Blog›Karibu Kenya: A Guide to Rock Climbing in Kenya, Africa
Karibu Kenya: A Guide to Rock Climbing in Kenya, Africa
Rock climbing is not an activity you would think to travel to Kenya for. If you are fascinated by Kenya or Africa in general, then you probably already have tons of information to see all the Big Five of Africa - leopards, lions, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos - at Maasai Mara National Reserve, visit a Maasai village or drive at Lake Nakuru to spot a black rhino.
Let’s speak it loud: Safari and leisure tourism are not the only activities you can experience in Kenya. Since 2017, climbing could be considered a valid alternative to all the other popular tourist attractions Kenya is famous for. But why didn’t the climbing development see the light before the 21st century?
Climbing in Kenya is a gift that keeps giving: impeccable views, great rocks, beautiful wildlife, and friendly locals. The country offers diverse rock-climbing opportunities, from classic trad climbing and four-meter-high boulders in Lukenya to remote big-wall climbing at Mt. Ololokwe. What’s more, its beautiful weather allows for climbing all year round!
Climbing has existed in Kenya for over a century and remains hidden and unknown to 70% of local Kenyans. Coupled with other barriers, this lack of information and knowledge renders Kenyans of African descent less likely to be exposed to rock climbing and its benefits. Things started to change for the better in 2017 when Liz Ndindi founded Climbing Life Kenya to create a space where Kenyans connect with rock climbing.
In 2018, Liz met Nyamzy Giati, a fellow rock climber who shared a belief that the systemic change needed to tackle the challenges encountered by local Kenyan climbers can be initiated by the locals. That’s how Climbing Life Kenya started getting the most out of excellent quality rocks, a climate that allows year-round climbing, and the breath-taking Kenyan landscapes”. Kenya now has numerous rock climbing destinations and still has a wide array of untapped potential for new climbing areas, even with the considerable climbing development in recent years. The top climbing areas include…
Lukenya Ridge, located 45 minutes from Nairobi, is Kenya's most popular climbing area.
Hell’s Gate National Park is located in the heart of the Rift Valley, 2 hours away from Nairobi; the area boasts incredible wildlife and massive cliffs with rock towers and steep gorges, offering adventurous single and multi-pitch trad routes. Hey, climbing is not all about climbing. Hell’s Gate hosts unique wildlife and hot springs as well.
Mt. Kenya with Batian Peak, the second highest peak in Africa, presents high altitude rock climbing at 5199m asl.: this is the destination of most visiting climbers and alpinists.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head to Ol Donyo Sabache (also known as Mt. Ololokwe), a remote mountain in the Namunyak Conservancy in Samburu East, Northern Kenya.
Today, Climbing Life Kenya remains a local female-led non-profit organization that addresses challenges local Kenyans face in accessing rock climbing opportunities. Climbing Life Kenya is actively building systems to create an environment where rock climbers in Kenya thrive, and young leaders are inspired to reinvest in the community to create a supportive self-sustaining sport for the next generations. The mission of investing in the growth of rock climbing for the next generation of climbers in Kenya still leads every @climbinglifekenya initiative and program.
As part of the #TrustTheLocals initiative, we are collaborating with Liz, Nyamzy, and Climbing Life Kenya on writing a helpful, comprehensive article and general rock-climbing guide for Kenya. We’ll update and extend the article in the upcoming weeks with more information about each climbing area: the best way not to miss them is to follow @climbinglifekenya and @mapo_tapo on Instagram to get updates on Kenya’s climbing potential.
4 rock climbing areas in Kenya you should not miss
Here you can find the local recommended and must-visit climbing areas Kenya has to offer, but remember - they’re just scratching the surface of climbing development within the country! We’ll update and extend the article in the upcoming weeks with more information about each climbing area: the best way not to miss them is to follow @climbinglifekenya and @mapo_tapo on Instagram to get updates on Kenya’s climbing potential.
Kenya boasts a wide array of established climbs of different difficulties in sport climbing, traditional climbing, and bouldering – and you can find a lot of classic climbs within just an hour’s drive from Nairobi! Despite numerous rock climbing destinations and more climbing development in recent years, Kenya still has loads of untapped potential for new climbing areas. Here are some of the best crags to check out in Kenya, suggested by Local climbers and climbing developers.
Located just 45 minutes from Nairobi, the Lukenya Ridge is Kenya’s most popular climbing area. The climbing is based on a gneiss outcrop with over 340 trad routes, 35 sport routes, and 280 boulder problems of various difficulties. The style is primarily slabs or vertical walls with small holds, although you’ll find a few jamming cracks and overhangs. For sport climbing, we recommend visiting Baboon Cliff, offering routes from 4 to 5b, or the Nemesis Crag, where you’ll find more challenging climbs, 5b to 7b+. The area boasts lots of wildlife, namely zebras, giraffes, impala, wildebeest, and over 100 bird species, and is owned by the Mountain Club of Kenya, to whom you must pay an access fee.
