Peaks of the Balkans
There is something special about Mount Kenya: the second highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro); the source of the name for the Republic of Kenya and an important source of water for much of the country; a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site; and culturally and spiritually important to the ethnic groups that live around its base (Kikuyu, Ameru, Embu and Maasai). Mount Kenya is a popular trek but significantly less busy than Kilimanjaro. The scenery is also spectacular 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.
The highest peaks of Mount Kenya 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 but the taller peaks require climbing Mount Kenya is an incredible destination for hikers of all levels of experience. With stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, and a range of peaks with varying levels of difficulty, the mountain is an ideal spot to explore. The central peaks, Batian and Nelion, are particularly popular with experienced climbers, offering a challenging but rewarding experience. For those looking for something a little less strenuous, the lower slopes provide some of the most breathtaking views in the region. . Hiking in Mount Kenya is an unforgettable experience and one that all adventure seekers should consider.
There are various trail options and you can tailor an itinerary for 4, 5, or 6 days. In terms of distance and elevation gain, it may be possible to complete the hike in less time but this would not give your body enough time to acclimatize. I met two people on the trail who succumbed to altitude sickness and were unable to summit. And this hike is not one to rush. While the scenery is pretty stunning, it's not about spectacular views or big sights. The real pleasure here is just spending time in the Gulch, soaking in the atmosphere and taking in the sheer remoteness of the place. The best way to do that is to take your time, spend a night under the stars and let yourself be transported by this pretty special part of the world.
The summit day will be long and walk can be anywhere between 13 and 22 miles and is usually completed either as a day hike or an overnight.
Firstly, getting to the mountain and back requires some logistical arrangements. Most hikers travel to the nearest town, Nanyuki, which is well-connected by road and air. 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 any last-minute inconveniences.
Another important aspect to consider is the need for guides. Mount Kenya is a challenging mountain with varying routes, steep terrain, and potential hazards. Engaging the services of a knowledgeable guide is highly recommended for safety and navigation purposes. Experienced guides are familiar with the trails, weather patterns, and emergency procedures, which can greatly enhance your hiking experience. You can find licensed guides through reputable tour operators or the Mount Kenya National Park authorities.
When it comes to paying for guides, the rates can vary depending on the duration and complexity of your hike. It's important to discuss the fees and services with your guide or tour operator in advance to avoid any misunderstandings. Tipping guides is customary and appreciated in Kenya. While there are no strict norms, a general guideline is to offer a tip of around 10-15% of the total cost of the hike. However, tipping ultimately depends on your satisfaction with the services provided.
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.