Mount Kenya, Personal Equipment List

By Kathy Cosley and Mark Houston
Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides 2002

Mount Kenya lies just a few miles north of the Equator, and on its lower reaches the climate is often warm and wet. But the peak also reaches to over 17,000 feet in altitude, and high on the peak are glaciers, occasional snowfall and alpine winds.

The approach begins in the forest belt surrounding the mountain at about 8000 feet in elevation. Here days are warm, nights cool. Intense sun in the beginning of the day often gives way to gathering cloud in the afternoon and rain showers are not uncommon.

Above the forest belt is the moorlands, grassy open areas dotted with giant lobelia and other exotic, hardy, high altitude plants. In the moorlands the nighttime lows often reach the freezing level. The days can be comfortably warm, but in the shade of afternoon cloud a sweater or other light layer is usually needed. The moorlands extend from about 3600 meters in altitude to perhaps 4400 meters. Our base camps are located in this zone, often at about 4200 to 4300 meters in elevation.

Above the moorlands lies the alpine zone, where there is little plant life. Nights are cold and daytime weather and temperatures vary tremendously. Calm sunny days can be very comfortable, but in cloud or wind the temperatures are much cooler. Generally, midday temperatures seldom drop below freezing, and are usually a few degrees above, though it can feel warmer in clear sunshine. At night and in the shade things are colder and snow remains well frozen. Afternoon cloud is common and can drop the effective temperature dramatically.

The clothes that you might use on the higher peaks of the Alps or Canadian Rockies during the summer climbing seasons will also be a good choice for Mount Kenya.

Because the summit day of Mount Kenya is a highly technical rock climb, you will need to travel light, at least for that day. Clothes need to be selected with an eye toward efficiency, and extra gear and weight kept to a minimum.

During the trekking days we will have porters to carry our extra clothes, sleeping gear and other odds and ends. In general, when we are on the move, we will not have access to this gear during the day (the porters are often not close to us), but can get to it once we reach camp.

Please note that if your flight to Nairobi originates in Europe, you may be limited to a total checked baggage allowance of only 23 kilos (50 pounds). If you check your baggage from the US all the way through to Nairobi (or the reverse) you'll be allowed the more generous North American limit of two 50 lb. bags. Chec k with your airline to confirm you baggage allowance.

There is little equipment available in Nairobi, so plan to bring all your gear with you.

 

CLOTHING

Walking/hiking shoes - For most of this trip we will wear hiking shoes, for our approach to the peak, circumnavigation, and time spent around camp. The hiking is rough, sometimes on scree or steep dirt, so you'll want something that can handle these challenging walking conditions. Different folks have different opinions here. You should go with whatever walking footwear you feel is best. We tend to like low-cut lugged hiking shoes, but admit they offer little in the way of ankle support.

Footware considerations for Nelion

Nelion, climbed via the MacKinders route is best done in rock shoes. Lightweight boots can be used to cross the glacier on the approach, but unless you are planning a continuation to Batian, they can be left at the base of the technical pitches. You'll need to fit crampons on your boots for the glacier, but simple strap-ons are fine.

Footware considerations for Batian

Climbing Shoes - On Batian, what to wear on the feet for the summit climb is not a straightforward question.

Option 1 - We prefer to start from camp wearing a very light rock/mountaineering boot which we will wear up through the initial pitches of climbing to the Amphitheater. Good, lightweight examples of this sort of boot are the Sportiva Trango "S", or the Salomon Pro Rock - both quite rigid, with low profile soles. If you adopt this strategy, be sure that you can climb 5.7 rock in these boots.

Above the Amphitheater, we switch to loose-fitting rock shoes, leaving our boots at the Amphitheater. Rock shoes make the climbing go faster and more enjoyably. Be sure your rocks shoes are comfortable for many hours on end of climbing. On the way down, we switch back to our boots at the Amphitheater.

