Hell's Gate - Rock Climbing Guide

Guide Book


Hell's Gate


Thought to have been formed by a river spilling out of Lake Naivasha in the past, this magnificent gorge with sheer cliffs rising to 150m and renowned for its wildlife is designated a National Park. The cliffs have deservedly become famous for their hard and serious climbing. The rock is composed of lavas cracked vertically to give columnar sections; sandwiched between them are narrow rotten bands. A band caps the central part of the Main Wall, giving Andromeda its horrific top pitch. Olympian, the first route climbed in this area, finds a way through the top rotten band by way of a safe chimney behind a huge hanging flake. Routes at the left end of Main Wall are mainly free of rotten rock.

All climbs can be reached in 5 min from a car. Fischer's Tower, the small pinnacle at the entrance to the gorge, provides a variety of short fine climbs on good rock. As a sanctuary, special care must be taken not to disturb nesting birds; this rarely poses any problems. The main cliffs face east, so climbing in the morning is not recommended unless the day is cool; climbing on Fischer's Tower, or exploring the lower section of the gorge, would be a pleasant alternative. Pegs are generally not needed. A wide selection of chocks should be carried, including a few of the larger hexentrics or Friends. Protection is generally excellent except in the rotten bands. Normal Park Entry fees must be paid by non-MCK visitors (see section on Mount Kenya). Camping is permitted in Hell's Gate and there is a campsite (minimal facilities) left of the Main Wall from where Main Wall climbs may be reached in just over 20 minutes walk. An alternative site is at the YMCA, 2km away from the cliffs. Facilities here include cheap bandas with beds and mattresses, a kitchen and showers. Similar amenities are found at Fisherman's Camp, some 2km beyond the YMCA on the main lake road. 7km away, towards Naivasha town, is the Safariland Lodge; this offers more luxurious accommodation, good food, swimming pool, beautiful grounds noted for birdlife and access to the lake. Petrol/garage at Naivasha town (15km). Water available at park gate.

Access: Good bus and matatu service Nairobi-Naivasha (86km,1h30). Matatus and many other vehicles go down the South Lake Road which starts 2km south of Naivasha town. After 10km Safariland Lodge is passed on the right. In another 4.7km, beside an electrical sub-station, lies the turn-off for Hell's Gate. The Park Gate and entrance to the gorge are 1.5km along this track. Fischer's Tower and the Main Wall are a few hundred m into the gorge.

Hell's Gate Location
Hell's Gate location

Cliff Map
Park Area Map

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This obvious 50m pinnacle located near the entrance to the gorge offers shady climbing on it somewhere at any time of day. Descent is by abseil from an awkwardly placed ring bolt. Climbs are described from the east, anticlockwise.

50 Original Route IV+ 40m *

H C Pereira, J Moore, 1949. At south-east foot of tower gain a cracked, easy-angled ridge by pulling over a steep nose. Trend left to a large fig tree, belay possible. Move up into a steep clean corner and take this direct, or more easily after 2m move right round ridge and climb to ledges above. From right end of these either go up steep cracks direct or spiral up ledges to top. Var: From the easy ridge, traverse 2m right to a slab and overhanging corner. Bridge over this to gain a slab on right. Traverse right below a small tree and climb a corner to reach ledge below the summit block. Then as above (IV-).

51 The Groove V+ 40m**

M Harris, I F Howell, 1967. The most obvious roof-capped corner overlooking the picnic lawn on north side of tower. Climb groove in its entirety, moving left at the overhang.

52 Recompense V- 45m **

M Harris, C Powell, D Metcalfe, 1966. Climb a few m up The Groove till it is possible to traverse right to ledge above a tree. Move up right and climb across an arete (crux); pull right, round next arete. Turn roof on right and climb cracks to top.

Just left of The Groove an interesting route, The Bulge (Vl-*), follows a crack to top of a pillar. Pull over the bulge (crux) into a niche; exit on the right by a strenuous crack. Compensation (V+*) starts 4m right of The Groove, at a steep black wall. Climb a left-trending groove above, swing right to a slab and ledge; then a crack system above goes to the top.

