Overview of the Marangu Route:
Day 1 : Marangu Gate (1870m, 6135ft) to Mandara Huts (2,700m, 8858ft)
- Length of hike: 5-6 hours
After clearing formalities at Marangu gate which involves a lot of waiting around, watching the porters weighing all the gear, you’ll hit the trail through the montane forest. Passing through the rainforest, it’ll be warm and humid. You may have the opportunity to see Blue and Colobus monkeys on the trail. Most larger game will not be visible as the route can be busy.
The path leads steadily uphill with a few steep sections, but overall it should be a relatively easy day if you are in good shape. The forest will have beautiful flowers and birdlife.
After lunch your hike takes you further up the slope, past small waterfalls and streams. As you continue upwards after a brief lunch break you will reach Mandara Huts. At this point you are coming to the end of the forest zone and you will see the vegetation changing as you progress towards the Heath and Moorland zone.
Once at Mandara Huts, there should be tea, coffee, hot chocolate and some snacks available before you are reunited with your duffel bag and get ready for dinner. If you have time and energy, a short hike to the Maundi Crater gives spectacular views of Mawenzi. The adventure has begun! First night on the mountain.
Day 2 : Mandara Huts (2,700m, 8858ft) to Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft)
- Distance: 12 kilometres, 7 miles
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours
An early start leaves the forest behind, you will hike through the Heath and Moorland zone. The vegetation is notably different and amongst the rocks it can look bleak. There are some beautiful flowers, such as the ‘red hot poker’, lobellias and giant groundsels. The air is dryer and thinner as you make your ascent, and you may start to feel some effects of altitude.
It’s important to pace yourself on this day, eating regularly even if you are not hungry and drinking plenty of water. If the weather is fine, you will be rewarded with views of Mawenzi and Kibo – your destination!
It’s a long day, and although the path is good, it can be quite rocky in places. You will break for lunch on the trail before continuing to Horombo Huts.
Horombo is noticeably colder than at Mandara. It can be bitterly cold at night. Horombo is the busiest site on the mountain as the huts are used both for the ascent and the descent, as well as an acclimatization day, for those trekkers on the 6-day Marangu route. In addition, climbers on the Rongai route also camp here, though they have tents. Eat a hearty dinner and hunker down in your warm sleeping bag. If you feel any effects of altitude, it’s important to inform your guide.
Day 3 : Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft) to Kibo Hut (4703m, 15430ft) or Acclimatization day
- Distance: 10 kilometres, 6 miles
- Length of hike: 5-7 hours
If you are on the 6-day Marangu route, today will be an acclimatization day. You will “walk high, sleep low”, to assist your body in adapting to the altitude. I would highly recommend having this day, unless you’ve just climbed Mt Meru and are already pre-acclimatized to the altitudes ahead. It also gives your body a bit of a break before the grueling task ahead over the next two days.
You will go for a 4-5 hour hike up the southern slopes of Mawenzi, up to around 14,000ft. Amazing views of Kibo await you on a clear day, and the opportunity to see the Zebra Rocks. This additional day helps enormously with summit success rates, and if possible, don’t skip it!
For those not having a “rest” day, you will leave the last of the Moorland zone behind you, and hike up through the High Desert. Depending on how well acclimatized you are, the hike may be tough. You are going uphill across a few ridges until you reach the Saddle, an area between Kibo and Mawenzi – a rugged wilderness. Very cold, very inhospitable, but with incredible views of Kibo. It’s important to take it easy, drink plenty of water, rest when you need to, and eat even if you don’t feel like it. If you feel unwell at any point, you must inform your guide.
It’s an incredible experience hiking through this wilderness zone. Just you and the mountain. Ever closer to your goal. Make sure you have your clothing layers to hand, so that when you stop for lunch you do not get cold.
After lunch, the path gets steeper, and you will pass the last water point. Be sure to fill up your water bottles/Camelbak. Eventually you will arrive at Kibo Hut. This is the “basecamp” for your summit attempt. A short night’s sleep ahead of you and then possibly the longest day of your life!
Try to eat a hearty dinner and get to bed by 7pm, as you will be woken up at around 11-11.30pm to start your climb at around midnight.
Day 4/5 : Kibo Hut (4703m, 15430ft) to Uhuru Peak: Summit! (5895m, 19341ft) then descend to Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft).
15 kilometers, 8 miles DOWN
- Length of hike: 6-8 hours UP
- 5-8 hours DOWN
You will be woken with tea and biscuits and start your hike around midnight, with a headtorch to light your way. Hopefully you’ve managed to get some sleep, as you’ll need all your mental and physical stamina for what lies ahead.
You’ll start on a rocky path, which may be frozen in parts. Slowly picking your way upwards, the route is steep and tiring, using switchbacks. You will pass Hans Meyer Cave after about 2-2.5 hours. The most important part of this climb is just to keep moving forwards, slowly. Keep drinking water and eating snacks if you can stomach them. Stopping to rest will make you cold and make starting again more difficult. One foot in front of the other. At this altitude, even a few steps can feel exhausting, so find a rhythm that suits you and push forwards. Some parts of the trail are very exposed, and the wind can certainly makes these areas quite unpleasant!
Around daybreak, you should be nearing Gilman’s Point, after the last scramble over the rocks to the Crater Rim. At 5685m, you are very near your goal. And you are on the rim of the Kibo Crater!
After what you’ve been through the past few hours, congratulations are certainly in order. Whilst not the highest point of the Crater Rim (that’s Uhuru Peak), you are officially on the Roof of Africa. You’ve made it!
Another hour, hour and a half along the crater rim and you will arrive at Uhuru Peak. Passing the glaciers, stark in their icy-whiteness against the black volcanic rock. On a clear day the brilliant blue sky makes these pictures far more dramatic than any photos can capture. The thin air, the exhilaration of your achievement and the drama of the landscape makes for an unforgettable experience.
After you’ve taken your photographs and rested a little at the Summit… off you go again. This time downhill. Take care hiking downhill to Gillman’s point. You’ll be tired, the altitude is extreme, and you don’t want to fall or get injured at this point. After Gillman’s point it’s a long, hard downhill slog back to Kibo Huts for late breakfast/early lunch.
Be sure to tie your shoelaces tight, or your toes will hurt from hitting the front of your boots. Use your walking poles to save your knees. We focus so much on the uphill part of this climb, but the downhill can be equally grueling.
After a bite to eat at Kibo Hut, it’s another 3-4 hours to Horombo Huts. What’s wonderful about this part of the trek is that as you descend, your body gets the wonderful Oxygen it’s been fighting for since last night. As the Oxygen floods your blood, you should feel more energy for the last part of your day.
Arriving at Horombo Huts you’ll have your final dinner on the mountain and reflect on your achievement. After such a long day, you should sleep soundly, in spite of any snoring hut-mates!
Day 5/6 : Horombo Huts (3720m, 12,200ft) to Marangu Gate (1870m, 6135ft).
- Distance: 20 kilometres, 12 miles
After breakfast, you descend on the same path you came up, to Mandara Huts where you break for lunch. Then continue to the gate. Be sure to use your walking poles to save your knees, and cover any blisters you may find after yesterday’s long hike.
Once at the gate, you will be presented with your Certificate of Achievement for either Gilman’s Point or Uhuru Peak. This is where you will say goodbye to your guides and porters, and give them their well-deserved tips.
From here you head off to your hotel, for a celebration dinner and the contemplation of your amazing achievement. The adventure on the mountain is over, and all that remains are the stories and memories of this beautiful landscape.