If the route high on the mountain is snowy, we may choose to bring our mountaineering boots to the top as they perform well in these "mixed" conditions.

Option 2 - You can also wear rock shoes right from the start of the technical climbing. In this scenario, you can hike up to the start of the climbing in your walking shoes, switch to rock shoes at the first pitch and remain in them for the entire climb, up and down. This makes the climbing a bit faster, but can be cold on the feet in the predawn pitches, and tiring or painful after a long day. Also, the scrambly, somewhat loose nature of the first few pitches is not as well suited to rock shoes. But they'll work and be fun to climb in.

One disadvantage of this option is that potentially snowy conditions in the upper mountain can make for slippery and cold feet, if all you have are rock shoes. To deal with this you may need to carry your walking shoes to the summit. This works, but such shoes may not perform well on the occasional rock moves high on the peak.

Option 3 - There are many "hybrid" rock/approach shoes out there as well, and these can be a good choice so long as you can climb well in them at difficulties of 5.8 and 5.9. These shoes have the added advantage of light weight, a bit of warmth and good scrambling ability.

Socks - For fitting your hiking and climbing boots.

Hiking pants - A light pair of synthetic pants are ideal for the hike in and for around base camp.

Climbing Pants - For the summit climb we recommend some kind of light synthetic pant with a hard finish. The Patagonia Guide Pants are a good example. There are good models by Arcteryx, Millet, Eider, Mammut and others.

Rain/Wind Pants - Normally we'll climb Mount Kenya in our synthetic climbing pants described above. If the weather turns foul, however, you will need a pair of very lightweight waterproof rain pants to keep you dry. Our favorites are extremely light weight two-ply Gore-Tex. Our pants weigh 8.5 ounces.

Rain/Wind Parka - Again, go for extreme lightweight.

Long Underwear Tops - Light synthetic. 2 pair will allow you to change to a "fresh" shirt.

Lightweight shirt - For the hike in and out. A collar helps keep the sun off your neck.

Light fleece shirt- Something about the weight of Polartec 100, (very heavy synthetic underwear).

Primaloft sweater or jacket - More and more of these are seen on the market. The original, and still a good choice is the Patagonia Puffball.

Gloves - A lightly insulated glove with a leather palm is probably your best choice. You will want to be able to rock climb in them (the leather palm helps with gripping) and a bit of insulation keeps you warm. Mark prefers to climb (and rappel) in leather work gloves, carrying another very light pair of WindStopper gloves in the pack.

Warm Hat or Balaclava Sun hat -

Around-town clothes and shoes -

Swimsuit - for the pool at the Fairview hotel.

 

CLIMBING GEAR

Harness - Most modern rock climbing harnesses are great. A belay loop is a good idea.

Climbing helmet - Almost any UIAA approved helmet will work fine, but again, go for lightweight. Be sure you can fit your warm hat under it.

Belay/rappel device - Such as an ATC or similar.

Locking carabiners - bring 2.

Shoulder sling - helpful for racking gear as you clean a pitch.

Crampons - Needed for the approach to the MacKinders route on Nelion. These can be lightweight or aluminum strap-on.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Snack Food - During the trek meals are prepared by our cook, including lunch. However, during the climb and on hiking days, some folks like to have a bit of their favorite potion, drink mix, Goo, protein bars or whatever.

Climbing/hiking pack - A simple pack with a capacity of about 25 to 35 liters capacity is recommended. In this size range, you should avoid packs with any sort of internal or external frame. A good example of this type of pack is the Cold Cold World Valdez. Remember, you will be climbing 5.9 rock wearing it. We will never need to carry our own overnight gear.

Trekking poles - Trekking poles are handy on the steep ups and downs of the hike around Mount Kenya and our climb of Point Lenana. Leki makes a great compact and lightweight model.

Water bottle or bladder - We normally carry only about a liter of water on Mount Kenya (Mark actually brings only a pint). A couple of 2 liter bottles should be plenty for all you needs.

