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Ascent of Mount Kenya on 2016-01-07

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Greg Slayden -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Thursday, January 7, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mount Kenya
    Location:Kenya
    Elevation:5198 m / 17057 ft

Ascent Trip Report

We climb this peak immediately after its higher but non technical neighbour Kilimanjaro. Our trip as a whole is arranged through Arusha based tour operator Trekili, although the week in Kenya is passed over to Nairobi + Naromoru based company alpineholidayskenya.com They provide porters and a rock climbing guide; we bring our own climbing gear. However two of us are sick by the time we arrive, and if this is a priority peak, there may be some merit in heading here first before Kili.

The climbing guide we used is excellent: David Muigai (kamberline@yahoo.com KG Expeditions) based nearby at Naromoru. Our practice climb on Pt John also worked very well. We then had a good rapport with the guide for the main Nelion climb which took 5h; the crossing to Batian took 5h round trip and the 12-rappel descent next morning took 3 hours, alternating ropes to save time. It would be very challenging to do Batian in a day from the Austrian Hut which is presumably why most folk just do Nelion as a one day rock climb.

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After our Kilimanjaro ascent, we return to Ilboru Lodge Arusha, sore legged from the big descent. Adrian is getting over a tummy bug and I have a cold and no voice, also some eye problem. Overnight I wonder if travelling to Kenya is very wise...

Mon 4 Jan: Overland from Tanzania To Naro Moru
Next morning once I've prised my eyes open and washed the puss away they look more or less normal.

Greg, Adrian and I get the 8am Arusha shuttle bus to Nairobi. It leaves at 0815; slow initially but once out of Arusha it's a good quality single carriageway. We stop at Mananga border crossing, hand over departure forms we were given on the bus, plus our passports, scan all fingers and thumbs on the same scanner used at the airport, get our passports back with tourist visas still intact, walk across the border into Kenya and track down the immigration building. Here we're asked if we have Yellow Fever inoculation (we have, although no one actually looks at them) then a short queue for our digits to be scanned again and passports to be stamped. We've already registered online and paid and printed our eVisa forms which we hand over with our passports. There's no obvious visa, just a stamp with a few pen markings indicating it's 3 months. Presumably entry by air is similar.

Kenya roads are quite similar until we reach Athi River, a small town on a major intersection where we're bottlenecked by traffic from the coast. Traffic in Nairobi is a little slow but we're in the centre just before 3pm (7 hour journey!) and bags are soon unloaded from the roof.

Our contact Ken Mburu from Alpineholidayskenya.com introduces himself, we load our bags into a minibus then make a short walk to an ATM (which we have to ourselves, no queueing) then grab a quick lunch from a fast food place. Greg's takes a while to arrive, then a plate with 10 large pieces of chicken: he'd been expecting nugget sized pieces! That's lunch tomorrow taken care of: we're soon on our way.

The drive north takes about 3 hours, initially on a 3 lane dual carriageway soon becoming single carriageway with a few slow sections. A petrol station en route easily takes the worst-toilet-yet crown from Tanzania: way off round the back; gents out of action; ladies has a single long-drop with no paper; handbasin has no water.

Our destination is Naro Moru Lodge (S0.15539° E37.01227°, 1947m) near the western park gate for Mt Kenya. Approaching by dirt road we reach a security gate. The whole lodge complex is out of sight down below, and soon reached, is a lovely facility with gardens running down in a short distance to the small Naromoru River.

Our first task is to meet the rock climbing guide, a small wiry Kenyan named David. We quickly determine what protection and personal gear is needed, then we sort the remaining kit, and take dinner in the candlelit (!) restaurant. Sleep is a little intermittent thanks to the tree hyraxes, small mammals which tend to be rather vocal at night and chose my bedroom window for a hangout.

Tue 5: To Mackinder Hut
A leisurely start after a good breakfast: leaving the lodge at 0845, we make a half hour drive mostly on good dirt roads, to Naromoru Gate (S0.17479° E37.14344°) where we register and our park fees are paid by Ken.

Our transport is a 20 year old but very tidy Toyota Landcruiser. The road to the Met Station is initially decent dirt surface needing high clearance only. 4x4 is engaged before a steep section. From here on is tougher. At the S0.17704° E37.20013° the vehicle is stopped by deep muddy ruts: evidently there was rain last night after two dry weeks. The bridge is being replaced and the route is currently difficult. We all pile out and find stones to line the ruts. In 20 mins, three iterations and some determined skilful driving we're on our way.

The Met Station (S0.17038° E37.21347°, 3063m) reached in another mile is the official high trailhead on the Naromoru approach. It still has a weather station, also a hut where our porters spent the night having walked up.

