Mt. Kenya Technical Rock Climb – North face

Up Close and Candid with North Face.

Mount Kenya, North Face Standard Route

Rock Climbing in Kenya

Difficulty D
Grade IV, 5.9 
6-7 hours {Climb},  13-15 hours {Complete circuit} 


This route lies on the NE side of the peak and, gets early morning sun. The climbing is with alternately 5th class and easier climbing. The route starts in a rocky couloir for about 7 pitches, then traverses left into the Amphitheatre, a lower angled section at mid-height. Above this, two pitches lead to the base of Firmin’s tower, normally the crux of the climb. Steeper climbing up cracks and chimneys leads to the top of the tower.

A short easy section is followed by one more hard pitch to the juncture with the West Ridge. From here easy climb will lead into Shipton’s Notch and then to the summit. The descent is mostly along the route of ascent, with a few time-saving variations.


From Shipton’s Camp, 4,250m, follow the normal trail towards point Lenana. At the first flat above camp, take the cairned Right fork towards Batian. Follow cairns up the drainage, staying just “Left” of the giant lobelias in the talus. Climb talus to join with the route from the old Kami Hut. Then keep next to the rock wall on “Right” up to almost level with the base of the Krapf Glacier.

The start of the route is marked with a cross in a circle with blue paint. Reckon at least this amount of the route in advance. 50 minutes from Shipton’s camp. Starting times for the route are usually such that you arrive at the first pitch just before dawn. However, one certainly can climb the first few pitches in the dark.

Pitch 1.

Climb up from the cross in a circle on good rock. At 17 metres a move “Right” leads to a ledge. Continue “Right” on a ledge for 2 metres and belay off the horn. 20 metres, 5.6

Pitch 2

Climb cracks up and “Right” of the belay for 3 metres, 5.3, then continue up ledges and short easy steps for 20 metres, keeping initially to the “Left”. Near the end of the pitch, traverse “Right” easily into the main gully (place directional for a second) and belay at rappel anchor. 25 metres, 5.3. Pitches 1 and 2 can be combined. Shorten rope and move together for 60 metres up the gully, ignoring branch on “Left”. Class 3

Pitch 3

The start is marked by a cairn (Sept 2002) on the “Right” side of the gully. Piton at chest height. Climb easily up and “Left”, piton, and back to the centre of the main gully. Belay at a rappel anchor with 2 pitons. 35 metres, 5.0

Pitch 4

Start-up easy, broken terrain, up and “Left” passing to the “Right” a giant block with old ropes. Enter the corner above and climb to its top, 5.6. Belay at rappel anchor above. 43 metres, 5.6.

Pitch 5

Climb the “Left” side of the easy slab above. Belay at 2 pitons below the steepening wall. 35 metres, 4th class.

Pitch 6

Climb up and “Right” on steep blocks, then a corner, 5.3, to a large terrace with a rappel anchor on the block. Do not belay here, but instead continue up and “Left” on large ledges to the base of a short chimney/gully on the “Left”. Belay off a horn in the shaded gully. 35m, 5.3.

Pitch 7

Climb up and a bit “Left” in the chimney, then traverse horizontally “Right” on easy rock, under a steep orange wall for 4 metres. Follow cracks straight up for 15 metres (piton), 5.7. Belay at a large block, rappel anchor. 30m, 5.7. Shorten the rope and move together up steep blocky terrain for 30 metres. Cross the small ridge to the “Left” at the cairn to enter the lower “Right” edge of the Amphitheatre. Climb for about 60 metres up the “Right” edge of the Amphitheatre to the highest and best bivy ledges, just under a low angled slab. Class 2 and 3.

About 2 hours from the start of the technical climbing to these bivies, 3 hours from Shipton’s Camp. If conditions on the upper mountain are good (dry), change into your rock shoes, leaving your boots here for the descent. If the conditions above look snowy, consider carrying your boots with you. Continue moving together up and “Left” on dirty ledges to the top of giant tilted blocks near the lower end of an old fixed rope. Climb on top of blocks to belay. 3rd class with one 5.0 move gaining the top of blocks. 60m.

Pitch 8 

Climb up and “Left” on easy terrain, staying “Left” of old fixed rope to gain a large ledge above. Place directional for a second, then traverse “Right” on a ledge for 15 metres to belay at poised blocks (rappel anchor). 52m, 5.6 

Pitch 9             

Climbs the short wall above to gain the good ledge at the base of Firmin’s Tower. Either climb up and “Right” to steep cracks (cracks are 5.8) which lead directly to the base of the chimney pitches of the next pitch, or move up and “Left” to big, blocky steps (move of awkward 5.8) then move back “Right” easily to the Firmin’s chimney pitches. Belay off 2 pitons at the base of the chimney. This is a good, sunny ledge with a small bivy. 5.8, 24m.Pitch 10Pitches 10, 11 and 12 are Firmin’s Tower.

Pitch 10

Starts up a wide crack and follows it for 20 metres to a small belay stance. There is lots of old fixed rope on this pitch. 20m, 5.9 (one move in the upper section).

