Hot Rock Expedition 5: Lukenya and Hell's Gate, Kenya

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Kenya is the true cradle of African rock climbing. While American climbers were scaling Yosemite walls in the 1960s and '70s, European ex-patriots were putting up first ascents in Africa on various crags around Nairobi.

Our next visit to Kenya was directed toward these well-established climbing areas. Hell's Gate may be the most amazing, since it is also a national park. It is abundant with big herds of zebras and giraffes, while the near Naivasha lake is full of flamingos. Climbing there means a great safari-tour at the same time.

The Entrance Wall has some perfectly clean splitters, very much like Indian Creek, and just as slick. The rock is hard slate. The cracks vary in size from thin fingers to hands to offwidth, with many lines next to each other, and they all have an anchor on top. We called it the "sport-trad.” Farther down is the Main Wall with multi-pitch climbs of similar quality of rock, but not as clean and with slightly challenging route-finding

Our second stop was at Lukenya. The climbing there revealed mind-blowing mental routes put up by some definitely crazy Brits. The most impressive crag was The Edinburg Castle, which offered a few unbelievable lines up some invisible features. First we tested The Waterloo (5.10a). We started contemplating the Brits' sanity when the ends of our fingertips were barely bending over some lichen-covered miniscule face holds, while getting pumped out some 20 feet above our last tiny nut... Our second choice was The Princess Street (5.10c), which diagonally scales the middle of the wall between its two major overhangs. That route offered some 50 feet whipper-potential. We had definitely fun!

Zebras graze in front of Hell

Zebras graze in front of Hell

Lukenya also has excellent sport climbing. There are a few walls with relatively short, very steep technical routes, while others offer long lines great for testing one's endurance. We found a couple bouldering problems as well; my favorite was a traverse along The Double Cheeseburger, an interesting feature of one boulder stuck upon another. All the rock was granitic.

The crags around Nairobi were a welcoming change to be able to follow established routes. But since the guidebooks tended to be rather obscure at times, we often climbed whatever line caught our fancy, and only later tried to locate it in the books. We were often wondering if we may have put up a new route… That way it added to the fun of African rock-climbing.

To find more about Hot Rock, go to climbhotrock.com