Batian (5199m, 17,057 ft) and Nelion (5188m, 17,021 ft) are Mt Kenya’s highest peaks, climbing to their summit is unique in Africa and is said to be some of the best technical alpine climbing in the world. It is certainly the highest technical climbing route in Africa, creating the greatest mountain challenge in Africa.
Although there are around 35 documented technical climbing routes on the massifs of Mt Kenya, African Ascents focuses its guided climbing on 2 routes which are dependent on the 2 climbing seasons for Mt Kenya. These routes are:
Normal route- South Ridge to Nelion
Summit – Nelion (5188m, 17,021 ft), Batian (5199m, 17,057 ft) via the “Gates of Mist”.
Technical Grade – 4
Season – December, January, February, March
Length – 450m, 18 pitches
Duration – 8 hrs climbing, 1 overnight, 3 hours descent
Ratio – 1 guide to 2 guests
The Normal route to Nelion is attempted via the southern side of Mt Kenya and is best accessed from Austrian hut. After crossing the Lewis Glacier with head torches on you scramble up the scree to the base of the climb, generally you have completed the first 2 pitches before first light. Once the sun does come out the climbing becomes even more enjoyable. As you work through the pitches you will pass famous features such as “1 o’clock gully”, “The Amphitheatre” and “De Graf’s Variation” which will present some easy and some challenging climbing. “Bailey’s bivy” which is a disused hut can be considered the half-way point on this spectacular route. The summit of Nelion is generally reached in 6-8 hours, Howell Hut, on the summit of Nelion, can be used as an overnight bivy should the group be interested in crossing over to Batian. The crossing over to Batian is via the “Gates of Mist” which involves dropping some 35m off Nelion and climbing a further 50m to the summit. The estimated time to do this crossing and return to Nelion is 3-4 hours and is totally dependent on ice levels within the “Gates of Mist”. A night in Howell hut is recommended, descending the following morning.
It is this route on to Nelion that saw Eric Shipton complete the first ascent to the summit of Mt Kenya in 1929 with PW Harris prior to him being part of a reconnaissance team on Mt Everest. The route has many other famous stories from famous faces of the past which you will have to discuss with your guide during the unforgettable climb.
North Face Standard Route- North Face to Batian
Summit – Batian (5199m, 17,057 ft)
Grade – 4+
Season – July, August, September
Length – 600m, 24 pitches
Duration – 10 hours climbing, 1 overnight, 5 hours descent
The North Face standard route to Batian is attempted via the North side of the mountain; this is the most direct route to the true summit of Mt Kenya. The climb is technically harder than the Normal route as it is longer with some harder pitches involved. Like the Normal route, the climb itself can be broken up in to sections; bivy is often taken in the large “Amphitheatre” before heading to the summit at first light.
The first ascent of the north face to Batian was completed by Arthur Firmin and PH Hicks in 1944, in what would have been a very daring attempt by 2 very brave and internationally famous mountaineers. The climbing duo would go on the complete several other first ascents on Mt Kenya.
To climb the technical peaks of Mt Kenya you can choose to book a fully guided and fully hosted expedition, or hire the guiding services of one of our qualified and experienced mountaineering guides. Please get in touch through the ‘contact us’ page for any enquiries.
Below is a sample 6 day itinerary for the Normal Route to Batian, using the “Gates of Mist” from Nelion.
Transfer from the Nanyuki Airstrip, on the outskirts of Nanyuki Town, to the road head of the Timau route, north of Timau town, at 2700 meters above sea level.
This hike starts off at the start of the Moorland Zone and takes you up through patches of bamboo and heather. Lunch on the rim of the crater offers a chance to see some of the rare mountain species such as Eland, Zebra, Buffalo and even the occasional Elephant.
Arrive in camp overlooking the scenic views that northern Kenya has to offer.
Hours walking: 4 hrs
Altitude gain: 500m, 1,640 ft
Overnight at Marania Camp (3,200m, 10,500 ft)
Depart the camp after breakfast walking up through the Moorland looking back on more magnificent views of the north, and the peaks ahead that make up the Mt Kenya Massif.
Lunch is at the Marania spring which is the source of the river that runs by Marania camp. A beautiful lunch spot especially if there are some curious Zebra around.
Arrive in Majors Camp after walking through the rolling hills that make up the Moorland Zone, which some say resemble the highlands of Scotland. The camp is set up at the base of the valley near some very dramatic rock faces. Some wildlife have been known to frequent the area, previous guests have had sightings of the rare Serval cat.
Hours walking: 8 hrs
Altitude gain: 600m, 1,970 ft
Overnight at Majors Camp (3,800m, 12,470 ft)
Start the long gradual hike up towards the Lower Simba Tarn. This walk is definitely an experience that resembles no other, with an extremely unique lunar landscape coupled with very distinctive vegetation. This gives you your first glimpse of fabulous Groundsels and Lobelias. In the Hobley Valley below the massifs of Terere and Sendeyo, named after 2 Masaai wise men, you will see a large number of Giant Groundsel. This vegetation is endemic to Mt Kenya with its unique adaption’s to the vast day to day temperature changes.
Arrive at the Simba Tarn camp at the top of the Hobley Valley and aptly named ‘Gorges Valley’. The views from Simba Tarn camp are breath-taking with the summit of Point Lenana tantalisingly close.
Hours walking: 8 hrs
Altitude gain: 850m, 2,790 ft
Overnight at Simba Tarn Camp (4,650m, 15,255 ft)
Point Lenana is used here as an acclimatisation climb in preparation for the technical climbing. From point Lenana the group will descend in to Austrian hut where the preparations will begin. This will involve looking at equipment, packing systems and crampon fitting. With some spare time during the day, the opportunity can be taken to tour the Lewis Glacier, testing out the crampons and some rope work skill ready for the early start the next morning.
Hours walking: 6hrs
Altitude gain: 140m, 460 ft
Overnight at Austrian Hut (4,790m, 15,715 ft)
A very early start to cross the Lewis Glacier is required in order to get to the start of the technical ascent for first light. The 18 pitches of technical climbing will see the group on the summit of Nelion in 6 – 8 hours. A fter a short rest in Howell hut the descent into the “Gates of Mist” begins. Summit time on Batian is approximately 3pm depending on the quantity of ice around.
Hours climbing: 8 -11hrs
Altitude gain: 410m, 1,345 ft
Overnight at Howell Hut on Point Nelion (5,188m, 17,021 ft)
The descent from Nelion to the base of the climb takes between 3 – 4 hours. A well-deserved full English breakfast is enjoyed at the Lewis Tarn where the group are reunited with the porter team. Having refuelled it is a further 5 hours to the Met Station on the Naro Moru route.
Hours walking: 9hrs
Altitude drop: 2188m, 7,180 ft
Overnight at MET Station (3,050m, 10,000 ft)
After a lie in and late breakfast, it is just a short walk down to the Naro Moru Gate where you will be collected by a 4×4 for transfer luxury to accommodation, hot showers and good food.
Map of the route: