Mount Kenya Climbing and Walking Guide

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Mount Kenya
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98 Normal Route (southeast side) 300m IV*** 5h to Nelion.

E E Shipton, P Wyn Harris, 1929. This was the first ascent of Nelion and the second of Batian (after Mackinder in 1899). Most of the climbing is I/II, with pitches of III+/IV- and one of IV. The Howell bivouac hut sits on top of Nelion. The higher (by 11m) Batian summit stands 150m away across the 45m deep gap called Gate of the Mists (5144m). This section, there and back, takes 3h with rock of III+ and steep snow (axe useful). All pegs are in place. In descent, attention must be paid to route finding; many old slings litter the rocks. Season: late December to mid March. At other times the route is snowy and possibly icy on the crux.

From Top Hut cross the Lewis Gl. horizontally; crampons not essential. On the far side climb steep bouldery scree to foot of cliffs some 50m left of the icy left-facing Brocherel couloir (IV+/V*).

Easy rocks for 20m to a big terrace. Move left to a gully, snow possible. Ascend this for 20m, then traverse a long way right on easy ledges. Continue traversing right, round a corner (III-) to base of a deep, long chimney (Mackinder's). Go down 2m then 6m right to platform with peg belays. At right end of ledge, step round an edge to a crack in a steep wall. Climb this (IV-) then wider cracks to a big ledge (20m). On the right is the base of One O'Clock Gully. Follow this for 10m then step round an arête to right, climb down the other side of it and follow easy narrow ledges till a steep, easy chimney of 4m leads to broad scree covered ledges crossing the slabby face. Halfway across these climb ledges and slabs to steeper easy rocks, trending slightly right, to reach Baillie's Bivouac, about 60m above the broad scree covered ledges, and 3m below the ridge crest. Above, the ridge steepens to a wall leading to the top of Mackinder's Gendarme. Baillie's Bivouac is normally ice-filled and very cramped. (It is possible to reach this spot by going higher up One O'Clock Gully before traversing right).

Cross over the ridge, go down and left for 10m, then up easy rocks left of gendarme, aiming for a long left-facing corner line; the base of this is reached over a few steeper steps. Above is the crux, De Graaf's Variation. Climb the square-cut corner direct to a ledge (20m, IV). Now 25m of easier climbing to right end of a wide ledge below a sheer, vertical wall. Traverse right and down, crossing the steep upper rocks of an amphitheatre (III+) to gain the other side, then ascend to easier ground in a gully. Follow this over a steepening (III-) to the easy upper section. Near top of gully steep, easy rocks on right lead to the Nelion summit. Scramble along ridge and abseil into Gate of the Mists. (Possible to leave a 45m rope hanging into the gap and across to the other side, to facilitate the return). Traverse the right (north) side below a gendarme and move up to a ridge. Follow ridge to summit of Batian, avoiding difficulties by moving onto the south side (III+ if snow free).

In reverse, short abseils assist to get down the difficult steps. From Gate of the Mists climb snow slopes on left to regain the ridge. Descent. From Nelion scramble south to locate the easy descent gully. Some 50m down this, ledges lead off right. From these abseil south down the sheer vertical wall - noted above - to regain the wide ledge. At its east end abseil to the top of De Graaf's. From here a long abseil to easy rock just below Mackinder's Gendarme. Abseil or climb down from Baillie' s Bivouac and reach the wide scree covered ledges. Traverse these south-wards; at their end move down left of wall and down the steep 4m easy chimney. Continue traversing until One O'Clock Gully is reached. From the ledge below this, 2 long abseils land at the bottom.

South Face. The best conditions for snow/ice climbs here occur between mid May and late October. Good snow is still possible at Christmas, following the short rains. After mid January conditions are likely to be poor. The climbs are reached from the foot of the Darwin Gl. (east side). The best base is either a boulder shelter 10 min walk from the foot of the glacier, or Hut Tarn; from the latter follow the long traverse route to the Tyndall Gl. moraine, then gain the base of the Darwin Gl. (1h30).

99 Ice Window Route 400m AD+/D (III/IV)*** 6h to Gate of the Mists.

P Snyder, Y Laulan, S LeDain, 1973. A fine ice climb with spectacular ice scenery leading to the Diamond Glacier and hence the Gate of the Mists. The middle section takes a narrow ice gully just right of the Diamond Couloir. A few ice screws and rock pegs useful.

