Mount Kenya, Kenya
There is something special about Mount Kenya: the second highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro); a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site; an important source of water for much of Kenya (and the source of the country's name); and a culturally and spiritually important region to the ethnic groups that live around the mountain's base (Kikuyu, Ameru, Embu, and Maasai). Some hike Mount Kenya in preparation for Kilimanjaro but it is also a popular trek in its own right. Mount Kenya is significantly less busy than Kilimanjaro and reportedly more scenic. The landscapes are varied and stunning, and the wildlife in the area is truly remarkable, with many rare species of birds, plants, and mammals making their home in the mountain's forests and grasslands.
Mount Kenya is an incredible destination for hikers of all levels of experience. The highest peaks are Batian (5,199m or 17,057ft), Nelion (5,188m or 17,021 ft), and Point Lenana (4,985m or 16,355 ft). Point Lenana is hikable, and therefore the summit for most visitors, while Batian and Nelion involve technical climbing. There are also various trail options and you can tailor an itinerary for 4, 5, or 6 days. Technically, it may be possible to complete the hike in less time, but anything less than 3/4 days would not give your body enough time to acclimatize to the high altitude. I met two people on the trail who succumbed to altitude sickness and were unable to summit. And this hike is also not one to rush. While the scenery is stunning, there is real pleasure to be found in soaking in the atmosphere and taking time to observe the wildlife. This is a special part of the world and a place where you can feel truly transported.
Mount Kenya sits within a National Park about 3/4 hours from Nairobi. The park is essentially round and surrounded by a main road and various towns. It's relatively easy to get to the park, but the amount of time it takes will ultimately depend on which entrance you are using. Many hikers travel to Nanyuki, a lively town on the north-west side. From there, transportation options like taxis or hired vehicles can take you to the park gate or trailheads. It's advisable to make these arrangements in advance to avoid last-minute inconvenience. Kenya's roads are also in good shape, following significant foreign investment.
It's possible to hike without a guide and make your own arrangements. However, most people choose to hike Mount Kenya as a guided trek. This makes life a lot simpler (and safer) as the guide operators organize the transport to/from the mountain, as well as your park permits, food, and other logistics. Experienced guides are also familiar with the trails, weather patterns, and emergency procedures, which can greatly enhance your hiking experience. Typically, a guided trek with include a dedicated guide, cook, and porter (or multiple porters) for your group. The other good reason to choose a guided trek is that the guide will maximize your chances of reaching the summit, given they have plenty of experience dealing with hiking at altitude and know the tips for preventing altitude sickness. The most effective tactic is to ensure you climb "polepole" (slowly), stay hydrated, and eat plenty of food.
While I usually prefer to be self-sufficient, for this trip I opted for a guided trek. I was hiking on my own and didn't have time to plan the logistics. Moreover, I wanted to support the local economy and tourism. I used Go To Mount Kenya who were fantastic from start to finish - highly recommended.
When it comes to paying for guides, the rates can vary depending on the duration and complexity of your hike. Naturally, a guided trek can be quite expensive but it's money well spent. Whatever option you choose, make sure to tip your team well. While there are no strict norms, I read that the general guideline is to offer a tip of around 10-12% of the total cost of the hike. However, tipping ultimately depends on your level of satisfaction.
There are three main trails to Mount Kenya:
Noru Maru (West)
This is the most popular and shortest route to the summit of Mount Kenya. It starts at Naro Moru town and ascends through the Naro Moru Forest. The route is known for its steep sections, including the "Vertical Bog" and the "Mackinder's Valley".
This is considered the most scenic route but is also the longest.
This route begins at the Sirimon Gate, accessed from Nanyuki town. It is considered one of the most scenic routes, offering great views of the mountains and a diverse range of ecosystems. The trail passes through the Sirimon Valley, Liki North Hut, and Shipton's Camp (base camp). This route has a lot of advantages that make it more favorable and comfortable. It lies on the northwestern side of the mountain and generally escapes rainfall, making it drier than other routes most times of the year. From the Mackinder Valley, where Shipton's camp is located, you have panoramic view of all the main peaks. There is also the opportunity to cross the Equator at Nanyuki town and on the way to Old Moses Camp.
Apparently, there are five other routes that are less used - Burguret (West), Timau (North), Meru (North East), Ithanguni (East), and Kamweti (South). These routes do not have official park gates, involve wild camping, and route finding is much harder. The National Park also often requires hikers to travel with a guide because of wild animals. It's also possible to do a loop of the peaks
I took the Chogoria route to the summit and the from to enter and exit the Gulch by Hurricane Wash, mainly because I didn't want to put any more stress on my rental vehicle. If you are driving your own vehicle and/or have a 4WD I would certainly suggest trying one of the further trailheads (e.g. the Water Tanks or maybe even Crack-in-the-Rock) as the first few miles of the Hurricane Wash hike are fairly dull. The scenery only starts to pick up once you are in the gulch, in particular from Jacob Hamblin Arch onward.
Day 1: Park gate to Nithi gates
Day 2: Nithi gates to Hall tarns
Day 3: Hall tarns to (via Lenana peak)
In terms of water, there are a number of springs at various spots by the walls of the gulch, but they aren't necessarily easy to spot. I carried 2.5 litres and filled up on the return walk at a spring by Jacob Hamblin. I would probably suggest taking a good amount of water (and certainly more than 2 litres in summer).
I camped by some waterfalls just before Cliff Arch, a beautiful section which I imagine is a popular camping spot during peak season. Luckily, when I was hiking in March I had the entire area to myself and enjoyed a night of silence and the stars.