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Climb Kilimanjaro with a Cicerone guidebook

Cover of Kilimanjaro: A Complete Trekker's Guide
Available as eBook
11 Feb 2015
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.7cm
No. Maps
No. Photos
1st Published
1 Nov 2004
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Kilimanjaro: A Complete Trekker's Guide

Ascent preparations, practicalities and trekking routes to the 'Roof of Africa'

by Alex Stewart
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook containing descriptions of all the trekking routes on Kilimanjaro. It contains the mountain's 6 ascent routes, three summit ascents, the Circuit Path and the descent paths. Kilimanjaro towers 5km above the savannah but it is possible to reach the 5895m summit without any technical climbing ability.

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Kilimanjaro is not just a national park and a World Heritage Site; it’s Africa’s highest mountain, the world’s tallest freestanding massif and one of the world’s largest volcanoes. This snow-capped dormant volcano towers almost 5km above Tanzania’s savannah yet it is possible to reach the 5895m summit without any technical climbing ability.

This classic African trek passes through cloud forest, alpine moorland, high desert and a barren summit zone to reach Uhuru Peak. There are six official trekking routes on Kilimanjaro that provide a range of opportunities for experiencing the mountain, all of which are described in this guidebook. It also contains descriptions for the Circuit Path (which offers an alternative to ascending to the mountain’s top and circumnavigates Kibo at 4000m) and the three summit routes leading to Uhuru Peak. The descent routes are also detailed. Each of these routes will reward the visitor with stunning panoramas and an incredible variety of scenic wonders.

All walkers must follow one of these established paths. All of the ascents are quite difficult by virtue of the altitude, but some are harder than others.

The Marangu Route is a relatively easy five day trip that ascends Kilimanjaro from the southeast. The lower sections provide fine forest and moorland walking.

The Machame Route is a longer, six day climb that is harder and more spectacular. It climbs Kilimanjaro from the southwest and enjoys some of the finest forest and heath/moorland scenery on the mountain.

One of the more unusual ascent routes, the Rongai Route is the easiest. This six day climb is an excellent alternative for those who don’t feel capable of undertaking one of the more strenuous climbs. This is the only path that approaches the summit from the northeast.

Both the Shira and Lemosho Routes approach the mountain from the west. They are variations on the same trail and merge above the forest on the Shira Plateau.

For those who are fit and fully acclimatised, the Umbwe Route is the most dramatic way to climb Kilimanjaro and experience many of its finest vistas. It is the most direct and strenuous ascent route. Climbing stiffly through thick forest on the southern slopes of the mountain, it rapidly gains height and affords you little time to acclimatise properly. It must not be underestimated as it poses a very real challenge.

For those less concerned about claiming the summit’s scalp, the Circuit Path that circumnavigates Kibo at around 4000m is an outstanding way to enjoy the mountain and explore some of its least visited features. The South Circuit Path is a superb traverse that provides you with fine panoramas of the Southern Icefields, whilst the North Circuit Path is very remote and rarely used, allowing you to enjoy the mountain in peace.  

Kilimanjaro attracts a great number of trekkers who have never undertaken a multi-day walk, and certainly haven’t contemplated doing so at altitude. The mountain’s environment is regularly underestimated and the result can be fatal. Although many hundreds of people reach the summit without incident, many more don’t make it because they fail to prepare and ascend too quickly and suffer from altitude sickness. Uhuru Peak is several hundred metres higher than Everest Base Camp and so needs physical preparation to achieve.

  • Seasons
    Two dry seasons - mid-December to March and July to early October. Possible at rainy times, but who wants to climb in clouds and downpours on a hill like Kilimanjaro?
  • Centres
    Flights into Nairobi in Kenya, Dar es Salaam or Kili airport. Outfitter normally based in Arusha or Moshi.
  • Difficulty
    Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, but the normal trekking routes are not technically difficult. Altitude and acclimatisation are the main problems and AMS can kill if not taken seriously.
  • Must See
    Dawn over Africa from the summit, the natural environment, the Crater.

August 2014

Since the latest printing of this guide the following websites have changed as follows:

In the Introduction >

In Appendix B: Accommodation > >

In Appendix C: Useful addresses

Kilimanjaro Mountain Club:

In Appendix D: Bibliography and Further Reading >


Choosing a Route
Kilimanjaro’s Routes
Costs and Budgeting
When to Go
Pre-Departure Preparation
Getting There
By Air
By Land
Permits and Visas
Tanzanian Visas
Kenyan Visas
Health Considerations
Pre-Trek Health
On-Trek Health and Safety
Mountain Sickness (AMS
Acclimitisation Trek – Mt Meru
Momela Route
Selecting an Outfitter
Guides and Porters
Environmental and Cultural Considerations
Using this Guide

People of the Region
The Chagga
The Maasai
Origin of the Mountain’s Name

Geology and Vulcanology
Glacial Recession
Animal and Plant Life
Lower Slopes
Forest Zone
Heath/Moorland Zone
Highland Desert Zone
Summit Zone


Ascent Routes
A: Marangu Route
B: Umbwe Route
C: Machame Route
D: Lemosho Route
E: Shira Route
F: Rongai Route
Alternative Five-day Rongai Route

Circuit Paths
G: South Circuit Path
H: North Circuit Path

Summit Ascent Routes
I: Normal/Marangu Route
J: Barafu Route
K: Western Breach Route

The Summit

Descent Routes
L: Marangu Route
M: Mweka Route
N: Alternative Mweka Route

Appendix A – Ascent Route Comparison Chart
Appendix B – Accommodation
Appendix C – Useful Addresses
Appendix D – Bibliography and Further Reading
Appendix E – Language Glossary

Further Reading

There has been a great deal written about Kilimanjaro over the years, from early explorer’s accounts of their expeditions to contemporary, glossy, coffee-table style accounts of trips up the mountain.

Perhaps the best-known title is Ernest Hemmingway’s celebrated short story, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ (first published by Jonathan Cape in 1939 and later reproduced by Arrow in 1994). Written in 1936, two years after Hemmingway returned from his first African safari, it tells the story of a wealthy writer on safari, who has contracted gangrene in his leg and is dying in the shadow of the great peak. The gangrene in his leg forces him to confront the fact that he has betrayed his vocation and frittered away his literary talent on a life of luxury. He realises that he will never produce anything as enduring or enchanting as the brilliance of the snow capped summit nearby. The story celebrates, and made famous, the leopard found frozen on the summit. The leopard’s upward exploration, whilst not explained, stands for artistic endeavour and its frozen carcass remains as a testament.

The book was made into a 1952 film, starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner and a giant painting of Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. Rewritten in order to guarantee a happy ending, whereby the protagonist recovered from gangrene and resolved to not let his literary talent go to waste, the film outraged Hemmingway who railed at this version of his vision.

Interestingly, Hemmingway never actually climbed Kilimanjaro, and only came close to it when flying to Arusha.

The following books provide a broad commentary on Kilimanjaro. Some of them, particularly the older expedition accounts, are out of print and can only be found in second hand bookshops or the British Library:

Peter Beard, The End of the Game (Thames and Hudson, 1988)
Pointed photographic and narrative account of the decimation of African wildlife and the African landscape.

Stephen Carmichael, Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (Medi-Ed Press, 2002)
Plenty of pre-departure guidelines and advice as to what to take, but contains no details relating to the mountain or the routes upon it.

Richard and Nicholas Crane, Bicycles up Kilimanjaro (Oxford Illustrated Press, 1985)
An account of mountain biking to the summit of Kilimanjaro in order to raise money for a charity project looking to build windmills to pump water in East Africa.

Charles Dundas, Kilimanjaro and Its People (H, F and G Witherby, 1924 / Frank Cass and Co, 1968)
Very authoritative, fascinating description of the Chagga people, their daily lives and rituals.

Rolf Edberg, The Dream of Kilimanjaro (Pantheon, 1976)
Recounts his pilgrimage to the Rift Valley and contains a digression on the development and evolution of mankind in Africa.

H H Johnston, The Kilima-njaro Expedition (Kegan Paul, 1886)
A record of scientific exploration by the explorer and administrator who was to effect a series of treaties with local chiefs and preempt the founding of the British East Africa protectorate. Contains some fanciful details but also good descriptions of the natural history, ethnology and the commercial prospects of the region.

Peter MacQueen, In Wildest Africa (LC Page, 1909)
A record of his hunting and exploration expedition in East Africa at the time of the German occupation. Includes an account of his ill-fated ascent to the snowfields on Kilimanjaro.

