best time to climb Mount Kenya depends on whether you prefer solitude or clear weather.
The rainy seasons are typically between March and May and from October to December, and so the most popular months to hike Mount Kenya are January, February, August and September.
Technical climbing routes depend more on the annual weather conditions than the casual hiking routes do, and so more specific information on the climbing route you have chosen should be used to decide on the time of your visit.
The “Normal route” on the South Ridge to Nelion should be undertaken between December and March, while the “North face Standard route” to Batian is best attempted in July, August and September.
The temperatures on Mount Kenya are relatively constant throughout the year, but change significantly upon ascent, with day temperatures ranging from 15°C to 5°C and night temperatures dropping well below freezing.
Check out our hiking gear list to make sure you are well prepared for whichever conditions are thrown your way.
The greatest challenge to trekkers is usually not the physical exertion but the effects of thinning air which are evident above the 3000m mark.
The difficulty of the technical climbs varies, but significant prior climbing experience is essential for all climbing options. Even though you will be accompanied by qualified guides, experience of outdoor multi-pitch climbing is necessary, as well as with leading long runouts, long abseils and applying safety procedures.
The summit of Nelion is reached after one, protracted day of climbing and a series of about 18 pitches, and while the climb is not highly graded technically (between scramble and UIAA IV +, averaging at around UIAA II). The climb up Batian Peak also requires a full day of climbing, and a series of up to 21 pitches. These range from low grade scramble to grade UIAA IV+, averaging around UIAA II.
Apart from the technical grade, there are other considerations which affect the difficulty and safety of the advanced climbs.
Firstly, their significant length demands physical stamina as well as mental concentration over up to 11 hours.
Secondly, while most guided tours facilitate sufficient acclimatization, the altitude of the climbs compound the fatigue experienced by climbers.
Potential tricky weather conditions (which can be mitigated by choosing to hike at the best time of year for the chosen route, and including a “weather day” for insurance), as well as the lack of sophisticated rescue facilities which would be expected in the European Alps, for example are also factors which must be taken into account when determining the difficulty of the trek-climb combination.
Altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)) is the main obstacle hikers face in reaching the summit.
Head-aches and nausea are its common effects and are experienced by most hikers beyond 3000m. To mitigate these symptoms, it is recommended that hikers drink 3-4 litres of water per day, and acclimatize properly to the thin air.
Before hiking Mount Kenya, it is essential that hikers are fully informed on the risks, symptoms and treatments available for AMS as well as for high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which are life-threatening if left untreated.
Read our guide on altitude sickness here.
To help you prepare for your African expedition, have a look at a brief gear check list below.
Thankfully the list is very similar to our Kilimanjaro Packing List, which you are welcome to use for your preparation.
This list is suited for the casual trek only – technical climbing equipment should be sought with the help of your experienced guide and depends on the route you have chosen to climb.
To choose the best gear available today, check out our detailed Gear Reviews & Ranking.
The cost of hiking Mount Kenya varies, depending on how long you are planning to spend on the mountain, the time of year you plan on hiking, and the amount of equipment you will need to buy new.
Here is a rough cost break down for your trip up Mount Kenya.
Visa, Vaccinations, Insurance: ~ $400-$550
Equipment (buying and hiring): ~$200-$500
Return flights to Nairobi: ~$1000 – $2,000
Trek package: $800 – $1,500
This varies by operator with local companies offering cheaper packages. Trek packages generally include transport to and from Nairobi, meals, a professional guide, and accommodation for the hiking nights, and the cost of the park permit.
Miscellaneous (this includes extra accommodation, additional food, and any unplanned expenses): ~ $300
Total costs: $2,800-$5,000
No matter how well prepared you are, you are taking certain risks by hiking Mount Kenya. We recommend taking out travel insurance that covers you for hiking up to 6,000m.
World Nomads offer insurance that includes cover for high altitude hiking.
Use the quote calculator adjacent to get a cost of travel insurance for your trip.