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Climbing Kilimanjaro

mountain climbing

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Ascending Kilimanjaro offers a remarkable journey through diverse climates, ranging from tropical to arctic conditions, presenting both an exhilarating adventure and a physical challenge. The routes to the Uhuru peak traverse distinct ecological zones, each characterized by unique temperatures and wildlife. As climbers ascend, they encounter significant variations in temperature and environmental conditions, making for a memorable yet demanding experience.

Mount Kilimanjaro boasts five primary ecological zones, each spanning approximately 1,000 meters in altitude. With increasing elevation, climbers witness a gradual decrease in rainfall, temperature, and biodiversity. From lush tropical forests to alpine deserts, each zone offers its own set of challenges and rewards, contributing to the allure of the climb.

Among the five routes, the Marangu and Machame paths stand out as the most popular choices. However, the selection of a route depends on individual preferences and experience levels. The Umbwe route, characterized by dense forests and diverse wildlife, is the shortest but also the most challenging route. Climbers encounter small mammals and forest birds amidst towering trees and the imposing Baranco wall, making it a thrilling yet demanding ascent. When choosing a route, it’s essential to consider your abilities and preferences to ensure a safe and enjoyable climb.

The Routes For Kilimanjaro Climbing

Marangu Route: This route is also known as the “Coca Cola” Route and is the busiest route on the mountain. It uses the same route for ascending and descending and you stay in communal huts. The climb can be done in 5 days, but it is advisable to spend an extra night at Horombo Hut for more acclimatisation and therefore a better chance of summitting.

Machame Route: One of the more scenic routes up the mountain, after the Umbwe route, this is probably the most beautiful route by which to ascend the mountain. This is a 6-day climb, starting on the southwestern side of the mountain and descending on the southeastern side. It is a camping route and a nice option to consider on this route is to spend an extra night at Karanga valley for more acclimatisation time.

Umbwe Route: Probably the most beautiful route by which to ascend the mountain, it is slightly shorter than the other camping routes whilst still having good acclimatisation time. Ideal for the more serious hiker, as it is steeper and more strenuous than the Machame route. It is normally a six day climb and is a camping route.

Rongai Route: This route begins on the northern side of the mountain. It is one of the least travelled routes with a long drive to the starting point. It boasts fantastic views and the likelihood that you will be the only climbers. Descent is on the Marangu (Coca Cola route).

Lemosho Glades Route: This route begins on the western side of the mountain, and although it is a long drive to the starting point, your rewards are the possibility of seeing wildlife on the lower slopes and being the only climbers. A game ranger accompanies you for the first 2 days as there are elephant and buffalo on this side of the mountain. The climb can be done in six days, although it is more advisable to do the climb in 7 days.

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Climb Kilimanjaro

What does it take to climb to the highest point in Africa? Physical fitness and the right gear may get you some of the way but, as our guest Harry discovers, it is mental toughness that will take you all the way to the top.

This is Harry’s account of his trip:

It was my son’s idea. Really it was. When I told him back in January that I was planning to visit Tanzania for the fourth time, he said, “Dad, let’s do Kilimanjaro”. He had been fascinated by the mountain ever since he first saw it in 2016. Okay, me too. I admit it.

On the advice of friends in Tanzania, we contacted MyTanzaniaSafari.com. After much discussion with them and extensive research, we decided to climb the mountain via the Umbwe route. This was not a decision we took lightly. The Umbwe route is not for the faint of heart but its reputed beauty and isolation were our principal considerations.

And, I have to admit, the idea of doing something out of the ordinary was extremely attractive.

Although the rest of the family soon grew tired of hearing about our planned adventure, our enthusiasm was infectious enough to convince my brother-in-law, Will to join us. Now there would be the three of us.

The preparation

Our research revealed a treasure trove of information and led us to conclude there were three major factors that we could control that would enhance our chances of summiting a big mountain like Kilimanjaro.

The first was our level of fitness and acclimatisation to altitude. All of the tourist routes up Kilimanjaro are really hikes or treks, with perhaps a little of what would be classified in the US as Class 3 climbing (four-point scrambling). We knew to not underestimate the distances and the sheer relief we would encounter, not to mention the effect of altitude and the ever-present risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). But our research indicated that improving our levels of fitness, spending time at higher altitudes and drinking an awful lot of water were ways to improve the probability of summiting. Diamox, a drug that many people can tolerate, also helps to reduce the symptoms of AMS and we planned to take it.

I am 56 years old. I have maintained an active lifestyle but, like my 21-year-old son John and his uncle, Will, I was not much more than reasonably fit. But now we all had a significant motivation to change that – fear. We might not be able to summit. We needed to get in better shape, and fast!

I spent most of May, June and July hiking and climbing in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the US. Along with cross training on a mountain bike, I hiked at high altitude, climbing several of the Colorado 14’ers. (There are 56 peaks in Colorado higher than 14 000 feet – 4 300m – and it has become a popular pastime to “bag” a number of peaks.)

Both John and Ron joined me at different times and on different peaks. You never know how you will react to higher altitudes until you experience it. They each had a slight headache and a touch of light-headedness, having just come from sea level. I had a similar experience on my first 14’er of the summer, but found that the acclimatisation worked as I climbed more peaks. This was a very good test, because it was exactly what we would experience when we flew from our homes at sea level in Houston, Texas, to Kilimanjaro Airport.

Because of their work commitments, neither John nor Will had the luxury of training at altitude. John trained hard in Houston, running with a pack holding two to three times the weight he would carry up Kilimanjaro. Will works on a drilling rig far offshore Angola. Although truly at sea level, he climbed up and down the many steps on his oil rig, every chance he had. Each of us managed to trim a few excess kilograms – weight we certainly did not want to carry up the mountain.

For those of us living in cities, life is pretty easy. On a climb like this, you sleep on hard, unlevel ground. You get soaking wet in the rain forest or from the sweat from wearing too many clothes on the summit. Toilet facilities are limited and your bowels may not be in great shape. There is some hardship, privation and strenuous physical activity to endure. Of course, the reward is spectacular scenery – nature at its most fundamental – and the satisfaction of doing something that is hard and far from commonplace.

While I had read stories about those who don’t make it to the top, I did not realise how common it was to see people at Stella Point, less than 300m from the summit, heads in their hands, saying, “No more, I cannot make it…”

I also saw some very fit-looking people not make it to the top. I saw considerably more, who were physically ill prepared or with poor equipment, fail as well. We were resolved, that short of serious injury or illness, we would get to the top!

Kilimanjaro Climbing

  • Three volcanoes or cones, make up Mt Kilimanjaro – Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi

    Shira is the oldest and shorter cone of the three. Mawenzi, Mt Kilimanjaro’s smaller 2nd cone, is the 3rd highest point in Africa. Kibo is Mt Kilimanjaro’s summit crater. Uhuru Peak is on this cone.

  • Make sure that you allow yourself the time to rest and recuperate after a long flight so your body is ready for the climb

  • Invest in the expense and time of taking an extra day or two to allow your body to acclimatise well and improve your chances of summiting.

  • Take the right equipment

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  • Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in the world you can hike up as opposed to climb up with climbing equipment.

  • The highest peak (Uhuru Peak) is 5895m and this is the highest point in Africa.

  • Mt Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano. It was formed between two to three million years ago during the faulting of the Great Rift Valley.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

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