Mount Kenya, North Side Standard Route Desctiption

By Kathy Cosley and Mark Houston
Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides 2002

This detailed route description is provided to help you better appreciate this classic climb.


If you are planning an unguided ascent you should pay particular attention to the times given. If you find that you are not keeping to the times as indicated, you should carefully consider how long the rest of the climb will take you. The times are for a party competent for the route, making few if any route finding errors. Also assumed is the ability to choose the most appropriate and efficient protective strategy for the given terrain.

The equipment recommended for the leader is what we would bring, and may not be appropriate for other climbers.

Mount Kenya, North Face Standard Route

Difficulty D
Grade IV, 5.9
6-7 hours

Mount Kenya from Shipton's Camp, to the north of the peak. The upper half of the peak.
© 2002 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides

The lower pitches. © 2002 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides


This route lies on the NE side of the peak and, gets early morning sun. The climbing is "alpine" with alternately 5th class and easier climbing. The route starts in a rocky couloir for about 7 pitches, then traverses left into the Amphitheater, a lower angled section at mid-height. Above this, two pitches lead to the base of Firmin's tower, normally the crux of the climb. Steeper climbing up cracks and chimneys leads to the top of the tower. A short easy section is followed by one more hard pitch to the juncture with the West Ridge. From here easier climbing leads into Shipton's Notch and then to the summit. Descent is mostly along the route of ascent, with a few time-saving variations.


From Shipton's Camp, 4320m, follow the normal trail towards Point Lenana. At the first flat above camp, take the cairned R fork towards Batian. Follow cairns up the drainage, staying just L of the giant lobelias in the talus. Climb talus to join with route from the old Kami Hut. Then keep next to rock wall on R up to almost level with the base of the Krapf Glacier. The start of the route is marked with a cross in a circle with blue paint. Recon at least this amount of the route in advance. 50 minutes from Shipton's Camp.

Starting times for the route are usually such that you arrive at the first pitch just before dawn. However, one certainly can climb the first few pitches in the dark.


Pitch 1

Climb up from the cross in circle on good rock. At 17 meters a move R leads to a ledge. Continue R on ledge for 2 meters and belay off horn. 20 meters, 5.6

Pitch 2

Climb cracks up and R of the belay for 3 meters, 5.3, then continue up ledges and short easy steps for 20 meters, keeping initially to the L. Near the end of the pitch, traverse R easily into main gully (place directional for second) and belay at rappel anchor. 25 meters, 5.3. Pitches 1 and 2 can be combined.

Shorten rope and move together for 60 meters up gully, ignoring branch on L. Class 3

Pitch 3

Start is marked by a cairn (Sept 2002) on R side of gully. Piton at chest height. Climb easily up and L, piton, and back to the center of the main gully. Belay at a rappel anchor with 2 pitons. 35 meters, 5.0.

Pitch 4

Start up easy, broken terrain, up and L passing to the R a giant block with old ropes. Enter corner above and climb to its top, 5.6. Belay at rappel anchor above. 43 meters, 5.6.

Pitch 5

Climb L side of easy slab above. Belay at 2 pitons below steepening wall. 35 meters, 4th class.

Pitch 6

Climb up and R on steep blocks, then corner, 5.3, to a large terrace with a rappel anchor on block. Do not belay here, but instead continue up and L on large ledges to the base of a short chimney/gully on the L. Belay off a horn in the shaded gully. 35m, 5.3.

Pitch 7

Climb up and a bit L in chimney, then traverse horizontally R on easy rock, under a steep orange wall for 4 meters. Follow cracks straight up for 15 meters (piton), 5.7. Belay at a large block, rappel anchor. 30m, 5.7.

Shorten the rope and move together up steep blocky terrain for 30 meters. Cross the small ridge to the L at the cairn to enter the lower R edge of the Amphitheater. Climb for about 60 meters up the R edge of the Amphitheater to the highest and best bivy ledges, just under a low angled slab. Class 2 and 3.

About 2 hours from the start of the technical climbing to these bivies, 3 hours from Shipton's Camp. If conditions on the upper mountain are good (dry), change into your rock shoes, leaving your boots here for the descent. If conditions above look snowy, consider carrying your boots with you.

Continue moving together up and L on dirty ledges to the the top of giant tilted blocks near lower end of old fixed rope. Climb on top of blocks to belay. 3rd class with one 5.0 move gaining top of blocks. 60m.

Pitch 8

Climb up and L on easy terrain, staying L of old fixed rope to gain a large ledge above. Place directional for second, then traverse R on ledge for 15 meters to belay at poised blocks (rappel anchor). 52m, 5.6.

Pitch 9

Pitch 9 climbs the short wall above to gain the good ledge at the base of Firmin's Tower. Either climb up and R to steep cracks (cracks are 5.8) which lead directly to the base of the chimney pitches of the next pitch, or move up and L on big, blocky steps (move of awkward 5.8) then move back R easily to the Firmin's chimney pitches. Belay off 2 pitons at base of chimney. This is a good, sunny ledge with a small bivy. 5.8, 24m.

Pitch 10

Pitches 10, 11 and 12 are Firmin's Tower. Pitch 10 starts up a wide crack and follows it for 20 meters to a small belay stance. There is lots of old fixed rope on this pitch. 20m, 5.9 (one move in upper section).

Pitch 11

Enter the R-hand of 2 chimneys and climb this for 10 meters, 5.6. At its top move L for 2 meters to enter another wide crack. Climb this for 10 meters (watch out for loose rock on the left) to a belay on large ledges. 20m, 5.8.

