Kenya Mt. Kenya 2001.03.06 - 03.10

Mt. Kenya's Point Lenana (16,355 ft / 4,985 M)

Mt. Kenya is Kenya's highest peak and Africa's the 2nd highest. The two highest points on Mt. Kenya, Batian (5199 meters) and Nelion (5188 meters), can only be reached by ice and rock climbers. The third highest point, Point Lenana, is accessible to hikers. The beauty of the landscape and numerous snow capped pointed peaks make this hike rewarding.

Arrangements for Mt. Kenya started as a series of lies fed to us by Planet Safari Adventure in Nairobi - hey, a company recommended in the Lonely Planet Kenya guide - and succeeding mistakes by Wes. First, the woman at the Planet Safari Adventure office told us that tourists are required to be accompanied by a licensed guide to hike Mt. Kenya. Naturally, Planet Safari Adventure had a 5-day Mt. Kenya package available to us for only US$250 / person. In truth, the park prohibits solo hikers; 2 tourists hiking together are OK. Next, a man at Planet vouched for a "reliable Mt. Kenya guide" who we could negotiate our own terms with and hire directly. In truth, this guide Joseph Kanyai Muthee has a long list of complaints filed against him by other angry tourists.

Tourists in Nairobi are told not to trust anyone. The trouble is, nobody seems to be trustworthy. Finding reliable information is next to impossible. And nobody seems to care if all the tourists get fed up and leave, never to return to Kenya again. For a debt-ridden country that heavily depends on tourism, the prevailing attitude towards tourists can only worsen the country's crisis. At least there's water now, we've been told. Apparently, because the Kenyan government can't be bothered to maintain a dam that holds the reservoir of water for most of the country, there was no water for 6 months in the later half of year 2000.

A Japanese guy we met on Mt. Kilimanjaro recommended a hiking route on Mt. Kenya: ascend the Sirimon Route, walk the Summit Circuit Path, and descend the Chigoria Route. We wanted to follow his advice and do as much on our own as possible. We prepared our gear and food, bought a topological hiking map of Mt. Kenya, went to the bus station to find the bus schedule but were told, "No that bus doesn't run from here anymore.", went to Let's Go Travel where the Lonely Planet guide says we can book Mt. Kenya mountain huts only to be told, "No we don't book any of those huts and I don't know who owns them." Great start. Masami decided we should just ride a shared taxi to Nanyuki, the town closest to the Sirimon Route, and find information there. "OK. But first let's make one final inquiry at Mountain Madness Tours to see if they can offer us a deep discount on a Mt. Kenya trek considering that we have our own food, stove, and gear," Wes suggested. That was the first mistake. Word got out on the street that we wanted to hike Mt. Kenya and before Wes could even locate the shared taxi area, he was approached by a Mt. Kenya mountain guide. "Just hire me directly. Don't go through the expensive company. How much do you want to pay?" After an hour of negotiating, we settled on a 5-day hire for KSh 3400 plus taxi fare to Nanyuki and the guide's park entry fee. KSh 1000 would be advanced for preparations, the balance would be paid on the last day, and Wes would control the money, paying the park fees, taxi, and hut fees directly. When Masami met this Joseph Kanyai briefly, she didn't feel good about him, but she also didn't say, "No". Masami asked in private, "Don't give him any money until we get to Nanyuki". But Joseph later pleaded, "I need to leave a little something for my family and make some preparations here in Nairobi. Just KSh 1000 now will do." Wes advanced the KSh 1000 against Masami's request - the 2nd mistake. To make a long story short, we reached Nanyuki with Kanyai, and he needed another KSh 1000 for his preparations. The first KSh 1000 was gone. We had already given him the KSh 1000 advance, paid his shared taxi fee of KSh 320, and lost another KSh 20 when Kanyai took it out of Wes' hand for some gum ("I'll pay you back later."). That's a total of KSh 1340 lost when we fired Kanyai in Nanyuki.

