Tsavo, Kitchwa Tembo - Rock Climbing Guide

Tsavo, Kitchwa Tembo - Rock Climbing Guide

Guide Book




Climbing first started here in 1978 when Bill Woodley, then the warden of Tsavo West, opened up the park to climbers and invited the MCK to explore the cliffs. Though difficult to reach, the setting is one of the best in Kenya and the climbing of a high quality. The gneiss walls are often covered in holds and free of vegetation. Cracks and corners abound, but tend to be more vegetated. The most impressive piece of rock, the 300m high east face, attracted the first explorers and resulted in the ascent of Great Tsavo Chimney. Mastadon took 3 visits before it was completed. A more recent route, Ivory Tower on Elephant Rocks, ranks with the best and hardest bush climb in Kenya. Generally pegs need not be carried. Unless climbing in the shade, an early start is advisable as it often gets very hot on clear days. The permit the MCK has to climb here, and to camp by the Tsavo river, is a special privilege and every effort must be made not to jeopardise this situation by careless actions. The following should be noted.
  1. Non MCK members are advised to contact the MCK if they wish to climb in Tsavo.
  2. A booking fee must be paid to the park as far in advance as possible. The current fee should be verified with the MCK or with the Park HQ in Langata. This allows the group to camp at the site for up to 7 days. Bookings are invariably accepted but confirmation by post takes at least 3 weeks. Crossed cheques should be made payable to "The Warden, Tsavo National Park West" and sent to him at PO Box 71, Mtito Andei. Booking inquiries may also be made by radio from Park HQ, Langata Road, Nairobi (tel.501081, extn.32). Normal park entry fees must also be paid on entry to the park (see Mount Kenya section).
  3. Ensure your vehicle is adequately prepared for the trip. If you do not have 4WD, planks should be taken to help cope with damp sand.
  4. Do not drive in the park after dark.
  5. No walking, other than to and from climbs, is allowed.
  6. If mechanical assistance is needed you must walk to Ngulia Lodge where help can be obtained.
  7. Only camp at the designated site unless special permission has been given.
  8. Take care with fires and bring out all litter. The toilet is a sandy area west of the camp; go at least 30m away and dig a deep hole which should be thoroughly filled after use; a panga should be taken on all trips for this specific purpose.
  9. Do not disturb animals. In the event of any need for medical assistance obtain help from the warden as soon as possible.
  10. Exercise great care when approaching the river. There are numerous crocodiles and hippopotami in the water whose behaviour is unpredictable. River water can be drunk in an emergency; it contains no major diseases but is rather muddy. Fresh water is available at the park gates, at the rhino reserve ranger post, and at Ngulia Lodge.
  11. The rhino reserve area below Kitchwa Tembo is still being developed. Inquire about any changes in the access situation.
The nearest petrol/garage facilities are at Mtito Andei, 70km. from the campsite.Access: Nairobi to Mtito Andei park gate by road, 240km. The camp site is still 70km ahead. Roads in the park are good and all intersections are clearly marked. From the gate take main road and turn left at the 2nd junction (2A); at the next junction (28) turn left again. Go straight over the crossroads at 21A where the east face of Kitchwa Tembo becomes clearly visible. Soon the rhino reserve fence is reached. The fence can also be reached from junction 20. There is a perimeter track round the reserve, follow this to the southernmost corner from where a rough track leads south towards the Tsavo River. The campsite is now 13km ahead. (The original route in via junction 21A may be more difficult to locate).

The track worsens again as it drops towards the Tsavo river. A dry, wide sandy bottomed river is crossed. Drive fast in 2nd gear to avoid getting stuck. Soon after, a similar narrower riverbed is crossed. The track then follows the river with no major obstacles. A big boulder stands on the right side of the track 150m before the camp site. Turn left at a point where the river bends away from the track. In 30m enter shady doum palms beside the riverbank. The Col is directly above and Kitchwa Tembo summit lies on a bearing of 50 east of north. Inquire about the state of the track before making the journey to avoid disappointment.

