Mount Kenya, North Face Standard Route
This RD has been adapted and updated in 2017 from the excellent http://www.cosleyhouston.com/kenya-route-description.htm (mainly just small changes to the abseils and translation to SA grades)
- 28 pitches (16-18 roped), SA Grade 17
- 1 hr walk from Shiptons to start of climbing
- 6-7 hours from start of climbing to summit, moving fast with no route finding mistakes
- 5-6 hours for descent
- Acclimatise properly by starting to walk from the park gate rather than driving up the first bit, take it 3 or 4 days before you go for the summit...
- The July-Sept Mt Kenya weather is normally clear in the morning and gets cloudy later in the day. Try and find a dryish spell using the unpredictable weather sites. If it's raining low down there might just be light hail higher up.
- There is a fun good quality warmup route on Pt Peter
- Start as early as possible, perhaps even check out the first few pitches the day before to save time.
- Some people bivvy on the route, there are good flat spots in the amphitheatre and after pitch 16. It would be hard to climb the entire route in a day with Bivvy gear on your back, so pick your strategy (to Bivvy or not) in advance!
- Rappel with at least 2 x 50m ropes
- Grades can feel a little bit harder at altitude
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. Walk up the obvious scree path on the left, until you traverse right following the cairns. The start of the route is marked with a cross in a circle with blue paint.
Pitch 1 - 20m - Grade 12
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
Pitch 2 - 25m - Grade 10
Climb cracks up and R of the belay for 3 meters, 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.
Pitch 1 & 2 - 55m - Grade 12
Move 5m right of the cross in circle and climb directly up the water gully, bypassing the original pitch 1 and part of 2, and continue up the gully to the end of pitch 2 in one long 55m pitch to belay at rappel anchor (end pitch 2). Works well if the gully is dry, watch out for loose stones.
Shorten rope and move together for 60 meters up gully, ignoring branch on L. Class 3
Pitch 3 - 35 m - Grade 10
Starting from the RHS of the gully climb easily up and L, past piton, and back to the center of the main gully. Belay at a rappel anchor with 2 pitons
Pitch 4 - 43 m - Grade 12
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. .
Pitch 5 - 35m - Easy
Climb L side of easy slab above. Belay on blocks below steepening wall.
Pitch 6 - 35m - Grade 10
Climb up and R on steep blocks, then corner 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.
Pitch 7 - 30m - Grade 14
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). Belay at a large block, rappel anchor.
Shorten the rope (or untie) 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, small Bivvy spots. Climb for about 60 meters up the R edge of the Amphitheater to the highest and best bivy ledges. You should be here about 2.5 hours from the start of the technical climbing to these bivies. 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. Take note of the chimneys with old rope on Firman's tower (pitches 10,11).
Now scramble up on ledges, and then L on dirty ledges, to the the top of giant tilted blocks. Climb on top of blocks to belay. 3rd class with one Grade 10 move gaining top of blocks. 60m.
Pitch 8 - 52m - Grade 12
Climb up and L on easy terrain 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).
Pitch 9 - 24m - Grade 15
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 Grade 16) which lead directly to the base of the chimney pitches of the next pitch, or move up and L on big, blocky steps (1 move of awkward Grade 14) 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. .
Pitch 10 Grade 17/18 - 20m (one move in upper section).
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.
Pitch 11 - 20m - Grade 16
Enter the R-hand of 2 chimneys and climb this for 10 meters. 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.
Pitch 12 - 45m - Grade 12.
Climb up and L, around corner, then more straight up steepening rock to the top of Firmin's Tower.
Pitch 13 - 10m - Scramble
Downclimb into the notch behind the Tower.
Scramble Section 60m
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 - 30m - Grade 15/16
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.
Pitch 15 - 50m - 4th class.
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.
Pitch 16 - 10m - Grade 10
Move up R for 5 meters, then back L on ledge to the ridge crest. From the crest, shorten the rope and move together for 25 meters to good bivy ledges. Consider leaving one rope here as you don't 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 (but slightly easier).
Option 2) Starting at the very L edge of the bivy platforms traverse left and slightly down on class 2 ledges for about 60/70 meters, following some cairns around two main bulges. A short 4-meter Grade 14 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, Grade 10, 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 of the climbing
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, Grade 10, to reach the L edge of the ledges which lead back to the bivouac sites (see option 2 above)
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 Grade 12 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 horn tat
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).
Rappel 47 meters down pitch 4 (big corner).
Rappel 35 meters down pitch 3.
Scramble down to top of pitch 2 (abseil point and tat in gully). Ignore the abseil tat and easily traverse right (looking out) and down on a loose ledge and continue onto a little buttress overlooking the glacier etc. There is a convenient new bolt + tat abseil ( located almost directly above the start of the route) - I'm not sure of the length (30 - 35 meters?).
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 if you move fast and light, the weather is good and you don't make mistakes.
- approach shoes (conditions could require something more alpine but most seem to climb in approach shoes)
- rock shoes (nice for the upper sections of the route, beware pitch 14 which may be very icy)
- double ropes (to manage 50 meter rappels, can lead route on a single)
- helmet and headlamp
- 5 cams to fit cracks for .75" to 2"
- set of stoppers, medium to large
- 5 quick draws
- 6 single slings and biners
- 3 double sling
- 2 cordelettes
- nut tool
Guide and Porter
Many South Africans have hired Hiram Munuhe (Munuhu at mail dot com) as a non-climbing logistics and hiking guide.