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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro Routes Overview

There are seven main routes that one can use to trek the highest mountain in Africa. The eighth route, Mweka, is used for decent only. The Machame and Umbwe depart from the south-west side of the mountain, and then use the Southern Circuit via Barafu and Stellar Point to approach Uhuru Peak. Similarly, Shira and Lemosho also use the Southern Circuit to approach the summit and the Mweka route to descend; however both routes begin on the far west side off the mountain. Marangu begins in the south-east and approaches Uhuru peak via Gilman’s Point. It is the only route on Kilimanjaro that has hut accommodation for the entire climb and uses the same trail to ascend and descend.

Rongai starts from the North-East and passes through the Saddle situated between Kibo and Mawenzi Peak to approach the summit via Gilman’s Point. Typically the Rongai route descends via the Marangu Route, but some tour operators take trekkers down via the Mweka Route. The newest and longest route is the Northern Circuit which uses the same starting point as Lemosho but veers north at Lava Tower, circling around the north of the mountain and approaching Uhuru Peak via Gilman’s Point. Descent is either via the Marangu or Mweka Route.

The Western Breach is a difficult trail that was closed due to a tragic rock-fall in 2006 that killed three trekkers. The route has subsequently re-opened but is seldom used by tour operators as it offers modest acclimatization, is steep and remains rather unsafe for inexperienced trekkers. Climbers who use the Western Breach usually approach from the Umbwe Route up to Lava Tower, before taking a steep ascent past Arrow’s Glacier and up the Western Breach to Crater Camp and Uhuru Peak. The Western Breach can also be approached using the Machame, Shira and Lemosho Route. Descent is usually via the Mweka Route.Kilimanjaro routes overview - Mount Kilimanjaro Routes

Route Duration Difficulty Scenery/Wildlife Human Traffic
Marangu 5-6 days Low Average High
Rongai 6-7 days Low Good Low
Machame 6-7 days Medium Excellent High
Shira 6-7 days Medium Excellent Medium
Lemosho 7-8 days Medium Excellent Medium
Umbwe 5-6 days High Good Low

Machame Route

Machame is one of the most popular routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. According to statistics from Kilimanjaro National Park approximately 50% of trekkers use the Machame route to ascend Kilimanjaro. The route is very scenic, providing hikers with incredible views and varying landscapes. The route is relatively difficult as climbers need to be able to ascend the Barranco Wall on day four and contend with a steep incline up Kibo on summit night. That being said, there are no parts on the route that require any technical climbing skills. The total route distance is approximately 62 kilometers from gate to gate. One can complete the route in 6 or 7 days. Both options include a climb high, sleep low acclimatization day.

Day Start Altitude Finish Altitude Time Distance
1 Machame Gate 1800 Machame Camp 3020 5-7 11
2 Machame Camp 3020 Shira Camp 3840 4-6 5
3 Shira Camp 3840 ~Lava Tower 4630 4-5 7
~Lava Tower 4630 Barranco 3950 2-3 3
4 Barranco 3950 Barafu 4645 7-8 9
5 Barafu 4645 Uhuru Peak 5895 7-8 5
Uhuru Peak 5895 Mweka Camp 3090 6-8 12
6 Mweka Camp 3090 Mweka gate 1640 4-5 10

Marangu Route

The Marangu Route is the oldest on Kilimanjaro and is also one of the most popular – mainly because it is the only route on the mountain that has huts provided for hikers. There are 60 bunk beds each at Mandara and Kibo Huts, and 120 bunk beds at Horombo Hut.Typically tour operators provide mattresses and pillows for climbers (sleeping bags however, need to be brought separately by trekkers). The route can be completed in 5 days; however, it is recommended that climbers take an extra day to acclimatize at Horombo Hut.The main setback on the Marangu Route is that the ascent is exactly the same as the descent and therefore there is not as much variety in settings compared to other routes. It also means that the route can get very crowded.

