As we had noted in our March dispatch, James”KG” Kagambi (climber, guide and owner of ‘KG Mountain Expeditions’) and Per Ostberg (climber, author and businessman) climbed Mawenzi (Hans Meyer Peak at 5149m) on March 21st, 2015, and summited at 1.30 pm. Here is their trip report.
Mawenzi Climb Report, March 2015
TANAPA Permit Reference: TNP/HQ/A.30/25 (B), issued 29/0/2015
Prepared by James “KG” Kagambi & Per Ostberg
1. Executive Summary
We, James”KG” Kagambi (climber, guide and owner of ‘KG Mountain Expeditions’) and Per Ostberg (climber, author and businessman) climbed Mawenzi (Hans Meyer Peak at 5149m) on March 21st, 2015, and summited at 1.30 pm. We used a variation of Route 1 (as per ‘Mountain Clubs of Mount Kenya Guide to Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro’, pages 232 – 245, revision 1998).
It shall be well noted that the route descriptions and their climbing grades have changed in the 30 years since they were described in said guide.
We found the route climbable, even though caution must be taken due to loose rocks and changing weather patterns that could turn the dry rock face into a mix of snow, ice, and rock.
It is our belief and recommendation that TANAPA and KINAPA open the mountain for climbers, however, we also recommend that climbers apply for a special permit as well as provide a climbing CV. Mawenzi is not a mountain for “tourist climbers” but require skills and a serious attitude to climbing (i.e. not “peak bagging”).
We also recommend and suggests that TANAPA and KINAPA put in motion to train rangers for rescue and assistance as well as climbing guides.
Lastly, we suggest that a two weeks “re-grading” exploration be undertaken. Both KG and Per would like to participate and/or drive this initiative with TANAPA’s and KINAPA’s support.
2. Mawenzi Climb – Hike and Climb Diary
We climbed Mawenzi (Hans Meyer Peak) from Wednesday 18th, March, to Monday 23rd, March. The weather was nice with no rain as we walked up to Mawenzi Tarn Hut, where we intended to have our base camp for the 4 days climbing planned. The weather changed as we arrived at Mawenzi Tarn Hut with evening and night rain and snow. We, therefore, decided to push for a summit attempt on Saturday, March 21st. We reached the summit of Hans Meyer Peak on the 21st and as the weather continued to deteriorate (and thus the routes became a mix of ice, snow and rocks) we decided to abandon further summit attempts.
Wednesday, March 18th
We left Arusha at 8.30am heading to the Marangu Gate and Park Offices. We met with Warden Mr. Lufungulu at around 11am. It took us around 2h to find the permit, fill in “risk indemnity forms”, have them countersigned by Mr. Lufungulu, and arrange all other formalities at the gate. We left at around 1.30pm to drive to the start of Rongai route.
The 5km hike from the gate to Simba Camp took around 2.5hrs and we arrived at 5.30pm, set-up camp, had delicious dinner and went to bed early (around 9pm).
We had 1 guide(Julius), 1 assistant Guide (Holson) and 11 porters for just the two of us.
Thursday, March 19th
Early breakfast at 7.30am and started hiking to Kikelelwa Camp at 3600m. The hike is listed as a 9h walk on the board at Simba Camp but took us only 6h.
The hike was great and we started by going to “2nd Cave” then traversed the mountain side towards Kikelelwa Camp. There was water available and cell phone signal most of the way and we reached our camp at 2.15pm.
Friday, March 20th
A 7 am wake-up, breakfast at 8 am and started walking the listed 3h to Mawenzi Tarn Hut at 9 am. It took us 2.5h to hike to Mawenzi Tarn Hut which is a nice camp and tarn.
We hung around in camp, had lunch and by 2.30 pm walked towards Mawenzi Hut to look at the mountain, located the start of routes and check the walk-in route we intended to take the next morning.
We identified the start of routes 1, 1A, 1B, 3, 7 & 8 and decided on a variation of Route 1. We were back at Mawenzi Tarn Hut at 5.30 pm, had tea, prepared our gear and it started raining around 6 pm.
NOTE: The route numbers relate to the numbering in “The Mountain Club of Kenya – Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro”, revised edition October 1998, pages 232 – 246.
Saturday, March 21st
KG woke up at 1 am to clear skies and decided today was summit attempt! Went back to sleep and woke up 3.30 am to pack and have breakfast.