Without your own transport access is difficult. Numerous buses and matatus run from Nairobi to Mtito Andei at all times of day and night. There is also a train service from Nairobi. However, to travel from here to the campsite would involve hiring a vehicle or a taxi in Mtito Andei; this could prove both difficult and costly.

Access to cliffs: All the cliffs are surrounded by dense bush and woods. Deadfall, vines, thorns, boulders and loose steep soil all combine to impede progress and present difficulties. To minimise these problems choose a route carefully, where possible following animal trails, even if overgrown. If no up/down path exists then traverse till one is found. The access routes described need not be continuous paths, but in their general area there are many animal paths which can be linked together.

access roads
Kitchwa Tembo

Tsavo Location
Tsavo location

Kitchwa Tembo
access roads



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The lowest placed and most accessible cliffs; excellent climbing and popular. A large pointed rock two-thirds way up to the cliffs is a useful route marker. Below and right of this is a tall baobab tree. Approach this area from the right and, keeping the baobab on your left, aim for the marker rock, passing right of it and coming out just above it. From here a variety of pleasant paths lead to the central grassy bay of Elephant Rocks (45 min from campsite). In descent, abseiling from the cliff top is recommended though a traverse left at the top will lead to a poor path down a gully. The cliffs are split by the giant open-book Ivory Corner, whose left arete is Ivory Tower. The lowest section of cliff just right of this corner is marked by a grassy bay from where routes on the right half of the crag are easily reached. Routes left of Ivory Tower start from a terrace reached by scrambling up a gully 50m left of grassy bay.

73 Earl Grey IV+ l00m *

A L Wielochowski, F Ellyatt, 1981. At the left-most end of the terrace is a right-facing corner, reached by making a short descent before the Tusker start, then traversing. Just left of a block at base of the cliff climb a crack then traverse left into chimney; tree belay (25m). From. chimney traverse left onto a steep wall; climb this to a bulge, then traverse right across chimney; climb a wall then move right below overhangs. Cross a dirty gully and, avoiding chockstones by going right, scramble to a big tree 5m up gully (30m). Traverse left below tree along an ever widening ledge, step round a nose and climb slab above, keeping where possible near left edge (45m); a fine pitch. Descend in 2 abseils.

74 The Omen V+ 95m *

A L Wielochowski, 1981. Start at the third corner left of Ivory Corner. Climb a chimney for 4m and traverse left onto a juggy wall. Climb an arete (hard), move right and left, then follow arete to a stance (40m). Continue up arete to a ledge with twin cactus trees (20m). Surmount roof between the cacti, move up then left to arete and at spikes move further left (thin) for 3m. Make 2 moves up then go back right to lip of a roof; climb a crack then a wall and easy slab to the top; cactus belay (45m). Descent: Abseil from a tree 8m left of top.

75 Tusker IV+ 135m***

A L Wielochowski, D McMullan, R Corkhill, 1981. Mainly grade III, a few moves of IV+. A beautiful climb. Start as for The Omen, climb easy rocks right of chimney till a passage leads to base of chimney in the 2nd corner left of Ivory Corner (20m). The chimney, mainly on right wall, to a slabby ledge on right (15m). Make an exposed traverse to the arete left (keep low) and go round this to ledge (15m). Move up and right to reach a spike on arete. From here climb left and up (hard) to reach a black slabby wall. After a few moves make a thin step right to a sandy ledge on arete (pitch 3 could be finished here in order to give the second a top rope on the traverse). Big holds now lead to a horizontal cleft (40m). Var: a rising traverse at the start of the 3rd pitch leads to spike on the arete which is climbed direct to the cleft (V-, better climbing). Now go over the bulge and follow nose till it steepens. Move right to a juggy wall and go straight up this; cross arete and climb slabs, keeping right where possible, to a commiphora tree at top of corner (45m). Descend in 2 long abseils from top of corner.

76 White Owl Chimney VI- 125m *

D Crowther, A L Wielochowski, 1981. The corner left of Ivory Corner; 3 sustained pitches and a fine wall finish. Scramble into base of corner from the left. The chimney to a cramped stance on jammed flakes (25m); possible to move onto left wall to get a runner. Climb to block overhang, good stance above (25m). Continue to a runner in the roof then traverse right out of chimney (hard) and bridge up corner to good stance (30m). Climb corner for 2m then move right and directly up the wall (hard at first) to move left at top to tree (45m). Descend by 2 abseils, the first diagonally into the Tusker corner.

