Kilimanjaro Climb Routes


Kilimanjaro Routes

There are several routes by which to reach Kibo, or Uhuru Peak, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, namely, Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame.

Being one of the most popular mountains in the world, roughly 50,000  trekkers every year try to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. According to research published by the Climb Kilimanjaro Guide, the average summit success rate across all climbers and routes is 65%. However, summit success rate heavily depends upon what route is climbed as routes vary considerably in terms of acclimatization profile and duration of climb.

Climbing description

The trek to Uhuru Peak is considered to be a relatively straightforward endeavour; however, ample time must still be provided for proper acclimatization to prevent altitude sickness. The three shortest routes, Marangu, Rongai, and Machame, are less challenging and are often trekked by individuals with limited mountaineering experience. Some trekkers employ altitude-sickness medication, including acetazolamide, but taking at least seven days[2][3] is the best way to avoid altitude sickness as the body needs proper time to adapt and acclimatize to high altitude.

Route travel times range from five to nine days to summit and return to the base of the mountain. Huts with cooking facilities, bathrooms, and electricity are available on the Marangu route, and camps with fewer facilities are available on many other routes. All huts and many camps have rangers stationed at them with rescue facilities (modified wheelbarrows to transport trekkers stricken with altitude sickness to lower altitudes).

Trekkers on Mount Kilimanjaro typically have a support crew of guides and porters who are integral in helping climbers reach the summit. The size of the support crew depends on the number of trekkers in a group and is regulated by the Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA). Tour operators are expected to comply with KINAPA guide and porter regulations.[4] A typical climbing group of 2 trekkers will have one guide, one assistant guide, 6 porters (3 for each climber) and one cook. Porters are responsible for carrying a trekkers gear as well as key items like tents, water and cooking supplies. It is customary to tip guides and porters at the last meal on the mountain or at the end of the trip. The tipping value varies depending on the number of days spent on the mountain and the number of climbers in a group.[5]

Summit attempts are generally begun at midnight so that trekkers can reach the rim of the crater to view the sunrise. Walking overnight also means the ground (loose gravel) is frozen, making the going significantly easier.

Trekkers on the Marangu route first encounter Gilman's Point on the rim of the crater, which is roughly a 1.5 hour hike from Uhuru Peak. Trekkers who follow the Southern Circuit will reach the summit via Stella Point which is about an hour from the summit. Both these compare with the Rongai route where the trip from where you reach the rim to the summit can be over two hours making for a very long summit day.

Another route is the Western Breach, which includes short sections of scrambling (where hands are required for balance and support). The rock on Kilimanjaro though is highly fragmented and deaths from rockfall from above have happened.

On all the southern routes and on the Western Breach climb it is possible to sleep overnight in the crater. This has three major advantages. First, you can summit during the day, avoiding the midnight rush. Second, you have time to visit the crater and explore the glaciers. Finally, you can get back to the rim very early the next day to see the sunrise. The Furtwängler Glacier on Kilimanjaro is a remnant of the ice cap that once covered the mountain. This has retreated dramatically over the last century with over 80% glacial retreat. The glacier is named after Walter Furtwängler, who along with Ziegfried Koenig, were the fourth to ascend to the summit of Kilimanjaro in 1912.

Climbing routes

Machame

  • Nicknamed the "Whiskey" route because the route is popularized as somewhat difficult and more expensive than Marangu route. On an overall comparison of the routes to scale Kilimanjaro, this is one of the best routes to take, both in terms of acclimatization and cost. In certain sections this route is steeper than the Marangu and Rongai routes and physically more demanding but is easier overall.
  • Great for acclimatization with lots of walk high, sleep low opportunities
  • Challenging trek with stunning scenery through 5 diverse climatic zones
  • Good opportunity to split pre-summit day climb to leave climbers rested before summiting
  • Very popular trail
  • Fully catered camping only
  • it takes 6–7 days for climbing.