Headlamp - You'll need your headlamp around camp and also for the climb. For Mount Kenya, we start one or two hours before dawn and hopefully finish before evening dusk. For these climbs we like to use a lightweight Petzl Tikka. Plan on starting out the climb with a unused fresh set of batteries.

Pocket knife, optional - Keep it simple and light. A good model is the Victorinox Spartan.

Repair kit - There is not much that will need to be repaired. A Therm-a-Rest repair kit may come in handy.

Blister kit - Moleskin, athletic tape. Spenco Second Skin is worth the price.

Sun Glasses - With 100% UV protection. Look for a sun glass that gives good coverage around the edges and sides.

Sunscreen - High SPF. Consider a couple of containers, one larger bottle for the entire trip and a smaller one to carry on the ascent. Lip Protection - with sun screen.

Toiletries - We all have our favorites. Consider a toothbrush, paste, hand soap, a bit of shampoo, some Handi-Wipes, a small hand towel, and if you like a bit of hand sanitizer.

Camera and film - (optional, of course) It is very helpful to have a camera that can be hung around the neck, attached to the pack, or stuffed in a pocket so that it is handy, but doesn't interfere with climbing.

Duffel bags - You'll want to have a small bag of street clothes, etc. that you can leave in Nairobi at our hotel. Label it well with you name and address.

For the trail, 2 smallish duffles are ideal. The porters will carry these as they are - they don't own backpacks. So duffles that have some sort of shoulder strap option are best.

Duffle locks - Small padlocks for your duffles.

Sleeping bag - A 3-season bag will be adequate if it is toward the warm end. Temps at night at our camps dip a bit below freezing.

Sleeping pad - As we age, we have found the Therm-a-Rest Luxury Series inflatable mattresses to be just the ticket. Our porters will be carrying these as we work our way up the mountain.

Plastic bags - Bring 3 or 4 large plastic garbage bags to help keep your gear dry inside the duffles in the event of rain.

Umbrella - Handy for sun as well as afternoon showers. A small folding one is fine.

First Aid Kit - We will be supplying a major kit for the expedition but you should have a few personal items such as:

  • -a few assorted band-aids;
  • -a small roll of adhesive tape;
  • -Pain reliever and analgesic, such as aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen; cough drops;
  • -Imodium, for diarrhea

    The following drugs require a physicians prescription. Be sure to discuss their use with your doctor.

  • -Diamox , for prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness
  • -Antibiotic for gastrointestinal problems. Consult your physician for the best choice. Cipro seems to be a good choice these days

Insect Repellent - There's a chance you might want it for the approach the Base Camp.

Water Purification - Potable Aqua tablets or a purifying filter.

Stuff Bags - A few assorted stuff sacks to help organize your gear.

Entertainment Selection - (Optional, of course): Paperbacks, journal, games or cards, etc.

Passport - You can bring this with you on the trek, or if you prefer, make a photocopy (front page as well as page with Kenya visa) and bring that, leaving the passport at the hotel. We'll leave credit cards and plane tickets in the hotel as well.

Money - The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling, worth about 70 to the US dollar (93 Kenyan Shillings per Euro) in 2006. Nairobi has ATM machines. US dollars are widely accepted, however, and this is how we carry most of our cash.

On the trek you will want to bring about $100 in small denominations for staff tips, plus a bit of extra for "whatever". $5 and $10 dollar bills are fine. Also, if you plan on doing much shopping in Nairobi you'll need a bit more to cover this. You'll need $20 US for the airport departure tax. And if you plan on getting your Kenya visa as you arrive at the airport, bring another $50 as well as a couple of passport photos.

Meals at the hotel can be signed to your room and paid with a credit card when you check out.

Money pouch - Nairobi is notorious for pickpockets and petty thievery. Bring a discreet pouch and wear it under your clothing. When going out, carry what cash you think you need separately in a handy pocket in order to avoid having to dip into your main stash, hidden in your pouch.


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