|Trekking Routes on Kilimanjaro|
DIARY OF THE CLIMB
There are many routes to choose from when planning to climb Kilimanjaro. These include:
Marangu Route: This is the most heavily traveled, and usually the least expensive, route up Kilimanjaro. Trekkers stay in huts along their way up the mountain. It generally has a terrible reputation as crowded, noisy, trash-covered, and unpleasant. To reach the summit, climbers start around midnight from the Kibo Hut, climbing the final 3,700' in the cold and dark, then have a 7,000' descent in the same long day. Most of the reports you read that say Kilimanjaro is a bad experience come from climbers on the Marangu Route. The better climbing companies rarely offer this route.
Machame Route: Much less traveled than the Marangu Route, but still the next-most used route up the mountain. Trekkers stay in tents each night on the climb (that is the case for all of the other routes listed below, as well). Offers a much better mountain trekking experience. The Machame Route would be my second choice of those listed here. Most climbing companies offer the Machame Route.
Umbwe Route: This route has a bad reputation for being much too steep for safety's sake. Climbers ascend the mountain too rapidly on the Umbwe route to allow for proper acclimatization. Clients on the Umbwe Route are at severe risk from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS, or altitude sickness). When we climbed Kilimanjaro, four of the six members of another group climbing the Umbwe Route were suffering from severe AMS, and were forced to turn back from the summit. Most companies do not offer the Umbwe Route, for these reasons.
Rongai Route: This is a very seldom used route that approaches the summit from the northeast, near the village of Rongai, along the Tanzania-Kenya border. Unfortunately, because of political instability and a dangerous crime climate in Kenya so close to the trailhead, many companies have stopped offering this route up the mountain.
Lemosho Route: This is one of two routes that approach Kilimanjaro from the far west side. It takes a long and lightly traveled route across the Shira plateau to approach the base of Kibo. The trek on the Lemosho Route starts a few thousand feet lower in elevation than the neighboring Shira Route, and is thought to be the better for the sake of altitude acclimatization. This is the route that our group chose.
Shira Route: This route roughly parallels and begins further to the north of the Lemosho Route. It is also attractive because it is less traveled and takes the longer approach route across the Shira Plateau. However, most trekkers on the Shira Route are driven via four-wheel drive to a trailhead much higher in elevation than for the Lemosho Route. This can save trekking time for the clients, but at the risk of a too rapid ascent to higher elevations and problems with altitude sickness farther up the mountain. Only a few companies offer this route.
Summit Approach Routes
The routes listed above (except for the Marangu Route) generally offer two choices for the approach to the summit.
Barafu: The majority of people camp at Barafu Camp (15,100') before their summit bid. Trekkers usually begin their 4,100' climb around midnight. They climb in the cold temperatures and darkness up a steep slope of soft scree to the crater rim (at Stella Point). From there it is another one hour walk up a gentler slope to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the mountain. If things work-out perfectly, climbers see a beautiful sunrise from the peak. Climbers then descend 7,000' (Millennium Camp) or 9,000' feet (Mweka Camp). This approach route makes for a very difficult 12-18 hour day for most people.
Western Breach: An alternate approach to the summit is via the harder Western Breach route. Instead of hiking across the Barranco Valley to Barafu Camp, trekkers divert to the Arrow Glacier Camp at the base of the Western Breach. The climb up the Western Breach gains 2,800' in about 1.25 miles, on a very steep trail. There are a few sections of rock scrambling to climb on the Western Breach, so it is considered the more difficult approach. If covered by ice and snow, the Western Breach could be very intimidating. However, in the dry season, I was quite comfortable going up it. Under good conditions this is not considered a "technical climb."
Some groups begin their climb up the Western Breach at around midnight, and follow a schedule like the one described above (Barafu). However, many companies offer the choice of climbing the Western Breach during the daylight, and camping within the volcanic crater just below the peak. With this option, you can enjoy the spectacular views on the long, steep climb in the day time (and you can also see where you are hiking, which to me seems like a real plus).
We chose the daylight climb up the Western Breach, with an overnight at the Crater Camp. It was an amazing experience.
© Copyright 2005. Michael E. Coltrin, Albuquerque, NM. All rights reserved.