Masami did some investigating around Nanyuki. Mountain Rock Lodge (email:, Tel in Nanyuki: +254-(0)176-62625) wanted around US$100 per person per day for a fully catered package. "No, no, no. We just want a guide who will carry about 6kg of extra stuff." Captain Joe at Wild Side Ventures in Nanyuki (email:, Tel: +254-(0)176-32236) wanted KSh 900 per day for a guide and KSh 1800 for transport from Nanyuki to the Sirimon Park Gate. Not bad. A freelance guide, Johnstone wanted KSh 500 per day to guide us and KSh 2000 for transport to the Park Gate. We went with Johnstone.

Well, Johnstone was cheap and he delivered on his discount. Compared to the guides we had on Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Johnstone was a flake who was more interested in carousing with his village buddies at the mountain huts than service his clients. Nevertheless, he showed Wes the way to the summit in the dark and assisted us when Masami got altitude sickness. Without Johnstone, the hike would have been very difficult. The topological map of Mt. Kenya is highly inaccurate, and the trails have no markings or signposts. It's no wonder most tourists hiking on their own get lost on this mountain.

On the mountain, we met another freelance guide who was more reliable than Johnstone. Contact him directly for mountaineering services: James Mwang Mugo in Nanyuki (Tel: +254-(0)176-31464). If you're already in Nanyuki, ask for James at Mother's Choice Cafe in the middle of town.

All difficulties aside, Mt. Kenya is beautiful and worth a visit accompanied by someone who's been there before.

Facts for the Visitor
A National Park fee (paid in Kenyan Shillings or US$), and hiking gear are needed to reach Mt. Kenya's Point Lanana. All food, cook wear, and gear must be prepared before reaching the Park Gate. The Park Gate only handles the National Park fee. The mountain huts are private and must be booked with the respective owners, either beforehand at a discount or at the hut at full price.

The critical considerations on the mountain are keeping warm (preventing hypothermia), shielding yourself from sun exposure (UV radiation is 30% stronger every additional 1000 feet / 305 meters of elevation), sufficient water supply (preventing dehydration) and altitude sickness (pulmonary edema and cerebral edema). Do not wear cotton clothing. Cotton absorbs sweat that chills the body. This is the primary cause of hypothermia.

Camping anywhere within the park is permitted. If camping on land owned by a hut, a camping fee is paid to the hut. If camping slightly further away from a hut, a US$2 per person per night camping fee is paid to the National Park. Hut land boundaries are not marked, but the caretaker stationed at the hut can advise you.

Mountain Huts
Sirimon Route: The mountain huts Old Moses Hut and Shipton Hut on the Sirimon Route are owned by Mountain Rock Lodge (email:, Tel in Nanyuki: +254-(0)176-62625). They have padded bunk beds, picnic tables, toilets, and a water supply. There is no cooking area for guests nor shower. Advance booking and payment can be made at Mountain Rock Lodge, 12km south of Nanyuki, or at Mt. Kenya Cyber World in Nanyuki. Old Moses Hut costs KSh 400 per person when booked in advance and KSh 650 per person if paid at the hut. Shipton Hut costs KSh 500 per person booked in advance and KSh 800 per person if paid at the hut. The only other hut on the Sirimon Route is Liki North Hut owned by the Mountain Club of Kenya (Tel in Nairobi: +254-(0)2-501747).

Chigoria Route:
Just outside the Chigoria Park Gate is the Meru Mt. Kenya Lodge owned by Lets Go Travel (email:, Tel in Nairobi: +254-(0)2-213033, web site: The price is KSh 1050 per non-resident plus KSh 50 per day for electricity. Food is not available at this lodge. Further up the route within the park boundary is Minto's Hut owned by the Mountain Club of Kenya (Tel in Nairobi: +254-(0)2-501747).

Naro Moru Route:
Outside the Naro Moru Park Gate is a Meteorological Station with accommodation facilities owned by Naro Moru River Lodge (Tel in Naro Moru: +254-(0)176-62201). Further up the route within the park boundary is Mackinders Hut also owned by Naro Moru River Lodge.