53 East Rib IV+ 40m *

I J Allan, P Sutcliffe, 1966. A steep rib facing south east. Walls and ledges lead to the rib which is climbed direct to the top.
Hyrax below Fischer's Tower

On the Bulge

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This lies just beyond Fischer's Tower, on west side of the gorge. The climbs are described from left to right. 200m from left end is the Left End Wall. 20m above the ground a small green tree grows out of the cliff with its white roots trailing to the ground. This is one of the few unique features of this section. 5m left of a point directly below the tree is the start of Magician. 12m left of tree, 2 great boulders lie right beside the cliff; just left is the var. start to Merlin; 15m above is the long corner pitch, capped by a roof. The original start is 20m left of the tree, below a 10m flat-topped pillar, and 2m right of FS scratched on the rock. 5m further left, an unusual, horizontally striated and pocketed wall is seen, the start of Future Shock. Again 15m further left, a big pale corner halfway up the cliff; this is taken by the Great Corner (VI+*), a hard route starting some 10m further left, up shattered columns just right of a fresh rockfall; 5m above a line of roofs a long traverse right is made (V+) to a belay on the left arete, below the corner proper; the corner is entered over a hard bulge; near its top swing left (VI+) to a belay from which a spectacular, and improbable traverse across the right wall (VI+ at end) leads to easier ground. The Left End climbs are all excellent and the rock is good where it matters.

54 Future Shock VI+ 110m **

A combination of 3 old routes: Future Shock (I J Allan, M Savage, 1972), Juggernaut (D Cheesmond, I J Allan, 1975), First Aid (I F Howell, I J Allan, 1977). All required aid on their first ascents. As described, the easiest and probably the most pleasant way up this area of rock; no aid is required. Climb wall on pockets then easy right-trending cracks till a difficult move leads to roofs, 20m up. Swing right on good holds below the roof to gain a groove, and continue right to a wide crack. Pull over a bulge above this, then climb a left-facing corner to a ledge (35m). Continue to a niche, above and slightly right, then a steep corner with purple rock; a fierce layback leads to the easier corner above. A bulge in this is avoided by more broken ground on right. Move left to top of corner, then climb rotten rock left to a good belay below a steep corner, clearly seen from the road (35m). Pull into corner awkwardly; after 3m traverse right and climb good rock till the angle eases; more rotten rock above is climbed bearing left.

55 Merlin VI+ l00m ***

I F Howell, I J Allan, 1977. A superb, sustained and well-protected route, probably the best at Hell's Gate. Climb a pillar and blocks, then a right-leaning, widening crack to a ledge right of the flat-topped pillar. A 3m long grassy traverse right leads to the bottom of a long corner-groove system, terminating in a roof 40m above the ground. Climb this over bulge (VI-) to a small ledge on left (30m). Var: slightly harder but better. From just left of the two boulders climb to block on pedestal at 5m, then move right past a roof (VI) to bottom of the long corner; above rejoin the original line. Climb a thin crack right of ledge (VI) to roof, and from a peg in place traverse left to gain a groove left of roof (VI). Climb this to ledge on right (20m). Bridge up the corner on left (VI+) and pass a down-pointing flake to reach a ledge. Continue up the corner, strenuous layback (VI+), to a ledge on right (15m). Steep rock leads leftwards to an easy broken corner and the top (35m).

56 Magician VI- 110m ***

This description uses the start of another route, Exterminator, which was destroyed after a rockfall on pitch 2. Original Magician: I F Howell, I J Allan, 1975. Exterminator: C Watts, M Savage, 1972. Start 5m left of the tree roots.

Climb easy left wall of a wide shattered corner. Below the 2nd overhang 10m up, make a difficult step left to the arete Climb fine corner above for 20m, and just below a big overhang step left to a steep slab, then climb back right with difficulty to regain the wide crack above the roof which is followed to a big ledge on right (45m). Climb the wide pale corner right of belay by several mantelshelf moves up the right wall; peg runner in place. From comfortable ledge on right make a difficult step left to regain corner; then hand-traverse left to ledges with poor belay; move right and up a nose to a corner. Hand-traverse left and go up steep steps on the left (35m). An easy ramp bearing left leads to the top (30m).

