To the Roof of Africa
Imagine flying high above the clouds over Tanzania and suddenly seeing, peering out from under her morning snowy white duvet, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so close you can almost reach out to touch her. Standing only 3 degrees south of the equator, she sports a solid cladding of glacial ice. Formed about 1.5million years ago, Mt Kilimanjaro sours above the plains of the Ngorongoro like a majestic ballerina in her cotton tutu.
Kilimanjaro is 5895 metres (which is close to 20,000 feet) high, and is the highest mountain in Africa. Because of this, her additional claim to fame is that she is one of the 'seven Summits'. In addition to this, Kilimanjaro is also the tallest free-standing mountain on earth and being equatorial, one of closest points in the world to the sun.
Mt Kilimanjaro is classified as a dormant volcano and comprises three separate peaks, Shira 3962m, Mawenzi at 5159m, and Kibo5895m, each formed by volcanic activity. Shira and Mawenzi are extinct but Kibo is dormant. The highest point is Uhuru Peak at the summit of Kibo crater's rim and is classified as the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the easier mountains to climb as its summit can be reached without the use of ropes and climbing equipment. It takes on average, 6 days to climb Kilimanjaro and return to the base, but extra days can be added to take in other sights, or for acclimatisation to the altitude. Kilimanjaro can be ascended via 7 different trekking routes; Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, Umbwe, Shira, Rongai and the new, Northern Circuit, each one offering their own unique scenery and sights en-route, and each varying in difficulty.
The easiest trekking tour and fastest ascent is via Marangu route followed by Rongai, but the most scenic is Machame. To further aid with acclimatisation, many people do a pre-climb of Mt Meru, Kilimanjaro's sister volcano. Mt Meru can be completed in 3 or 4 days.
The Machame Route up Kilimanjaro is one of the most scenic of the routes up to Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak. It also affords one the chance of acclimatisation due to the concept of climb high, sleep low. The ascent is from the western side of Kilimanjaro, with the descent down the southern face along the Mweka route.
One passes through changing vegetation from a tropical forest, to scrubland, to alpine desert and onwards to the summit .You will start your trek at Machame forest and head through the lush forest, hanging with moss and lichen with its enormous forest canopy, gradually up to Machame Camp for the first night. Next day, the route heads into a scrubland with giant Lobelia and daisy bushes up toward Shira Camp before heading into the alpine desert towards Lava Tower and back down to Barranco. From here the terrain remains like an alpine desert, with glaciers reaching down the mountain like long fingers, to about 4800m. You will hit the snow line at about 5700m, maybe higher.
The Marangu Kilimanjaro Route is a popular route up Kilimanjaro as it is not only the quickest route but also the most direct and often deemed, easier route. On the Marangu Route accommodation is in huts. The ascent is via the eastern face of the mountain and covers about 80km. The descent is via the same route as the ascent.
The Shira route, approaches Kilimanjaro's summit from the west and crosses the caldera of Shira Volcano before heading beneath the southern ice fields of Kibo. The route is seldom used by other trekkers and so your initial two days on the mountain are less crowded than on most other routes. The remainder of the route joins in with the routes from Lemosho and Machame. Your starting altitude is higher than your end point altitude.
Lemosho Route is often considered one of the more scenic in terms of game viewing. This is not as much the case as it was several years back when game was more abundant, although there is still the chance to see game on the first 2 days. These two days are also a lot quieter on the route, until it joins in with the standard trail from Machame and Shira routes.
The Rongai Route up Kilimanjaro is also seldom travelled, beginning on the Kenyan side of the mountain. The drive to the starting point is long, albeit scenic. Park rules require that the descent route is via the Marangu route.
The new Northern Circuit is the newest route to open on Kilimanjaro and heads around Kibo through very quiet non-tourist areas until it joins in with the Rongai Route for part of the way. The ascent climb is via Gilmans point and then down via Barafu and Mweka Camp. This route has also been called the 360 and Grand Traverse by some companies. Northern Circuit Route Itinerary - this route can be done in 9 days by trekking to Shira II for your first night
Umbwe Route on Kilimanjaro is one of the shortest and less used of all the routes. Although it is not a technical climb, it is a lot steeper and recommended for very fit hikers.
There are certain essentials that are needed for most climbs and Kilimanjaro is no different.The best way to draw up your list is from the base up, i.e. thermal underwear, then hands and feet (gloves, socks etc). Then boots which must be waterproof with good ankle support, trekking pants, trekking tops, short and long sleeve, thermal jacket, outer shell jacket which likewise is windproof and water proof, hat, scarf, beanie, balaclava. Then consider sleeping, i.e. sleeping bag, mat etc. Most companies supply sleeping mats so check before you buy one. Then, the last items to add are personal items like toiletries, camera, medicines, water bottle, backpack, camera etc.
Most companies will supply you with a comprehensive list for your trek, as do we. If you arrive to Kilimanjaro and are missing items, you can normally rent most gear. Do not, however, reply on buying your gear on arrival.