Marangu

  • Nicknamed the "Coca-Cola" route because the route is popularized as easy and cheap. This, however, is a misconception as the route is more difficult due to the 'not as good acclimatization profile' as Machame/Rongai/Lemosho routes.
  • Often selected by unprepared, inexperienced climbers because of its reputation for being the "easiest" route, attributing to the lower success rate
  • The shortest and cheapest route, but less time to acclimatize, therefore lower success rate
  • Dormitory style accommodation in huts
  • Less scenic due to ascent and descent on same route

Shira / Lemosho

  • High summit success rate. Good for acclimatization, especially on the longer itineraries
  • Remote and spectacular, dramatic gorges and views of west Kilimanjaro
  • Converges with Machame on day 4 at Baranco
  • Shira offers higher start point compared to Lemosho and poorer acclimatisation
  • Fully catered camping only

The Lemosho route approaches Kilimanjaro from the west. Rather than simply intersecting Shira Plateau (like Machame), Lemosho crosses it from Shira Ridge to Shira 2 Camp, in a pleasant hike. Climbers encounter low traffic until the route joins the Machame route. Afterwards, Lemosho follows the same route through Lava Tower, Barranco and Barafu, known as the southern circuit. There are several options to complete the trek over 6, 7, or 8 days based on your experience.

Rongai

  • Only northern approach to Kilimanjaro
  • Offers a true wilderness experience on the early stages of the climb
  • Very tough final summit night from the north
  • Fewer acclimatisation opportunities
  • Less scenic and flat than other routes

Also known as the Nalemuru route. Although the scenery is not as varied as the western routes, Rongai makes up for this by passing through true wilderness areas for days before joining the Marangu route at Kibo camp. Rongai is a moderately difficult route, and is highly recommended, especially for those with less backpacking experience. There are different options to complete the climb in 5, 6, or 7 days.

Umbwe

  • Steep, short route with lower success rate
  • Poor acclimatization because of rapid ascent
  • Very remote and quiet
  • Fully catered camping only

Of all the routes, Umbwe is by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain. The Rongai is the easiest camping route and the Marangu is also easy, but accommodation is in huts. As a result, this route tends to be very busy and ascent and descent routes are the same. Although the Rongai route is a flatter walk, it offers less opportunities for acclimatisation. The Machame and Lemosho routes both allow better opportunities to "walk high and sleep low", which is critical to avoiding altitude sickness.

Northern Circuit

  • Longest route up Kilimanjaro - good for acclimatization
  • Only route to traverse all of the Northern Slopes on a circumnavigation of the mountain
  • Beautiful scenery from the western approach
  • Fully catered camping only

The Northern Circuit is the newest route up Kilimanjaro and also the longest. The Northern Circuit takes a minimum of 8 days to complete but most operators offer the 9 day option. Because of its length, the Northern Circuit has the highest summit success rate. The route follows the same as the Lemosho Route for the first two days and then veers off to circle around the quieter northern slopes to the east side of the mountain. There a number of route variations, but generally the Northern Circuit approaches the summit via Gilman’s Point before descending on the same route as the Machame and Lemosho.

Trekking routes

Forest along the Marangu climbing route.

Kilimanjaro has a number of official climbing routes. These are:

  • Northern Circuit
  • Machame
  • Marangu
  • Rongai
  • Londorossi Lemosho
  • Umbwe
  • Shira
  • Mweka (descent only)

Summary of routes

Route Description Days Length
Northern Circuit
[6]
Newest route on Kilimanjaro. Very low traffic due to very long time on the mountain, traverses nearly the entire mountain including the north side. Long route with great views. 9 90 kilometres (56 mi)
Lemosho Long access drive, remote, less frequented, beautiful forests, scenic traverse to Barafu, camping. Excellent for acclimatization. 8 (-1) 56 kilometres (35 mi)
Machame Second most popular route. Beautiful forest, very good for acclimatization, scenic traverse to Barafu. 7 (-1) 49 kilometres (30 mi)
Marangu Very popular (crowded). Gentle gradients and long sections up to 4700m (2.9 mi). Not a very scenic route as compared to Machame and Lemosho, comfortable but basic huts. The 6 day variant provides good time for acclimatization due to a rest day at Horombo Hut. 6 (-1) 64 kilometres (40 mi)
Rongai Long access drive, remote, less frequented, some fine, wild, least scenic, camping. Good for acclimatization. 5-6 65 kilometres (40 mi)
Umbwe Shortest and steepest route, very physically taxing and requires serious endurance. Beautiful forest, spectacular ridge, bad for acclimatization, scenic traverse to Barafu, camping. Dangerous route.[7] 6 (-1) 37 kilometres (23 mi)

Northern Circuit

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.[6] 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.[9] 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.