The Nithi Gorge

Publication Year: 2005.

The Nithi Gorge

On the flanks of Mt. Kenya, just above the heather and chaparral vegetation zone, climbers walk right past some of the country’s finest cliffs.

Bobby Model

The eastern approach to the main peaks of Mt. Kenya follows the stunning Chogoria trail, which contours up the northern ridge of Gorges Valley. This route takes you to the highest point above the valley where it narrows and forms the gorge. There, on the plateau near Hall Tarns, sits Minto's Hut. A mere 10-minute walk takes you to the edge of The Temple, where the stunning Nithi Gorge plunges about 250 meters to the valley floor and Lake Michaelson below.

The gorge is a subsidiary trachytge plug that has been fractured into a worthy climbing objective. From the two highest points of Mt. Kenya (Batian, 5,199m; Nelion, 5,188m) one cannot help but notice this great stone crevasse. However, at this stage one usually is looking forward to a cold beer in Nairobi rather than climbing a lesser objective. For these reasons, and because of the summit-seeking orientation of most parties, this magnificent gorge has been ignored for over 33 years.

The Nithi Gorge saw its first technical climb in 1971, when Phil Snyder and Ian Howell established Ricochette. This route is at the narrowest point of the upper gorge, where it follows an obvious weakness up a groove to the base of a 60-meter chimney, which they climbed to the top.

Because the gorge is below the upper nival zone, lichen, helichrysum, and moss are common obstacles on the lower-angled rock. Despite this almost “African bush climbing” atmosphere, nightfall exposes climbers to alpine climbing conditions as temperatures drop below freezing.

Inspired by new route potential on a mountain that has seen most of its “gems” developed by the driven local duo Iain Allan and Ian Howell—as well as by the glitterati of visiting climbers—two separate teams ventured into the Nithi Gorge during the last days of 2004. Climbers based in Kenya, as well as a visiting “dream” team from the United Kingdom, added three new climbs to the gorge. Climbers from the Mountain Club of Kenya established a route in the narrow gorge to the left of Ricochette. The visiting climbers established two very proud lines that ascended the “prow” to produce some of the finest new routes in the country.