Trekking up Mt Kenya is an amazing experience and should be on everyone’s bucket list. Sure, most people head to Kilimanjaro, but you don’t want to be the same as everyone else, right? After all, there are so many great national parks and it’s not all about Kenyan safaris!
The walk starts as you enter the national park and as you trek up to summit one of its three peaks, you will slowly meander through thick forest, bamboo and heather, past lakes and streams and get some of the most stunning views of central Kenya. The park is also home to some of Africa’s most sought after animals and you may be lucky enough to encounter them on your climb.
Mount Kenya is the second-highest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro. It is a volcano although it has not been active for the last 2 million years. The peaks themselves were covered by an ice cap for thousands of years and as a result, have very eroded slopes and valleys all radiating from the center. The mountain still holds 11 glaciers but it is thought it will be iceless within the next 30 years.
Mount Kenya has 3 peaks; Batian at 17,057 ft, Nelion at 17,021 ft and Lenana at 16,355ft. All 3 peaks can be climbed although some of them do require a technical ascent, we will get into that later.
The mountain itself is inside Mt Kenya National Park. The park consists of a forestry zone and a national park zone, an area consisting of 276 square miles. The park was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is home to an abundance of species, some of which are endemic to Kenya. You can see, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, zebra, the endangered bongo and up to 340 species of bird.
The Kenyan government decided to make the area a national park not only for tourism and the protection of wildlife but also because Mt Kenya’s catchment provides water for over 2 million people.
Four different ethnic tribes live around the mountain, and all of them are as kind as the next. The people in Kenya are some of the most cheerful I’ve met; they are very welcoming, smiley and willing to help out. The Gikuyu tribe build their huts with doorways facing the mountain, as they believe it to be God’s throne on Earth.
The first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya was in 1899. Today, there are several mountaineering routes, and the south side is best climbed in January and February, while August and September are best for the north side. Although hiking and mountaineering are popular here, fly fishing, wildlife viewing, and bird watching are also popular.
Mt Kenya is 16 km south of the equator, just a few hours drive north of Nairobi. It is on the border between central and eastern Kenya and can be accessed from local towns such as Nanyuki, Timao, Naro Moru, Embu, and Chogoria. It is easily got to by car, internal flight, and public transport. The public transport option may be an adventure in itself but it is safe enough if you are up for it.
The first thing you will need to do is fly to Nairobi. There are direct flights from the USA, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, so no matter where you are, it is not too hard to get to. Once you have landed in Nairobi it is quite easy to get to Mt Kenya. If you have booked with an operator, this service can be provided by them, if not, here is how to DIY it.
There are daily flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi with 3 different airlines Safarilink, Air Kenya and Hahn Air. You will first need to take a taxi from the international airport to Wilson Airport. The flight is only 35 minutes and takes you to Nanyuki which is just outside Mt Kenya National Park. The flight is a little expensive, but it is the most convenient way to get there and the views from the plane are stunning.
You can hire a taxi from Nairobi International Airport and it is advised that you book one in advance. The drive is 3-4 hours long and the ride takes you through Nairobi and up through the central Kenya highlands. The taxi price can range from 80-150 USD, and it is best to see if you can share.
You can hire a car at the airport quite easily and it is not too expensive, usually around 60USD per day. There is an option to hire a car with a driver, which is very handy if you just want a drop-off, but you will have to pay for the fuel. The traffic in Kenya is a tad challenging but if you are an experienced driver you should manage fine. The roads themselves have a few potholes but there is no need to get a 4×4 unless you are planning on taking the car into the national park once you arrive.
If you are at the airport you will first have to get a taxi to the central ‘stage’ (aka bus terminal), in downtown Nairobi. Nairobi does have Uber, so you can easily order one or there are a lot of taxis waiting for you at the arrivals terminal. Once you have arrived at the central stage, your taxi driver will most likely help you find and board the right Matatu (bus). It costs around $5 for the ride to Nanyuki but it will take around 5-6 hours.
There are a lot of different trekking routes when climbing Mt Kenya and not all of them include a summit. If you just fancy a good hike and are not interested in getting to the top or have difficulty with altitude, these are a great option for you.
If a summit is your goal, then there are 3 peaks to choose from. Lenana can be climbed without any previous technical climbing experience and the other two, Batian and Nelion, require a lot of fitness and previous climbing experience.
It is not advisable to trek up Mt Kenya without a guide and it is best to book your hike through a company. You may be able to book a local mountain guide through the Kenya Wildlife Services office on Mt Kenya but you will have to bring all your own food and camping equipment if you plan on doing this.