Hans Meyer, Across East African Glaciers: the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro (G Philip and son, 1891)
A fantastically detailed, enlightening account of the first ascent of Kilimanajro. Beautifully illustrated.

Charles New, Life, Wanderings and Labours in East Africa (Hodder and Stoughton, 1873)
Interesting account of New’s time on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and of his encounters with the Chagga.

David Pluth, Kilimanjaro – The Great White Mountain of Africa (Camerapix, 2001)
Photographic book detailing the history and appeal of Kilimanjaro. Lyrical text and good photographs describe the main routes on the mountain in brief.

Johannes Rebmann, Church Missionary Intelligencer articles, Vol 1, May 1849 (Seeleys, 1850)
First reports of Rebmann’s three trips to the Kilimanjaro region and his assertion that there was indeed snow on the equator.

John Reader, Kilimanjaro (Elm Tree Books, 1982)
Outstanding photographic guide to the mountain, that also contains detailed historical and geological sections.

Rick Ridgeway, The Shadow of Kilimanjaro: On Foot Across East Africa (Bloomsbury, 1998)
An incredible journey that in the course of a month took him up and over Kilimanajro, across the plains of Tsavo to the coast. Well written, it provides a good ground-level view of East Africa both past and present.

Geoffrey Salisbury, The Road to Kilimanjaro (Minerva, 1997)
Contains an account of an expedition led by Salisbury that took a group of eight blind African children up Kilimanjaro along the Loitokitok Route.

Audrey Salkeld, Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa (National Geographic Books, 2001)
Sumptuous coffee-table book full of contemporary photographs. Text describes the history and background to the mountain as well as details an ascent of Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route in the company of an IMAX film crew.

Neville Shulman, On Top of Africa: the Climbing of Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya (Element, 1993)
Spiritual tinged trekker’s tale of climbing Kilimanjaro.

Eva Stuart Watt, Africa’s Dome of Mystery (Marshall, Morgan and Scott Ltd, 1930)
An early descriptive account of the Wachagga people and of an ascent to Kibo’s crater rim by a young colonial.

Rob Taylor, The Breach: Kilimanjaro and the Conquest of Self (Wildeyes, inc, 1981)
An account of Taylor’s 1978 attempt to climb the Breach Wall, which ended in disaster and resulted in Taylor making a daring escape from the mountain many days after his accident. Highly contentious at the time of publication, it provoked strong reactions and disagreements with his companion on the climb.

Wilfred Thesiger, My Kenya Days (Harper Collins, 1994)
Autobiography detailing Thesiger’s 30 years in Kenya. Includes an account of his ascent of Kilimanjaro.

HW Tilman, Snow on the Equator (Bell and Son Books, 1937) Reproduced in ‘The Seven Mountain Travel Books’ (Baton Wicks, 2003)
Rumbustuous account of Tilman’s failed ascent of Kilimanjaro with Eric Shipton in 1930 and his later solo success in 1933.


Iain Allen, Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro (Mountain Club of Kenya, 1998)
An excellent guide to both mountains that is primarily designed for climbers, although it does detail the trekking routes on each mountain.

Cameron Burns, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, A Climbing and Trekking Guide (Mountaineers/Cordee, 1998)
Good guide to tackling the more extreme climbing routes on both mountains. Also contains practical information and descriptions of the trekking routes available.

Henry Stedman, Kilimanjaro (Trailblazer, 2003)
Comprehensive guide to the mountain and the surrounding towns. Contains descriptions of most of the routes on Kilimanjaro. Also has good sections relating to Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Arusha and Moshi.

TANAPA, Kilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania National Parks, 1987)
Only available in Tanzania. S lightly dated but still very useful pamphlet that describes the history, flora and fauna and main routes in brief detail.

David Hosking, Wildlife of East Africa (Harper Collins, 2002)
Straightforward, illustrated checklist of the animals most frequently encountered on a trip to Africa

Ber Van Perlo, Birds of Eastern Africa (Harper Collins, 1995)
Useful introduction and checklist for bird spotting in the region.

Dale Zimmerman, Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania (Christopher Helm, 2001)
High quality, illustrated guide to the bird species found in this region.

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