Start at base of an icefall at top of the east half of the Darwin Gl. From here make a long diagonal traverse left, steep and exposed, to the buttress crest and a good belay. Step down and traverse left with difficulty to a long narrow ice gully. Take this (AD) to a belay on the left. Continue by an easy-angled snowfield up to a continuation of the gully. Shortly the gully steepens and presents a low ice wall. Climb this (AD) then the gully above till an exposed ramp leads to the great ice cave below the lip of the Diamond Gl. Possible bivouac site. From left end of cave, move down and left to gain the base of the Diamond Gl. where it drops vertically for some 50m to the Diamond Couloir below. Now 4 straightforward pitches lead to Gate of the Mists. Glacial recession has removed the great sheet of icicles through which a window had to be cut to gain the Diamond Gl. in the past.

Descend by the Normal Route or South Face Route.

South Face Route PD+/AD (II/III)*

The easiest way to Gate of the Mists. Start as for R.99, but traverse right across the snow band at top of the first ice gully. Then go up the easy snowfield and traverse left and upward below the steep walls of Nelion. This leads to a ridge overlooking the Diamond Gl. which is reached by a horizontal traverse; then 2 pitches to Gate of the Mists.

100 Diamond Couloir TD (V)*** 9h to Gate of the Mists.

P Snyder, T Mathenge, 1973 (avoiding headwall by ramp on left). By the headwall: Y Chouinard, M Covington, 1975. A superb climb; a few pegs and ice pegs should be carried. As the first icefall is long it is advisable to climb a short way from the base to belay on the right before tackling the steeper second half. Above follow about 6 easier pitches to a belay slightly right of and above the foot of the great headwall. Move left onto steep ice and climb it trending left to easier angled ground left of the icefall and an excellent spike. Move right up an ice slope to gain the base of the Diamond Gl. Now 4 easier pitches to Gate of the Mists.

South side rock routes on Batian are in best condition from mid December to mid March. At other times they are likely to be heavily iced. A great expanse of steep rock, Diamond Buttress, rises left of the Diamond Couloir. The climbs are excellent but hard to complete in a day. Left of the couloir the first major fault is a vertical system of cracks and left-facing corners, marking line of the Original Route. The corner is undercut and access is gained either by starting almost at the foot of the next, less distinct, vertical fault line to the L; or using easy ledges to enter the corner from well to the right. Either way is best reached up the west side of the Darwin Gl; 30 min from boulder shelter at base of the east Darwin GI. or 1h30 from Hut Tarn.

101 Diamond Buttress Original Route 450m VI*** 15h.

D J Temple, I F Howell, 1976. A good selection of nuts is recommended. left-hand start: Just right of the less distinct fault line. Climb 10m right (III) to base of a left-facing long crack, formed by a huge flake. The crack for 30m (sustained, VI+). Move 8m right (III) to gain the main fault line. Var. right-hand start: Scramble left-wards up easy ledges to where the ledges lead back right and upwards towards the Diamond Couloir. Move left for 20m to a corner (IV). Climb the fine corner, making a delicate traverse into a corner further left and go up this to join the previous start in 45m (VI-). Continue with a 15m pitch (VI-) to a boulder belay where the corner above looks uninviting. Go left and climb a V-chimney; at the top of this move left then right and go up wall to a ledge (35m, VI-). Now move right to a crack and climb this (V+) until the blank right wall can be crossed by a tension traverse (VII-, free) to belay in chimney (40m). Continue to top of chimney and ledges with good bivouac site (15m). Slant left up slabs to obvious right-facing corner (50m, III). The buttress is cut at this level by a long ramp/slab system. The next section traverses this left. Move left for 30m then slightly down to foot of wall; climb this (15m, VI-). Now 2 pitches trending left to a short chimney (25m, 25m, IV+). The chimney then a sloping ramp/slab left to a prominent blank slab (25m, V+). Traverse right across a steep wall, round a nose into a groove, and go up this to a ledge (V+). Traverse right and down to base of a narrow jamming crack; climb this (VI-) to a ledge (35m). The wall above, turning an overhang by a strenuous move left (35m, V+). Excellent bivouac on left. Now 3 easier pitches lead to the southwest ridge route; follow this to the summit of Batian.

