Mount Kenya, Batian & Nelion, 5199/5188 m


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late September
or January
7 to 12 days


Booking info

Maximum ratio
2 climbers per guide
see note on ratios

More photos

Equipment list


Mount Kenya from the NW. The North Side Standard route ascends close to the right skyline. Firmin's Tower, the crux section of the climb is visible on the skyline in the center of the photo.

Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya stands alone in the highlands of east Africa. Once an ancient volcano, estimated to have once been almost 22,000 feet tall, what now remains is a steep, eroded core, just over 17,000 feet in height. It's nearby neighbor Kilimanjaro, though a couple of thousand feet higher and hence much better known, does not offer nearly the climbing challenge and alpine character of Mount Kenya.

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. This is NOT a trekking peak!

There are two main peaks of Mount Kenya, the highest, Batian at 5199 meters and the slightly lower Nelion at 5188 meters. The two peaks area separated by the "Gate of the Mists" a deep notch, difficult to cross.


Because of its proximity to the equator, the season for climbing Mount Kenya depends on which side of the peak you would like to do. Most commonly, 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.

In climbing Mount Kenya, there are many choices of possible itinerancies. 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.

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. 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.

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, more recommended 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 also to get to know all sides of the mountain. Last, we really like to exit via the Chogoria route, spending nights at the Hall's Tarns and also at Bandas, at road end. This is a beautiful and scenic route.

Below we'll describe climbing Batian via the North Face Standard Route, as well as Nelion via the MacKinders (with a brief note on continuing to Batian via the "Gate of the Mists"). After our descriptions of the climbs, we offer two possible itineraries. Keep in mind that the itineraries can be adjusted for length, as your interests, schedule and budget dictate. For information on pricing any of the myriad itineraries, please click on the Fees link. But first a brief discussion of climber to guide ratios and accompanying trekkers.

Like the peaks of Nepal, the trekking life in Kenya includes porters and staff. There are huts for sleeping or we can use tents. Our staff cook hearty meals for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is usually taken on the trail. Porters carry our overnight gear as well as the camp kitchen and supplies.

Shipton's Camp with nearby satellite peaks Sendeo and Terere. This is our base from which we make the ascent of Batian via the North Face Standard Route.


We normally climb both Nelion and Batian with a one-to-one ratio, that is one climber per guide. The main reason we do this is for safety and for speed, as a faster ascent improves chances of climbing in good weather and and avoiding afternoon cloudiness or snowfall. Low ratios are always more secure and offer better chances of summit success.

However, the ascents of either summit can reasonably done at a two-to-one ratio (two climbers with one guide) if both climbers are skilled rock climbers, climbing consistently at a 5.9 standard and are very fit. We will accept registrations for a two-to-one ratio for two climbers that sign up together, specifically planning on climbing together. The higher ratio team is inherently slower. In order to have a good chance of summitting, both climbers need to be quick on challenging technical ground and in top condition. For a climb Batian via a traverse of Nelion, we will only climb at a one to one ratio.

Trekkers welcome

This is a good trip for bringing along a non-climbing partner. The ascents themselves do not take more than a long day, and the balance of time is spent hiking in, acclimatizing and exploring the mountain. A companion can enjoy the climbing day with additional hiking or simply resting. We should note however, that the itinerary listed below is aimed at individuals with a high level of fitness. Some of the trekking days are long. Trekkers need to be fit and experienced mountain walkers.

The trekker option is open to friends and family that are accompanying climbers. We have priced the trek option at a near break-even cost, without covering any of the guides wages or expenses. So we cannot afford to run this trip without climbers. If you are interested in the trekking option only, without an accompanying climber, please contact us to work out a reasonable trip cost.

Kathy, about 14 pitches up the North Face Standard Route.

Batian, 5199 meters (17,053')

The North Face Standard Route is climbed from Shipton's Camp.It is a long climb, and considered more serious and difficult than the MacKinders route on Nelion. Shipton's Camp can be reached easily from the Sirimon Route and Old Moses Camp in only 2 days from Nairobi. However, we highly recommend allowing a bit of time acclimating, perhaps by first included a hike up Point Lenana, or preferably a three-day circumnavigation of Mount Kenya, taking in Lenana on the way.

Usually, we climb the lower section of the route in approach shoes or lightweight mountaineering boots. Rock shoes are useful for the more difficult upper pitches.

The North Face Standard Route on Batian is a serious climb for experienced rock climbers and alpinists. Normally the summit day is well over 12 hours long. While most of the climbing is on mid-5th class rock, there is one 5.9 pitch and several at a 5.8 standard. Add to this the challenge of technical rock at 17,000 feet above sea level, and the alpine nature of the route, and it amounts to a very demanding route. Climbers considering the ascent need to be solid 5.9 followers with experience on long technical routes of at least 10 pitches in length. Additionally, they need be adept at moving quickly over rough terrain, and scrambling on steep and exposed 4th class rock, both in ascent and descent. Excellent physical condition is a must.

