If you are an aspiring adventurer or a keen mountain climber, Kilimanjaro gives you the opportunity of attaining a really high peak without the technical levels of mountaineering required in the world's greater ranges.
Height: 5895 m (19,341 ft)
First Climbed: 1889 (Dr. Hans Meyer)
Climb Time: 7 - 12 days
Best Season to Climb: January - March & June - October
It is a favorite of people who are out to fulfill personal lifetime wish, mountain climbing freaks and those pursuing a charitable community course. And it is really not difficult to realize why Africa’s tallest mountain is on the bucket list of millions of people on earth and one of the so–called “7 Summits”.
KILIMANJARO – ESSENTIAL INFO.
Before delving into the experience of scaling this magnificent mountain it is important to have some background information about it. Kilimanjaro is found in the East African country of Tanzania. It is located near the border with Kenya, approximately 200 miles south of the Equator.
There have various attempts to measure the height of the mountain, all of which have yielded slightly varying results. However, in 2014, the mountain was estimated to rise to 5,888 meters above sea level. UNESCO (which has designated Kilimanjaro as a World Heritage Site) estimates the highest peak of the mountain to be 5,895 meters tall.
The world’s tallest free standing mountain is actually a combination of three volcanic peaks; Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, are estimated to rise to 5,888 meters, 5,149 meters and 4,005 meters respectively. While the last two volcanic cones are extinct, Kibo has shown indications it might erupt in future. Visitors report high temperatures and pungent sulfur smell on this dormant cone.
The highest summit on the mountain, which is found on Kibo, is called Uhuru Peak. ‘Uhuru’ is the Swahili word for freedom. It was christened so to mark Tanzania’s independence from British colonial rule. A lot of research has been carried out on inner parts of the volcanic structure but years of erosion have made it difficult to get conclusive data.
Another rather ambivalent issue relating to Kilimanjaro is the origin of the name of the mountain itself. From historical records and interactions of European explorers and missionaries, there is consensus that “Kilima” means a hill or mountain, but the word “Njaro” has no universally accepted meaning. What is clear, though, is that the mountain is held in high regard at a mythical level by the communities inhabiting its slopes.
The History of Kilimanjaro
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which was written in AD 45, is the earliest document that mentions the presence of snow-capped-mountain along the East African Coast (which was called the land of Azania). Several decades later, the Ptolemy of Alexandria would mention the presence of a mountain covered with snow south of Rhapta in the East African inland.
The East African coast was a busy trading area for many years but the Portuguese, Chinese and Arabs only make passing mentions of a white mountain in East Africa in their writings. A Spanish cartographer who visited Mombasa in 1519, however, calls it Ethiopia’s Mount Olympus, which is said to lie to the west of Mombasa.
It is, nevertheless, the arrival of European and Arab merchants as well as explorers and missionaries in the 18th Century that led to the ‘discovery’ of Kilimanjaro. The mountain became a source of dispute between the Germans who were colonizing modern Tanzania, and the British, who colonized Kenya. However, when the modern map came into being, Kilimanjaro was retained in Tanzania, on the border, facing Kenya.
When was Kilimanjaro first climbed?
From the onset, it is important to note that we can only discuss Kili climbs based on written sources. However, we cannot dismiss the notion that locals may have climbed the mountain before the modern era. It is insulting, for example, to tell Tanzanians and especially the Chagga people who live around the mountain, that a certain western explorer was the first to climb it! Local people may not have documented their adventures, but this does not mean they may never have reached the summit.
The first documented attempt to climb the mountain was by Count Samuel Teleki in 1887. This Austro-Hungarian was determined to reach Kibo but turned back after he developed a problem in his ear. The second attempt was made the same year by an American naturalist, Dr. Abbot, and Otto Ehlers, a German. The former did not go far because he became sick, but Otto claimed to have reached 5,904 meters, a height that is highly-disputed and improbable.
The first successful attempt at conquering Kilimanjaro, though, was made by Dr. Hans Meyer in 1889. He profited a lot from the information he got from Dr. Abbot and Count Teleki. In total, Meyer made four attempts and was greatly aided by Dr. Oscar Bauman, an experienced African traveller.
One of the most important contributions of Meyer to the Kilimanjaro ascent was the setting up of camps along the climbing route to help climbers get food instead of returning to the base of the mountain for food, which made them lose momentum. Actually, Meyer only managed to conquer Kilimanjaro when he solved the food problem!
The other major contribution to modern Kilimanjaro climbing techniques was the involvement of locals as porters of equipment and food to the camps along the climbing path. Moreover, Meyer created a climbing party of local porters, cooks, guides, chiefs, headmen, physical fitness experts and other people who could enrich the experience and deal with emerging complications along the way.
You could be tempted to imagine that with such a larger and resourceful group of people Meyer had an easy task. Far from it; Meyer had to contend with desertions, hostile administrators, animal traps and lack of clear paths to the peak, not to mention snow, which was much more in quantity and expanse as it is today.
Moreover, as opposed to modern climbers who start their journeys from the Tanzanian town of Moshi, Meyer started his journey on foot from Mombasa and went further to Taveta. These two were /are urban centers in modern-day Kenya. Even when Meyer and his fellow trekkers reached the high sections of Kilimanjaro, they had to contend with inclement on a mountain they knew very little about.
Kilimanjaro is well above the height at which people can be struck by acute mountain sickness, often referred to as AMS. The symptoms are headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite. Pulmonary or Cerebral Oedema are also possible at this altitude. Whilst none of this should put you off planning a trip of a lifetime it is something which must be considered. Naturally the more time you spend at altitude, and the slower you ascend, then th better your body can cope with the extremes of altitude.
Locals and experts are unanimous on the fact that there is no favorite route to trek up the rooftop of Africa. The decision is left to the discretion of the climber. However, before we discuss the seven (yes, seven) available options, it is important to analyze some of the factors that will influence which direction you choose to approach Uhuru Peak from.
To begin with, consider your level of experience. How many people in your team have ever climbed a mountain before? How many have not been to high altitudes before? Make sure the route you pick is convenient for everyone. This is not an easy task and that is why you need to be careful when you are choosing your team members.
The other consideration revolves around your limitations. How many days do you want to spend on the trek? How much money have you set aside for the ascent and the entire adventure? Some routes are shorter; others are longer and your choice has financial implications. Choose your route based on the depth of your pocket.
It is crucial that you evaluate your expectations in terms of exertion and the inherent strain. Don’t be cheated that climbing to the top of one of the world’s highest peaks is a piece of cake! How much physical discomfort can you take? Are your team members ready to sweat and strain or they want a less-exerting climb? Choose the route once you answer this question.
Choosing a Trekking company
When choosing a Tour Operator to organise and guide you up Kilimanjaro we urge you to be very selective. Do your research into the company, read reviews and try to find out how they opreatre before engaging them. This is not simply a question of personal well-being and safety of you, the client, but also the guides and porters. There have been widespread reports of companies with poor working conditions and low wages. So even if it does end up costing a little extra, think where your money is going!
Route choice (Jump to full route guide below ↓)
The direction from which you want to start your ascent is also a crucial factor in selecting the route you will take. The beauty about Kilimanjaro is that you can approach from seven directions spread across all the sides of the mountain. Does that mean you can climb the mountain seven times on different occasions? It won’t break a bone, but don’t take these words literally!
Now, the reason direction is important is its effect on scenery, cost and the flora and fauna involved in respective routes. You are likely to imbibe more breathtaking sceneries when you approach the summit from the western side as opposed to the other directions. This is because you will walk over more areas of the mountain than when you take other routes.
Another consideration to make is your reason for wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. Perhaps you just want to have the pleasure and bragging rights of having reached Uhuru Peak. If so, you should probably opt to the shorter routes but be aware of the dangers of not acclimatizing at this altitude.
So you have come to Kilimanjaro because you want to carry a collection of the scenic photographs? You need a route that has enough flora and fauna, and which opens up the rest of Tanzania and Africa to your bewildered eyes. Ask your guide to help you select a route that will make your camera worth carrying.
Another crucial consideration is the timing of your climb. Most trekkers prefer the dry season. There is less snow, the paths are not slippery and the scenery is amazing. The full moon is also preferred because it makes night life quite exciting. It is no wonder then that Kilimanjaro is a busy place during the dry season.
However, if you don’t mind the snow and the treacherous weather of the rainy or wet season, you can give the trek a try. Make sure you get good guides who can help you through the less-dangerous routes. Steep climbs are especially to be avoided because of the dangers involved with rocks cascading from the upper levels of the mountain.
