Day 1: Londorossi Gate (2100m, 6900ft) to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree Camp) (2820m, 9250ft)
- Distance: 5-6 kilometres, 3 miles
- Length of hike: 3-4 hours
Londorossi Gate is located on the far-west side of Kilimanjaro, entailing a 2-3 hour drive. On arrival, you will complete the necessary formalities at the gate. Accompanied by the usual waiting around to get going. Another lengthy and bumpy road takes you to the trail head at Lemosho Glades. You will probably eat your packed lunch before hitting the trail.
The hike leads you through some of the most beautiful montane forest. Wild orchids, and a large variety of flowers are in evidence, thanks to the vegetation being mostly untouched. Today’s hike can be steep in places and quite muddy. Being in the rainforest, it will be warm and humid. You may see Blue and Colobus Monkeys, and evidence of larger game. Look out for birdlife, as it is plentiful.
After around 3 hours you will arrive in camp. Mti Mkubwa means “Big Tree” in Swahili, and the camp is set up under an enormous tree. After tea, coffee and snacks you can prepare for dinner and your first night on the mountain.
After dinner, and a briefing of what to expect the next day, you will retire to your tent, hopefully for a good night’s sleep!
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa (2820m, 9250ft) to Shira Camp (3505m, 11,500ft)
- Distance: 9 kilometres, 5.5 miles
- Length of hike: 4-5 hours
Awake to the sounds of birds, eat a hearty breakfast and start the hike upwards and out of the forest zone into the heath and moorland zone. You will notice the vegetation change, from the lush rainforest, to the more ‘scrubby’ moorland species. Look out for the lobellias, the “red hot poker” flowers and the groundsels.
Today’s hike is tough. You are climbing up the Shira Ridge, and there will be plenty of rest stops to enjoy the environment and catch your breath. Stunning views of Kibo can be enjoyed from the ridges, and vast panoramic views of the moorland zone.
Once on top of Shira Ridge, you should be able to see your camp, down in the Caldera, and after a stop for lunch, you head downhill.
Shira Camp can be bitterly cold. Once the sun sets, you will be thankful for your warm sleeping bag. After dinner and a briefing, you will head to your bed. On a clear night with a moon, the view of Kibo from the campsite is nothing short of breathtaking.
Day 3 : Shira Camp (3505m, 11,500ft) to Moir Camp (4160m, 13,650ft)
This day will depend largely on your operator’s chosen route. There are various options after leaving Shira 1, some spend the night at Shira Huts, others go up to the rugged and barren Moir Camp, others stop at Fischer Camp, some head straight for Barranco, making for a very long day.
All the routes start by crossing the Shira Plateau, past the Shira Cathedral. A more gentle upward slope, giving a break from the steep sections of yesterday. You will pass by the Simba Cave campsite next to the Simba River, to Fischer Camp where many operators will stop for a hot lunch. Others may have you stop for lunch at Lava Tower, which is spectacular – you can see the Arrow Glacier and the side of the Western Breach from here.
After lunch at Fischer camp, you continue onto Moir camp which is 1-2 hours further.
From Lava Tower, you will most likely be heading to Barranco camp. (See tomorrow’s entry)
Spectacular views can be had on today’s hike, weather permitting, and you will see beautiful lobellias and senecios, especially around the river. As the day progresses, the landscape will become a lot more bleak and inhospitable. Being on the border of the moorland zone and high desert zone, there is still vegetation. Moir camp can seem quite rugged, with huge rocks as a backdrop and a sneaky peek of Kibo towering overhead.
You may start to feel some of the effects of altitude at Moir camp. It’s important to tell your guide if you feel unwell. Hopefully your operator is doing daily health checks and monitoring your acclimatization progress.
A cold night ahead, so be sure to bundle up and stay warm.