Pitch 11

Enter the “Right-hand” of 2 chimneys and climb this for 10 meters, 5.6. At its top move “Left” for 2 metres to enter another wide crack. Climb this for 10 metres (watch out for loose rock on the left) to a belay on large ledges. 20m, 5.8.

Pitch 12

Climb up and “Left”, around the corner, then move straight up steepening rock to the top of Firmin’s Tower. 45m 5.6.

Pitch 13

Descend into the notch behind the Tower. 10m, 4th Class. 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

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. 30m, 5.7 or 8.

Pitch 15

Traverse “Right” horizontally for 5 metres on a large ledge, around the corner and climb the broken dirty rock of a small Amphitheatre. Belay in the fractured rock near the top of the Amphitheatre. 50m, 4th class

Pitch 16

Move up the top of the amphitheatre. 50m, 4th class From the crest, shorten the rope and move together for 25 metres to good bivy ledges. Consider leaving one rope here as you will not likely 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 spiny crest leads to the tower overlooking Shipton’s Notch. Rappel 20 metres into the Notch. This option gives better quality climbing (along with the fine crest) but is a bit slower than Option 2 below.

Option (2)

Traverse ”Left” from the edge of the bivy platforms on class 2 ledges for about 60 meters, some cairns. A short 4-metre 5.7 exposed traverse to the ”Left” leads into Shipton’s Notch. This option is quicker, but not as good climbing. On descent take the Option 2 route.

From Shipton’s Notch climb steeply up on crest for 15 metres, 5.5, to rappel webbing above. Do NOT traverse from the Notch on the west side of the 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 metres of the summit, a 10-metre traverse R leads to steep blocks and dirt, which are climbed up, back to the crest. Then another 15 metres of blocks to the R of the crest leads to easy ground and the summit 10 metres away. 6 to 7 hours from the start, 7 to 8 from Shipton’s Camp.


Reverse the route, abseiling to rappel webbing directly above Shipton’s Notch. Rappel 25 metres straight down to small, dirty amphitheatre on E side, some 8 metres below the level of the Notch. Climb up and “Right” for 4 metres of class 3 to a better ledge. Continue up cracks to R for 10 metres, 5.3, to reach the “Left” edge of the ledges which lead back to the bivouac sites. Follow the ledges back to the bivies. (Remember to pick up your other rope if you left it!)

Abseil a few metres to the top of pitch 16. Find the rappel anchor and rappel pitches 16 and 15 in one long rappel. 45 metres.

Rappel straight down from the top of pitch 14, passing to ”Right” (facing in) of belay at the bottom of pitch 14, continuing down the steep blank rock to a good ledge on the “West” side of the ridge. 45m.

Shorten the rope and move together back to the crest on 8 metres of a narrow ledge. Down-climb 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 “East” for 10 metres to a sandy ledge. Pitch up and “Right” (facing in) around the corner (one 5.6 moves) for about 12 metres to reach a rappel station which was bypassed on the way up.

Rappel pitch 12 in 40 metres.

Using one rope, rappel pitch 11 in 20 metres.

Abseil pitch 10 in 20 metres, to the base of Firmin’s Tower.

Another rappel 24 metres (one rope again) pitch 9.

Rappel 35 metres off giant loose and poised blocks at bottom of pitch 9. Watch that you thread the ropes so they pull low on these precarious-looking blocks, and think “light”.

Abseil to a ledge with a large block wrapped in an old fixed rope. We would not be surprised if these blocks have fallen off.

Rappel 50 metres down dirty slabs almost to the level with the Amphitheatre upper bivies (and your boots if you left them there). This section can also be down-climbed. Scramble down to the top of pitch 7.

Abseil 40 metres 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)

Abseil 45 metres to the top of pitch 4 (base of the easy slab). This rappel can be hard to pull, so consider sacrificing a carabiner.

Rappel 47 metres down pitch 4 (big corner).

Abseil 35 metres down pitch 3.

Shorten the rope (put one away) and scramble down to the top of pitch 2.

Abseil 23 metres 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.


Climbing equipment – Rucksack (must be provided for the porters by the clients, (duffel bags are unacceptable) /mountain clothes/walking boots/tips/extras of personal nature/drinks/sleeping bags (for hire)/medical and evacuation insurance.

For the climbing equipment, you have to bring your own harness, climbing boot, crampons, ice axe, warm sleeping bag, bivy bag, light tent and rope.

The other climbing equipment like friends, the figure of eight, the stopper will be provided.

Layered clothing is strongly recommended.  

–  *Clothing should be wool or silk, cotton fibre absorbs moister which can cause chills.

–    *Upper body layers – sweaters, wool jackets, rain parka.

–    *Outer Layers – raincoat, wind shirt, rain pants, wind pants.

  • Other needs

–  *Mountain boots, 3 pairs of wool socks, gaiters, wool hats, woollen mittens, gloves, sunglasses.

The above can be hired. Rates are on request.

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