Kilimanjaro National Park is home to the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world. Mount Kilimanjaro is made up of three volcanoes, Shira in the west (4,269 m) Mawenzi in the east (5,280 m) and the youngest volcano Kibo (5,895m). Shira and Mawenzi are extinct and the last major eruption of Kibo was between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Today Kibo is dormant but could awaken any day.
The vegetation on the mountain is also very varied and some 2,500 species of plants are found here including the endemic and beautiful red and yellow impatiens kilimanjari as well as the colorful violet viola. The lower regions of the park are dominated by lush green montane forests with almost 140 species of trees. A bit higher up, distinctive giant lobelias grace the moorland zone. Above 4,000 m one finds the moonlike desert, where not much grows and the land is full of rocks and dust. Closer to the summit, hikers will be rewarded with beautiful sights of glaciers and a deep crater.
Out of the approximately 140 mammal species that live in the park, 87 of them are forest species. Animals that roam here include elephants, leopards, buffaloes, varies antelopes including the rare and endangered abbot duiker as well as primates such as the colobus and the mitis monkey. In addition hereto, 24 species of bats and 179 highland bird species have also been spotted in the Kilimanjaro National Park.
The majority of visitors to the park are hikers. As is to be expected, all have the same goal in mind – to make it to Africa’s highest peak. There are seven official routes to choose from with Marangu being one of the easiest routes for unexperienced hikers and those in search for a bit more comfort (overnights take place in huts). The Rongai route is the quietest route and the best choice if you are climbing in the rainy season as this part of the mountain gets the least precipitation. Camping routes include Lemosho, Shira and Machame and all are a bit more challenging but also much more scenic. The most demanding but also the least used route is Umbwe. Apart from Marangu and Rongai all other routes descend on the Mweka route.
A GUIDE TO CLIMBING KILIMANJARO
How high is Kilimanjaro?
Once you have reached the summit, you will be standing 5,895m or 19,340 feet high as Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. By comparison, Everest’s highest peak is 8,848m above sea level. It is also commonly known as the roof of Africa, as it towers over East Africa, and the whole continent for that matter. It is so big, that if you stand at the bottom, you usually can’t really see it…
Where is Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro, unless climbed, is actually quite difficult to see in Tanzania. For the best view, hop over to Kenya’s Amboseli National Park (if you can handle the crowds) for that iconic Kili backdrop view. If you are lucky, you will spot it on a plane from Nairobi, as it is situated on the Tanzania/Kenya border to the East of Arusha. It is easily accessible once in Tanzania to begin your climb…
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Cost
There are two choices when beginning to think about climbing Kilimanjaro – whether to go on a fixed departure climb with a group, or to go on a private climb. Private climbs vary depending on how many climbers you are, and also which route. If you are a group more than 2, it could even be better value to do a private climb, but please do let us know and we can do the maths for you. We do not choose the cheapest operator, but one we have been working with for 10 years and trust wholly to take the best care of our clients.
The best time to climb Kilimanjaro: Mount Kilimanjaro Weather
March to end of May is the wet season on Mount Kilimanjaro and not a great time for trekking. The rest of the year is good though with the absolute peak season being similar to the best game viewing from July through to the end of October. Afterall, you want to be in with a chance of catching your summit on a clear day to get an amazing view from the highest point in Africa.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro
This does depend on route, but the fastest assent can take 4 nights, though most people take 6-8 nights depending on route
Overall mountaineering fitness required
Although it is possible to simply trek a route to the pinnacle of Kili without relying on professional climbing equipment, it remains a hard and serious endeavour that requires a level of physical fitness, stamina and a realistic awareness of the potentially damaging effects of high altitudes. Many tour operators request that clients consult a doctor before attempting to scale the mountain, and have a physical check-up for overall fitness.
Climbing Kilimanjaro | The Routes
The Northern Circuit is the newest route on Kilimanjaro and takes 8–9 days. It begins from the north, then traverses nearly the entire mountain counter clockwise before approaching the summit from the east. This route offers diverse views, making a particularly scenic route. Being a lengthy, wilderness route, and the only route to cross the northern face, there is very little traffic on this route. Its length means that it provides more acclimatisation time than other routes.
Registration for the route is at Londorossi Gate, with the trek itself beginning at the road head at Lemosho Glades and following a little used track called Chamber’s Route. The route then follows around the northern face of the mountain, crossing the high desert plateau of Shira Caldera and passing Shira Cathedral to reach Moir Valley and then Buffalo Ridge. From here, the route climbs onto The Saddle, a lunar landscape which stretches between Kibo and Mawenzi Peaks. The overnight ascent to the summit is made from School Hut campsite to the crater rim at Gilman’s Point, from where a trail leads on to the summit of Kilimanjaro at Uruhu Peak. Descent from the summit is made via Stella Point, Barafu Camp, and Millennium Camp, leaving the park at Mweka Gate.
This is an unspoilt, remote, less-used, and beautiful way up to the Shira Plateau. Trekkers sometimes use it to ascend the Western Breach route or follow it with the Kibo South Circuit to ascend by the easier Barafu Route. The first day of the route hardly ever has any game animals, and armed rangers never accompany a group.
The standard route takes 7 days on the mountain, and is sometimes extended to 8 days with a stay at Karanga Valley.
Drive from Moshi or Arusha to Londorossi Park Gate (2,250 metres (7,380 ft)). From here a forest track requiring a four-wheel drive vehicle leads to Lemosho Glades (2,100 metres (6,900 ft), 11 kilometres (6.8 mi)) and a possible campsite (park fees are not paid to camp here). Walk along forest trails to Mti Mkubwa (big tree) campsite, (2,750 metres (9,020 ft)).
The trail gradually steepens and enters the giant heather moorland zone. Several streams are crossed then it gains the Shira Ridge at about (3,600 metres (11,800 ft) and drops gently down to Shira 1 camp located by a stream on the Shira Plateau ((3,500 metres (11,500 ft)). This campsite could be omitted.
A gentle walk across the plateau leads to Shira 2 camp on moorland meadows by a stream ((3,850 metres (12,630 ft)). A variety of walks are available on the plateau making this an excellent acclimatization day.
Continue east towards Kibo passing the junction, then east towards the Lava Tower. Shortly after this, descend to Barranco hut ((3,940 metres (12,930 ft)).
A short scramble to the top of the Great Barranco and then a traverse over scree and ridges to the Karanga Valley ((4,000 metres (13,000 ft)), beneath the icefalls of the Heim, Kersten, and Decken Glaciers. After climbing out of the Karanga Valley, the trail ascends a ridge to the Barafu Hut, a bleak location with little vegetation at (4,600 metres (15,100 ft).
An early start for the ascent to the rim of the Kibo Crater between the Rebmann and Ratzel Glaciers. The last section before the rim can sometimes be snow-covered and an ice-axe or ski stick is useful for balance. At the rim, Stella point is reached (18,652 feet (5,685 m)). From here, a further hour leads to Uhuru Peak, from where there are often fine views of Meru to the west and the jagged peak of Mawenzi to the east. Descend to the Barafu Hut for a rest and lunch before continuing on past Millenium camp down to camp at Mweka Hut in the giant heather zone on the forest edge. Those with energy on the summit may wish to descend to the Reutsh Crater and visit the ice pinnacles of the Eastern Icefields.
A 3-4 hour descent through forest brings climbers to the park gate.
The Lemosho route approaches from the Western side of the mountain and is less frequented than other popular Kilimanjaro routes. It is effectively a variant of the Machame route with only the first 2 days of the trek differing. The acclimatisation profile of the Lemosho route is great, with repeated climb high sleep low opportunities throughout leading to high success rates. Most people complete the Lemosho route in 7 days, but it can be extended by one day to give climbers a little longer to acclimatise if needed. Camping is the only available option for the Lemosho route.
The Machame route as of 2006 is described here. The route is typically done on a six- or seven-day hike.
The campsites and gates (with corresponding elevations) are as follows:
- Machame Gate (start of trek) 5,718 feet (1,743 m)
- Machame 9,927 feet (3,026 m)
- Shira 12,355 feet (3,766 m)
- Barranco 13,066 feet (3,983 m)
- Karanga (optional camp, used by 7-day climbers)
- Barafu (high camp before summit) 15,239 feet (4,645 m)
- Mweka (descent) 10,204 feet (3,110 m)
- Mweka Gate (end of trek) 5,423 feet (1,653 m)
One benefit of the Machame route is its quick rise to relatively high elevations (~10,000 feet (3,000 m)), and a short ascent to the Lava Tower site (~15,000 feet (4,600 m)) before descending back to Barranco Camp (~12,700 feet (3,900 m)) on the same day. This follows the climber’s adage “climb high, sleep low”, and helps altitude acclimation. The initial steep ascent also helps trekkers acclimatise better.