See a detailed topo of the North Face Standard route

Nelion, 5188 meters (17,017')

The preferred route on Nelion is the MacKinders route. This is a 5th class rock route to a maximum difficulty of perhaps 5.7. There are easier sections where the party can move together, but typically, some 15 plus pitches are belayed. Descent is by the same route, with a few of the rappels taking more direct lines down cleaner rock. This is a fun route, on generally good rock, very sunny. Rock shoes are appropriate. Approach boots can be left at the base of the route. Though still long, this route is considered to be easier than the North Face Standard Route on Batian. With better rock, and a sunnier position, it is also more fun.

It is possible to continue on to Batian from the summit of Nelion, crossing the impressive "Gate of the Mists". This is much more difficult, and involves crossing steep snow slopes, rappels, and possibly fixing a rope for the return out of the "Gate". Most climbers who attempt this plan on a bivouac at the Howell Hut near the summit of Nelion. The hut is tiny and can accommodate three or four in a pinch (don't sit up quickly!). You'll need to carry a stove and sleeping bag for the bivy, as well as boots and crampons for the traverse to Batian. The additional weight of these items makes the climbing to this point much more challenging. And the bivouac at over 5000 meters suggests the need for thorough acclimatization.


Suggested Itineraries

Below we describe two possible itineraries. The first is a 10-day program for Batian, and another 8-day program for Nelion. There are other possible programs as well, varying the number of trekking or acclimatization days.

Batian, Mount Kenya, North Face Standard Route

This itinerary is suitable for the summer to fall climbing season when the North Face of the peak is relatively snow-free and climbing conditions are best.

Day -2 Fly from the US to Europe. The flight east from the States is almost always overnight, due largely to the time zone change.
Day -1 Arrive in Europe. There are many cities in Europe from which to leave for Nairobi. The flight is usually all day.
Day 0
The Fairview Hotel, our base in Nairobi.
Photo Emery Dameron


Arrive in Nairobi. Taxi to the Fairview Hotel. Depending on your arrival time, you'll have a bit of time to explore the city, or simply to relax at the hotel's pool-side bar. The Fairview is considered by many Nairobi visitors to be the best hotel in town, good value, and a quiet, secure oasis in a hectic city.

Looking up at the Diamond Couloir. In recent years, this has melted back considerably, and is now a sketchy mixed route. Point John is on the right.

Day 1

We begin our trip by driving north, around the west side of Mount Kenya. A three and a half hour drive brings us to the Mountain Rock Hotel, where we have lunch, meet our staff and make final preparations for the trek in. After this stop, we continue our journey to the mountain. With porter support, we trek to Old Moses Camp at about 3400 meters (also known as Judmeier Camp). This involves about a 1 to 2 hour drive and a walk of about two and a half hours.

Day 2

Trek to Shipton's Camp, with its hut at 4236m. We have the option of staying in the hut, or if we prefer, we can sleep in our own tents. The tents offer a bit of privacy and quiet in the often busy hut. Either way, our cook will use the hut's facilities and we will take our meals at tables and benches inside the hut.

Day 3

The following day we begin a trekking circumnavigation of the peak. This two-day trek shows us all sides of this complex peak, crossing several high passes. It also gives our bodies a chance to acclimate in preparation for the actual ascent. Going counterclockwise, we first cross Hausberg Col at 4591m, then pass between Oblong and Hausberg Tarns. Then it is up to Nanyki and Two Tarn before descending to Mackinder's Camp on the SW side of the peak, at about 4200 meters.

Day 4

Mount Kenya in the early morning sun, from Point Lenana. Firmin's Tower of the North Face Standard Route is the small step on the right-hand skyline, just above the horizon line.

On the 5th day of our trip we rise early and continue our trek up to Top Hut (Austrian Hut) 4800m. From this Hut we make a final short ascent of Point Lenana, 4985m, and then go straight down the northwest side back to Shipton's Camp, passing Harris Tarn. Point Lenana is the common trekker's Mount Kenya "summit". Our trekking crew will go around Point Lenana on its east side while we climb.

Day 5

On our 6th day we have the option of either taking a rest day or of climbing a short route on either Point Peter or Point Dutton. In either case we also prepare for the climb of Batian the following morning.

Day 6

Mark, in the lower pitches of the North Face Standard Route.
Photo Emery Dameron

Ascent of Batian by the North Face Standard Route. Starting in the early morning dark, usually between 4 and 5 am, we may climb the first couple of pitches by headlamp.

The route initially follows a wide couloir which we ascend for some 7 pitches, never harder than 5.7. A bit of easy scrambling brings us to the Amphitheater, a small basin of easy rock part way up the route. Ideally we arrive here by about 7:30 or so, enjoying a late "breakfast" and a short break.

