Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the Wachagga, don’t even have a name for the whole massif, only kipoo (now known as Kibo) for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseas of the continent, the summit of Africa.
Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you will understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breath-taking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – evaluation around 900 meters – to an imperious 5895 meters (19336 feet).
Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing, and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates and their memories.
But there is so much more to kill than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic. Even before you cross the national park boundary (at the 2700m contour), the cultivated foot slopes give way to the lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lays the motherland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.
Above 4000m, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.
About Kilimanjaro National Park
- Size: 1668 sq km (641 sq miles).
- Location: Northern Tanzania, near the town of Moshi.
- 128 km (80 miles) from Arusha.
- About a one-hour drive from Kilimanjaro airport.
What to do
- Six usual trekking routes to the summit and other more-demanding mountaineering routes.
- A day or overnight hikes on the Shira plateau. Nature trails on the lower reaches.
- Trout fishing.
- Visit the beautiful Chala Crater Lake on the mountain’s south-eastern slopes.
When to go
- Clearest and warmest conditions from December to February, but also dry (and colder) from July-September.
- Huts and campsites on the mountain.
- Several hotels and campsites outside the park in the village of Marangu and the town of Moshi.
Routes to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
- Highly recommended for scenic value, with medium success rate. Not recommended for first-time climbers.
- Most technically difficult route available without a permit due to vertical climb on day 4.
- 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, therefore, can be busy.
- Fully catered camping only.
- Nicknamed the ‘Coca-Cola’ route due to the older days when Coke used to be bought along the way in tea huts.
- Often selected by unprepared, inexperienced climbers as a result of the 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
- Recommended. High success rate. Good for acclimatization.
- Remote and spectacular, dramatic gorges and views of West Kilimanjaro.
- Converges Kilimanjaro’s diverse climatic zones as you climb higher.
- Shira offers a higher start point compared to Lemosho and poorer acclimatization.
- Fully catered camping only.
- Only the northern approach to Kilimanjaro
- Least scenic route
- Offers a true wilderness experience on the early stages of the climb
- Very tough final summit night from the North
- Fewer acclimatization opportunities less scenic and flat
- Fully catered camping only
- Steep, short route with a lower success rate
- poor acclimatization due to rapid ascent
- very remote and quiet
- fully catered camping only
Of all the routes, Machame is by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain. The Rongai is the easiest 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 fewer opportunities for acclimatization. The Machame and Lemosho routes both allow better opportunities to “walk high and sleep low” which is critical to avoiding altitude sickness.
The trek to Uhuru Peak is considered to be a straightforward endeavor; 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 7 days is the best way to avoid altitude sickness.
The route travels times range from 5 to 9 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).
Summit attempts are generally undertaken at night so that trekkers can reach the rim of the crater to view the sunrise so typically clients start walking around midnight. 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 highly fragmented and deaths from rock fall from above have happened and as a result, this route is not recommended except for experts.
On all the Southern routes and on the Western breach climb it is possible to sleep overnight in the crater. This can be a fantastic experience for those who acclimatized well and have 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 and finally, you can get back to the rim very early the next day to see the sunrise. The Furtwangler Glacier on Kilimanjaro is a remnant of the ice cap that once covered the mountain. These have retreated dramatically over the last century with over 80% glacial retreat. The glacier is named after Walter Furtwangler, who along with Ziegfried Koeing, were the forth to ascend to the summit of Kilimanjaro in 1912.
The rapidly retreating Furtwangler Glacier is near the summit.
At the summit, there is a sign posted by the Tanzania government. The sign (printed in English only) reads “Congratulations! You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5985 m. Africa’s Highest Point.
World’s Highest Free-Standing Mountain. “it used to have a fourth part of the sign which read, “one of World’s Largest Volcano. Welcome.”, however, that portion of the sign no longer exists. The sign is covered in travel stickers from past trekkers who have left their mark on the top of the peak. Near this famous sign is a box containing a log that many trekkers have signed.