We left camp at 4.30 am and Julius and Holson accompanied us to the base of the climb (Route 1) which we reached at around 6 am. (The walk from Mawenzi Tarn Hut to the base of the climb took roughly 1.5h.) We did final preparations, roped up and started climbing at around 6.30 am.
20m up the start of the route, there was a narrow gully/chimney which was difficult to climb with the packs we were carrying. KG took off his pack, climbed the 10m chimney and we then hauled our packs up before Per followed up. This gully took a lot of time to climb. We then continued up the rock step into a narrow gully parallel to Oehler Gully until it joined Route 1B coming up from the south (North West Corrie).
This narrow gully was free of rock falls but had a lot of loose rocks on the ground and also 3 distinct, roughly 2-3m high vertical rock steps with good holds. We turned north for about 3 pitches to a buttress that led to Oehler Gully which we reached at around 9.30 am. This is when we realized we climbed a VARIATION OF ROUTE 1.
The gully had a lot of snow from last night and some exposed slopes of old ice. Climbing in the center of the gully was not an option due to rock fall danger and two distinct ice fall with rocks. Instead, we choose to follow the right side (south slope) which was in shadow all day. This was a decision made by KG after leading the 1st pitch into the gully.
The surface of the right side of the gully was either snow-covered or wet but with good enough rock heads every 10m or so to sling protections around. Long slings around rock heads or double slings on “chicken heads” was our protection along the whole climb up Oehler Gully.
3 half pitches took us to the top of the upper icefall and by now the sun had melted most of the snow and we walked on 40-50 degree scree up to the col between Hans Meyer and Nordecke Peaks. We summited Hans Meyer (5 149m) at around 1 pm. We communicated to base with our radios, had lunch, took some photos, looked at the other peaks visible and (based on the weather) decided to skip these and started descending.
Going down we had choices. (At this point the weather was not clear with clouds coming and going.)
- Option 1: We could down climb 50 m, traverse the upper part of Oehler Gully, ascend Nordecke and then take the North West Ridge down. Had the weather stayed clear (at 2 pm it was more consistently misty than before), KG would have chosen this route as it has less danger of rock falls.
- Option 2: We could rappel between North East Ridge and middle Buttress which was accessible from Hans Meyer Peak. It looked doable but a lot of loose rocks and scree in between why we didn’t choose this route.
- Option 3: We could down climb the same route as we came up as we knew the route and could find our way down even in a complete fog out.
We chose Option 3 (going down the same way we came up). KG anchored the top while Per down climbed until he found a suitable new anchor, where after KG followed. This process we followed for 6 times, running out 30-50m of rope depending on finding suitable anchor points.
The sun had now melted away most snow that had fallen the night before and there was minimal rock falls (all from the north side of Oehler Gully). The rocks and stones coming down our route were small and only dislodged by the rope, but did not constitute any danger.
The 6 lowers got us to the gendarme where we left Oehler Gully (same route as we came up). The option of continuing down Oehler Gully (i.e. Route 1) was ruled out due to the occasional rock falls from Oehler Gully’s north side as these followed the gully all the way down.
We rappelled around 3.5 times, down the narrow gully that we took on the way up until we came to the point where Route 1B joined the gully. We rappelled down Route 1B 2 times, each around 25m vertical rock with a lot of loose stones on shelves and in cracks until we came to the top of the scree slope that is West Corrie.
We walked down to scree and met with our guides Julius and Holson and walked back to Mawenzi Tarn Hut which we reached at 5.30 pm.
That night it started raining again and our decision to abandon further attempts on the other peaks via different routes was confirmed and justified.
Sunday, March 22nd
We left Mawenzi Tarn Hut after lunch and walked down to Horombo Hut to make our walk out day shorter. It rained and snowed heavily that night.
Monday, March 23rd
We left Horombo Hut at around 7 am and got to the Marangu gate at 12 noon where we signed out and met Assistant Warden Eva and discussed the climb with her.
Tuesday, March 24th
A day spent taking it easy in Arusha and setting up meeting with TANAPA’s staff for Wednesday morning (March 25th).
Wednesday, March 25th
KG and Per met with Mr. Mombo (assistant to Mr. Musa, Marketing Director of TANAPA) at 10 am and discussed the climb, future opening of Mawenzi for climbers as well as Per’s book project about “The 7 Summits of Africa”, a journey to Africa’s highest peaks. We also met with Mr. Shelutete, Manager of Corporate Communication and discussed the same subjects.
In the afternoon, KG travelled home to Naromoru, Kenya, and Per to Johannesburg, South Africa.