South-West Ridge IV+**

A H Firmin, J W Howard, 1946. A short way left of R.101 low-angled slabs allow a rising traverse left to be made to a notch between a small point (Pt Slade) and the southwest ridge proper of Batian. On the other side of the notch is an amphitheatre; in snowy conditions quite pleasant, but nasty if icy. In the latter case it is better to follow the ridge above the notch. This terminates in steep walls. A left-ward traverse across the top of the amphitheatre leads to the top part of the left bounding ridge of the amphitheatre. At the top of this either go straight up (steep, with small holds) to gain the final sections of the ridge in about 3 pitches; or make a long traverse right, then up a strenuous chimney and corner to gain the upper southwest ridge slightly lower down. Then fine climbing to the summit; good bivouac site 2 pitches below the top.

102 West Face 450m TD-** 9h.

R A Caukwell, G W Rose, 1955. A fine snow/ice climb left of the southwest ridge. It remains in good condition for most of the year, but may lose a lot of cover and become icy from late January to the long rains in March. A few ice and rock pegs are useful.

From Hut Tarn traverse to the Tyndall Gl. and ascend it to below the final, north-most hanging glacier (1h30). Climb steep snow trending right to gain the top of the Heim Gl, the lowest hanging glacier at right foot of the face. From the upper slopes climb mixed snow, rock and ice for 3 pitches till long snow/ice ribs on right side of the icefield lead to a slightly steeper pitch, and to along, horizontal, easy-angled band. Possible bivouac in a cave right. From here a long traverse left leads to a gully and hence the summit; or trend right up rock (IV) to reach the southwest ridge. Another variant makes a long traverse left across the easy angled band, then climbs rock to reach the base of a gully leading to the summit; this gully does not merge with the top of the main ice fields below.

Nelion from SE
Nelion from SE & Normal Route

Normal Route on Nelion
Normal Route, avoiding MacKinders Chimney

Normal Route
Normal Route, above Amphitheatre

Mount Kenya from South
Mount Kenya from South

Diamond Couloir Headwall
Diamond Couloir Headwall

Diamond Couloir
Diamond Buttress & Couloir

Diamond Buttress
Diamond Buttress

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103 West Ridge 350m D/V-*** 9h

(from Firmin Col) E E Shipton, H W Tilman, 1930. Bounds left side of the west face, and reputed to be the finest mountaineering route on Mt Kenya. Awkward access and rarely climbed. Best season, July to October; crampons useful.

Approach is easiest via the Josef Gl, reached from just below and west of Hausburg Col (4591m). Halfway up the gl, good bivouac ledges on right, about 1h30 from Kami Hut. Ascend glacier to a 100m gully of rotten rock or snow (1h), hence Firmin Col, c4850m (1h). An alternative fast approach from Kami Hut involves scrambling up the west side of the Northey Gl. to a col between the Petit Gendarme (4976m) and Pt Dutton (4885m), from where the former gendarme is reached by easy slabs.

The ridge is climbed over several gendarmes. The Petit Gendarme is mounted slightly south of the crest, traversing onto the north side just before the top. Descend north side to a gap; keep low and left to traverse below the next obstacle, the Grand Gendarme (5099m). When traversing is no longer possible, difficult slabs are ascended. Then a corner is turned right and a wide ledge is reached. The ridge can now be rejoined behind the gendarme. Follow crest to the "12m Pinnacle", one of the hardest problems on the ridge. The next feature is Shipton's Notch; abseil into this, then follow ridge to summit.

Var: Just beyond the pinnacle there is a good bivouac, from here it is easier to follow R.104 to the summit.

104 North Face Standard Route 550m IV+** 10h.

A H Firmin, P Hicks, 1944. The easiest and most popular rock route on Batian between June and October.

Going east from Kami Hut, round the foot of Batian north ridge, a scree slope is reached leading to the small Krapf Gl, lying below the east face of Nelion. The route starts about halfway up this scree slope on the right, at the base of a major couloir system and just above a small bivouac site left of an often wet chimney.

From a cross-on-circle chipped in the rock, climb up then move right into couloir (20m, IV-). Easy rock on left (20m, II). Scramble 45m up couloir, ignoring branch on left, to narrows; climb these mainly on right (30m, II). The couloir fans out and steepens. Climb a right-facing corner in centre of fan to slabby corner (35m, III+). Climb to its top left of slabs (35m, I), then a left-facing corner to big terrace (15m, II). Now left up easy gully; traverse back right then take central shallow chimney to ledges at top of the couloir (30m, III+). Scramble up 35m left to amphitheatre; work up over scree then easy shattered yellow rocks to gain the left skyline just right of a slight point (good bivouacs in the amphitheatre). Slab to ledge (20m, II). Traverse right along ledges for 25m, then steep rock for 20m (III) to ridge just below the base of Firmin's Tower and good bivouac (4h).

