75,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year so it is not the most untouched mountain, nor is it the most arduous. However, it is certainly a test of one’s endurance, with altitude sickness the main reason for climbers not to summit. Although it has become a very popular challenge and the experience slightly crowded with other climbers, we still highly recommend it for anyone with even a vague interest in mountaineering.
Mt Kilimanjaro is located in North Tanzania next to some of the top safari parks in Africa, so while making an ascent its rude not to pop infor a few days to experience the Serengeti, Ngorongoro or Tarangire.
There are hundreds of operators that work on Mount Kilimanjaro but over the years we have decided to work with only 2 companies based on their safety track record, guides and cost. Climbing Kilimanjaro is potentially very dangerous so its important to be with the right company!
Kilimanjaro represents a powerful life force for the local Chagga people and all those who have made their lives around this mountain, providing rich volcanic soils for agriculture and an endless source of pure spring waters.
Where is Mount Kilimanjaro
The cloud-swathed peaks of Africa’s highest mountain inspire climbers of all ages and abilities. This magnificent, still partially ice-capped peak crowns fantastically lush volcanic slopes, with plenty of wildlife interest along the lower forest trails. Climbs can be arranged up a variety of different routes, and with various options for accommodation. It is worth having the time to enjoy the climb and acclimatise.
We tend to run trips up the two main, more commonly used routes; Marangu (known as the Coca-Cola route) takes 4 nights (or 5 nights including an extra night of acclimatization), and the quieter Machame Route takes 5 nights (or 6 nights including an extra night of acclimatization). Nearby Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth highest peak, is a 3 or 4 day round trip.
One of the most amazing aspects of the mountain in the present day is the accessibility of its peak to climbers with no mountain climbing equipment or real previous experience of scaling such heights. Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain that regular tourists can climb, although it remains a considerable feat of human endurance!
The breathable oxygen at the top is less than half the amount than is common at sea level, and climbers cover at least eighty kilometres on nothing but their own two feet over the five days it takes to reach the top and return.
The ever increasing number of climbers has made it necessary for the National Park to insist that all climbs are pre-booked, and passes are no longer issued at the last minute at the park gate.
Overall Fitness Required
Although it is possible to simply trek a route to the pinnacle of Kibo without relying on professional climbing equipment, it remains a hard and serious endeavour that requires a level of physical fitness, stamina and a realistic awareness of the potentially damaging effects of high altitudes. Many tour operators request that clients consult a doctor before attempting to scale the mountain, and have a physical check-up for overall fitness.
Phases of the Climb
First Stage, Tropical Forest
With most of the old lowland forest now cultivated and settled, the first experience of the mountain environment begins with the dense vegetation of tropical montane forest between 1850m and around 2800m.
Cloud condensation mainly gathers around the forest, so this area is usually damp or drenched with rainfall, creating an intriguing mass of plant life and running rivers between endemic tree species. The area of heath just beyond the tree line also enjoys a relatively misty and damp environment as cloud clings around the density of trees. This is covered with heather and shrubs such as Erica Arborea and Stoebe Kilimandsharica, and a number of dramatic looking Proteas.
From around 3,200m a wide expanse of moorland extends beyond the heath and the cloud line, so that here the skies are generally clear, making the sunshine intense during the days and the nights cool and clear.
The climbing incline remains gentle, but thinning oxygen provides less fuel to energise the muscles and can dramatically slow the pace of walking. Hardy endemic species of Giant Groundsels (Senecio) and Lobelia (Deckenii) towering up to 4m high thrive in this moorland zone and give the landscape a strangely primeval atmosphere.
Alpine Desert, Sparse Vegetation
Even higher, beyond 4,000m, oxygen levels are depleted further as the landscape develops into a more bizarre alpine desert, with sandy loose earth. Weather conditions are so intense and temperature fluctuations so dramatic that barely any plant species survive other than everlasting flowers, mosses and lichens. Only the odd lichen survives beyond 5000m, after Kibo Huts and beyond the Saddle, where the landscape is predominantly rock and ice fields. Here, climbers experience the final steep push to the summit.
Saddle to Summit
The easterly routes, Marangu, Mweka, Loitokitok and Rongai all converge west of the saddle near Gillmans Point, between the peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo. Kibos crater is roughly circular with an inner cone extending to 5,800m, (100m lower than the summit at Uhuru Peak).
At the centre an inner crater with walls between 12 and 20 m high contains another concentric minor cone, the centre of which falls away into the 360m span of the ash pit. This is the 120 metre deep central core of the volcano, and casts sulphurous boiling smoke from its depths despite the frozen, snowy outskirts.
Tanzania safari extensions
Having gone all the way to climb Kilimanjaro, most climbers choose to extend their trip with a Tanzanian safari or even some beach time in Zanzibar or on the mainland coast.