Pitch 12

Climb up and L, around corner, then more straight up steepening rock to the top of Firmin's Tower. 45m 5.6.

Pitch 13

Downclimb into the notch behind the Tower. 10m, 4th Class.

Shorten the rope and move together up the crest of the ridge on broken class 2 rock. The ridge becomes class 3 as it approaches the steep wall above. Belay at the base of the steep wall off of a horn. 60m, class 2 and 3.

Pitch 14

Climb steeply up and R on blocks and cracks. This pitch can be snowy or icy. If so it can easily be the most difficult pitch on the route. Pass piton and belay at slings on rappel horn. 30m, 5.7 or 8.

Pitch 15

Traverse R horizontally for 5 meters on a large ledge, round the corner and climb broken dirty rock of a small amphitheater. Belay in fractured rock near the top of the amphitheater. 50m, 4th class.

Pitch 16

Move up R for 5 meters, then back L on ledge to the ridge crest. 10m, 5.0

From the crest, shorten the rope and move together for 25 meters to good bivy ledges. Consider leaving one rope here as you will not likely need it above.

From the bivies you have 2 options;

Option 1) Follow the crest of the ridge, in short pitches or moving together, weaving the rope among horns for protection. Good, class 3 climbing along the spiney crest leads to the tower overlooking Shipton's Notch. Rappel 20 meters into the Notch. This option gives better quality climbing (along the fine crest) but is a bit slower than Option 2 below.

Option 2) Traverse L from the L edge of the bivy platforms on class 2 ledges for about 60 meters, some cairns. A short 4-meter 5.7 exposed traverse to the L leads into Shipton's Notch. This option is quicker, but not as good climbing. On descent take Option 2.

From Shipton's Notch climb steeply up on crest for 15 meters, 5.5, to rappel webbing above. Do NOT traverse from the Notch on west side of ridge as many guidebooks will tell you. The crest is better.

Follow the ridge crest, weaving in and out of rock towers for about 40 meters of class 3 and 4 climbing. When within about 40 meters of the summit, a 10 meter traverse R leads to steep blocks and dirt, which are climbed up, back to the crest. Then another 15 meters of blocks to the R of the crest leads to easy ground and the summit 10 meters away.

6 to 7 hours from the start, 7 to 8 from Shipton's Camp.


Reverse the route, downclimbing to rappel webbing directly above Shipton's Notch. Rappel 25 meters straight down to small, dirty amphitheater on E side, some 8 meters below the level of the Notch. Climb up and R for 4 meters of class 3 to a better ledge. Continue up cracks to R for 10 meters, 5.3, to reach the L edge of the ledges which lead back to the bivouac sites.

Follow the ledges back to the bivies. (Remember to pick up your other rope if you left it!) Downclimb a few meters to top of pitch 16. Find the rappel anchor and rappel pitches 16 and 15 in one long rappel. 45 meters.

Rappel straight down from the top of pitch 14, passing to R (facing in) of belay at the bottom of pitch 14, continuing down steep blank rock to a good ledge on the W side of the ridge. 45m.

Shorten the rope and move together back to the crest on 8 meters of narrow ledge. Downclimb the crest back to the notch before Firmin's Tower. 3rd class.

Do not climb to the top of the Tower, but instead scramble down the gully to the E for 10 meters to a sandy ledge. Pitch up and R (facing in) around corner (one 5.6 move) for about 12 meters to reach a rappel station which was bypassed on the way up.

Rappel pitch 12 in 40 meters.

Using one rope, rappel pitch 11 in 20 meters.

Rappel pitch 10 in 20 meters, to the base of Firmin's Tower.

Rappel 24 meters (one rope again) pitch 9.

Rappel 35 meters off giant loose and poised blocks at bottom of pitch 9. Watch that you thread the ropes so they pull low on these precarious looking blocks, and think "light". Rappel to a ledge with a large block wrapped in old fixed rope. We would not be surprised if these blocks have fallen off.

Rappel 50 meters down dirty slabs almost to the level with the Amphitheater upper bivies (and your boots if you left them there). This section can also be downclimbed.

Scramble down to top of pitch 7.

Rappel 40 meters to a rappel anchor on the outer edge of the large terraces. This anchor was bypassed on the way up (at least if you followed the description above).

Rappel 45 meters to the top of pitch 4 (base of the easy slab). This rappel can be hard to pull, so consider sacrificing a carabiner.

Rappel 47 meters down pitch 4 (big corner).

Rappel 35 meters down pitch 3.

Shorten the rope (put one away) and scramble down to top of pitch 2.

Rappel 23 meters straight down the gully to a small anchor on a rocky ledge. This is not the top of pitch 1, but is instead it is in the middle of the gully.

Rappel another 23 meters down water-worn rocks in the middle of the gully to the scree below. These last 2 rappels can be done as one, but there is a risk of pulling rocks down with the ropes or sticking a rope.

Retrace your route down the talus, scree and trail to Shipton's Camp.

12 to 14 hours round trip from Shipton's Camp.


  • alpine rock boots
  • rock shoes
  • double ropes (to manage 50 meter rappels)
  • helmet
  • 5 cams to fit cracks for .75" to 2"
  • 5 stoppers, medium to large
  • 5 quick draws
  • 6 single slings
  • 1 double sling
  • 2 cordelettes
  • nut tool

Your Comments - more info