Mount Kenya travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
It might seem impossible to ignore a mountain – especially when it’s over 5,000m high. But that’s what’s happened to some extent to Mount Kenya. A dormant volcano with flanks moulded by glaciation, Africa’s second highest peak has been metaphorically overshadowed by Kilimanjaro, 400km away. Kili gets 20 times more visitors, with trekkers looking to summit Africa’s highest mountain irrespective of its merits, yet Mount Kenya can trump its neighbour in all but height. It’s scenically spectacular, with jagged peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and U-shaped valleys crafted over three million years of erosion. Its flora ranges from bamboo forest to rare Afro-Alpine moorland with huge sci-fi plants like giant groundsel, and it is home to fascinating wildlife, including forest-dwelling elephants and iridescent sunbirds. Kenya is also fractionally quicker to climb than Kili – a week rather than 10 days – making an organised ascent cheaper, but no less arduous. This is a tough, challenging trek at altitude. Expect a huge sense of achievement on completion; just don’t expect to see crowds.
We bring Kenya’s highest mountain out of the shadows in our Mount Kenya travel guide.
Climbing Mount Kenya
What does this trip entail?
How long does it take?
As with Kilimanjaro, there is a choice of routes up Mount Kenya (four main routes in total), and most require around five days of trekking. Pick a trek itinerary that includes acclimatisation measures, too, either climbing high and sleeping low, or an extra night spent half way up the trail or just below Lenana Point, before the summit attempt.
Expect a mix of half days of hiking (4-5 hours) and some more demanding full day hikes. Some itineraries include the pre-dawn trek to the summit, plus a long descent to Old Moses Camp from Shipton’s Camp, a distance of 14km and the recipe for a very long day of walking. Choose your trip carefully and be realistic about your fitness levels.
Sleeping & eating
The Sirimon route is the only trail with huts all along it, while other routes have a handful of simple bunkhouses. These are basic and shared by men and women, with multiple beds in each room. You’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag – at least a three seasons thickness – and a bed roll.
Many organised treks choose to camp instead. This brings flexibility, as you can stay in more scenic locations off the beaten track, such as on the shores of the mountain’s lakes. However, camping trips are fully serviced and therefore tend to be more expensive than staying in bunkhouses, as they demand more organisation, with more porters needed to carry equipment. All food and water is carried by porters too, and prepared along the trail by the cook. Expect simple, hearty meals, perhaps with fruit to snack on in between.
Guides & porters
An organised trek is the safest option, with a support crew usually consisting of a cook, porter for the cooking gear plus one porter per trekker. Crucially, there will also be an experienced guide who can regulate your pace, diagnose altitude sickness if necessary and make critical decisions, while also sharing a deep knowledge of the wildlife and flora on the mountain, to bring the environment fully to life. All guides and porters must be registered with Kenya Wildlife Services and should also be a member of one of the local guide and porter associations.
Before booking your trek, ask your operator about the welfare of porters. Do they have wet weather and cold weather gear (it can drop to -15°C at night at higher altitude)? Are they kitted out with suitable footwear? Reports of porters trekking in welly boots are not unheard of. Where will they sleep? Expect to tip porters and guides at the end of your trek. Some tour operators recommend an amount, while others leave it to your discretion.
It’s possible to trek Mount Kenya independently, but it’s not recommended unless you’re a very experienced high-altitude climber and trekkers do die here each year. Navigating the mighty mountain is the main challenge. Paths aren’t clearly marked and it’s easy to get lost in cloud cover. In addition, the park authorities do not allow trekkers to enter the park alone, so there will need to be two of you, carrying your own kit, food and, unless you stick to Sirimon route which has huts, camping equipment too. You won’t be popular with the locals, either; trekking independently deprives guides and porters of work.
Best time to visit Mount Kenya
TEMPERATURE & RAINFALL
Trekking tours here run year round, but the safest and best time to trek up Mount Kenya is during the dry seasons: Jan-Feb and Jul-early Oct, when the weather is most reliably fine. Avoid the two rainy seasons, mid Mar-Jun and late Oct to end of Dec. At any time of year, the temperatures can vary wildly during a single day. Above the cloudline and in the sunlight, it can get above 20°C, but nights can drop as low as -15°C at the highest camps, with ice and snow on the trails. It’s also possible to meet wet and snowy conditions at any time of year.