77 Exodus VI+ 130m*

P O'Sullivan. R Corkhill, 1981. Pegs useful. The walls right of White Owl Chimney. Halfway up, an obvious bottomless chimney is gained and followed to the top. Start near right end of terrace and climb a groove to tree at its top (15m). Move left and climb a shallow groove till a thin traverse right is possible to a scant ledge leading up to a niche (35m). Follow cracks to ledge and tree (35m). Climb an overhanging groove till easy ground on left of the fault leads to top (45m). Descend by abseil starting from a good tree on rim of left wall of Ivory Corner.

78 Ivory Tower VI+ 200m***

A L Wielochowski, I F Howell, R Corkhill, A Khan, 1982. A serious, sustained climb. Start one m left of Ivory Corner and climb a slab directly for 35m up a brown streak, passing the right-hand end of an overlap at 20m. Traverse 5m left till easier rock leads to a bushy bay at the far right end of a terrace (45m). Step right from bay onto a wall and climb a steepening to loose blocks. Move right, then up and right into Ivory Corner; a messy pitch. Good stance at a pinnacle right of corner (35m). Place a runner in the corner, move down and swing onto a steep grey slab on left. Traverse left to arete and climb this to a bolt and peg slightly higher. A steep wall (VI+) then jugs lead to a quartz hole and thread runner. Hand traverse left and swing onto a ledge above the big roof. Now left, then up and back right to a small stance on a sloping ledge (30m). Climb wall above stance for 8m to a resting place. Move delicately left and up to excellent runners in a crack above a rocking-block. From here climb direct (VII-) to a resting place right of a big detached flake.

This last section can be avoided by traversing 3m left from rocker, climbing (VI+) to a ledge, and right to the detached flake. Now bridge up, step right and climb cracks to a ledge below a corner. Bridge up corner to a loose block and roof, traverse left to easier ground and climb to the great horizontal break in the cliff. Belay on white ledge to right, pegs in place (40m). Surmount roof just left of stance using hidden pocket (protection peg 2m left), climb good grey rock to a steep wall, move 2m left, then climb to better holds and a resting place on the right (VI, steep and poorly protected). Ascend 3m to a better ledge then move 3m right to easier ground; go up good rock to small stance below a little bulge/roof (40m). Climb bulge to easier ground and the top (10m). Descend as for Ivory Corner.

79 Ivory Corner VI- 200m **

I F Howell, I J Allan, 1980. Named after an elephant tusk found by the first party. Mainly straightforward, airy on the last 2 pitches and vegetated on pitches in the corner. Easy belaying and an obvious line. Briefly: Start 20m left of central grassy bay at a groove with tree. Climb crack for 65m, vegetated in parts, till the left wall overhangs; take an overhanging jamming crack (crux), keeping out on the slabby right wall wherever possible. Easy chimneys above lead to the upper sections of the corner where the chimney becomes unpleasantly wide and is adorned with hornets nests. From just below the highest tree in corner proper, traverse left then move up into a bay. Trend right to a small right-facing corner and climb this to a belay. Take the crack above to the top. From a tree near the finish several abseils down the corner lead to the bottom.

The arete right of Ivory Corner is climbed by Ivory Pillar (VI-, Al); near the top a slab left of the pillar is taken. right of this is another huge corner system. The top sections of the left-hand walls are red and overhanging. A giant roof caps the whole system. The corner and slabs to the right are climbed by Call of the Wild (V+). About 20m right of this the slab overhangs a groove line slanting right which starts in a cave and initially is dirty and overhanging; great blocks are jammed in it a few m up. 80 Vampire VI 200m * A L Wielochowski, R Corkhill, 1983. Though rather devious, gives varied climbing of high quality. Start just right of cave, on top of a pedestal formed by a huge fallen block resting against the cliff.