150m right of Magician the walls overhang an extensive pale area of cliff. 70m left of this part an easier-angled area of rock resembles a semi-circular dome, the top of which is grassy. At the centre of the semi-circle lies the start of Amazing Journey.

57 Amazing Journey V 130m *

I J Allan, D Cheesmond, A Walker, 1975. The easiest good route on Main Wall. Start at an AJ scratched on the rock. Climb crack diagonally left to ledges and a rocking-block above. Go up then traverse right and slightly up to an arete. Using tension from a peg and tape (in place) move right round arete to a slab above; climb right to a ledge (40m). Go up and left over steep broken ground to the base of a steep ramp slanting R; reach this by a steep wall. Ascend ramp for 15m to ledge on right below a wide crack system (30m). Climb crack for 5m, move right below a bulge and descend a few m to a long ledge with small tree and peg belay in place (20m). From right end of ledge climb a left-facing corner to its top. Move left at a bulging wall, climb to a ledge system, then right, upwards, and left to the top (40m).

150m right of R.57, the long grassy traverses of Dog Leg (move right then left to top of the cliff) provide the easiest route (III) on Main Wall. The next feature to the right is the Central Wall, the highest and most impressive part of Hell's Gate cliffs. A fine fig tree below its highest sweep grows below grey debris from a rockfall. The best and hardest climbs are located here.

58 Olympian VI-/Al or VI+ 175m**

I F Howell, I J Allan, P Snyder, R Harper, 1972. The first climb here. A popular classic, finding a way through a very steep area of rock, seldom exceeding V and providing some fine, exposed climbing. The rotten top band is climbed by a prominent safe chimney formed by a huge hanging flake. Pitch 5 involves a strenuous jamming crack, suitable for the big-fisted; its difficulty is out of keeping with the rest of the climb and the use of aid is justified (several large hexentrics or no.4 Friends).

25m left of the leftmost boulders in the rockfall area, a right-facing corner leads to a little cave 15m up. Climb wall on right for 10m then traverse left to main chimney/crack. Climb this to cave and over the roof to ledge on left. Above, take fine parallel cracks to ledge (30m). Climb to a steep wall, peg runner; go up this (VI+) then step left into crack. Ascend this, surmount protruding flake, then a chimney to ledge above (30m). Trend diagonally left to a large cave (20m). Traverse horizontally right to a left-facing rotten corner; follow this to ledge, belay at right end below a gently overhanging wall (25m). Climb wall by left-hand jam crack (VI+ or Al, 10m). Go right and chimney up behind a flake to a groove. Step right at top of groove to a fine perch, Lammergeyer Ledge (25m). Step down and move right across a slab till a hidden corner is reached. Climb this and the chimney above to ledges on top of the huge flake (20m). Finish diagonally left to the top (15m).

59 Andromeda VII- 175m **

D Cheesmond, I F Howell, 1975. Takes the Central Wall behind the tree. The lower pitches provide excellent sustained climbing. The top pitch is very serious on account of poor rock and lack of protection.

At the left-most point of the great rockfall, climb a pillar to a slab below a line of overhangs. Move left and surmount these and up to a good ledge (20m). Above, go straight up crack, hard and off-width near top. Var: step right into a steep groove; bridge then layback up this with difficulty, moving left to finish. Belay on top of flake-pillar (VI+, 10m). Ascend to base of long left-facing diedre. Follow this direct (VI+) to a small but good belay left of a big flake (25m). Climb right over flake and down the other side to a wide crack splitting buttress on the right. Take this over bulges (VI+), then a rotten chimney, to a big ledge (30m). Ignore the corner above; spiral diagonally up buttress on the right (poor rock) to a ledge. Go left and up 2 steps to a ledge with twin cracks above (30m). Climb these (VI-) to a resting place on right. Move up then traverse left to top of a huge detached pillar. Step up a ramp slanting left (peg in place, VII-) and climb over bulges to big blocks and good semi-hanging belay (25m). Move 5m right along ledges and step up to highest ledge (peg). The original party moved down from here and traversed several m right to aid up a groove. Subsequently parties have climbed the bulging "rock" free above the peg, trending slightly right (various pegs in place) to gain an arete; finish by a ramp/ledge system leading off right (35m).