Climb a crack until it divides (20m, IV+). Chimney up right branch for 15m to great block (overlooking the amphitheatre). Move left into the original chimney and continue for 5m (25m, IV-). Easy steep rock for 50m (II) to top of the tower (5045m). (Var: If there is little snow or ice, it is easier to traverse right well beneath the tower and climb rocks overlooking the Northey Gl. to ridge crest; pegs and slings in place, IV). Now descend to a col, follow ridge for 60m to a short steep wall, climb this on the right then traverse right to a wide couloir (30m, IV-). Go up this (20m, II) then easy rock to join the west ridge (good bivouac). Scramble along ledges on north side of ridge then traverse a wall (5m, III) to reach Shipton's Notch. Drop 2m to the south side of ridge, rotten rock, and traverse easily to a rock couloir leading to summit in 100m (II). Var: From the bivouac, the ridge can be followed throughout to summit - harder but better rock.

Descend the same way.

105 East Gate 400m V+*** 10h.

I F Howell, P Brettell, 1980. An excellent rock climb for the period June to September. Takes walls and corners overlooking "Supercouloir" which divides the east face of Nelion from Batian. Approach as for R.104 and by the Krapf Gl, to start some 30m left of lowest point of Nelion east face, where a rising traverse line right leads onto the face. Follow this, then move up and right again to reach a slab (IV+) with difficulty (40m). Avoid a chimney by moving right and ascend to ledges overlooking the amphitheatre low down in Supercouloir (35m, IV). Take ledges on left side of amphitheatre to where easy ledges return left to ridge bounding the left side of Supercouloir (35m, IV-). Ledges left and a short chimney to gain the crest (30m, III).

In 5m two ways are possible.

(a) An easy ramp/ledge system left for 60m to a small scree-filled amphitheatre. Then 40m up and right to an excellent bivouac ledge. This lies just below the huge, open-book corner in the middle of the east face at c4900m.

(b) By the ridge, an awkward chimney then a groove on left in 2 pitches (30m, 30m, V-).

Note: From the bivouac ledge a short easy pitch leads to foot of the open book corner; this is taken by the Scott-Braithwaite Route and provides some of the best climbing on the east face.

East Gate continues from the right-hand end of bivouac ledge. Scramble to base of the right-most of 2 corners above (20m, III). The corner, to belay on the right, above a roof (20m, IV). Move down and right across a slab below a roof, to reach a flake. Descend round this to a ledge, then climb grooves on right (30m, V+). Follow the groove line (IV+) to big ledge and possible bivouac site (25m). From far left end of ledge climb a groove (III) then easier rocks to ledges leading left (45m). Follow these to base of a short steep corner (15m, II). The corner (V, old peg), then a good belay ledge 7m higher (25m). Ascend to slab below roof. Move right then left to short chimney. Above this move up and right to a good ledge; possible bivouac, no water (40m, IV). This point is just below a huge featureless pillar; above that are easy rocks to summit. From ledge, climb to and work right across a dirty, wet ledge. Climb awkward cracks to a tiny bivouac site (with water) at base of a smooth wall (35m, IV+). The wall is split by a fine crack. right of this is a more broken crack system, with ledges resembling a staircase. Climb the Staircase pitch (V+) to a sloping ledge and spike belay (20m). Gain the top of a flake and move right across it. Make a long step right to reach a short corner. Climb this (V) then ledges and corners to easy ground (40m). A short scramble trending left leads to Nelion summit.

106 Eastern Groove VI+/A1, or VII-*** 16h.

I F Howell, I J Allan, 1978. Another excellent route. On the third ascent all aid was eliminated and the move left to the phallic rock was avoided by climbing more or less direct (E Hart, M Christensen and M Hafner, 1979).