Climb slab just right of pedestal or move up from pedestal to a white crack (runner) and traverse right onto slab. Climb this to top of the white crack (VI-). Traverse left and down (good holds below the overlap) to gain a stance on the jammed blocks (15m). Jam then hand traverse left (VI-) to reach a groove slanting right. Climb this to stance above a grassy ledge (15m). Continue up slanting crack for 6m to chockstones (runner). Above, the crack widens to a chimney; below this step left onto a steep wall. Move up to a big hold, mantelshelf onto this (VI+), move left then climb an easy slab to a tree (20m). (From here one abseil reaches the bottom.). Traverse right for 2m, climb a slabby wall till a break leads right into a grassy bay. Above this traverse further right across a blank slab to reach grooves leading up to right-hand end of a roof line. Small stance several m below roof (30m). Climb to a corner right of the roof and take this till it is possible to traverse out left, round a nose and to a corner on left below cactuses and a small tree (25m). Climb past cactuses to a roof (Shifta comes in here from the right); take a tapering slab above to reach a horizontal cleft splitting the cliff at half height (25m). Move slightly left. and pull over the roof of cleft (difficult) to a slight recess on right. Climb this (peg runner) to easier slabs and go up these keeping slightly left to a ledge and belays in a wide crack (35m). Follow this crack, breaking out left where it steepens. Move up, then back right into the now thin crack and go left across a slab to climb a wall to easy ground. Descend by abseiling down Ivory Corner.

81 Shifta V+ 200m **

A L Wielochowski, D McMullan, 1981. right of Vampire the slabs are unbroken till another major slightly vegetated fault is reached. From a pedestal just left of this fault climb to a high runner to protect a thin traverse right across a black slab, to gain the start of the fault line by tree roots and above a roof. Climb past 2 trees then an awkward traverse leads right to the arete; go up this to a ledge (45m). Climb arete then move left and up a clean crack just right of a chimney. Take a stance before the crack ends (25m). Take the right wall, step left across the corner and go up more easily till a long traverse left across the steep wall leads over an arete to a tapering slab (Vampire). Climb this (crux) to the horizontal cleft (25m). Crawl left to a stance near trees (10m). Surmount the roof at a point 20m directly below the right-most end of the giant roof on the L; climb to this, passing it just to the right. Trend right to ledge and belays in a wide crack (40m). Now as for pitch 8 of Vampire. Descend as for Ivory Corner.

Right of Shifta several routes climb the crack systems to the horizontal fault and slabs above. All are good. The right end of this cracked area ends in a long black corner, leading up to a vegetated bay below the left end of a long overhang above the horizontal cleft which splits the cliff. Beyond this the base of the cliff drops, and right of a blunt nose a sweep of black slabs appears. Several climbs start here. The right end is bounded by a left-facing chimney system, vegetated in its upper half. At the bottom a big fig tree grows out of the right wall of the corner, 5m above the ground.

82 Arc of a Diver IV 100m **

G Hornby, D Crowther (soloing), 1981. The blunt arete above the fig tree and right of the corner. A delightfully open slab climb, very popular and the easiest route in the area; it rarely exceeds III+. Start 20m beyond the buttress nose, below and right of the fig tree, at a long, wide left-trending crack; climb this to belay on top of a pinnacle (15m).
Var: climb direct, starting below the fig tree. Now the wall above the pinnacle, right then left, to slabs; climb a crack and belay near its top (15m). Follow rib to an overhang (unprotected), turn this on right and at next overhang traverse left to a tree (45m). Gain the top of overhang from left side. Follow nose to the top (15m).
An interesting descent from this route is via the Bat Cave. At the top go 3m right and descend onto a lower overhung ledge system leading into the cave. At the other end a window leads to the top of an easy gully; scramble down this for a few m, till it is possible to traverse right (facing cliff) and across into a water-worn gully leading to the bottom.

Immediately left of Elephant Rocks a vegetated descent gully is bounded to its left by a great fin of rock. The arete of this fin is covered in green lichen and has vertical seams. Monkey Arete (V+ **) climbs this, keeping right where possible, on good rock.