Day Start Altitude Finish Altitude Time Distance
1 Marangu Gate 1970 Mandara Hut 2700 4-5 8
2 Mandara Hut 2700 Horombo Hut 3720 6-7 12
3 Horombo Hut 3720 ~Mawenzi 4330 2-3 5
~Mawenzi 4330 Horombo Hut 3720 1-2 5
4 Horombo Hut 3720 Kibo Hut 4703 6-8 10
5 Kibo Hut 4703 Uhuru Peak 5895 6-8 6
Uhuru Peak 5895 Horombo Hut 3720 4-5 16
6 Horombo Hut 3720 Marangu Gate 1970 5-7 20

Umbwe Route

Umbwe used to be the steepest, shortest and most direct route to Uhuru Peak. Traditionally the route utilised the steep Western Breach and Arrow’s Glacier path to the summit; however, due to a tragic rock-fall in 2006 that claimed the lives of three trekkers the approach via the Western Breach was closed. It reopened in December 2007 but due to its difficulty and safety risks most travel operators do not offer this route as an option. Instead the Umbwe Route now joins the Machame Route on the evening of the second day, following the southern circuit to the summit and descending via the Mweka Route. Traffic for the first two days on the Umbwe route is low but picks up as soon as trekkers join Machame climbers at Barranco Camp.

Kilimanjaro Centre for Trekking and Eco-tourism – KCTE offer the Umbwe Route on a five, six or seven day itinerary. The five day route is not recommended as there are no acclimatization days and success rates are low. The difference between the six and seven day route is an additional acclimatization day at Barranco Camp.

Lemosho Route

The Lemosho Route is relatively new. It starts on the Western side of Mount Kilimanjaro at the Londorossi Gate and was introduced as an alternative to the Shira Route which begins at a higher, more challenging altitude.The Londorossi Gate is a fair drive from the town of Moshi, and considerably further from Arusha. At the gate your will register with the authorities before being driven a further 12km to the starting point. The western side of Kilimanjaro is still very wild and you may get lucky and spot large antelope, buffalo and maybe even elephant.On day three the Lemosho Route joins the Machame Route at Lava Tower and down towards Barranco Valley via the Southern Circuit. As with the Machame Route, Lemosho trekkers need to transverse the Barranco Wall and then summit from Barafu Camp. Descent is via the Mweka route.

Most trekkers complete the Lemosho Route in six days; however we also offer seven or even eight day hikes on the Lemosho which of course increases the probability of success. The seven day route typically stops for a night at both Shira Camp 1 and Shira Camp 2. Eight day treks stop again at Karanga Camp for another acclimatization day.

Shira Route

Shira Route starts at 3,600 meters and is therefore not ideal for trekkers who have little or no experience of high altitude trekking. The Shira Route is practically identical to the Lemosho Route. In fact, Shira was the original route before Lemosho was created to improve the route start point. Whereas Lemosho Route starts at the Londorossi Gates, the Shira Route bypasses this and begins further north and higher up at the Shira Gate.

On the first day hikers trek from Shira Gate to Simba Camp which is at a very similar same altitude, allowing trekkers to acclimatize before joining the Lemosho Route on day two at Shira Camp 2. The high starting point is however a major negative for this route and some trekkers experience altitude sickness from day one as their bodies haven’t had enough time to acclimatize. After Shira Camp 2 the route joins the Machame Route via Lava Tower, and then descends to the Barranco Camp via the Southern Circuit. Like the Machame, Umbwe and Lemosho Route, ascent to Uhuru Peak is made via Barafu Camp and up the southern slopes of Kibo. Descent is via the Mweka Route. The Shira Route can be completed in six or seven days.

Rongai Route

The Rongai Route is the only trail from the North-East side of Mount Kilimanjaro. Because of its remote location the route offers trekkers a relatively unspoilt wilderness experience where it is possible to see large wildlife like antelope, elephant and buffalo. The North-East side of the mountain gets significantly less moisture than the southern slopes which means that trekkers are less likely to encounter rain. Trekkers are also more likely to get clear, unclouded views of the mountain.

