Route Finding: Just Go Up
Would you like the good news or the bad news first?
The good news is the paths are pretty clear for the most part. On the Sirimon side the only time that’s not the case is the valley just before Liki North where the path runs out with just a couple of posts to mark the way (see route description for instructions). From the Liki North camp site the path begins clearly again, and as long as you’re a bit careful you’ll be fine.
The blissfully clear, almost flat path through Mackinder’s valley.
The only other time the path is unclear is the ascent to the summit (yes, just when you’d really like a clear path!). You’ll find yourself navigating an endless scree slope, but with the mountain ridge in sight there’s little doubt that you’re going the right way. By the time you get to the plateau at the top, you’ll see footprints everywhere showing you where to go.
I imagine that Naro Moru must feature the easiest route finding of the three routes as it’s the most well trodden. Chogoria also can’t be too cryptic as we bumped into three German trekkers who didn’t have a map at all, and still managed to complete the Sirimon-Chogoria route!
Maps of Mount Kenya are in Short Supply in Kenya
So, what’s the bad news then? Well, even if it is possible to go without a map, one would certainly be helpful. My friend and I assumed it would be straight forward to buy one in Nairobi or the town close to the park gate. On the contrary, the locals informed us that maps were completely out of stock, which I feel is all a bit of a ploy to get trekkers to sign up to guides.
There seems to be only one reliable map of Mount Kenya (A.L. Wielochowski, scale 1:50,000), but unfortunately it’s out of print, although you can track down a copy on Amazon. I suggest acquiring one before you leave home. We ended up resorting to taking a photograph of this map on a tour agency wall and then getting it printed. Not great, but one step up from no map at all!
As for guidebooks, both the Lonely Planet Kenya and East Africa have a lot of good advice for travelling in Kenya (even though it’s certainly aimed more at businessmen than backpackers). Both guides also have quite a detailed section on hiking mount Kenya, which was an adequate main source of information for planning the trip. For something more comprehensive, you can try “Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya: A Climbing and Trekking Guide”, although I didn’t use this one personally (maybe I should have done).
Rule of Thumb in Africa: Bring a Fistful of Dollars
Travelling in Kenya, and East Africa generally, can be surprisingly cheap. That is, until you inevitably step into a national park causing your expenses to sky rocket.
You can easily get a budget double room in a hotel for between $10-15. A meal in a restaurant will put you back $3-5 and a ride in a matatu (beaten up, mini van public transport) from Nairobi to Nanyuki for around another $5. So far so good, your budget mind is thinking.
The fees for Mount Kenya National Park are $52 per day. This adds up to $208 for a four day trek, $260 for five days and $312 for the ultimate six day adventure. You get a discount if you’re a child, a citizen or a resident of Kenya. For the rest of us, we have to pay up in full in cash at the park gate.
That seems quite expensive for park fees. But when you consider that the cheapest tour of Mount Kilimanjaro is a clean $1,400, and realistically for a good one you’ll be paying upwards of $2,000, suddenly $300 doesn’t sound so bad.
Finally, bear in mind that the park fees don’t include accommodation. For staying in the huts, you’ll pay around $15 per person per night directly to the caretaker of each hut. Considering the huts are in a ramshackle state, this is a bit of a rip off if you ask me.
At least there aren’t bed bugs.
The camping situation is a bit complicated as there are both public camp-sites (free) and private Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) camp-sites were you need to pay $15 per night (even more of a rip off then the hut fee!). Around the huts there tend to be both, so be careful where you pitch your tent. As a rule of thumb, the private camp-site will be right next to the hut and have a toilet facility. While the public camp-site will be inconveniently further away, so you’ll have a bit of a jaunt to the toilet each time.
Free camp-site with priceless views at Shipton’s Camp.
There is a bit of a grey area around whether trekkers who are in the free camp-sites can hang out in the huts. Generally, the care taker seemed fine with this providing you don’t over stay your welcome. At Shipton’s camp, we spent a couple of days cooking our dinner in the hut – the first day the caretaker was fine with it, but by the second day he was a bit annoyed by our presence, so we gave him $10 for indoor cooking privileges.