We loved lead climbing in Bon Echo just a few months ago, the rock was beautiful and the adrenaline was high. We wanted more. Upon arriving home, we searched for our next adventure and stumbled across an appealing description of the infamous Mt Kenya South Face Batian climb:
“The South Face route on Batian is a serious climb for experienced rock climbers and alpinists. Summit day normally takes well over 12 hours. Climbers considering the ascent need to be solid 5.9 followers with experience on long technical routes of at least 10 pitches in length. Additionally, they need be adept at moving quickly over rough terrain, and scrambling on steep and exposed 4th class rock, both in ascent and descent. Excellent physical condition is a must.”
Sold. We made our travel arrangements the following day.
Mt Kenya is an extinct volcano with jagged peaks rising to 5199m. It has three main peaks; Batian, Nelion, and Lenana. While a few hundred meters lower than Kilimanjaro, Batian and Nelion are not trekking peaks but technical climbing peaks, permanently iced with snow and glaciers.
The route to Batian via the South Face requires summiting Nelion along the way. Nelion and Batian are close together and only differ 11m in height. The gap separating them, however, is a glacier called “Gate of Mist” which requires a long abseil to drop into and then, of course, climb out of to Batian.
After three days of trekking through spectacular scenery we arrived at Austrian hut at 4,790m, our final camp before the summit attempt. We started our ascent on day five, allowing one day for acclimatisation. On summit day we kicked-off from the Austrian hut at 5am, crossed the Lewis Glacier and scrambled up the scree to get to the base of the rock face for 6am, just as the sun started rising.
From the rock face we had to climb 17 pitches to the summit of Nelion (5188m). In order to make an attempt at Batian this needed to be completed before noon. We needed to move quickly!
After exposed technical climbing, plenty of traverses, stunning views and lots of fun, we reached Nelion at 11am. We were in a good position, with roughly seven hours of daylight left to cross the Gate of Mist, ascend Batian, descend Batian and to cross the Gate of Mist again to get back to Nelion where the long descent would start.
We anticipated to be back at Austrian hut for dinner time. Little we knew that the roughest terrain of the day was ahead of us and that it would be 9pm before we made it back.
Crossing the Gate of Mist proved extremely challenging and it took 5 hours to make the crossing there and back and gave us our first ever ice climbing experience. The ice axes and crampons certainly proved to be worth carrying up the mountain!
We made it to the top of Batian and spent no more than a minute enjoying our accomplishment. We were running out of fuel, the sun was low in the sky and we had a very long journey ahead of us to get home. With most accidents happening on descents off the mountain we needed to stay focused.
We made it back to the summit of Nelion for 4pm. From Nelion, scrambling, down climbing, 11 abseils and an exposed traverse later, we were back at the base of the rock face at 8pm. Most of the descent was done in the dark and the freezing cold. While there was a sense of accomplishment standing on the summit, the real sense of accomplishment came when our feet touched solid ground at the bottom of the last abseil.
After the adrenaline wore off we got a little rest at Austrian hut before a long hike down. We hiked off in one day, loosing evaluation rapidly through the high moorlands and forests to get back to the bottom of Mt Kenya.
We came looking for a challenge and we were not disappointed! We would highly recommend the trip!
The question now on our mind is: what’s next?