The Rongai Route is flatter than the other Kilimanjaro routes but because of its profile it does not offer trekkers the option to climb high and sleep low. It can be hiked on a six, seven or even eight day route. The seven or eight day routes are highly recommended as trekkers have extra days to acclimatize. Summit night from Kibo Hut is steep and follows the same path taken by Marangu trekkers which passes Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak. Due to its remote setting the route receives the least traffic of all the routes on Kilimanjaro. The route descends via the Marangu trail.

Day Start Altitude Finish Altitude Time Distance
1 Rongai Gate 1950 First Cave 2626 4-5 7
2 First Cave 2626 Kikelewa Camp 3600 6-7 12
3 Kikelewa Camp 3600 Mawenzi Tarn 4330 3-4 6
4 Mawenzi Tarn 4330 Kibo Huts 4703 5-6 9
5 Kibo Huts 4703 Uhuru Peak 5895 6-8 6
Uhuru Peak 5895 Horombo Huts 3720 4-5 16
6 Horombo Huts 3720 Marangu Gate 1970 5-7 20

Loitokitok Route

Most people have never heard of the Loitokitok route, as it’s near the Rongai route, on the north-side of the mountain near Kenya, and it’s rarely used. Loitokitok isn’t a different route, it only takes you a unique way on the first day, connecting eventually to the Rongai route. There is no real reason to use this route, but just another way to approach the mountain.

Northern Circuit

The Northern Circuit is one of the newest routes on Mount Kilimanjaro.It begins in the West at the Londorossi Gate and follows the same path as the Lemosho Route for the first two days. After crossing the Shira Plateau the path veers north after Lava Tower, following the longer Northern Circuit instead of the more popular Southern Circuit via Barranco Valley. The route circles around the quieter northern slopes to the east side of the mountain. There are a few different route variations from this point; however, all approach the summit via Gilman’s Point and then either descend via the Mweka Route joining trekkers from the Machame, Umbwe, Lemosho and Shira routes, or via the Marangu Route.

The route is longer than the other trails on Kilimanjaro, taking a minimum of eight days to complete, we also offer a nine day trek. The additional time on the mountain means that success rates for Northern Circuit trekkers are relatively high. The eight day trek skips the additional acclimatization day that is usually spent at Shira Camp 2 and continues straight on to Moir Camp, via Lava Tower.

Western Breach

The Western Breach is the most technically challenging route to the Kilimanjaro’s Summit. As the name suggests, the Western Breach sits on the western side of Kibo and was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions and lava flows from Kibo’s Crater. Due to its steep and rocky slopes, the Western Breach is considered a risky and dangerous route. In fact, in 2006 a tragic accident occurred when a rock-fall killed three trekkers on the route. Kilimanjaro authorities closed the route briefly but it reopened in late 2007. Due to its high risk profile some tour operators do not offer treks using the Western Breach to the summit.

The Western Breach can be approach from many of Kilimanjaro’s routes, including the Lemosho and Shira in the West, and the Machame and Umbwe in the South. The Umbwe is the most popular and demanding approach. Trekkers depart from Umbwe Gate at 1,600 meters and rapidly ascend to Barranco Camp at 3,900 meters, via Umbwe Camp (2,850 meters) in two days. From here most trekkers would take the Southern Circuit to Karanga and then onto Barafu to approach Kilimanjaro’s summit from the South East. The Western Breach route continues north up to Lava Tower for the night and then onto Arrow’s Glacier to join the Western Breach approach.

The fourth day is a steep scramble up to the Reutsch Crater (5,800 meters) where trekkers spend the night near one of Kilimanjaro’s last remaining glaciers, Furtwangler Glacier. Day five is a short trek from the Reutsch Crater to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters). Trekkers typically return down the southern slopes of Kibo to Barafu Camp (4,680 meters) and then onto Mweka Camp (3,100 meters) for their last night on Kilimanjaro. The route is typically completed in six days and does not provide much time for trekkers to acclimatize. For this reason, the Western Breach should only be considered by trekkers with significant high altitude trekking experience.