Climbing Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya offers classic climbing to all backpackers
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Mount Kenya offers classic climbing to all backpackers

The Normal Route on Mount Kenya climbs the broad, complex southeastern side of Nelion, one of mountain's twin summits, before traversing the gap between Nelion and Batian (the higher of the twin summits), and reaching Batian's summit. Although it is the standard ascent route for both Nelion and Batian, the Normal Route is a stimulating, enjoyable climb, offering challenging route-finding, good rock, a straightforward descent. In addition, adventurers climb along the first portion of Halford Mackinder's remarkable 1899 ascent of Mt. Kenya.

From the village of Chogoria on the east side of the Mt. Kenya massif, walk, hitchhike or taxi to the park entrance, then follow the Chogoria Trail up the east side of the Mt Kenya massif, with overnight stops at one or all of the following: Meru Mount Kenya Lodge, Minto's Hut, and Austrian Hut. From Austrian Hut, cross the Lewis Glacier to the base of the southeast face. The route begins in the back of an obvious small amphitheater and climbs up and right for nine pitches to the crest of the South Ridge (gained at Baillie's Bivy, a ruined metal hut). The route crosses the South Ridge, then continues up and right for several pitches behind Mackinder's Gendarme to a full ropelength traverse, out to the right. Above this traverse, the route climbs almost straight up for several pitches to the summit of Nelion. An overnight bivouac on Nelion (in the Howell Hut) is recommended if you are heading for Mt. Kenya's true summit, Batian. From the top of Nelion, descend into the Gate of the Mists (leaving a rope fixed to aid your return, especially if you don't bring ice gear), the gap between Nelion and Batian. Easy climbing leads (on the left side of the ridge separating the twin summits) out of the Gate and up to Batian's summit. To descend, reverse the route to Nelion, and then rappel down a fixed rappel route (marked with green paint) that varies slightly from the ascent route. (Caution: Ropes get easily stuck on the second rappel.)

Permits: Each climber must pay a park entrance fee, as well as an entrance fee for any porters he takes up the mountain with him. These are ever increasing and are available at the park entrance station, at the Meru Mount Kenya Lodge.

Special Considerations: Almost all parties attempting Mt Kenya use porters, who are very cheap and friendly. Also, it's recommended that you hire a porter simply to guard your stuff at a high camp while climbing: theft is common. They are available in all the small towns surrounding the mountain.

Guidebook:Kilimanjaro & Mt. Kenya: A Climbing & Trekking Guide, First Edition, by Cameron M. Burns. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1998, $18.95.

Contact: Mount Kenya National Park, www.mountkenya.com