Climbing Mount Kenya

After a wonderfully varied two months exploring Ethiopia, including trekking in the Simien and Bale Mountains, and a week in Djibouti snorkeling with whale sharks and floating at the lowest point in Africa, we made our way into Kenya on a series of long and hot buses.

We were excited to be back in the mountains and to climb Mount Kenya, Africa’s second-highest mountain. The mountain has three summits – the highest two (Batian – 5199m and Nelion – 5188m) are technical and require rock-climbing experience so our aim was to climb Point Lenana (4985m).

Looking fresh and clean at the park gate!

There are different routes up and we decided to ascend via the longer six-day, camping-only Chogoria route and descend via the Sirimon route. We pitched our tent at the park gate, on the shores of two lakes (Ellis and Michaelson), at the foot of Point Lenana (Simba Tarn) and in a valley (Old Moses). All campsites were very scenic and we enjoyed being back in our tent.

Camping at Lake Ellis

The most beautiful of these camps was Lake Michaelson, the park’s biggest lake, which sits in a volcanic crater and is hemmed in by a valley. There were stunning views of the valley and the summits in the clear morning and the water sparkled a beautiful blue in the sunshine. And it was just as beautiful at night with a sky full of stars.

Gorgeous view from Lake Michaelson – we were camping on the other side of the lake to where this was taken

After a lovely morning pottering around the lake and drying out our socks from the rain the day before, the afternoon’s trek was from the lake to Simba Tarn. It was one of the most scenic parts of the walk as we followed a waterfall out of the valley and then continued through another huge valley with hundreds of giant lobelias everywhere we looked and the beautiful snow-topped three summits and other jagged peaks completing the view.

View heading up to Simba Tarn – this is looking away from the summits
The view from Simba Tarn

The following summit day was also spectacular. From the top we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and a fantastic sweeping view of the valley we had walked through the previous afternoon. The three summits and other peaks remained in view as we descended and then climbed up the ridge for a view of the summits from the other side. After a well earned breakfast at Shiptons camp (admiring the view that is the first picture), we continued descending through another valley that too had thousands of giant lobelias, many with beautiful purple flowers, with the summits and other peaks now behind us.

What a feeling
The view back towards the summits as we descended through the valley from Shiptons to Old Moses

Weather wise it was really a trek of two halves – while the final three days were clear and sunny all day, for the first three days we enjoyed clear and sunny mornings before clouds and rain rolled in during the afternoon. The trek suited the weather perfectly as the first few days were short and we were up with the sun. In the dreary afternoons we’d play cards in our tent and drink a lot of tea. The final three days were longer, especially the summit day where we were up at four am, and we felt very grateful to have brilliantly clear skies framing the peaks for the longer days. Mount Kenya’s weather is notoriously unpredictable and we really felt like the weather gods were looking out for us.

View of Lake Michaelson on a cloudy third morning

Unlike in the Simien and Bale Mountains, we didn’t see many animals. We saw baboons and skittish water-buck near the Chogoria park gate , bold rock-hyrax at our camp on Lake Michaelson, bush buck at our final campsite (Old Moses) and finally a few zebra as we headed out of the park.

Sleeping plants!
What a hairstyle!

More than the animals, however, Mount Kenya is renowned for its flora and fauna. The amazing plants we saw included a giant cabbage-like plant that curls up and goes to sleep at night as well as lobelias with a furry covering that looked like an 80’s themed hairstyle! We trekked through valleys dotted with thousands of giant lobelias and through a lot of thick moorland scrub bush. We also walked past a lot of lemongrass and wild flowers, saw bushes of proteas for the first few days and on our second morning walked through a small forest with eerie moss-covered trees that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Harry Potter film.

Descending through the valley from Shiptons to our final camp at Old Moses  Рthe pointed peak is Lenana

We loved the beauty and variety of the trek. The mountains were stunning, the plants weird and wonderful and it wasn’t a strenuous trek (nowhere near as tough as the Simiens!). The route had a gentle start and only became steep for sections of the last couple of days.

We really enjoyed camping and thankfully had no issues with the altitude, which I think was for two reasons:
1) We chose the longer Chogoria route, which meant summiting on the fifth morning and not the third as is possible with the other routes. We also chose not to drive all the way to the park gate and walked the final 10km, a climb of 600m.
2) We would walk high and sleep low, descending to camp after a climb. Also, the net altitude climbed each of the first four days was fairly consistent.

We’re now looking forward to seeing a few animals and relaxing on the beach for Christmas before we make our way to the mountains in Uganda.

Detailed Trek – Camps and Timings

  • Day 1: 45 minutes driving and two hours walking from Chogoria Village (1700m) to Chogoria Park Gate (2950m)
  • Day 2: Four hours to Lake Ellis (3450m)
  • Day 3: Five hours to Lake Michaelson (4000m)
  • Day 4: Three hours to Simba Tarn (4390m)
  • Day 5: 90 minutes to Point Lenana (4985m). Three and a half hours to Shiptons Camp ( 4200 m) and a further five to Old Moses (3300m)
  • Day 6: Two hours to Sirimon Park Gate (2650m)

Can you arrange independently?

Absolutely! I emailed the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) asking for a contact for a guide based near Chogoria and they put me in touch with Tony. I called when we arrived at the Chogoria Transit Motel and we arranged the trek over a cold Tusker sitting at the rooftop bar.

Tony was a wonderful guide – experienced, knowledgeable, sensible, calm and with a nice demeanour. The chef was also outstanding and we ate incredibly well. The team worked well together and really looked after us. It was evident that they’ve been doing this for a while.

I’d happily recommend Tony and here are his details:
+254 0733 67 69 70
+254 0722 950 479

Costs (US $)

  • Park Entrance – 52/person/24 hours
  • Camping – 20/person
  • Guide – 30/day
  • Chef – 10/day
  • Food – 15/person/day
  • Porter – 12/day
  • Transport in & out of the park – 80