Day 4 : Moir Camp (4160m, 13,650ft) to Barranco Camp (3,900m, 12,950ft) via Lava Tower (4600m, 15,090ft)
- Length of hike: 5-8 hours depending on your route
Overall, you are going lower today. After going higher. The hike takes you up to Lava Tower, for some extra acclimatization, and then down to Barranco camp. This ‘walk high, sleep low’ is excellent for allowing the body to acclimatize. Today’s hike will be tough, as Lava Tower is at 15,000 ft and many people can feel at least some effects of the altitude here.
Hiking uphill from Moir Camp, through the high desert can be quite tough at this altitude. As some parts of the route are quite exposed, the wind can be cold, so be sure to take extra layers and gloves in your daypack.
Ascending to Lava Tower, a large volcanic plug, with the spectacular “Shark’s Tooth” formation nearby. Some people like to climb up Lava Tower and see the views from the top. It’s a steep scramble but well worth doing if your operator offers it and you are feeling fit and strong. From here you can see the Arrow Glacier on the Western Breach.
If you are heading to the summit via the Western Breach, from Lava Tower you will either spend one night here or head upwards to Arrow Glacier Camp, at the foot of the glacier.
After lunch at Lava Tower, you will descend into the Barranco valley back into the Heath and Moorland zone, passing through the Giant Senecio forest, lobelias, and other vegetation before arriving at camp. It feels quite lush compared to the bleak rocks at Moir Camp. Barranco camp is set on a ridge at the foot of the Barranco Wall. You will have to climb that tomorrow!
At this point, the Lemosho and Machame routes converge, so the route may be busier.
Day 5 : Barranco Camp (3,900m, 12,950ft) to Karanga Camp (3960m, 13,200ft)
- Distance: 6 kilometers, 3.5 miles
- Length of hike: 4-5 hours
After breakfast, you are faced with the Barranco Wall. This is a challenging climb, but it is not in the least technical. It’s a scramble, and you’ll need to use hands in a few places. At this altitude, it can feel quite tough, but you’ll get there.
Your guides are always around to help if you need it. The climb itself takes about an hour and a half, and once you get to the top of the Wall, you will have spectacular views of Kibo.
Several people get quite worried about the prospect of the Barranco Wall, but there have been no reports of falls from it, nor of anyone not being able to make it. If you’ve got this far and are in good shape, you’ll be fine!
Although be careful on the rocks – I managed to hit my knee quite hard (as you’ll see in my diary) and it was pretty sore for a day or so.
After this, you will descend into the Karanga Valley and up the other side for Karanga Camp. It’s a short day, even though the Wall is quite tough, and you’ll have plenty of time to rest up before tomorrow’s trek to Barafu Camp – your last camp before the summit!
Some operators spend two nights at Karanga, with acclimatization hikes on the “rest” day. This is not absolutely necessary, but the longer you have to acclimatize, the better you will feel on summit day.
Day 6 (or 7 subject to acclimatization day) : Karanga Camp (4023m, 13,200ft) to Barafu Camp (4680m, 15354ft)
A short, tough hike awaits you today. However, it’s worth remembering that Barafu Camp is at 4680m, and you were at Lava Tower (4600) two days ago, so you have done a “mini pre-acclimatization”.
Leaving from Karanga, it’s a steady uphill hike to Barafu Camp. Barafu means “ice” in Swahili, and it’s very windy, cold and exposed at this altitude. The relative comfort of Karanga gives way to bleak, black rocks and the stony cold at Barafu Camp.
Barafu is often a busy camp, but there is always a sense of excitement in the air, climbers coming back from the summit, some successful, some disappointedly unsuccessful. Be careful not to get injured at this camp, as there are lots of rocky outcrops and large stones just begging to twist an ankle for you.
Rest well, because the hardest day (or night) is yet to come.
Are you starting your summit attempt at midnight or tomorrow morning?
If you are heading off for a midnight departure, then be sure to eat a hearty dinner and get to bed by 7pm, as you’ll be woken at 11.30pm. By this point, you won’t be wanting to sit around in the freezing mess tent after dinner, your warm sleeping bag will be the most comfortable place to be.
