December 1 2019
Foreword: If you are interested in a guided tour of Mount Kenya I highly recommend hiring Ben and his crew of guides, porters and cooks via trekmountkenya.com. I can not speak highly enough about the aforementioned group. Each member of Ben’s team was kind and contributed to my thorough enjoyment of my time on the mountain. Whether your goal is Point Lenana or Batian, TrekMountKenya will get you there. If you’re lucky enough to have Joshua as your second guide, you’ll also be treated to fascinating stories from his 30+ years on the mountain! Also the outfit is owned and operated by locals which I found enticing.
On October 24th, 2019 I crested Mount Kenya’s third highest peak at roughly six in the morning. Point Lenana stands at 4,985m (16,355ft) and is the tallest point you can reach without technical climbing. It is said that the views of the Kenyan plains from the peaks of Mt. Kenya are breathtaking. I however was treated to a sea of white; turns out a blizzard isn’t particularly great for visibility. Not sure what I expected during the middle of the rainy season!
A few weeks preceding summit day, my manager reached out regarding an opportunity to travel to Nairobi for our annual Google for Kenya event. Naturally, I jumped at the idea. I began scheming on how I could steal away a few vacation days while I was in Eastern Africa. I’d been to both the coast as well as the Maasi Mara nearly fifteen years prior. While I have fond memories of both destinations I decided to try something a tad bit different this trip.
Initially I began researching the difficulty of hoping over the border to Tanzania and trekking Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro. It became clear early on that hiking that particular mountain would require more days than I had. Additionally I wasn’t able to rope any of my co-workers into going with me (read as: split the price with me) which made the cost of a guided Kilimanjaro trip laughably expensive. Eventually I stumbled upon Mt Kenya in an online climbing forum. Truthfully I didn’t even know that Africa’s second highest mountain was located directly on the Equator in the middle of Kenya!
While the cost to attempt Mt. Kenya has risen considerably over the past few years, it pales in comparison to Kilimanjaro and is fairly reasonable for a single hiker. I’d debated attempting the trip unguided, however acquiring a reliable map of this mountain is near impossible. Additionally juggling the logistical details such as transportation to/from the mountain, acquiring food, securing permitting, etc in a country I’m unfamiliar with felt like more daunting of a task than I was prepared to tackle. Given that I was blind both navigationally and culturally I concluded that a guide was well worth the price.
If you were not able to tell by my Foreword, the guide company I chose was fantastic. Having never hired a guide I wasn’t sure to expect but after contacting a few companies I got the gist of what they offer. For your fees you get a guide (in my case two), a cook, and a porter. Having never had a porter before it took several back and forth emails before I could accept that somebody would be carrying my 60L backpack up the mountain for me while I carried a day pack. Additionally the cook generally carries all your food and culinary tools. The whole thing is a bit surreal. Ultimately I ended up stashing the majority of my gear in my daypack and only stuffing away my sleeping bag and a change of base layers into the 60L pack.
I ended up ascending and descending via the Sirimon Route, which was recommended by my guides given the time of year. The Sirimon is one of the shorter, more gradual routes. Additionally there are two huts along this path which offer shelter from the elements. Given that it rained nearly the entire climb I believe this was the correct choice. If I were to go again, I think I’d take the Chogoria Route. While the huts were nice, they’re fairly basic and I believe in dryer conditions I’d be just as comfortable in a bivy sack or tent outside. Additionally some of the magic has been lost from the Sirimon Route as a road has been paved from the Sirimon Gate to the first hust, Old Moses, recently. While the hike through the rain forest to Old Moses is still gorgeous and teeming with wildlife, walking on asphalt for even that short initial jaunt is a bit of a drag.
The section between Old Moses and the second hut, Shiptons, is vastly more interesting. There is substantial vegetation stretching all the way to 14k feet which was a unique experience for me. Given the copious flora, and unique geography I was quite surprised to learn we’d reached 13,800 ft above sea level when we arrived at Shiptons. That being said, I was essentially walking through a moat where a trail had once existed. All the while being accosted with precipitation from the heavens. Maybe I should not have been so surprised by the greenery.
The final section of the Mt Kenya pursuit was my favorite part however. Our day started at 2am with a few cups of tea and a handful of cookies. By 2:45 we were on the trail and working our way through a blizzard. My guides Ben and Joshua earned every penny of their fees on our four hour round trip from Shiptons to Point Lenana. Visibility was at best ten feet, and that wasn’t until the storm let up slightly around 6:15! Ben and Joshua led me through a white out from 13,800 to 16,355ft without a trail, compass, or map. As a capper to a near perfect ascent we glissaded down nearly half the route before switching to a moonwalk-like run through a scree field. We were back at Shiptons enjoying breakfast by 7am. Shortly after eating we trekked back down to Old Moses to conclude the trip.
I’ll end this post with a few takeaways from the trip.
- While a bit unorthodox, a solo guided trip of Mt Kenya is a fantastic time.
- The majority of the trek is a meandering class one approach. The real fun stuff is reserved for summit day
- Point Lenena is a must-do, but it’ll leave you craving Batian
- Having somebody cook your meals for you on the mountain is as close as you can get to Valhalla in this lifetime!