Var.Start. A L Wielochowski, R Corkhill, 1984. The base of the wide crack can be reached in 2 direct pitches, giving more pleasant and easier climbing. Just right of the original start, at a point below the right end of the lowest line of roofs, climb to a fang pointing down from the roofs; move left to slab above the fang then traverse 2m left. Climb jamming crack (VI+, obvious from below), swing left to ledge and belay at top of pitch 2 of original route (35m). Follow the original line; from base of the diedre make a long dramatic step right (VI-) to regain the jamming crack. Climb this to base of the wide crack (original pitch 4) and belay 5m higher, on the left by a peg (15m).

60 Heart of Gold VII- 175m*

A L Wielochowski, G Hine, 1986. Some excellent climbing leads to just below the final pitch of Andromeda, followed by a rather disappointing traverse to base of the final Olympian chimney which is taken to the top. Start just left of centre of the rockfall, where a pillar leads up to the only break in the roof line at 20m. Thin blades may be useful.

Climb left-facing flake crack for 5m, then move right and down to climb short left-facing corner on right of the pillar, to ledge (18m, VI+). Go up crack, hard, to move right at 3m to great left-facing (Moac) corner. Take this to ledge, move left and low to jam up a crack to slight niche and rest before a vicious bulge with semi-hanging stance above (25m). Now left and down to base of rotten gully; climb this to ledge and belay at top of Andromeda chimney (15m, IV). Follow Andromeda over poor rock for 5m to a ledge; make a long step left to a steep crack - the continuation of gully below. At top of this go left to ledge (10m, VI+). Bridge and chimney up left side of huge detached pillar (14m, VI) then follow Andromeda for 4m to stance and belay on left (VII-). Traverse left with occasional tension from pegs to fine stance and belay (15m, V+, A0). Move up with peg for aid to gain a smooth slab, then left to a wall leading to the Olympian chimney where it becomes a scramble (l0m, V+, A0). Now follow Olympian.

61 MilkyWay VI+ 135m**

A L Wielochowski, M Savage, 1982. Above the fig tree the rockfall has created an area of grey rock capped at 25m by a band of roofs. The right-most roof has a crack to its right. Start 4m left of a point directly below crack line, just right of rockfall centre.

Climb dirty rock to a groove and follow this for 5m. Step right across an arete to base of another groove; take this to a roof and move right to a vast semi-detached flake, obvious from below. Follow the fine crack above (VI+) to right end of the roofs (25m). Continue up crack (VI+) for some 7m, make a thin traverse right to the base of another corner/groove system and climb this to ledges on left. An easy chimney leads to a big ledge (25m). Take the wall immediately above (V) to gain a slab, traverse left past a dirty crack and round a rotten arete to a comfortable ledge (15m). Step back right to left side of a great tapering pillar (Shark's Tooth). Climb this then a crack. Above a steep bulge, move left across a steep wall (VI) and mantelshelf onto an excellent ledge (15m). From left end of ledge move up awkwardly to base of a corner. Climb this (use ledge on right with hidden layaway above, VI) to easier ground and a fine semi-hanging belay 3m directly above corner (10m.) Traverse right below overhangs using tension from 2 pegs in place and one bolt. Climb white ledges with bulges in between to easier rock and a fine belay on right (VI-, 20m). Go up to a ledge below a roof; traverse left below a steep all (various runners including thread) to reach highest ledge used by roosting birds (peg in place). Reverse down and move left to another ledge system. From a peg in place move left across a dark red wall to an arete; climb this on better rock to a ramp trending right, hence the top (25m).