For those of you starting out at dawn, you’ll hopefully have a comfortable sleep in spite of the wind, and probably being woken up by other groups leaving at midnight.
Barafu Camp (4680m, 15354ft) to Summit (to Crater Camp/Barafu or Mweka Camp)
Depending on your itinerary, you may have a night to spend at Crater Camp, or you may descend to Mweka camp after you have reached Uhuru Peak.
Today (or tonight, if you are leaving at midnight) is the toughest part of the climb. You’ll need all your physical, mental and emotional resilience. You’ll need to “dig deep” and keep pushing forwards. You’ll have the most stunning views of Mawenzi, whilst hiking through rocky outcrops and scree. Some of the rocks may have frozen and be icy – be careful!
The pace is very slow. Heed the advice of your guides “Pole Pole” (“slowly slowly”), there is no race to the summit. Keep a steady pace, at this altitude even one foot in front of the other is difficult.
Although steep, the route uses switchbacks through the scree, so it feels a little less ‘uphill’ than it actually is. It’s a tough day, you will probably pass people who are suffering from altitude sickness and are forced to descend. You may pass people vomiting. It’s now that your acclimatization really shows, those on shorter routes will be having a much harder time of it. Keep pushing and try to enjoy the incredible exertion.
Your mind needs to be strong, not to give up (unless of course you are ill, at which point you will need to descend). You need the mental stamina to push through the tough hike through the thin air.
Eventually you reach the rim of the crater. If you’ve ascended at night, this should be at dawn, for the daytime ascent, it will be at around lunchtime. You’ve done it! Stella Point! The crater rim of the Roof of Africa.
The view is dramatic. High above the clouds you can see the glaciers in the crater, the craggy peaks of Mawenzi and the more gentle slopes of Mt Meru. It is a magical place. It took a lot to get here, and it’s not over yet.
After a rest and something to eat at Stella Point, you continue upwards, along the crater rim, to the summit – Uhuru Peak. The view from the summit is spectacular. You may feel exhausted, emotional and without doubt very proud of your achievement. After taking photos and congratulating each other, it’s time to either descend to the Crater for the night or descend all the way to Mweka camp.
Not all operators do it, and it will depend on whether or not you are able to sleep at over 18,000 ft. You will need to be strong and well acclimatized to event attempt it. If you do, it is one of the most amazing experiences, camping among the glaciers, on top of Kilimanjaro. The following day you can visit the Ash Pit, the centre of the volcano.
Assuming you are not staying in the Crater, it’s time to begin the descent. So much preparation and focus is given to the climb, and little thought to the descent. It can be tough. Make sure your poles are the right length, tie your boots tightly to prevent your toes hitting the front of your boots.
Hiking back to Stella Point, you can take in the last views of the beautiful mountain you traveled across the world to climb. Following roughly the same route back to Barafu Camp, some people enjoy “skiing” on the scree on the way down, others take a more sedate pace.
If you left Barafu Camp at midnight, you should arrive back around lunchtime. At this point you will have some lunch and continue down to Mweka camp for the final night.
If you left Barafu Camp in the morning, you will be spending the night here before descending to Mweka in the morning.
Barafu Camp to Mweka/Millenium Camp
After a break at Barafu Camp it’s time to head downwards for your last night on the mountain. You may be feeling exhausted by this point, but stick with it, this part of the trek gets better as the Oxygen in the air increases.
Depending on the condition of your knees, the downhill can be pretty tough. Take it carefully, use those walking poles and just keep going. The worst – or best! – is over. With the ever-increasing oxygen supply your breathing will become easier and your energy reserves increase.
Final Day: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
A short 3-4 hour hike will take you to the gate. At this point, you will collect your certificate for either Uhuru Peak or Stella Point, and then bid farewell to your guides and porters. Now will be the time to give them their well-deserved tips.
From here you head back to your hotel, to your ‘normal’ life. Hot showers and a celebration dinner await.
See other Kilimanjaro Routes