Batian (5199m) and Nelion (5189m)
Geology and Glaciology
Mt. Kenya is a volcano, about 3 million years old.
The original cone was possibly over 6000m high but erosion, mainly glacial, has worn away the original upper part of this and left in its place a jagged glacial topography of knife-edge ridges, pryamidal peaks.
The main peaks, Batian and Nelion are part of the ‘plug’. They are composed of nepheline-syenite which is a coarse- grained, intrusive igneous rock. The rocks of the lower slopes are of various different lavas and agglomerates.
At present the glaciers are retreating at an accelerating rate; the ice is also becoming thinner. It has been estimated that if the present rend continues, in 25 years there may well be no permanent ice left on the mountian. Since records were first made in 1893, seven of the 18 glaciers then recorded have disappeared.
The summit is actually made of three peaks- the one you go up if you are a walker is Pt Lenana but to get to the proper top (Batian or Nelion) you’ve got to climb and use your hands!
Nelion 5189m via the SW face
The time to do this route in summer conditions (rock) is Dec or Jan. There are 12 hours of sunlight as the Mountain is slap bang on the equator.
The route is given UIAA Grade IV (USA 5.5 or 5.6) and the guidebook is 5hrs to the summit. I would allow quite a lot more time than that for your first attempt. See my notes about route finding below.
The rock is glorious granite- it’s amazing and completely different from all the other rock in Kenya and East Africa.
You have basically got a 400m-450m climb at about scramble UK grade 3 with one or two pitches of V Diff/ Severe towards the top of the mountain. If you pitch everything you’ve got about 20 of them in ascent!
The main issues are route finding and keeping going at 5000m. The climbing is not technically hard. It is exposed in places and there is lots of tat on the mountain to help guide you up it.
About half way up is Baille’s bivouac which you need to reach in good time if you’re going to return in the light. Just beyond the bivouac you will disappear over the ridge and accross the mountain into a different series of ledges- including the crux, De Graaf’s Variation.
You only need a 50m rope. There are bolts on the SW face every 25m and you will come across them on your way up- you do really need 50m though, if you have to cut the rope for tat then you might need to bounce at the bottom of the rope.
My suggestion would be to make a mental note on the way up as to where these bolts are so that you can head in the right direction on your descent.
If you’re on 1/2 ropes you will find it easier, except for the potential of your ropes getting stuck as you pull them through.
Climbing rack required-:
x4 or 5 quick draws
x1 set nuts 1-10
x3 cam devices
abseil device/ belay device
I used my B2 walking boots both times I ascended this route.