The Machame route starts from Machame Gate and travels upwards through the montane rainforest, characterized by dense vegetation, a muddy trail, and short sections of steep climbs. The first campsite, Machame Camp, is right after the dense tree cover in an area with lower but still thick bushlands.
The second day continues through increasingly sparse trees and bushes into moorlands. The day finishes with Shira Camp, which is on a small plateau in the high moorlands, and features views of Kibo in the northeast and Mount Meru towards the west. White necked ravens can be seen throughout the day. There is also a set of small caves a short walk from the campsite known as the Shira Caves.
The third day starts in the moorlands and moves into alpine desert, with fewer trees and more rocks. The highest point is the base of the Lava Tower, after which the trail descends into the Barranco Valley. More vegetation is present in this zone, especially the area just before the campsite. This area is called the “Garden of the Senecios”, which features many of the huge senecio plants. Shorter lobelia plants are also present.
The fourth day starts with the ascent of the Barranco Wall, which is considered a scramble in climbing terms. The trail continues with many up and down sections across small streams and rivulets and finally crosses the Karanga River to the Karanga campsite.
The fifth day follows the path up and across a rocky zone, finishing at the high camp Barafu. Very little vegetation can be found on the inhospitable terrain. A field of sedimentary rocks litters the ground. (Note – the six-day trek omits the Karanga campsite, and trekkers continue directly to Barafu on the same day.)
The summit is usually attempted on the very early morning of the sixth day (around midnight). Barafu is also used as a summit campsite for the Umbwe route. Trekkers typically take somewhere between five and seven hours to ascend, using headlamps and cold weather gear. Making the ascent on a full moon or shortly thereafter can make the headtorch unnecessary. The first milestone, generally reached shortly after dawn, is Stella Point (18,652 feet (5,685 m)), which is on the crater rim. Following Stella Point, the trail continues for another 60 minutes to Uhuru Peak, the summit.
The descent back to Barafu takes roughly four hours. Some trekkers scree slide down the slope, which entails skidding/running down the loose gravel at medium speed. From Barafu, trekkers typically take a short break, and continue downwards through the alpine desert and ensuing moorlands to Mweka Camp.
The seventh and final day has trekkers continue through the montane forest to Mweka Gate. Troops of black-and-white colobus monkeys can often be seen in the dense growth.
The Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola” route) is the easiest ascent of Kilimanjaro, although any ascent can be challenging. Climbs can be done over 6 days. It crosses The Saddle, a 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) wide, high-altitude, semi-desert that separates craggy Mawenzi from the main summit Kibo. From the summit, glaciers, screes, cliffs, afro-alpine moorland, and forests lead down to the cultivated foothills.
The Marangu route is a favourite of local tour operators as it’s the shortest route and requires no camping gear to be carried. For this reason it is often the cheapest option. Because of its short profile, the Marangu route actually has the lowest summit success rate out of any route.
Trekkers sometimes spend an extra day to acclimate to the altitude at Horombo Hut. Also, trekkers often start the final ascent to Uhuru Peak early from Kibo Hut, because the scree is easier to climb when frozen, and dawn views from the crater rim are often spectacular. Route Outline
Drive to Marangu Gate. Walk through the rain forest to Mandara hut (2,743 metres (8,999 ft)).
Leave the forest and cross open moor land to Horombo hut (3,760 metres (12,340 ft)).
Rest and acclimatisation day at Horombo Hut. Day walk to Zebra Rocks or to Mawenzi Hut. This day can be omitted.
Walk through moorland then alpine desert to “The Saddle” between the peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo. From here it takes about an hour to reach Kibo hut (4,730 metres (15,520 ft)).
Very early start for the summit on steep scree up to Gillman’s Point (5,681 metres (18,638 ft)), which is on the crater rim. Continue around the rim (which will take about two hours for fit climbers) to Uhuru Peak (5,895 metres (19,341 ft)) the highest point in Africa. Descend to Kibo Hut and then down to the thicker air and relative warmth of Horombo hut.
Descend to Marangu gate.
