The trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro is a one-of-a-kind experience. Neatly laid-out in the Kilimanjaro National Park, several trails snake around on the 3,885 sq. km surface area of the volcanic mountain. To help you experience the best of the trek, our Trek Leader, Soumya Jyoti Mitra, tells you which routes to choose and how to go about the trek.
Choosing a route in Kilimanjaro
Not long ago, there were only two routes to get to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Now, there are seven routes on Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Northern Circuit, Umbwe and Mweka. These routes are designed in such a way that they connect to all the sides of the mountain.
- Choosing a route on Kilimanjaro is very important. You can choose based on scenery, nature of climb, number of days or the number of people on the trail.
- Being properly acclimatised is key factor to climb not only Kilimanjaro, but any mountain on the world. The more number of days you have, the more acclimatised you are. There are routes like Marangu and Machame that are very popular because they take trekkers to the peak within six days. But it could be dangerous and you may be hit by Acute Mountain Sickness. Climbing slow is the key to reach summit safely.
- On the other hand, spending more than 10 days is also not a good option. The entry fee of Kilimanjaro National Park is very expensive and the more days there are, the more you’ll spend. Routes like Northern Circuit and Rongai take more than 10 days to climb the mountain.
- Don’t take routes like Machame or Marangu as these routes are over-crowed with tourists and few trekkers. During peak season, more than 300 people climb through these routes every day.
- Shira and Umbwe routes are mainly famous for their toughness as they connect Moir Hut and Western Breach.
- As a trekker, if you want the best experience, pick the Lemosho route. It begins at Lemosho, located in a lush, fertile rainforest, at the western base of the mountain. It heads across the Shira Plateau, one of the highest plateaus in the world. The trail has beautiful campsites at Shira, Lava Tower, Barranco, Karanaga and Barafu. The climber is exposed to terrific panoramic views throughout the trail. The approach to the summit – Uhuru peak – is from the east. The summit climb begins at dawn on the seventh day. The descent follows the Mweka trail, upto the Mweka gate.
- It has dense rain forests and you get a chance to see Columbus Monkeys
- It goes through Shira Valley, one of the biggest valleys in Kilimanjaro
- It takes seven days of climb, so you are acclimatised properly
- There’s a smaller crowd on this trail
What happens at start of the trek?
The first day of your trek is long. You have to start early from Arusha to reach Kilimanjaro National Park. You have to go through several official procedures before you start the trek.
- It’s a three-hour-journey from Arusha to Londorrosi gate if you want take the Shira or Lemosho route. Start by 8 am so that you reach park gate by 11 am.
- Around 15 minutes before reaching the park gate, you have to pay a forest entry fee at the forest check gate. You will see Alpine forests on your left and farmlands on your right.
- After reaching the park gate, the first thing you have to do is register yourself with the park authority. Try to memorise your passport number; you have to write your passport number every day at each camp.
- After registration, the porters’ load will be weighed; it shouldn’t exceed 20 kg. After that, park officials will check the porters’ licences and finally check their backpacks to ensure they are carrying necessary clothing and equipments.
- Lastly, you have to pay the park entry fee via a specialised card issued by the registered bank. Before coming to the park gate, you have to deposit the money (only in dollars) in the bank with the help of local agency. The local agency already has a card issued by TANAPA (Tanzania National Park), which has to be credited with the dollars.
- The whole process at park gate may take more than two hours.
- After all the proceedings, a half hour’s drive will bring you to the Lemosho gate. At the gate, another park officer will weigh the porters’ bags again to ensure that everything is in order.
- After this, you’ll finally start the trek! Don’t get tensed if you find that you are starting your trek only around 4 pm. You have only two hours of trekking on Day 1. Before sunset, you’re likely to be inside your tent.
Final climb at Kilimanjaro
All routes on Kilimanjaro merge at Barafu, the summit camp. You will see a great number of trekkers that day. This number can touch close to 500. The general tendency of trekkers on the last day on Kilimanjaro is to start at midnight. If you start at 12 in the night, with an average speed, you can reach the summit latest by 7 am. It takes a maximum of 7 hours to reach the summit. If you don’t want to be stuck in a line of 500 trekkers in middle of the night, then you can start late.
From Barafu, start ascending towards the hill towering over the camp. A half hour’s march will take you to the base of the hill. Start ascending with gentle speed as the climb will take 45 minutes. In between, you have to do a little bit of scribbling on a rock that is 25-30 ft tall.
Once you reach the top of the hill, the trail becomes gradual for the next 35 minutes. Barafu has three camping grounds – side, middle and upper. This gradual walk will take you to the upper camping ground. Leave the upper camping ground on your right and climb the next four hours straight up to Stella Point. Rest once every hour. You will find many boulders en route where you can rest. Just before reaching Stella Point, note that the gradient has turned steeper.
From Stella Point it is an hour’s easy walk to the final point, known as Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa. From Stella Point, take a left turn and you will see the Rebman Glacier on your left. It’s a fantastic view. Around 20 minutes from here, you will see two tiny boards that indicate the end of your climb – Congratulations! You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, Africa’s highest point! Celebrate your victory. There is an aura of victory exuding from all climbers. Relax at Uhuru for a while.
Descending from the summit
The Kilimanjaro Park is designed in such a way that you ascend and descend from two different routes. Through Mweka is the route for descending. From Uhuru, descend to Barafu. Descending will take 2-3 hours.
Once you reach Barafu, rest for an hour or so. During this break, finish your brunch and start your descent to Mweka Camp, which is 10 km from Barafu. It takes around four hours to cover this distance. You may find it difficult to trek after your climb to the peak. But it’s always a wise decision to descend and sleep at lower altitude.
Coming down will be fun and easy after what you have achieved today. Initially, for 45 minutes, you have to descend on rocky terrain and afterwards through the moorland. It will slowly start getting dark and you will be amazed to see the fully lit Moshi town ahead of you.
A walk for 2 hours through the moorland will take you to the forest of Erica Robera. Here, you will see camps down the slope. You will feel a change in the atmosphere. There’s more oxygen. It will be easier to breath. From this point, walk for around an hour and you’ll reach the camp. As usual, register yourself and finish your tiring and glorious day with a cup of coffee.
Next morning, wake up a little late, not before 8 am. The hike from Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate will take a maximum of 3 hours. The rain forest after rocky terrain is a welcome change. A walk of two and a half hours will take you down to the rescue road. Follow the rescue road for next half an hour and you will see vehicles waiting for you. That marks the end of your descent.