Mount Kenya is the first mountain I ever trekked (though it won’t be the last!) and so will always have a special place in my heart. Although an exhausting experience, it’s one I’m so glad that I took part in for a multitude of different reasons.
Mount Kenya, quite obviously, is situated in Kenya, with a total height of 5199m. The trek I did was part of a school trip I lead to the country in August 2018, so we were accompanied up the mountain by Camps International and Rift Valley Adventures. The support we received from both was excellent, so I’m sure there’ll be a couple of more in-depth posts about what each organisation offers!
Mount Kenya actually has three summit goals because the highest summit, the Batian Peak, is only accessible via climbing ropes. As we were a school trip of mostly inexperienced trekkers this wasn’t viable, so our goal was to reach the third summit, Point Lenana, which is 4985m above sea level. Prior to getting there we’d planned our route and gone over the safety aspects of the trek – there’s actually loads of different routes you can do, each offering something slightly different. To complete the trek you’ll need all the usual trekking safety gear, and as the final part of the trek is done in darkness equipment such as head torches is vital. It’s also important to remember that whilst Kenya has a hot climate, Mount Kenya is absolutely freezing as you go up, so appropriate clothing is essential.
One think I have to say is that Mount Kenya is absolutely stunning, with incredible views and amazing wildlife. There were many times where we just stopped and took in our surroundings, from miles of cactus-littered valleys to steep rocky ascents masked by rolling cloud. I’m still not over the scenery!
On the first day we trekked up to Old Moses Camp which was a fairly easy walk, considering – mostly surfaced road at a steady incline. Rift Valley Adventures hire local porters to assist with bags and equipment, so by paying our allocated porter a $50 tip (on top of their wage for their job) we were able carry just our day bags and have less to worry about. The porters were really friendly and I got speaking to some of them who told me about how they would often do the entire mountain in just 11 hours!
I’d say the first day is the least exciting of the trek due to it being a road, however it is surrounded by large trees and it’s possible to see some interesting wildlife. We got to witness a whole community of baboons (including babies) on our way up, and even though we didn’t see any elephants, the evidence of their tusks scraped against the soil overhangs was there to see. When we arrived at the first camp we had a little bit of time before dark so got to explore the surrounding hills and views, and then the rest of the time was focused on getting fed and falling asleep (sadly this didn’t happen too quickly due to loud trekkers nearby, but we got enough sleep to get by).
The second day was the most difficult one as we had to cover around 14km and the terrain only kept getting harsher. For the extra effort we were rewarded with amazing vistas and beautiful stop points such as many clear streams where we were able to collect water. The moment that will always stand out to me was the hardest bit – we were starting to flag as the altitude effects became apparent and a thick, heavy cloud rolled in from nowhere, obscuring our views ahead. I remember walking up that incline being able to see nothing but fog, and it felt endless. At times it felt futile, but Camps International and Rift Valley kept us motivated and made sure we were looking after ourselves.
The goal at the end of the second day was to reach Shipton’s Camp, which is 4200m above sea level and situated in the most beautiful basin – surrounded by rocky peaks (some of which were coated in snow when we got there). The place is a good test of whether it’s viable to continue, as if you feel unwell there then you’re unlikely to get any better unless you go back down. We camped at the place but they also offer hostel beds, plus a large dining area where basic yet highly needed food is served. It was here I learnt about arrowroot, a starchy vegetable that’s not particularly flavoursome but is perfect for giving you the energy you need up in the mountains. You might not enjoy it but I recommend eating it when up there, and taking advantage of the sweet teas that are on offer to shake off the mountain side effects.
The third day we did a practice trek around the area to get used to the altitude, and then the final part of the ascent took place very early the next morning, starting at around 2am. The goal is to reach Pt. Lenana just before sunrise so you can witness the sun appearing over the horizon from atop the mountain. I’ll admit that I was terrified at this point – it was pitch black, the ground was purely scree with only a few large rocks to hold onto, and the altitude was causing my lungs to feel like they were being repeatedly stabbed with a large nail. We kept as a tight group and the Rift Valley team were there immediately when support was needed.
I’d love to be able to tell you firsthand how beautiful it was once we reached the summit, however sadly I only have photos from the rest of the team as I wasn’t able to quite make it up there! About 100m from the end a couple of our students fell sick and could no further, so I accompanied them down with one of the porters. I was gutted to not be able to reach the top, but grateful of how Rift Valley dealt with the situation. We descended the mountain via a different route as it was much quicker to get back down… Mainly because you slid! The porter took our hands and helped us to run down the scree and a strange sort of gravelly landslide – it was a truly bizarre experience with giant rocks passing us as we descended but it was here where I learnt the most about mountain trekking and gained a confidence that I hadn’t been able to reach so far. That porter alone helped me to lose my nervous steps and shaky hands, and I finally felt comfortable. Our alternative route took us past a serene mountain lake and we were also still able to see the sunrise… I can confirm that it was a beautiful sight that made all the pains of the trek worth it.
After some rest it was time to make our way back down to the entrance – this part was a bit of a blur really as all we wanted to do was get back to the van. We were knackered from trekking, ill from altitude, and sweaty from not being able to change our clothes for so long. But getting back to the entrance meant it didn’t matter, as we’d done it! I’ve never felt such achievement for something, and looking back I still can’t quite believe that I, the fragile and clumsy girl with no physical ability whatsoever, managed to do it.
The whole experience, though tough, was incredible and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I have to anyway, as I’ve got to reach that summit! Both Camps and Rift Valley were amazing with the support they offered, and I was truly struck by the porters who I would certainly use again. Given that it was my first mountain (I haven’t even done any British ones!) I’d recommend Mount Kenya as a brilliant international mountain to trek for beginners who want a challenge, and would thoroughly recommend having Rift Valley Adventures by your side for it.
If you enjoyed this article or have also experienced Mt. Kenya then please don’t forget to like, pin, and leave a comment! You can check out my review of another brilliant location in Kenya, Diani Beach, here:
(All photos taken by Adam Smith and Tim Wright as I dropped my phone on the second day!)