This past summer,
I spent five weeks in Africa, visiting game parks and completing
a successful climb of Mt. Kenya, the second highest peak on the
continent. There were eight of us on the trip, and we made all
arrangements for safaris and the climb after arriving in Nairobi,
Kenya on 3 August, 1989.
After a successful five day camping safari in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, we set our sites on Mt. Kenya. To save time, we contracted with East African Mountain Guides, headed by Mark Savage, to organize the logistics of our trip. They provided transportation from Nairobi to Mt. Kenya, transportation from the main highway to the trailhead, porters, food, park entrance fees and some equipment. All of this could have been arranged by us, but it would have taken a day or two longer. In the interest of time, we took the easy way out.
There are three main walking approaches to Mt. Kenya. The most popular is the Naro Moru Route from the southwest. We chose the Chogoria Route from the east and we exited via the Sirimon route on the north. The two major peaks in the Mt. Kenya massif are Batian, the highest, at 17,053 ft. and Nelion which is a few feet lower. To reach these summits requires technical rock or snow climbing. A third peak, Pt. Lenana at 16,350 ft., can be reached via non-technical means and is a popular objective for travelers and people without mountaineering experience.
One of the more interesting parts of the trip was the approach from the town of Chogoria at 4920 ft. to our first campsite at Meru Mt. Kenya Lodge at 9895 ft. This 18 mile stretch of muddy road was done in a four-wheel drive Land Rover which required chains as well as a winch. It is quite an experience to be in a vehicle driving through mud two feet deep! Our second night was spent at 11,300 ft. and our 3rd and 4th nights near the Minto's Hut at 13,776 ft.
Our group of eight people had different objectives. Four of us planned to do the North Face Standard Route, a 29 pitch, 1 1/2 day rock climb, with a rating of 5.4. The others planned to ascend Pt. Lenana. We were then to meet at the Kami Hut on the north side of the mountain and hike out the Sirimon Trail together.
The climb was done as independent parties of two climbers each. My partner Frank Sarnquist and I left the Minto's Hut in the morning, climbed over Simba Col and down to the Kami Hut where we began the 1000 ft. approach to the start of the route. We began climbing about 1 p.m. at an altitiude somewhat above 15,000 ft., and climbed about 12 pitches to a bivouac site just below the Firmin Tower which is the crux of the route. I prefer to say we camped rather than bivouacked. We carried sleeping bags, a small Bibler tent, and a stove.
The following morning we left our camp early and proceded to Firmin Tower where we met the other two person party (Armando Menocal and Barnie Ng). We climbed together to the summit reaching it at 12:30 p.m. The climbing was on very good solid rock, quite steep, with wonderful views in the early morning. The weather on Mt. Kenya at this time of year was very predictable; clear in the morning and evening with rain and snow in the afternoon. However, it was not very cold and we were able to climb during the snow flurries with no problems. Descending the route required numerous rappels and we arrived back at the Kami Hut around 7 p.m. We met the rest of our group, who had all been successful on Pt. Lenana and hiked out to a waiting Land Rover the next day.
I found the climb to be very enjoyable. It is similar in technical difficulty to Royal Arches in Yosemite Valley although the altitude and weather makes it much more of a challenge. Frank and I did the climb in light hiking boots (Rock shoes are not necessary for 5.4 difficulty and do not handle snow and ice very well.) There are many other routes on Mt. Kenya including difficult rock routes and world class ice climbs such as the Diamond Coulour on the south side of the mountain. It is quite a thrill to be above 17,000 ft. and be within sight of the equator!
Rich Henke Rich@adventureplus.org