During the climb, KG and Per made the following observations.
NOTE 3.1: Please note that references to grading and route numbering relates back to the guidebook “The Mountain Club of Kenya – Guide to Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro”, revised issue dated 1998, pages 232 – 245. The book is hereinafter referred to as “The Guide”.
NOTE 3.2: Any grades described or mentioned, refer to East African Grades and compare to international standards as per below table:
East African French English American
I F Easy or Moderate 5.1 – 5.2
II P.D Mod. or Difficult 5.3
III A.D Diff. or Very Diff. 5.3 – 5.4
IV D V. Diff or Mild Severe 5.5
V T.D Severe or Very Severe 5.6 – 5.7
VI E.D V.S. or Hard V.S. 5.8
VII E.D+ Extreme 5.9 – 5.11
What we observed (mainly on routes 1 – 5) is that they have changed considerably since The Guide was revised, even written originally more than 30 years ago. Much snow has melted away, rock has thus eroded and the grades DO NOT MATCH reality and current situation on the mountain. The gullies, probably climbed as snow / ice slopes 30 years ago, are now rock gullies with lots of loose rock and very little snow/ice as well as having vertical rock steps in them.
The effect is that a route described as ‘grade II’ in The Guide, might in reality be a ‘grade IV’ now. We noticed this especially rappelling down the last pitches of Route 1B. When this was graded (approx. 30 years ago) it seems the gully was filled with snow and ice and an easy climb. However, now the route starts with two vertical sections of about 20-25 meter each filled with loose rocks on shelves and in cracks.
While we were there this was not an issue. Past climbers talk about rocks that dislodge for no reason. For us, the only rocks that came down were caused by our rope or our feet. This is manageable by taking due care and keeping one’s concentration upwards.
However, in the Oehler Gully, on our way down, there were a few small rocks coming down from the north side of the gully so we stayed on the south side (right-hand side facing up the gully towards the summit of Hans Meyer).
The rocks that fell in Oehler Gully started once the sun rose over the peaks and hit the north side of the gully and thus melted away some snow and ice that bound the rock. This can be avoided by starting the climb at dawn.
Future climbers can avoid rock falls by staying on the ridges. The N.W. Ridge offers a great climb up the ridge to Nordecke’s summit, followed by a traverse of Oehler Gully to Hans Meyer Peak.
The South Peak is easily accessible from the scree that goes up to about 100m from the South Summit between the South Ridge and Londt’s Ridge. This route seems to have none or minimal rock fall dangers.
Other routes observed from Hans Meyer Peak looked iced up, filled with snow from the snowfall the night before our summit climb. They also look steep and filled with rocks. We did not explore these routes closer up due to that the weather closed in with rain and snow every night.
We do assume that the effect of snow and ice melt we saw on Route 1 and 1B also have affected other routes.
Based on what we observed, there would be two climbing seasons:
- End of the Dry Season: Predominantly a rock climb
- End of the Wet Season: Possibly predominantly a snow/ice/rock climb
Due to global weather changes, it is not easy to say when the seasons start and stop on the mountain, and thus when it can be climbed. It used to be dry in January / February, but we have seen these months being very wet the last couple of years. Therefore it all depends on the weather when it can be climbed.
When it is totally dry, expect more loose rocks, while constant snow fall and then a dry spell will provide a better climbing base of mixed climbing (i.e. rock, ice & snow) but with less loose rock.
Time – Climbing Duration
We did the climb up and down in about 11h. This was a lot of time and in part due to our heavy packs, it being a new climb and taking a cautious approach, especially on the way down.
We estimate the climb can be done in about 4h (from the base of the route) by a team climbing light, fast and alternating lead.
Mawenzi Tarn Hut as Base Camp
We used Mawenzi Tarn Hut as our base and this resulted in a 1.5h walk from base camp to the start of the climb and a 1h walk back after the climb. If we had used Mawenzi Hut as a base, the walk in would have been cut down to approximately 0.5h, which would have allowed a slightly later wake-up call than 3.30 am.
Making use of Mawenzi Hut as a base would also allow a constant view of the mountain peaks, the routes and an easier way to judge (from below) the routes’ conditions.
Comments from another climber – Thomas Kaluzny
Mr. Thomas Kaluzny attempted to climb Hans Meyer Peak in January and we have talked to him as part of preparing this report. Here is a summary of his comments:
Mr. Thomas never summited because he had no guide / climbing partner and a rock hit him so he decided the safe option was to retreat. He intends to give it another try January / February 2016.
