Ken, Theo and Ken on first pitch
Joseph on first pitch
Near top of ampitheater (telephoto shot)
Ken at base of ampitheater
Ken with ampitheater below
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Our Mountain guides are well experienced on technical knowledge, having been trained by N.O.L.S (The American National Outdoor Leadership School ) and having worked with Kenya Wildlife Service (K.W.S)

Technical Climbing on Mt. Kenya

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. In any given year approximately 50 climbers summit Batian, and 200 climbers summit Nelion.

Although there are around 35 documented technical climbing routes on the massifs of Mt Kenya, Ice Rock Trekking focuses its guided climbing on 2 routes which are dependent on the two climbing seasons for Mt Kenya. These routes are the “North Face Standard Route” and the “Normal Standard Route” or “MacKinders Route.” Batian is climbed by the North Face Standard Route and the season for this is typically July to the end of September. Nelion, on the other hand, is usually done by the MacKinders Route. This climb faces southeast and the season is usually December through February. The famous ice routes of the Diamond Couloir and Ice Window face south, and their best season is June to October. Unfortunately, global warming has significantly melted these classic routes and they are now seldom in condition.

We generally recommend incorporating a technical climb in a 7-day trek to allow time for acclimatization, though for the fit and experienced it can be done in less.

Nelion (5188m) and Batian (5199m) are composed of a superb rough rock – syenite – at least as good as granite for climbing. Numerous excellent rock and ice routes exist. The main summits generally require a bivouac, satellite peaks such as Point John offer fine one-day climbs. 

When most commercial groups talk of climbing Mount Kenya, they are really heading for Point Lenana, a much easier satellite peak. The “real” Mount Kenya is a long and serious climb, involving many pitches of fifth class rock climbing. These are NOT a trekking peaks!

In climbing Mount Kenya, there are many choices of possible itineraries. But, in deciding on a program, basically it all boils down to two different questions: First, do you want to climb in the north-side season (July to September) or the south-side season (December through February), and second, how many total days Nairobi to Nairobi would be best for you.

  • Mount Kenya from the NW. 
  • The North Side Standard route ascends close to the right skyline.
  • Thirdly, a concise point
  • Fourth, a bit more description

Climb Batian by the North Face Standard Route

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 into sections; bivvy is often taken in the large “Amphitheatre” before heading to the summit at first light.

The NORTHFACE standard route starts from Kami hut after Shipton camp. If you are planning to get to the top, you have to take 7 to 8 days, including 2 days climbing. When you are doing North Face, you have to overnight at Firmin tower, either putting a tent or bivouac outside. You don’t need crampons, unless you want to traverse the “Gates of Mist” to Nelion.

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.

North Face Standard Route – North Side to Batian Summary

  • 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
  • You supply your own harness, climbing boots, crampons, ice axe, warm sleeping bag, bivvy bag and light tent. The other climbing equipment like friends, figure of eight, stoppers, and ropes will be provided.

  • Mt Kenya from the South side
  • Austrian hut is “basecamp” for these climbs
  • Howell Hut rests atop Pt Nelion
  • Eric Shipton and PW Harris first climbed Mt Kenya on this route in 1929 

Climb Nelion by the Mackinder’s Route

The NORMAL standard route to Nelion is attempted via the southern side of Mt Kenya and is best accessed from Austrian hut. This is the most used route on the Southern /Eastern side of the mountain. It’s the only one where we have abseil rings fixed.

Climbers start from the Austrian Hut (4700m) very early in the morning around 0400hrs. 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. This takes about 2 hours. Once the sun does come out the climbing becomes even more enjoyable. From the base, the climb is easy with the first 3 pitches scrambled using a running belay.

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 bivvy” 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 bivvy 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.

Normal Standard Route – South Ridge to Nelion Summary

  • 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
  • You require ice climbing equipment i.e. crampons, ice axe. The whole climb is made up of 18 pitches. It’s the easiest climb to Nelion and Batian.

Choosing A Season

Your choice of season depends on two factors, your preferred scheduling, and your desired route and summit. Generally if you want to climb Batian, you have your choice of season, though the recommended and easiest route is the North Face Standard Route, which is climbed in August and September primarily. Batian can also be climbed via a traverse of Nelion in the winter season, but this is more difficult and usually requires a bivouac near the summit of Nelion. For ascents of Nelion, the best route is the MacKinders, climbed in December and January.

Base camp is Austrian Hut at 4700m for South-facing climbs.

Trip Length

The shortest “reasonable” itinerary is 6 days Nairobi to Nairobi. Such a climb involves little acclimatization and gives you only one possible summit day with no leeway for weather. Generally, our suggested itinerary is 8 to 11 days, where you have a bit more acclimatization time as well as options for second or third summit days to accommodate weather. We also recommend trying to include a complete or partial circumnavigation of the peak as part of your itinerary. This gives you more time to acclimate and an opportunity to get to know all sides of the mountain.

Mt. Kenya Rock Climbing

ICEROCK offers the main climbing peaks of Nelion (5,188m) and Batian (5,199m).
We have technical climbing experienced Guides who used to work with the Mt Kenya Rescue Team.

For the climbing equipment, you have to bring your own harness, climbing boot, crampons, ice axe, warm sleeping bag , bivvy bag and light tent. The other climbing equipment like friends, figure of eight, stoppers, ropes will be provided.

For more information on technical climbing Mount Kenya please contact us.

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.

Joseph Muthui Gathu

Owner & Mountain Guide