Backpacks are prepared, a banana is lost to a marauding baboon, and we start hiking at 1045 with the trekking guide William. Initially there's ironically a paved road leading to a police comms tower. Beyond this a foot trail continues, often a little muddy but never difficult, albeit one not very steep section is called the Vertical Bog. Weather is dry with low cloud and no views.

We stop at Picnic Rocks (S0.16739° E37.24674°, 3819m) for the porters to catch up. We have 6 plus a cook, carrying up to 18 kg each but in contrast to those on Kilimanjaro, moving barely faster than we do. When they catch up, appropriately we have a picnic. A fairly confiding Jacksons Francolin (bird) is looking for scraps. As we finish eating, a Kenyan couple come down, with guide and porters. Good to know there's also some locally sourced tourism.

Continuing along the now mostly dry path we continue to see interesting plants, those seen on ascent including Lobelia kenyoni, Everlasting flower, Senecio brassica, Giant groundsel and another giant lobelia,shaggy looking.

The trail starts to work left off the ridge, taking a very efficient line to the Naromoru River which it crosses by a small bridge. We take a break. Point John is out of cloud; in a few minutes, by 1645 Nelion and Batian are completely clear, looking extremely impressive. We're in for some great climbing! The last mile to the hut involves several stops, not just for the peaks but also some rock hyraxes close to the trail. Reminiscent of marmots although sounding very different.

Mackinder Hut (S0.16735° E37.29342°, 4202m) is nowadays called Teleki Lodge with a sign stating 4300m although the GPS agrees closely with the older mapped and still accepted 4200m. It's a superb location: we drink tea and gaze at the peaks as the evening sunshine accentuates the amazing scene. Tame chats hop around and buzzards call.

There are a couple of other small parties, just trekking: we're the only folk with porters.

At last the sun sets and we go in for dinner and to agree plans with David the rock guide, for the planned ascent of Pt John, which from here appears best of all but is actually a grade easier than the main Nelion climb.

Wed 6: Pt John and Austrian Hut
We leave Mackinder Hut at 0700 on a good path which contours L, crosses a valley skirting below steep slopes then climbs steeply to Austrian Hut. Adrian isn't feeling good today and continues direct to the hut.

At S0.16361° E37.30750° 4528m a cairn marks a mountaineers trail L which contours NE to Lake Lewis with its beautiful green water. A fainter cairned trail skirts round its downhill side then strikes up L towards the looming Pt John. David stops at the foot of a gully (S0.15940° E37.30855°, 4682) and we rope up.

The first pitch moves L into an easy gully, about Mod in British terms. The next few pitches have the occasional hardish move, around VDiff/Severe, 4b at most. The route trends L then cuts L below the arete, some 7 pitches in all. David leads, Greg belays with he and I tied onto the end of the 60m rope 7m apart. Most anchors are set abseil points and changeovers are quite efficient. The ascent takes around 2h30.

David takes us to the foot of the summit rock which is a 3m rock blade. Staying roped, Greg and I scramble round the back and up to the highest point (S0.15855° E37.30766°, 4887m), which it's possible to sit on without too much difficulty.

We enjoy the views which include Batian and Nelion close at hand with a short but tricky looking passage between them. Voices can be heard on the Nelion ascent. There's a cold wind, so in half an hour after a quick lunch we head down, in 8 abseils, sometimes tying the 60 and 50m ropes together for faster progress. The timings 0945 to 1440 suggest a 2 hour descent although it was probably quicker.

En route to the Austrian Hut we reverse our approach initially then pass uphill of Lewis Lake, keep R of Lewis Glacier on awkward mobile rock field then climb up fairly directly to the Hut, with our guide and a couple of porters waiting at the top of the slope to welcome us. They've been watching our progress and saw us at the summit.

The Austrian Hut (S0.15966° E37.31431°, 4804m) is in a great location with impressive views of the uncompromising scenery, although Nelion and Pt John don't look so elegant from here, especially in late pm lighting. The Pt John saddle appears a little higher than the hut, I estimate it as 50m prominence.

There are two other teams here: a couple planning Nelion tomorrow (but not staying in the hut nor summitting Batian) and another group who we heard climbing Nelion today. It seems few folk summit Batian - typically 50 per year according to Greg's guidebook.

Thu 7 Jan: Batian Summit and Howell Hut
We leave the Austrian Hut at 0445, David leading us down the steep awkward moraine we ascended yesterday, but now by torchlight. We fit crampons for the 20deg snowy icy glacier crossing (S0.15606° E37.31306°) which takes several minutes. On the far side is 200m of steep loose ascent. Adrian is climbing slowly, still not recovered from a week's sickness, and decides to forgo the climbing. A tough decision but probably correct as the climbing is very strenuous at times; especially the hardest climbing moves, at 50% oxygen saturation and with heavy overnight packs.

The Austrian/Swiss couple are on the first pitch as we arrive at the base (S0.15496° E37.31030°, 4880m) at 0630, now just full daylight. We climb the first few easy pitches moving together roped. This gives freedom yet a tight rope is available if required. Occasional protection is placed which I as last man retrieve. A few harder passages including a very exposed quite hard left-right traverse are belayed (about 6 of the 20 pitches), the other team mostly keeping pace just ahead of us, occasionally getting directions from David.

After a long (exhausting) section of simul-climbing we come to a perch looking down over yesterday's Pt John, with the other team just ahead. We wait for them to overcome with some difficulty the next pitch - which is the crux chimney - De Graaf variation (British 4c / YDS 5.8). David leads it, in mountain boots as usual, putting in plenty of protection. Greg struggles up then it's my turn. First time I fail to get started. Another look at the holds and I make it up to the first piece of pro and remove it. Some more hard moves, but they go. It feels like British trad 4c but it's hard to tell with a heavy pack, 5000m elevation and wearing approach shoes with not quite enough friction.

The last few pitches are fairly easy, with the odd hard move, and the tiny box of Howell's Hut (S0.15280° E37.31003°, 5192m; Nelion summit is outcrop at S0.15275° E37.30996°, 5198m) comes into view, just 5h climbing, with maybe 30mins spent waiting for the party ahead. We chat with them for a while then they head for the first abseil point.

Leaving our overnight gear in the hut, at 1215 we commence the traverse to Batian, the highest point. It starts with an axe and crampon descent of steep snow and rock. Then we make a 20m abseil, on a single rope with prussik backup (much easier to lose control with a single rope, less friction, hence the failsafe). The Gate of the Mists is living up to its name today, very atmospheric with a view down onto Pt John and Midget Peak.

The first pitch out of the notch is mostly steep snow with some rock. This gets us past a big gendarme then we cross to the L side for a nice interesting rock pitch with great friction climbing on a narrow arete. A second, short pitch gets us to the summit with its scrambly summit block (highest point of outcrop S0.15231° E37.30885°, 5208m) and Kenya flag. We're up in two hours from Nelion. It starts to snow so we soon head down. The first abseil is very odd, teetering down the edge of a foot-wide arete, but it soon becomes easier.

Down at the saddle things are a little complicated. David's red rope was left in place after the abseil from Nelion. We've been climbing on Greg's rope and remain tied into it. The rock gendarme isn't really climbable hence the need to leave a top rope for the re ascent to Nelion.

David heads up the steep slope, carefully protecting what is a pretty precarious climb round an exposed corner on poor snow, then disappears up the main slope; Greg and I standing in the snow-swept saddle getting cold. At last we get the call and join David above the snow slope. The red rope is then retrieved and we're soon back at the hut.

The Howell Hut is about 2x2m square and 1m at the highest end, with enough side slope to mean we have to make an effort to avoid rolling into each other while sleeping. Dinner is the remains of our packed lunch: not the sort of place you want to lug a stove and try cooking.

Fri 8: Descent, Pt Lenana and Shipton Hut
As expected the morning weather is much improved: with impressive views of the so-near-yet-so-far Batian; Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi are visible in the far distance. It's light soon after 6 but David suggests 0730 is a good time to start, when the sun has some strength. It's pretty chilly getting gear organised in the cold wind.
We make our first abseil at 0810. David and Greg soon have a good system going, using two ropes, so that the next abseil is already setup once we've all got down the last. One abseil point is on a small two foot wide ledge - a small target from above and an exhilarating situation. Abseil 5 is the crux chimney - De Graaf variation. De Graaf has the last laugh as the rope gets stuck and David has to re climb the first few metres to retrieve it.

Below De Graaf we traverse L to the tiny Baillie's bivouac on the ridge out to Pt John. The remaining descent is pretty much straight down. We're back at the foot of the climb at 1100, just under 3 hours, with the two-rope plan probably saving at least an hour. Some 12 abseils in all.

We descend the brutal moraine to the glacier, which we cross, then re ascend the brutal moraine to the Austrian Hut, thankfully for the last time.

Adrian has already moved on via Pt Lenana to Shipton's Camp, and Greg and I are happy to do the same, first having lunch and passing most of our pack weight to the porters.

We leave Austrian Hut for the last time, at 2pm following William the trekking guide 'pole-pole' up the well worn trail to Lenana, Kenya's third highest and a worthy trekking objective amidst superb scenery. A handrail cable has been recently installed, intended to help but it's often necessary to step over or under it - not very smart.