Summit Circuit Trail:
3 huts are listed on the Mt. Kenya topological map along the Summit Circuit Trail. Two Tarn Hut and Kami Hut have been torn down without replacement. Today the only one standing is Austrian Hut owned by the Mountain Club of Kenya (Tel in Nairobi: +254-(0)2-501747). Austrian Hut is little more than a wooden box at 4700 meters. Guests sleep on the freezing wood floor and endure frigid winds when they visit the outhouse. It's definitely not the most comfortable place to stay, especially since Point Lanana is easily accessible from Shipton and Mackinders Huts, which by comparison are luxurious. Currently, the Mountain Club of Kenya is discussing whether to turn Austrian Hut over to the Kenya Wildlife Service. It may switch hands without notice.

The Climb
Mt. Kenya's Point Lenana can be ascended and descended in 4 days on most routes. Allotting 5 days gives time to complete the Summit Circuit Path too. Although we intended to hike for 5 days, ascending the Sirimon Route, walking the Summit Circuit, and descending the Chigoria Route, Masami's altitude sickness forced us back down the Sirimon Route.

Day 1 is a 32km 4-wheel drive ride from the town of Nanyuki to Sirimon Park Gate (elevation 2600 meters) where the park entry fee is paid. From the Park Gate, it's a gradual 9km ascent to Old Moses Hut (elevation 3300 meters).

Day 2 is a long 14.5km trail with lots of up and down to Shipton Hut (elevation 4200 meters). At the half-way point, the peaks of Mt. Kenya are visible on a clear day. Shipton Hut is in an ideal setting just below the 5000 meter snowcapped peaks. Unfortunately, Masami got sick on an acclimatization climb to 4500 meters near Shipton Hut. We hoped she would recover overnight after descending to the hut, but she remained sick through to the next morning.

Day 3 is a quick and easy 2.5 hour ascent to Point Lanana (4985 meters). Departing the hut at 04:00, Wes ascended with Johnstone and reached the peak before sunrise. From Lanana, instead of a 6-hour clockwise semi-circle along the Summit Circuit Path back to Shipton, Wes walked a 2-hour anti-clockwise path on a small portion of the Summit Circuit to return to Masami early. At 08:30, she was still sick. Very worried, Wes quickly packed all the gear into 2 packs, one for himself and one for Johnstone, and rushed Masami downhill to Old Moses Camp. At Old Moses, Masami felt better so we stayed the night.

Day 4 was a short 2-hour walk to Sirimon Park Gate where a secretive under-the-table KSh 1000 to a transport driver returned us to Nanyuki before lunch time.

Cost Summary

Expense Quantity / Method


The Joseph Kanyai mistake KSh 1000 advance, KSh 320 taxi, KSh 20 gum.

KSh 1340

Shared taxi to Nanyuki from Nairobi KSh 320 * 2 people.

KSh 640

Joskaki Hotel in Nanyuki Double room with breakfast for 2.

KSh 750

Mt. Kenya National Park entrance fee KSh 780 * 4 days * 2 non-residents.

KSh 6240

Hut fees (KSh 400 * 1 Old Moses * 2 people) + (KSh 500 * 2 Shipton * 2 people).

KSh 2800

Transport from Nanyuki to the Park Gate  

KSh 2000

Guide salary & park entry fee KSh 500 * 5 days. Agreed in advance and still paid full amount even though we cut our hike short.

KSh 2500

Guide transport from Chigoria to Nanyuki after the hike Agreed in advance and still paid even though we couldn't descend the Chigoria Route.

KSh 300

Transport from the Park Gate to Nanyuki

KSh 1000

Lunch with our guide in Nanyuki  

KSh 500

Guide tip  

KSh 2000

Shared taxi to Nairobi from Nanyuki (KSh 320 * 2 people) + KSh 100 to be dropped off at our hotel.

KSh 740


KSh 20,810

The peaks of Mt. Kenya are directly in front of Shipton Hut. Slightly right of the center are the combined peaks Batian and Nelion. To the left with a more rounded top is Point Lenana.

The same peaks Batian, Nelion, and Lenana viewed from the slope above Shipton Hut. The unique vegetation adds to the beauty of the mountain.

At high altitude, these cute rodents mosey about munching on the thick clumps of grass.

Masami found a new hiking partner just hanging around at 4300 meters. Didn't these feathery plants appear on the Muppet Show?

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