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[TR] Mount Kenya - North Face Standard Route 9/7/2012

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Trip: Mount Kenya - North Face Standard Route


Date: 9/7/2012


Trip Report:

After poaching this site for several years without contributing, I will write my first TR regarding a climb as far from the Cascades as possible in which we didn’t summit. However, I spent so much time gathering information on this route that it would be a shame not to share it.


My newly married wife and I decided to attempt the North Face Standard Route on Batian as part of our honeymoon. At 17, 057 feet, Batian is the highest summit of the Mt. Kenya massif located very near the equator in Kenya. It is the tallest mountain in Kenya, and the second tallest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro. The North Face Standard Route is the easiest and most commonly climbed route up Batian during North America’s summer. It goes at 5.9 or around 5.7 if you take a variation around the crux, Firmin’s Tower.


There are several approach options, but the quickest and one of the most scenic routes to the north side of the mountain is the Sirimon route. The Mount Kenya National Park gate at the start of the route is about 3 hours from Nairobi. At the gate we met our non-technical guide, cook and porters for the trip. I had never hired a guide/porters for a trip before, and I initially had my reservations, but as soon as we met Hiram (our guide; munuhe@mail.com) and his team of porters/cooks I was very happy with our decision. Hiram is awesome, and I highly recommend hiring him if you would like to climb Mount Kenya. He is not a technical rock climbing guide, but he has climbed several of the routes on the mountain and can provide a lot of information about most of the standard routes. He has been guiding for 20 years, he is very responsive to inquiries prior to arriving, he arranges all the porters/cooks/food for the trip, and the food is AMAZING! It is worth every penny to hire him, and it feels good to support the local people and encourage conservation by giving the park economic value. Plus Hiram is just a fun guy to hang out with.


Anyway, we arrived at the park gate (~8,000 feet) around noon and hiked on a dirt road up to Old Moses Camp (~10,000 feet) for the night. There are bunk houses here, but we opted to bring and sleep in our tent for comfort and a bit more solitude. The bunk houses looked quite comfortable however, and there were only a few other people camping there for the night.



At the Park Gate


The next morning we began our slow and steady romp up to Shipton’s Camp (~14,000 feet). On the way we enjoyed the variety of lobelias that occupy the African alpine. As with the previous day, it was beautiful in the morning, but the weather came in around 11:00am bringing rain and hail. We met a couple of Brits who had attempted the route that day but were snowed off the mountain. They portrayed a dubious outlook for our attempt with tales of extremely loose rock, rope snatching rappels and terrible weather. Shipton’s Camp also has a good looking bunk house, but we slept in our tent again.



Lobelias on the way to Shipton's






More Lobelias



Mackinder Valley



Cooking dinner at Shipton's


The following morning we decided to climb a portion of the route to acclimatize and familiarize ourselves with the terrain so that we would be more efficient during our next day’s legitimate attempt. Again, we woke up to beautiful, if not particularly warm, weather and began our hike through a scree field to the start of the route. Our goal was to make it to the large amphitheater approximately a third of the way up the route.



Morning at Shipton's


As we were only planning on a trial run of the first portion of the climb, we started climbing around 8:00 so that the temperature would be a bit more comfortable. Our plan was to simul as much of the route as possible and pitch out anything over around 5.6. We climbed in approach shoes, and the climbing went well if not a little slow due to some rope management issues. Route finding was fairly straightforward given that we stayed in a well defined gully. On the other hand, rock fall hazard was a significant issue with large piles of loose rocks perched wherever there was a ledge or break in slope. This led to slow progress as I tried to lead carefully without sending rocks down on my new wife’s head.



Remnant of an equatorial glacier



Cross at the start of the route



On the route (Pitch 6 per Cosley & Houston)



It looks goofy but it's warm



Shipton's far below


We reached the base of the amphitheater just as it started snowing around 11:00, and we began our rappels in the deteriorating weather. During our conversation with the Brits that day before, they had mentioned that it appeared possible to use single rope rappels rather than doubles as stated in all the route descriptions to descend from the amphitheater. We gave it a go since single rope rappels would significantly reduce the risk of rockfall and the rope snagging. This worked out perfectly and required only minimal class III scrambling in a couple places. We were happy to be descending quickly as the snow began to fall quite hard and the temperatures plummeted.



Instead of descending to Shipton’s Camp, we decided previously to move the camp a little higher to Kami Tarn for the night. There is no hut at Kami Tarn anymore, but several descriptions stated that camping at Kami Tarn would significantly reduce approach times. We weren’t convinced as we traversed a long boulder scree field to the new base camp in the driving snow. However, Kami Tarn is in a beautiful location right under the mountain with stunning views and great solitude which certainly warrants a visit. We reached our tent at around 2:00 and were welcomed with warm towels for our hands and another delicious meal!



Camp at Kami Tarn



Nice views from the tent


Resting in the tent with the snow falling outside, Soraya and I discussed our options. Even with an early start and efficient climbing since we knew the route, there was no way we would reach the summit by 11:00am when the weather seemed to be moving in, let alone descend by that time. This would force a bivy in bad weather for a very long time with minimal bivy gear. We would also likely have to descend in the bad weather regardless of a bivy.



Due to the high likelihood of bad weather and an only slightly less likely possibility of kicking a rock down on my wife, we decided to bag our attempt on Batian and opted to climb/hike the third tallest summit on Mt. Kenya, non-technical Point Lenana (16,355 feet). In order to reach the summit by sunrise we woke up at around 3:00am and started hiking in the dark accompanied by Hiram and one of our porter buddies. We reached the summit a bit before sunrise and were rewarded with beautiful views of Nelion (the second tallest peak), the remaining equatorial glaciers, and the beautiful valleys that surround the mountain.