Choosing your route
The seven main routes for accessing the summit of Mt. Kili are Marangu, Machane, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Northern Circuit and Umbwe. Now that you know the factors that will influence your decision to take one route or the other, let us discuss each of the routes and its main features.
Machane is for those who crave scenery and photography. Imagine walking through five different climatic zones and imbibing the accompanying flora and fauna! At this juncture I need to point out that climbing this mountain is like taking a journey into a geography or climate change class. You are in dry barren land in one moment and all of a sudden you cross into a wetland!
If you want to acclimatize (and it is quite important in mountain climbing) this is your route. However, expect to strain during the trek. But take heart; there is adequate camping along the way. It would be unfair not to tell you that this is the most popular route to ascend to Uhuru Peak. For these 72 km you will spend 5-6 days on the trek.
Marangu is an easier and popular route to reach the summit. For those of you whose pockets run shallow, this route is appropriate. Look out for accommodation in huts that will remind you of a dormitory in a boarding school. For this 72 km trek, you will spend 5-6 days.
However, you know what they say: cheap is expensive. Marangu is often preferred by climbers who lack experience and who are not prepared because they have heard it is inexpensive. That is why it has very lower success rates for climbers. You rarely have time to acclimatize before you reach the peak.
A parting shot on this route: If someone tells you to take the Coca Cola route, they are saying you take Marangu. Some years ago, you could buy the popular soft drink in tea huts as you trekked on this route, thus was born the moniker “Coca Cola Route”.
Can we have another parting shot? I guess so. If you are looking for beautiful scenery, forget this route because there are people ascending and descending at the same time!
If you know you are not good in backpacking, Rongai is the right route for you. You will approach the mountain from the north and this will give you the opportunity to experience the wilderness especially in the formative stages of your trek. However, you will have limited time to acclimatize.
This route cannot compare to the western ones in terms of scenery. However, the fact that you pass through the wilderness for a number of days before linking up with the Marangu course at Kibo Camp, means you will not be deficient on scenery. This 73km route is relatively difficult and has several options, which means you can take between 5 and 7 days to reach the summit.
This is the steepest and shortest path to the top of Kili. However, you need to acclimatize before you start the climb because the ascent is rapid and the body has no adequate time to get used to the climatic condition in a short period. While it is a quiet and remote route, Umbwe has camping facilities that are fully-catered.
This approach from the south is, however, considered the most-scenic, so might be worth the while for those who love natural beauty and photography. Its spectacular ridge will forever be etched on the minds of those who love mountain-climbing and beauty. You will spend 5-6 days if you decide to cover these 53 kilometers.
If you really want to become one of those that have successfully climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit is your best option. This is the newest pathway to the summit. It begins in the west of the mountain and traverses the northern side, almost bringing trekkers to the west again.
Because of the distance covered before reaching the top, you will have enough time to acclimatize. The fact that you will be circumnavigating the mountain means you will cover the longest distance by any route – 98km to be precise. The entire trek will take a maximum of 9 days.
You will reach the summit through Gilman’s Point and descend using the same route as those who ascended via Lemosho and Machame. Expect camps that are catered fully, along the route. In addition, you will simply love the scenery, especially as you climb the mountain from the western side.
This is another approach from the western side although it is not used by many climbers. This does not take anything away from the beauty and scenery you will experience as you climb. Camping is fully-catered on this difficult route. However, the 70 km journey will give you adequate time to acclimatize.
Enjoy dramatic gorges on this long journey of 7-8 days. On day 4, you will merge with the Machame route at a place called Baranco.
There are times when Lemosho and Shira and described together and this is because they both approach the summit from the west and are not popular with climbers. This route has a gorgeous heath area and spectacular scenery as well as a southern traverse. You will also get full-camp catering on this route.
For acclimatization, Shira is good though you cannot compare it with Lemosho as the former begins at 11,800 ft. For these 56km, you will spend 7 to 8 days on the trek.
Know Kilimanjaro well
It would be unfair to end without reminding those especially from outside Africa, and who have this notion of Africa being a very hot place, that the top of Kilimanjaro can reach temperatures well below zero! You will realize this as you climb and you need to be fully-geared for mountain climbing in winter.
As for the vegetation, you will move from grasslands to rainforests and moorlands as you ascend until you reach the summit where virtually no vegetation can grow.
Now you have something new for your bucket list. Enjoy climbing to the rooftop of Africa and the memories will forever enthrall you. See you at the top of Kilimanjaro and remember to share the beautiful photos!