Above this is the crux of the route, Firmin's Tower. There are about 3 difficult pitches, all fairly short, but all in the 5.8 to 5.9 range. Above this, easier terrain leads to a few more pitches and, finally, the west ridge.

From this point, we continue on easy, but still exposed, rock to Shipton's Notch, a prominent gash in the summit ridge. Another pitch, then mixed 4th and easy 5th class rock leads to the airy summit of Batian.

Descent is by the same route, with a few minor variations. If we are quick we can arrive back in Shipton's Camp before evening dusk.

Day 7

Extra summit day. To be sure we get the conditions we need, we have added 2 additional days into this itinerary.

Day 8

Extra summit day.
Day 9
Mount Kenya on the right. Hiking out the Chogoria route above Lake Michaelson.

On Day 9 we begin our trek out. We have chosen to go out the Chogoria Route because we believe it is the most spectacular on the peak. The trek out begins with a climb up to Simba Col (where porters once swore they saw a lion, hence the name) then a quick descent to the Hall Tarns. From here we follow the backbone of a ridge, over looking the beautiful Gorges Valley.

Loosing elevation we leave the high moorlands and enter into the forest belt which surrounds Mount Kenya. As we approach the rustic cabins of Meru Mount Kenya Lodge (our destination for the night) we are likely to see Cape Buffalo, as well as Bush Buck or Water Buck, and tracks of other wild animals.

The Bandas, as the cabins are called, are a welcome luxury after our stay on the mountain. With hot showers (after the water is wood-fire heated) and a fine evening fire, we enjoy dinner and the thick, fragrant air of the jungly lower elevations. In the evening we can make a short hike with our Kenyan guide, looking for additional wildlife and exploring the immediate area around our cabins.

Day 10

There is a rough 4 wheel drive road which leads up to the Lodge. We may choose to hike the first hour or so, enjoying the thick bamboo forest. We often see elephant tracks, and signs of many other wild animals. After a bit of time, our Land Rover catches up to us, and we pile in and continue the drive to Chogoria town on the east side of Mount Kenya.

Once on the main road, we switch to a more comfortable vehicle, for the additional 4 hours drive to Nairobi. Back at the Fairview we enjoy the comforts of civilization and a fine dinner.

Day 11

There are several options for the remainder of your visit to Africa. You can choose to fly directly home, or, better, sign on for a short safari - this can easily be arranged in Nairobi. These can be of almost any length, with a recommended minimum of 3 days.

For the really ambitious, Kilimanjaro is not far off, and we can join you for a 6 day trip to this classic peak. With our previous acclimatization on Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro becomes a fun and quick climb, much easier than Kenya, but higher and exotic and interesting in its own right.

Those who choose to fly straight home normally will depart Nairobi on Day 11 of this itinerary, arriving in Europe that same day or the following morning. Another day's travel will have you back in the United States.

Giant Lobelia on the southeast side of Mount Kenya.

Nelion in the morning sun. The upper three quarters of the MacKinders Route is shown.



Nelion, Mount Kenya, MacKinders Route

This itinerary is best done in the December to February season when the south side of the peak receives more sun.

Day -2
Fly from the US to Europe. The flight east from the States is almost always overnight, due largely to the time zone change.
Day -1
Arrive in Europe. There are many cities in Europe from which to leave for Nairobi. The flight is usually all day.
Day 0

Arrive in Nairobi. Again, we'll stay in the Fairview Hotel for the night.

Day 1

Drive to the peak, Enter via Sirimon Gate and trek to Old Moses Camp.

Day 2

Continue our trek to Shipton's Camp. Up to this point our itinerary parallels that of the Batian North Face Standard Route described above.

Day 3

The Top (Austrian) Hut and Nelion at dawn.

Trek to Top hut, also known as the Austrian hut. This hut is located just to the east of Point Lenana and will be our base for the climb of Nelion.

Day 4

The view of Point Lenana from near the Top hut. You can just make out the track across the glacier to Nelion.

Climb of Point Lenana. This day helps us to acclimate and also gives us great views of the MacKinders Route on Nelion.

Day 5

Andy Latham high on Nelion.
Summit day. With a pre-dawn start, we can reach the base of the route in about an hour. Crampons are generally used to cross the small glacier. It is not steep, but the snow is often quite firm. The summit day is fairly long, from 10 to 12 hours for the round trip.

Day 6

Rappelling on the upper pitches of the Mackinders Route.
Andy arrives at the Howell Hut, only meters from the summit of Nelion.
Extra summit day.

Day 7

For a quicker descent we can elect to go out to the the south past what is known as the "Met Station". On day 7 we trek from the Top hut down to the Met Station.
Day 8
We continue our trek out, meeting our vehicle and return to Nairobi. it is possible to depart Nairobi that evening or, better, the following morning.


Hiking out to the Met Station.

Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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Sunset form high on Mount Kenya.

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