On the summit of Point Lenana



Sunrise with Nelion behind






Point Lenana behind


On the descent back to Kami Tarn, the weather was beautiful and I couldn’t help but start second guessing our decision to forgo our Batian summit attempt. We were planning to descend all the way back down the mountain that day so we quickly packed up camp and began the long trudge downwards. At around 11:00, you guessed it, the clouds rolled in. Then came the rain, hail, thunder and lightning all day long. At first the rain made me feel vindicated for having turned around; after a while it didn’t feel so comforting. The trail turned to a stream and Hiram kept holding up his metal umbrella as the lightning strikes got closer and closer. Hiram told us that no one had been struck by lightning on the mountain to his knowledge. Not wanting to tempt fate, I made sure to keep a healthy distance.




Descending with Nelion and Batian behind



Traversing the boulder field back to Kami Tarn



Heading down



Heading down



Our clan at Kami Tarn



Here comes the weather



It's hailing!


After the long, wet and cold descent to Camp Moses, we boarded an old land cruiser that Hiram had set up to take us back to the park gate. After all the rain, I was interested to see how the ride down would go on the slick, rutted, muddy road. There were a few exciting moments, but we made it out in one piece due to some very skilled driving.



Our stout vehicle


All in all it was a very fun outing in a unique setting regardless of the fact we didn’t make the summit of Batian. If I were to try again, I think I would come in the northern hemisphere’s winter and try the standard route on Nelion which supposedly has better rock, more predictable weather, and the added benefit of a shelter at the summit to allow a more reasonable bivy if required. From the summit of Nelion you can traverse the Gate of Mists to the Summit of Batian.



If I were to try the North Face Standard Route again, I would probably try climbing with a doubled over half rope up to the amphitheater to reduce the potential for rock fall. However, I would bring double ropes for potential rappels above. Having only climbed the lower portion of the route, I am not sure what is required for the upper section. We climbed in approach shoes, and I think that worked out well. I would probably try to climb the route as shown below on the topo (This was my favorite topo that I found posted by a Hungarian guy. Note that it shows the easier variation around Firmin’s Tower):




Additional Resources:

• Kilimanjaro & East Africa: A Climbing and Trekking Guide (Cameron Burns)

• Mount Kenya Map and Guide 1:50,000 (A.L. Wielochowski)

• The Mountain Club of Kenya Guide to Muont Kenya and Kilimanjaro (edited by Iain Allan)


o Note: variation around Firmin’s Tower




o Note: Standard Route up Firmin’s Tower



• No Picnic on Mount Kenya (Felice Benuzzi)

• Hiram Munuhe (munuhe@mail.com)


Other non-related photos from our honeymoon:




Gear Notes:

• Approach shoes (I would bring rock shoes if doing Firmin’s Tower)

• Double ropes

• Double C4s from .5-2 & a #3

• A few smaller master cams

• Set of nuts

• A few larger hexes

• Extra cord/webbing for backing up rappel anchors

• Warm Clothes and a stout helmet!



Approach Notes:

Marry a climber who speaks Swahili, has family in Nairobi, and has travel advisers for parents. Also, Hire Hiram!

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Wow! That is quite the honeymoon. Spiceman didn't tell me that you like to climb rocks too. Small world.


I will take your advice and go over during our winter; Mt. Kenya has been on my list for a long time.


Thanks for posting, and don't stop there with your TRs!

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Cool! My wife and I circumnav'd Kenya in '01. Beautiful place and much less hammered than Kili - and lots more climbing potential. Been wanting to go back with a rack since. Thanks for the TR.

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I can confirm that the SE face of Nelion is a very nice climb. Quite solid and enjoyable, in contrast to what you describe. Seems to be a theme: my wife and I did that for our honeymoon.

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Yeah Brett, way to get on the TR scoreboard!


Next time, maybe consider looking for opportunities to photograph each other...you know... sleeping, or scowling or just looking stupid. Otherwise, you'll be getting lots of calls from the Patagonia catalog folks.

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We did see a bunch of hyraxes (african marmot equivalent) up at Shipton's, but we must have forgotten to take a picture. They certainly didn't seem very shy.


Thanks for the warm welcome to Cascade Climbers. I promise to document some of my more local trips here, and to capture more images of my usually disheveled self.

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Wow! I can't believe how much the glacier on Batian has melted. Way back in 1981 we did the circuit of the mountain and hopped up Pt. Lenana. This was post Peace Corps and we had cleverly mailed our down sleeping bags home, figuring we wouldn't need them for our trans African trip. All we had for sleeping was a couple of wool blankets. We found a stash of flares at Minto's Hut (most huts we had to ourselves). It was so cold that we would light a flare in the hut to warm things up until the acrid smoke would drive us out.


Like you said, Mt Kenya is a much better climbing destination that Killi, which was even popular back in the day. I can't imagine what it's like now. For a real treat hit the Rwenzori Mountains on the Uganda/Congo border. They were amazing. We didn't encounter anyone for the whole 5 days we were up there, just our ranger/guide with his rusty M-1.

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I congratulate you. I have taken every wife on a big outdoor adventure. Some of my mistakes were to assume a 2 week climbing vacation or a 20 mile one day round trip in the mountains would be great.


I am currently single because climbing is always a second lover unless you really understand your partner.


And it is not poaching but lurking that you have been doing. This site appreciates people that participate.


Thanks for the TR and pics.


Edited by matt_warfield

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