Those who prefer to remain at lower altitudes should visit Hell’s Gate National Park. Located in the heart of the Rift Valley, 2 hours away from Nairobi, the area boasts incredible wildlife and massive cliffs with rock towers and steep gorges, offering adventurous single and multi-pitch trad routes. Head to Fischer’s Cliff, a long single-pitch wall offering short climbs on columnar basalt for easier crack climbing. The imposing 40m high Fischer’s Tower offers some fun, accessible routes and the opportunity to climb on the tower that inspired Pride Rock in The Lion King! Those looking for more challenging multi-pitches should head to Main Wall, where you’ll find over 50 routes between 2 and 5 pitches long. The climbing is steep, exposed, and can be dirty and loose on the top pitches– helmets are mandatory!
Most climbers come to Kenya to try climbing the second-highest mountaininAfrica: Mount Kenya. You’ll find plenty of high-altitude alpine near the summit, climbing on volcanic cliffs and towers.
The twin summit peaks of Batian (5,199 m) and Nelion (5,188 m) contain some excellent rock and ice routes, and there are many climbable lesser peaks nearby, such as Point John and Point Peter. Don’t underestimate the altitude: take a few days to hike up to the foot of the peaks to acclimatize and better appreciate the otherworldly vegetation.
On your rest days, it’s undoubtedly worth hiking up Point Lenana for sunrise. The best seasons are January-March and June-October.
Finally, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head to Ol Donyo Sabache (also known as Mt. Ololokwe), a remote mountain in the Namunyak Conservancy in Samburu East, Northern Kenya.
The area has few amenities, so traveling here requires you to plan well and be self-sufficient. A 4x4 is essential for getting to the crags, and we highly recommend hiring a local guide and ranger to help navigate the wildlife.
Ol Donyo Sabache is an imposing flat-topped mountain from the surrounding grasslands, with sheer gneiss cliffs offering some adventurous big-wall routes. Most routes are 400m high, committing, and complex, so it takes 1-2 days to complete, plus a day or so to hike in and out. Nearby, you’ll find the Cat and Mouse towers, which offer some more accessible single-pitch trad routes, and a good number of boulders concentrated in 4 different sectors, one of which is on top of the mountain.
Bring a brush, as there are many opportunities to open new problems. Climbing aside, the area is worth visiting to see the incredible wildlife and the indigenous forest.
Extra tip: other crags to explore
Suppose you’re inclined to venture beyond the beaten track. In that case, you can explore Mavoloni/Kilimwana, Ndaruastadium, and Laikipia East areas, which have enormous potential to become top-level destinations for climbers.
What you should be aware of before planning a climbing trip to Kenya
Most of the climbing is in very remote areas of the country, so it helps to be a self-sufficient climber well-versed in self-rescue practices. Evacuation and healthcare coverage are crucial! The climbing ethic stresses that any route that can be protected with natural protection should be and that all climbers must practice Leave No Trace. Leave your plastic bags and bottles behind when heading out to the crag, as these are banned in all protected areas. The best way to experience the climbing is to travel to each area by 4x4 and spend a few days camping nearby.
The local community
Although rock climbing has been present in Kenya for over a century, the rock-climbing community is almost exclusive to expatriates and climbing tourists. As the climbing community in Kenya continues to grow, there is a solid push to introduce more Kenyans to rock climbing in their homeland.
One of the most prominent local climbing organizations at the forefront of this effort is Climbing Life Kenya. This local female-led non-profit connects Kenyans with rock climbing by addressing challenges faced by local Kenyans in accessing rock climbing opportunities.
With a mission to invest in the growth of rock climbing for the next generation of climbers in Kenya, Climbing Life Kenya is actively creating building systems to create an environment where rock climbers in Kenya thrive and young leaders are inspired to reinvest in the community to create a supportive self-sustaining sport for the next generations. Their interventions focus on increasing visibility, building awareness, and creating rock climbing and training opportunities with the local Kenyan in mind.
Thanks for reading! This article is part of Mapo Tapo's column "Trust the Locals," designed in collaboration with local climbers and climbing developers worldwide. We aim to inspire people to discover new climbing destinations through responsible tourism.
If you want more information on climbing in Kenya, you can contact Liz Ndindi and Nyamzy Giati, founders ofClimbing Life Kenya.
Thanks, Nyamzy and Liz Ndindi, for finding the time to collaborate with us on the production of this article, which we hope will bring more visibility and knowledge to Kenya and its climbing potential.