Start 25m left of East Gate and just left of a smooth slab. Climb right across easy slabs and ledges to easy grooves. These lead to a niche with an overhung right wall (35m, III). Exit left onto slabs and ascend these trending slightly right to swing right, round an edge, and up 6m to a niche (25m, V-). Move up to a vertical crack, climb this (VI, one aid point) and continue up a ramp sloping left (possible belay); halfway up this make an awkward mantelshelf right (VI) to reach bottom of an off-width crack. Ascend this (one aid point) to belay (45m). Easier ground to a large shelf (10m, III). Go left along shelf for nearly 90m, to a point some 15m from its left end. The Groove itself can be seen above and slightly right of this point as a shallow, square-cut diedre forming the next main feature left of huge corner in centre of the east face. 2 pitches lead to its base; first curve right-wards on doubtful rock (3 5m, IV+), then follow a layback crack, step left to a groove and go up to belay at foot of the Groove (20m, V). (If the bivouac at c4900m below the great corner is used, the Groove can be reached by a simple scramble from Lend of the shelf. The bottom of the layback crack is then best reached by 2 short easy pitches; the first to a terrace below the giant corner, the next traversing slightly down and across to the layback). At first the groove is blank and needs some 5 points of aid (wires) until it relents to jamming and bridging (30m, VI). Continue by cracks to easier ground and a poor bivouac site (20m, VI). 2 more pitches each with occasional aid points lead to a belay at foot of a layback crack. Climb this (V+) and move left to a phallic rock (30m). Slabs behind (III) lead to a vertical corner crack; avoid this by an off-width crack round a corner left (15m); some aid points in this crack; then move back right to easier ground (20m). 2 easier pitches (40m, IV and 25m, III) attain a large terrace. Follow this right for 45m to a scree gully (III). Climb gully to base of a chimney on right (15m, II). The chimney (V) to easier ground (45m) and a short scramble to the Nelion summit.

Mount Kenya from the north
Mount Kenya from the north

Mount Kenya from the north
Mount Kenya from the north

Mount Kenya from the north
Bivouac on Firmin Tower

Mount Kenya from the north
Eastern Grooves Crux

Nelion East Face
Nelion East Face

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The fourth highest peak of the Mt Kenya group. The south buttress overlooking Hut Tarn has 2 very hard "crag routes" on it. The south ridge itself can be gained starting from the east end of Hut Tarn. The ridge is long and tedious (III).


An elegant summit with some pleasant short routes. From the Midget/ Point John Col the summit can be reached in two pitches (90m, IV). This is also the easiest descent route. The south and southwest gullies provide longer routes (IV). On the north side a good route climbs cracks directly to the summit (V+).

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107 Point John Couloir 120m AD+** 2-3h.

P Snyder, D Karinga, T Mathenge, S Gitonga, 1972. A pleasant ice climb affording 3 ice and 3 snow pitches. Starts 10 min walk from boulder shelter below the east Darwin Gl, under the obvious couloir north of Point John. Facing north, the couloir is in best condition between December and March. At other times the snow/ice may vanish. Descent: From col at top (c4800m), a descending traverse northeast (towards Pt Lenana) leads to an easy scree gully. The boulder shelter can be regained by traversing below Pt John, then crossing the col (4649m) between Pt John and Midget Peak.

108 South Ridge 200m IV- ** 4h.

R Merendi, L Marimonti, G Gualco, 1958. Pleasant and exposed rock climb, easily reached from most locations on this side of the peak. The great vertical walls of Pt John become more broken on the right and are terminated by the southeast gully, a wide, slabby couloir, partly scree-filled. Start at gully base. Traverse left then go up to a white spot on the south ridge. Climb steep rock to a little gully, and take the right branch of this to top of first tower. The second tower is climbed from left to right. 2 more towers lead to top, just right of the summit tooth. Descend by scrambling towards the head of the southeast gully and enter this by a short abseil, then easy scrambling to the bottom.
Point John
Point John

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From Kami Hut, a pleasant short day by south ridge (III+), starting from a col (c4690m). Follow ridge avoiding most difficulties on the right side. Descend by one abseil northeast into a gully, then an easy scramble. The north (Window) ridge is another fine training climb (VI). From the above col (c4690m), Point Dutton (below) can be reached by climbing the north ridge to top of the north couloir, then the short northwest ridge to summit (I), 2h.


109 East Ridge 250m IV** 4h.

From centre of the Kami (northeast) face, climb easily left and up for 200m across ledges, slabs and short gullies to gain left edge of the face (I). Climb a clean corner (15m, III+). A more broken corner (20m, III) leads to easy rock, ledges then scree overlooking the Northey Gl. Go up these left then right to a gully leading towards northeast summit. Climb gully for 10m then go right and up to ridge below a prominent rocky finger (30m, III). Climb a diedre just left of this (peg at crux), move left and take slabs to a flake (25m, IV+). Now the ridge to northeast summit (45m, IV-). So follow sharp crest for 150m to final wall (pass right) and the main summit. Descend by the north ridge.
Point Dutton
Point Dutton

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ALW 25/05/13