Kenya. Hiking Mt. Kenya (16,355′) – the summit and descent

To the summit

Day 4 – to Austria Hut, 4800m 

Due to the cold, I was unable to get a night-shot of the scene, but it was beautiful. I awoke around 3am to see that our tent was about 3” from our faces. Wondering what was up, I put my hand to the fabric, to find it cover in ice. We were in an igloo. And did I mention, our new 3lb tent is only a 3-season? i.e., not meant for snow or cold. Anyway, the earlier night’s precipitation had fallen as freezing-rain before turning to snow. I woke Griff, we banged the tent out, knocking off huge pieces of ice, and the tent re-formed its dome-like shape. I then stepped out for a potty break.

The stars were brighter than I can ever remember, illuminating the entire valley of our campsite. Everything was covered in about 3” of the purest white snow I’ve ever seen. Think of Lake Tahoe in winter, with no lights from any city near-by, new moon, and black rock to contrast the whiteness of the snow. Perhaps this is the most beautiful place we have ever camped (and we’ve camped in a LOT of places). My only regret is no photo.

Our tent blew away once we removed the stakes…

Crossing many areas that reminded us of the swamps of Mordor – stepping from bunch grass to bunch grass was the only way to stay dry.

Our final ascent to Austrian Hut (see the guy in red?). Apparently this hut is the highest in Africa (at 15,720’), and our guide said almost no one is tough enough to sleep there (because of the altitude). After our icy night before, this place was luxury! And we slept really, really well.


Day 5 – Ascent to the summit, 4985m

Sunrise over Africa from 16,500’, what could be more romantic? Its the kind of thing poets write about and girls dream of from their boyfriends.

Well let me tell you, there was just about nothing romantic about it! No proposals, renewal of wedding vows, promises of having children, loving thoughts. Hell no.

Instead, there were freezing toes and hands (had to be -15F in the dark, plus wind), a glacier and snow field with a pitch roughly 70-degrees, consisting of frozen snow so difficult to walk on that one slip means death into the barely-unfrozen lake below, and oh, did I mention the altitude?

After about 30 steps across the glacier, our guide (who had no hiking poles), decided it was too dangerous to continue without crampons. So he returned to the Hut to grab some, while we waited, and caught the sunrise.


This was the drop off to our left, ending in a very cold lake way, way down below.

There was one romantic moment, if it can be called such. I was pretty sure my toes were just about done. They had been cold, then hurting, and then, I could no longer feel them. The next step, I knew, was frostbite and tissue death. Saying I could not go on anymore, we stopped, and Griffin warmed my frozen feet on his warm belly. This lasted for about 15 mins before I finally had feeling, pain, then warmth, returning. For a man to stop his quest for the summit to allow some freezing toes onto his belly, well, that is our kind of romance I guess. And after that, crampons and all, we made the summit.

I was a little nervous at the top, but it was truly rewarding. of course, after this long struggle for the top and back to the hut (took 4 hours instead of the planned 1.5), we had no idea what else was in store for us that day.

Mt. Kenya: our descent

After our reaching the summit, we decided it was just too dangerous to retrace our steps back down across the snow, so we took the safer, easy route, which is also quite a bit longer. We returned for breakfast, which was so nicely waiting for us, and then packed up for what we thought would be an easy descent to Shipton’s camp (a nice hut).

We began to descend, rather steeply, into a huge valley, at least 1000’ below. Our guide told us that we would be climbing out, up the other side. We are looking at this wall of rock, sand and plants, going, whoa. We asked, but this is the only hill? He laughed and said that no, this was the easy hill. Yikes. So on we went, into 3 major valleys, gaining and losing at least 6000’, and finally, got to descend 1500’ to our night hut. In all, we were exhausted!

Oh yes, this is the first, and easier, valley we climbed in and out of.


The final, and insane, climb down and out. Over the top, we did our 1500’ down to the hut. In all, we circled the numerous peaks and crags of Mt. Kenya, seeing and walking each valley in turn. It was actually really cool to do so.

Finally our hut!


Oct 31, to our last hut, 3300m (11,000’), and Nov 1, hike to the park exit.

A pretty easy downhill day (especially after the summit the day before!), with more bunch-grass hopping to avoid the mud and water everywhere. It was so nice to just walk.


Our last night was, well, special. We had our last dinner cooked by our amazing chef, shared a beer with our guide, and slept once more at high altitude, before hiking out to the park exit the next day.

Many thanks to our team!! We like to do things on our own, but you guys sure made it more fun, less stressful, and allowed us to enjoy ourselves even more.

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