The route described below includes the ‘Mawenzi Tarn Hut variation’ which is recommended for acclimatization. However, some tours skip this and proceed directly from Simba camp to a ‘Third Camp’ at around 3700m to Kibo Hut, resulting in a (more difficult because of shorter length) 5-day total trip.
Drive 2 hours from the Marangu gate to the Rongai Gate. Walk to Simba Camp at 2,650 metres (8,690 ft). The walk is initially through plantations then rain forest and finally bush country.
Walk to second Cave at 3,450 metres (11,320 ft). A gentle day through bush then heathers.
Gentle rising traverse through moorland over several ridges to Kikelea Caves, 3,600 metres (11,800 ft).
Moorland then screes to Mawenzi Tarn Hut, 4,330 metres (14,210 ft).
Easy angled screes slopes lead across the Saddle to Kibo Hut, 4,700 metres (15,400 ft).
Very early start for the summit on steep scree up to Gillman’s Point (5,681 metres (18,638 ft)), which is on the crater rim. Continue around the rim (which will take about two hours for fit climbers) to Uhuru Peak (5,895 metres (19,341 ft)), the highest point in Africa. Descend to Kibo Hut and then down to the thicker air and relative warmth of Horombo hut.
Descend to Marangu gate.
Climbers often omit the second cave during ascent, although the climb is more difficult.
The Umbwe route is often considered the hardest but most spectacular and direct way to reach Uhuru Peak.
Drive to the Umbwe Roadhead at 1,800 metres (5,900 ft). The route initially follows a forestry track winding up through the natural rain forest. It then narrows and steepens to climb the ridge between the Lonzo and Umbwe rivers. The first campsite is in the forest by some rock overhangs at 2,940 metres (9,650 ft).
Shortly after leaving the camp, the forest ends and the path continues along a narrow spectacular ridge. Above, the sheer 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) of the Breach Wall appears and disappears as the afternoon mists roll up the Great Barranco. From the Umbwe ridge the route descends slightly to the Barranco Hut and the camp in the valley floor at 3,900 metres (12,800 ft).
From here the route parts. The traditional route continues north to climb the Western Breach from the Arrow Glacier Camp. However, because of the high risk from falling rock, it is suggested to follow the route below.
A short scramble to the top of the Great Barranco and then a traverse over scree and ridges to the Karanga Valley (4,000 metres (13,000 ft)), beneath the icefalls of the Heim, Kersten, and Decken Glaciers.
After climbing out of the Karanga Valley, the trail ascends a ridge to the Barafu Hut, a bleak location with little vegetation at 4,600 metres (15,100 ft).
An early start for the ascent to the rim of the Kibo Crater between the Rebmann and Ratzel Glaciers. The last section before the rim can sometimes be snow-covered and an ice-axe or ski stick is useful for balance. From here, a further hour leads to Uhuru Peak, from where there are often fine views of Meru to the west and the jagged peak of Mawenzi to the east. After a short time on the summit, descend to the Barafu Hut before continuing on down to camp at Mweka Hut in the giant heather zone on the Mweka route.
A 3-4 hour descent through forest brings climbers to the park gate.
Acclimatization on Kilimanjaro
7,8 and 9-day climbing programs are recommended because of the altitude adaptation zone concept.
The concept of acclimatization zone refers to a certain altitude span, where a climber does not feel the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness.
To illustrate, for many people the first acclimatization zone is 3000 m/9842 f – 3800 m/ 12467 f. That means that having reached the lower point, and spending some time there, a person will be comfortable staying within this range. In order to ascend higher, however, this person needs to spend a night at 3700 m/12139 f in order to widen this span.
Broadening the one’s acclimatization zone involves some discomfort, which fades away over the time. For example, feeling small headache and nausea upon arrival to Mti Mkubwa Camp (3095 m/ 10155 f) is common. Spending a night there will most likely reduce or neutralize them altogether, meaning that the body got accustomed to this zone.
The longer program taken – the more time the body has for broadening the borders of this zone, and the less discomfort will be experienced in the course of the acclimatization process. Making small altitude increases every day will be much less stressful than if making ‘elevation jumps’. Thus, it is very recommended to make altitude acclimatization times as long as possible.
It is most effective to spend an additional night at an intermediate altitude (3400m-4700m). This is high enough to stimulate the necessary physiological changes of acclimatization for Kilimanjaro, without overstressing the body. Light walks and drinking plenty during acclimatization day is recommended.
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