We climb the last few metres by a short set of rungs claiming to be the highest via ferrata in the world! The summit (outcrop, S0.15519° E37.31783°, 4997m; 2.5" Ordnance Survey style trig bolt nearby) is in cloud but we give it ten minutes and the Nelion-John ridge appears. Briefly there's a full phone signal allowing a short Facebook update via sms to confirm our summit success.

It's a beautiful late pm descent to Shipton's Camp with lovely scenery; plenty of technical summits of which Mt Kenya seems to abound; the views of Batian north face are also impressive as the skies continue to clear. William is very knowledgeable and explains where the:North Face route goes (a grade harder than our route, longer and only attempted in July/Aug when there's less ice and snow on that side). We descend a moraine spur and Shipton's Camp is spread out at our feet, with the impressive pinnacled peaks of Terere and Sendeo providing a superb backdrop, looking like they'd be at home in the Italian Dolomites. The Camp (S0.14143° E37.31474°, 4270m) is actually a quite large hut, the best we've encountered on this trip so far, and with a stunning backdrop which includes Batian, Nelion and Lenana, Kenya's three highest, now all cloud free.

Adrian has arrived in good spirits and we catch up and discuss options between now and our late Sunday flights. Quite a congenial evening, especially when a young lad from Oxford produces a Talisker single malt to celebrate our summit success.

Sat 9: Sirimon Gate and Naro Moru River Lodge
Batian is clear early morning although by the time we leave at 0830 cloud has lopped the tops of the peaks. It's a lovely hike out, gently downhill with interesting vegetation. As the trail rises away from the Mackinder River, the Batian group stands clear, our last views of these amazing peaks we've been able to summit.

Beyond the viewpoint (S0.08986° E37.28292°) we cross peaty moorland reminiscent of the English Pennines but for the exotic vegetation. We meet a large party coming uphill, a mixture of black and white clients. A couple more minor ups and downs crossing Liki North and Ontulili rivers, then soon after joining the 4x4 track serving a comms tower, we see the rather modern military-looking buildings of Old Moses Camp. We join the wide paved road heading downhill from these buildings and shortly turn off R into a clearing with a picnic table where our lunch is waiting. This is Judmaier Camp (S0.04708° E37.28940°, 3350m).

After lunch Greg holds a simple tipping ceremony for our guide, cook and six porters. We then follow the porters down the broad road as the scenery gradually changes to mature woodland. Our GPS units gradually count down to 0.00000 S and when the equator sign arrives, our units agree with its position to the metre. In a few minutes we're at the Sirimon Gate (N0.00525° E37.24662°, 2655m) arriving just before 3pm, a steady 6h30 from Shipton's Hut.

William quickly signs us out of the Park, we get into the waiting minibus and we head back south, passing through the bustling town of Nanyuki which is close to the former PoW camp which is the setting for the classic book No Picnic on Mt Kenya, about 3 Italian PoWs who escape from the British camp and follow the river Nanyuki upstream, intent on summitting Batian Peak.

Soon after 4pm we're back at Naro Moru River Lodge, having dropped off William and a couple of porters en route, and picked up Ken from Alpine who catches up on finances and arrangements for tomorrow, as we've arranged a game drive at nearby Sweetwaters (entrance at N0.07677° E36.96779°; see below) 14km NW of Nanyuki, before our Sunday evening flights.

In the case of Greg and I, our next intended summit is Loolmalasin on Tuesday. Sadly Adrian's back to work Monday.

Mt Kenya photo album 1: approach
Mt Kenya photo album 2: Pt John and Austrian Hut
Mt Kenya photo album 3: Nelion and Batian climb
Mt Kenya photo album 4: descent

Sweetwaters, Ol Pejeta Conservatory, Sun 10 Jan
Species seen:-
Plain/savanna zebra
Jackal
Warthog
Helmeted guineafowl
Grant gazelle
Oryx
Superb starling
Reticulated giraffe
Hartebeest
Glossy starling
Blacksmith plover
Waterbuck
Thompson gazelle
Redbilled stork
Water buffalo
Southern White rhino (my first rhinos I think)
Impala
Longcrested crane (gorgeous bird!)
Blackheaded heron
Cattle egret
African elephant
Chimpanzee (rescue centre, Jane and Goodall foundation)
Laughing dove
Tambourine dove
Common eland
Baraka the blind Black Rhino
Lion (2 sleeping midday)
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2136 m / 7008 ft
    Elevation Loss:2543 m / 8346 ft
    Grade/Class:YDS 5.9; VS 4c
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Guide, Porters, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:4 nights away from roads
    Weather:Fine, cool, snowing at summit
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:2136 m / 7008 ft
    Route:Nelion SE face
    Trailhead:Met Station  3062 m / 10049 ft
    Time Up:3 Days 
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:2543 m / 8346 ft
    Trailhead:Sirimon Gate  2655 m / 8711 ft
    Time Down:2 Days 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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