There are a few high-class mountaineering companies that offer a range of options for climbing Mt Kenya, ranging from low budget to VIP. They provide everything you will need for your hike, from delicious meals to a helicopter pick up (if you want one), as well as highly trained guides who know the mountain like the back of their hands.
If you plan to do a technical ascent to Batian on Nelion, you must book through a professional company as the routes are very hard to distinguish. Some companies do offer to meet you up the mountain and simply guide you on the technical ascent rather than the whole trip including the hike up the mountain.
Most of the hikes up Mt Kenya involve camping. There are however cabins and huts on the mountain, so if you are averse to sleeping in a tent then there are routes that follow this option. There are also day treks available if you just want to pop in and out.
If you plan on avoiding a summit and do not suffer from altitude sickness then you should be fit enough to hike around the mountain without issue, as long as you are healthy and exercise regularly.
If you plan to summit, then some training is recommended. For Lenana, some simple training will do but if you plan to do the technical ascents up Batian or Nelion you will need to train hard. Your guides will provide you with an idea of what you need to accomplish or a training plan.
Altitude is an important consideration and you will need at least a day outside the mountain to acclimatize before you begin your trip. There are a lot of places to stay around the mountain, with delightful views and they range between budget and high-class accommodation. If you have booked through a climbing company, they will be able to organize this for you, if not, there are is a lot of information online about places to stay.
There are numerous routes you can use to get to the top of Mt Kenya and most trips last between 4-5 days. Each route has its own charm and it is best to discuss what you may prefer with your guide and to confirm if it will suit your fitness level and abilities.
All the routes will take you through large alpine and bamboo forests, into endemic heather and provide you with magical views of the surrounding area. Some of the routes are quieter and a little more special than others. They can include glaciers, lakes, historical points like Arthurs Seat, so it pays to do your research and talk to your guide.
There are also traverse options, meaning you go up one side and down another, therefore traversing the mountain. These are a little longer and more expensive but you will get to see a lot more of the mountain.
The Chogoria route is my favorite as it includes some stunning lakes, the opportunity to fly fish and see a lot more wildlife, here are the details for you, I highly recommend it.
The Chogoria Route
The Chogoria Route starts on the Eastern side of Mount Kenya via Chogoria town. There is a lot less traffic on the Eastern side compared to the busy Western slopes, making it a much more peaceful and special experience in my opinion. This route is a little longer than other routes and is more gradual which is perfect for acclimatization.
As you climb the Chogoria route, you will see some of the most beautiful and scenic sites on the mountain. The trek passes two of the most iconic lakes on Mount Kenya; Lake Ellis, and Lake Michaelson. Lake Michaelson is considered to be the most stunning location on this great mountain and is found at the head of the Gorges Valley, surrounded by 200m rock walls on each side that make up somewhat of an amphitheater around the lake. It is truly breathtaking.
The Lakes are regularly stocked with Rainbow and Brown trout, providing a unique opportunity for the avid fly fisherman or woman, and if you’re not into fishing, it is an amazing place to camp and relax after a long day of trekking and try some fresh trout your guide has caught for you.
The Chogoria route is also your best chance to see wildlife and birdlife whilst on Mount Kenya, some at higher altitudes than expected. Buffalo and Elephant are regularly seen just above the forest and bamboo zones, and an abundance of zebra, eland, duiker at higher altitudes. I have even seen a few leopards on this side.
Then comes the summit. You can choose to summit either of the 3 peaks from this route and once you have completed them, the walk down the mountain only takes a day.
There are a couple of options available for day treks. These can be accomplished by anyone as they will not be very physically demanding. A recommended day trek is to Liki North via the Timau route that goes via a huge crater and a wildlife corridor, giving you stunning scenery and the chance to see some animals.
There are some options for hut to hut trips and if you discuss them with a guide they can be tailor-made to your interests to include exactly what you would like out of the mountain.
When to Go
The best time to be on Mt Kenya is between the months of January to March and June to October, although you can trek on the mountain all year round. The rainy season in Kenya is usually from April to May and in November but these are getting harder to predict.
If you are planning on doing a summit, the peaks do experience snow and rain and it can come in very quickly. Ask your guide when they think it would be best for you summit weatherwise.
Trekking up Mt Kenya is second to none, it is a very special mountain and should be done by anyone considering it. It is stunning, wild, challenging and safe. I would highly recommend getting a guide and booking through a professional company. This will ensure you are safe on the mountain, enjoy the views with peace of mind, and you will not have to worry about taking all your gear and food with you as it will be provided.