62 Zeus VI+, A2 155m *

I F Howell, M Savage, I J Allan, 1976. The most impressive feature on Main Wall as viewed from the entrance to the gorge is the great prow or nose, 50m right of the fig tree. The route finishes in a gully well left of the nose. On the first ascent much aid was used in the serious upper half, and on the 1st pitch; this is now avoided (J Fantini, 1978). The central aid pitch is unavoidable. Start 10m right of nose proper, at a recess. Climb a pillar, move left across a groove, then up a wall past a bush to a horizontal line of holds about 10m above the ground. Climb 4m left, moving down across a groove below a roof (difficult) to reach a groove above; go up this till the crack widens. Traverse left below the widening and swing into a groove capped by a roof (old chock). Take the right crack past roof to gain the base of a long fine crack, just right of the nose proper (clearly visible from the ground); This leads to bands of overhangs. Belay 5m up this (VI+, 40m). Follow crack to the roof (VI, 25m). Go up and right (A2, aid mainly in place) to more broken ground; step left across a wall (VI-) and ascend to a ledge with bolt (25m). Go left and up a slab, then a short steep crack to ledges above. Continue to a peg in a corner, move left then right to reach a pock marked arete and follow this. Hand traverse left and ascend ledges to a steep band (peg, flake and possible belay). Step left from flake to gain pink slabs below the left of 3 overhanging exit corners. Climb to blocks and from a peg and sling in place move down and right, round an arete, to a ledge below the middle corner. Move further right to gain the right corner and a semi-hanging belay (VI, 40m). Bridge up corner to a ledge leading right to climb a rotten juggy arete to easier ground (V, 30m).

Just right of Zeus the overhanging walls have been climbed by a serious route: Rocky Horror Show (VI+, A2). 30m right of Zeus the Central Wail is broken by an obvious line of weakness finishing in a vegetated gully and climbed by Stilleto; this starts directly below in a steep groove left of a grey column.

63 Stilleto V+ 125m**

I J Allan, C Wilson, 1968. Climb crack, go right to ledge and ascend right crack to niche, peg in place (35m). Bridge up, step right onto buttress and climb to ledge. Move right-wards along an unclear line to reach a vegetated ramp. Go up left along this to its end (25m). Climb an arete, a ledge then a crack to below overhangs (25m). From a belay peg move 2m left and climb through overhangs (crux). Now traverse right across slabs to finish up gully (40m).

250m. right, the Main Wall changes direction. The Devil Drives climbs the area of rock just left of the blunt nose formed by this bend.

64 The Devil Drives V+ 65m *

I J Allan, A Walker, 1972. Start below blunt nose on a large block platform. From detached block climb steep crack to a ledge. Continue up crack then step right and climb blocks to good belay (20m). Pull up from belay and step right to ledge and so reach a higher ledge; now traverse 5m left and ascend to a detached block above a small tree; pegs in place on top of block (15m). A slab direct for 3m to a recess, then climb over bulge to reach a peg. Traverse left to steep cracks; climb the left one to steep broken rock above and the top.

65 Deluge IV 65m

I F Howell, I Sandilands, 1968. Finds an easy way through some fine rock scenery. 200m right of The Devil Drives and some loom short of the park boundary fence there is a right-facing system of shattered corners leaning left and forming a natural line of weakness. Start below these at base of a slab. Climb short wall, move left onto slab, then either go left again to blocky steps or up slabby corner for 4m and then left to edge. Go over bulge then easily up and left to stance amongst blocks (25m). Trend left following easiest line to an easy scramble and bush belays further back (40m). Care with rock required.
Left End

Main Wall

Rocky Horror Show

Olympian (off-width)

Milky Way

Andromeda (variation start)

Milky Way traverse

Fischer's Tower in background
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The low cliff on the right at the entrance of gorge. The lower half provides some excellent problems. Pegs and slings in place about 15m up provide easy descents.


Cliff faces you as you go past the Main Wall going down the gorge. At the left-hand end is a grey buttress with a gully to its left. There are 2 good routes on this buttress. Descent is best by gully just right of the routes.

66 Black Widow VI 45m**

l F Howell, I J Allan, 1973. 10m left of the nose, a groove entered from the left leads to an obvious small roof at 20m. Below the roof step right and move to steep cracks. Climb these to a ledge (30m). Now climb cracks on right and a chimney to the top (15m).