Elephant Rocks
Elephant Rocks


Tsavo Dawn
Tsavo Dawn

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A fine summit though difficult to reach. The Nose and east face provide some of the best climbing in Tsavo. The Col lies south-east of the summit below the second step; an almost continuous path leads from the camp to the Col, but it is difficult to find or follow and stay on. The general directions indicated below should be adhered to. From the camp aim for the left end of Elephant Rocks along a good game trail. From a slight saddle below the main rise take the open slopes, aiming just right of the summit. Low on this slope 2 big boulders can be seen; the lower resembles a right-facing rabbit. Aim to pass these at a point 100m to their right then trend leftwards. Shortly the slope becomes covered in big boulders and tall trees; traverse left along a good path at this level for 50m. Cross the main gully and take its left side till a traverse right leads back across it and up to a waterslide. At the top go right and take a path up to a grassy area right of big shady trees. The path zigzags up and works to right towards the Col (1h15 from camp, 45 min down). The east face can be reached in a further 30 min. Walk 40m north from Col then drop down an ill defined path for 50m. Now make a long traverse towards the east face, gaining height where possible. Var: follow ridge of R.76, to scramble down and abseil from a block below the Falcon cracks. Fine bivouac site at boulders below the Great Tsavo Chimney.

Descent is either (i) down the vegetated unpleasant South Gully (I), reached by going NW from the summit down open slabs to a flat col. Immediately push left to attain head of the thickly vegetated Gully. 100m down, a traverse right is made to a ridge. Descend right side of this for 200m, then traverse back into gully, now followed more easily to bottom (45 min). Work down and left (facing outwards) to regain path to the Col. Or (ii) turning east at flat col just below summit and descending slabs then a gully on the left (abseils) to bottom. Then a thickly vegetated traverse leads in about 15 min to the biv. boulders.
Or (iii) from the top of Behemoth abseil to the top of R.84; if ropes are not long enough the abseil may be broken at the first belay of The Link, in which case the first abseil is east down slabs. Continue abseiling to the base of South Gully as for Covenant.

83 Covenant IV+ 105m***

l F Howell, I J Allan, 1981. An expedition of great character and exposure. From Col follow alpine-style ridge to foot of the lower nose of Kitchwa Tembo. Climb a chimney, step left and shortly move back right into chimney. Go up for 3m, move left onto the arete and go up to small cave stance (35m). The chimney to a platform at top (20m); the left wall can be climbed in the middle section of this pitch. Step right (thread runner) and climb a quartz band, moving right on slabbier ground to belay block on nose (20m). Now left across slabs, then easier rock leads to ridge (30m). Var: the quartz band can be climbed direct (VI-). Either follow ridge across a crevasse to base of the final step and climb The Link or abseil down the climb itself. From the base of Covenant 2 further abseils SW lead to the bottom of South Gully. The first is a full 45m, the second starts awkwardly from a tree in a cleft.

84 Great Tsavo Chimney V+ 200m ***

A L Wielochowski, M Savage, 1978. A superb chimney climb, long pitches of fine bridging on good rock. The line is obvious, briefly as follows. Enter chimney with difficulty, then 2 ways are evident for the 2nd pitch. At a narrowing climb face to left (VI-) till it is possible to regain chimney, or avoid this by going deep into chimney and climbing in semi-darkness (IV). The 4th pitch involves a hard move left round a chockstone (V+). Near the top stay on the outside of the chimney. For continuations, see Covenant.

Left of R.84 another chimney splits the east face but does not reach the ground. The next route gains this chimney from the left and then climbs the rib bounding the right side of the chimney.

85 Falcon VI- 140m**

A L Wielochowski, C Fox, 1985. A fine, exposed and well protected. route. Start below a steep crack system at the leftmost end of the east face. This can be reached either by a short abseil and traverse from the base of Covenant or by a short slab pitch from below. Climb the right-trending crack till a move up to, and past, a projecting spike (crux) leads to a tiny stance (25m, VI-). Make a long rising traverse right across a ramp to tree (45m, V-). Continue right into the chimney; climb this then a tapering slab on the right to gain a ledge and tree belays (20m, IV). Climb cracks in the rib above the left end of ledge (25m, V+). Scramble to the ridge above (25m). Var: it is possible to climb directly up from the first belay to the ridge (VI).