4. Summary Recommendations
When to Climb
This is highly weather dependent. Too dry and there will be a lot of loose rocks. Snow (with clear weather) is good.
As most climbers need to plan ahead for flights, taking vacation etc. it is important that TANAPA can issue permits fast/quickly for climbers to make use of the good weather.
It is also recommended that climbers build in several days to sit out bad weather.
Who to Climb
Mawenzi is not a tourist climbing mountain and thus only experienced rock climbers should attempt this mountain.
Base on its location and the views from Kilimanjaro, Mawenzi can attract people who just want to conquer a technical route rather than a technical rock climbing challenge.
However, many technically skilled rock climbers and mountaineers lead trekking groups up Kilimanjaro and then go to Mt Kenya for some technical climbing. Opening up Mawenzi for these skilled people would attract revenue and an increased interest in Kilimanjaro National Park.
Number of Climbers per Route
Only one team of climbers should be on each route at the same time. Having multiple teams would increase the risk for rock falls and push the last team to a late start of the day.
On the route we took (i.e. a variation of 1 and 1B) there is not a lot of use for cams, nuts, pitons, friends, etc. hardware but a team should have enough slings to put around rocks as anchors. Pitons should be handy although on our route we hardly had anywhere to put them.
If the climb is done when the gullies are filled with snow, ice-axe and crampons will be needed.
- 5 Long Slings
- 5 Medium length slings
- 5 Karabiners/carabiners
- Rappel device
- 60m8.5mm rope
- Alpine harness
- 2 locking biners
- Climbing boots (we had to kick steps in some snow fields to cross them, this would not have been possible with climbing shoes)
- Approx. 6m of 6mm cord for the first rappel down Route 1B (there was a cord in place, but this might be frazzled next time someone climbs the mountain.)
NOTE: Climbers should have technically skilled guides recognized by KINAPA.
“If I did this again with a client, I would engage another climbing guide who would be a backup in case of anything happening to anyone on the climbing team.” (James “KG” Kagambi)
There is a need to start training a few rangers to be familiar with the climb and the mountain because Mawenzi is deceiving and people look at it as if they can run up it. This is a crucial component to open the mountain up for climbers and if some go astray and get up but cannot come down.
Currently, the closest rescue climbers are in Kenya or South Africa.
Mawenzi Tarn Hut is ideal only for routes from the north side as it takes 1-2h hike from base camp to the start of the climbs starting from the North West or West Corries.
Opening up Mawenzi Hut would work better for these western and southern routes.
The issue with toilette facilities at Mawenzi Hut (as with many other mountains with a lot of climbers) are solved by enforcing the use of “Wag bags” (i.e. plastic bags designed for and strong enough to use as poop bags). This is more hygienic for the user as well as more environmentally friendly as the Wag Bags are carried down the mountain and disposed of.
Portable toilettes are used by some operators (especially for those camping at the Crater) but then emptied 50m from them camp instead of being carried down.
KINAPA should actually think about researching the Wag bag option for people who camp at the Crater.
Documentation of Climb and Route
All future climbers should be required to file a climbing report, describing the route they took, conditions, suggested improvements, etc.
This will result in an increased knowledge base and thus a safer mountain.
Re-grading and Cleaning of Routes
Based on the outdated route grading and conditions in The Guide, we recommend that TANAPA and KINAPA:
- Inform ALL future climbers about the inaccuracy of the current version of The Guide.
- Drive and participate in a re-grading and route cleaning activity.
We estimate that a two weeks expedition of experienced climbers and guides can do this. The benefit is that each route gets properly described, accurately graded, cleaned from a lot of loose rocks.
TANAPA&KINAPA rangers can be trained in technical rock climbing as well as becoming familiar with the mountain, such an activity would attract a lot of highly skilled climbers who would then spread the word around the world about the climbing on Mawenzi.
We would like to flag our interest in driving this project on behalf of TANAPA and KINAPA!
We think that the Kilimanjaro Park should open Mawenzi for climbing but still insist on “Special Permits” from TANAPA, providing individual climbing CVs and signing of the special indemnity waiver form!
James “KG” Kagambi:
Climber, Guide & Owner of “KG Mountain Expeditions”
Cell: + 254 722 26 10 28
KG Mountain Expeditions:
Mountain Expeditions Outfitter.
Climber & Author
E-mail: Per@perostberg.com or email@example.com
Cell: +27 83 293 03 07
In-country logistics coordinator
Phone: +255 783 721 123