67 Black Panther V+ 45m *

P Snyder, S Thumbi, 1972. Start 10m right of Black Widow. Climb the nose; at 10m move left into cracks; follow these over bulge, and continue to an overhang taken direct to ledges (30m). Move left and climb the crack to its narrowing, then step left onto wall. Go up and back right to finish by a shallow chimney in 15m. Care needed with loose rock.
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A few km down the gorge, Central Tower appears on the left. Just before this on the right is Springs Wall, whose left end is only 80m from the road and bounded by a deep gully on the left. 50m right of gully the wall is split by several fine crack lines. On the left a vertical square-cut corner with a roof two-thirds way up is taken by Shadow. Further right. Springer climbs a long crack slanting left to right with a roof at same height. Spider finds a way through the roofs between these 2 routes. Umbra Link begins just left of the nose of the cliff.

68 Shadow VI+ 60m*

l F Howell, R Harper, I J Allan, 1970. Scramble up a pillar of boulders leading to a band of overhangs. Bridge up and step left onto a slab above a roof. Move 2m left, then go up and right to belay directly below the steep corner (15m). Climb corner (crux at 6m), pass a roof and belay on the left, 3m below the rotten band (25m). Climb right of the corner to the rotten band. Move left to gain easy but rotten rock and trend left to the top (20m); belay 20m higher.

69 Spider VI+ 60m*

O Nilssen, A L Wielochowski. 1985. From the boulder pillar of Shadow climb directly up (V+) to the base a very obvious off-width crack immediately right of pitch 2 of Shadow (15m). The wide slabby groove just right of the off-width crack is climbed; move right halfway up this, then left to corner where several fine moves left through overhangs lead to a poor stance (25m). The rotten upper section can either be climbed direct or by moving left to finish on Shadow (20m); belay 20m higher.

70 Springer VI+ 70m*

D D Gray, D Burkhart, 1971. In the centre of this section of crag climb a prominent wide crack to a tree and ledge; step right and climb a short corner. Surmount a bulge, move left across a ledge and climb a steep corner to a grassy ledge (25m). Gain a long sloping crack; follow this turning roof on right, or taking it direct to a small ledge 4m higher (30m). Climb corner direct to top (15m).

71 Umbra Link V 85m**

I F Howell, B Thomas, 1973. Climb a corner to a grassy ledge on right (15m). This is just above a big fig tree right of the nose. Steep fine cracks lead to a belay at start of a ramp rising left to right (15m). Follow ramp with one difficult step through rotten rock to ledge. Traverse left across a black and nearly overhanging wall to a perch on the nose (20m). Above, take a very steep groove just right of the nose. Step left into a rotten chimney gully and follow this to the top.

There is a bay in the centre of Springs Wall with 2 prominent fig trees growing out of the cliff to the left and above a sandy hollow. Several pleasant and easier routes in this area. right of the bay, one outstanding route provides 3 pitches of varied and sustained climbing.

72 Excelsior Superdirect VI+ 90m **

Pitch 1: I F Howell, R J H Chambers, 1971. Original variant (IV): R J H Chambers, D Burkhart, 1971. Superdirect: T Jones, A L Wielochowski, 1984. Some 60m right of the right-most fig tree a huge boulder lies against the cliff with a tiny cave to its left. Above, shattered cracks lead to a pale corner with a crack to the left.

Climb the shattered cracks to a short steep wall; above this climb an easy corner and move right to the arete (30m). Move back into corner and climb the clean grey corner by a crack on the left (crux at start); where the crack narrows move left over dubious rock to a stance (20m). Step right and move up over loose-looking blocks to regain the corner. Bridge up this (V) in a spectacular position till easy ground leads left to the top. The original variant crosses the superdirect. It starts 25m to right and reaches the arete belay of the superdirect in 2 pitches. The grey corner is avoided on the left. The final pitch follows a wide groove directly above the 2nd stance on the superdirect and provides exposed straddling to the top. 40m right of R.72 is located the highest part of Springs Wall. Here, Hotel California, (VII), climbs a crack system right of a pale, blank wall and finishes to the left of this. Rotten rock mars the main pitch.

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ALW 25/05/13