86 The Link VI- 65m***

A L Wielochowski, R Corkhill, 1981. A fine continuation to Covenant, Great Tsavo Chimney or Falcon, taking steep exposed slabs right of the headwall. Step across the Great Tsavo Chimney to a ledge; move 2m right to a spike then move up and right onto slabs; climb these trending slightly right to a quartz band and follow this to a nut and bolt belay (35m). Directly up then after 2 mantelshelf moves go left across a holdless slab to reach easier ground, bolt belay (35m).

The next 2 routes are situated on the east face proper. Both give excellent wall climbing rarely exceeding V-. Belays and protection however need a lot of care. A small selection of pegs is useful for Mastadon.

87 Mastadon VI+ 310m**

A L Wielochowski, P O'Sullivan, I F Howell, R Corkhill, 1981. Start right of the bivouac boulders, where a tree 10m up has roots hanging down to the ground. Climb roots then a chimney to a small niche (35m). Go up to an overhang, traverse 3m right onto to blunt arete and follow this to a steepening. Traverse back left to a corner (30m). Go back right then up diagonally right till a line of holds is taken diagonally left (hard), then a wall to a small left-facing corner and hanging belay below a ledge (30m). From ledge go left then 5m. direct to big holds. So left again (difficult) to runners, then up 2m and left again. Several more left then upward moves lead to a ramp crossing face from left to right. Belay on ramp, left of a thin semi-detached rock pillar, pegs (40m). Climb ramp to a good ledge (45m). Go up diagonally left across slabs to top of a second, higher ramp line; block belay (25m). Move up then right following an arching crack to reach a grassy overhang; surmount this (hard) to base of a chimney cutting the headwall (25m). Climb chimney to small ledge (35m). The chimney narrows to a crack; bridge over narrowing into a niche (runners), step onto left wall and climb a slab above trending left (45m). A sustained and poorly protected pitch.

88 Behemoth VI+ 300m ***

M Savage, A L Wielochowski, 1981. Start 40m right of Mastadon, at the bottom of a long left-facing chimney. Climb this for 6m, traverse onto wall right and take this over a bulge to a ledge (40m). Go up direct for 40m first trending left then right. Traverse 6m left to a grassy ledge above a band of roofs; peg belay in-situ (45m). The next belay (peg in place) is directly above and can be reached either directly, or more easily by moving left and up to a spike, then back right and straight up (45m). Climb left on easier slabs; after 25m pass belay ledge at end of Mastadon ramp pitch. Continue to block belay as for latter (50m). Traverse almost horizontally left below the headwall till you can almost see the Great Tsavo Chimney. Take the wall above (unprotected) till a move left leads to a hanging belay from a bolt, spike and nut, almost level with the top of the Great Tsavo Chimney (45m). Gain easier angled slabs above, go up these, move right to a quartz band and follow this to the bolt and nut belay on The Link (35m). Finish as for The Link (30m).
East Face
East Face

Kitchwa Tembo
Kitchwa Tembo

East Face
East Face

Great Tsavo Chimney
Great Tsavo Chimney

Below Behemoth


Link start

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These cliffs lie directly above the river camp. They are best reached directly - but there are no good paths. Descent is best from the Col. Several routes have been climbed here. Bloodline V+ *, provides good very exposed climbing in its upper half. This starts near the centre of the cliffs where a 15m tall pillar rests against the cliff. Start at the base of the chimney formed by the left side of the pillar. Climb the chimeny, then move up to a niche with difficulty (below a roof), 40m. Surmount the roof, left then right. Climb up to a narrow vegetated ledgeon the left, 40m. Move left to the arete; up this first on the right wall, thern onto the left face over two bulges to a poor belay, 40m. Up left to the top, 30m.


Lie south of the Col and overlook the Rhino Reserve, several good slab routes have been climbed here. The longest slab lies in the centre of the cliff and is taken by Vulturine VI- *, 185m. Access is via the Col.
tsavo rocks
Tsavo Rocks

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ALW 25/05/03