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Climb Kilimanjaro with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Kilimanjaro: A Complete Trekker's Guide
Availability
Available as eBook
Published
11 Feb 2015
ISBN
9781852844134
Edition
First
Size
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.7cm
Weight
350g
Pages
256
No. Maps
26
No. Photos
107
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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Description

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

www.airtanzania.com > www.airtanzania.co.tz

In Appendix B: Accommodation

www.kilimanjarocranehotelsandsafaris.com > www.kilimanjarocranehotel.com

www.springlands.co.tz > www.springlandshotel.com

In Appendix C: Useful addresses

Kilimanjaro Mountain Club: www.geocities.com/thetropics/island/8543/kilimanjaro.html
> www.kiliweb.com/kmc.html

In Appendix D: Bibliography and Further Reading

www.tanzania.gov.tz > www.tanzania.go.tz
 

Contents

PART 1 – INTRODUCTION AND PRACTICALITIES
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
Accommodation
Language
Maps
Equipment
Insurance
Health Considerations
Pre-Trek Health
On-Trek Health and Safety
Mountain Sickness (AMS
Diamox
Acclimitisation Trek – Mt Meru
Momela Route
Selecting an Outfitter
Guides and Porters
Tipping
Environmental and Cultural Considerations
Using this Guide

PART 2 – THE STORY OF KILIMANJARO
People of the Region
The Chagga
The Maasai
Origin of the Mountain’s Name
Exploration

PART 3 – NATURAL HISTORY
Geology and Vulcanology
Glacial Recession
Climate
Animal and Plant Life
Lower Slopes
Forest Zone
Heath/Moorland Zone
Highland Desert Zone
Summit Zone

PART 4 – CLIMBING KILIMANJARO

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

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

Introduction

Every morning at about 8.30am, a battered combie van leaves from a small depot opposite the Norfolk Hotel on Harry Thuku Road in Nairobi. More than likely, some of the passengers aboard the shuttle will be trekkers. If all goes smoothly and the combie doesn’t succumb to punctures or potholes, it will rattle into the town of Moshi, in Tanzania, some six hours later. Moshi is a pleasant if unremarkable town which is of little specific interest to the trekkers on the shuttle bus. It is, however, the first stop for many of them on their way to Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. The massive bulk of the mountain dominates the town, looming over it like a colossus. To the uninitiated, it is quite a shock to be confronted by this new image of Africa.

East Africa is most often perceived as a flat, arid savannah. Famous for its wildlife safaris and coastal resorts, it is also an extraordinary destination for lovers of mountains, trekking and climbing. The history of walking in East Africa is relatively young and the area is rich in potential – the high mountains are the last secret places of the region. Walking on the high mountains of East Africa banishes the notion that Africa is only covered in tawny grasslands. As a result of its tremendous height and its location on the equator, Kilimanjaro’s slopes are host to lush tropics, temperate climes, alpine moorland as well as barren high-alpine desert and permanently snow-capped summits.

The mountains of East Africa stand as solitary peaks above the surrounding plains. The single greatest attraction is, of course, Kilimanjaro. One of the world’s highest volcanoes and the world’s highest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro is a powerful visual symbol and a quintessential African image. Rolf Edberg was moved to write that ‘Its might is strangely weightless. At a distance, the mountain can seem ethereal. When the sun is low and the clouds light, the mountain with its white-shimmering cap seems at times to be floating in space. At such moments, Kilimanjaro seems almost supernatural in its beauty.’  The rounded, glacier-clad dome of Kibo is home to Uhuru Peak, the mountain’s summit, whilst the shattered, jagged spires of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second summit, rear up across the blasted, desolate Saddle. At 5895m, the square summit of Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and, concequently, one of the coveted Seven Summits. Yet it is possible to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro without any technical climbing ability. Would-be mountaineers hoping to top one of the Seven Summits naturally gravitate towards Kilimanjaro. With its readily accessible, non-technical slopes, abundance of porters and relatively mild weather, the climb to the summit is considered a moderately easy ascent in mountaineering circles. Yet surprisingly few people make it to the top.

Among treks in East Africa, Kilimanjaro is a massive personal challenge in defiance of the extreme altitude. Walkers climbing the mountain move from the lush tropics, through temperate climes, alpine moorland and barren high-alpine desert to permanently snow-capped summits, and back, in the course of only five or six days. This ascent is intensely gratifying and enlightening. Those who visit will be amply rewarded by what they encounter: diverse and colourful scenery, stunning natural beauty, endemic flora, warm and friendly locals and a unique sense of isolation. This last impression is reinforced by the knowledge that only a little more than 150 years ago this vast mountain was part of geographers’ legend and remained unseen or unclimbed by Europeans, let alone accessible within six hours from Nairobi.

The ascent of Kilimanjaro is a gruelling, classic trek with magnificent views that are unmatched in Africa. The real magic of the mountain is its stunning beauty and fascinating natural history. To make the most of your trek, walk slowly with your eyes open and you’ll come home with something far more important than a summit certificate.

Choosing a Route


This book is a guide to all of the trekking routes on Kilimanjaro. It describes in depth the six approach routes through the forest and heath/moorland zones, 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. It also details the available descent routes. Each of these routes will reward the visitor with stunning panoramas and an incredible variety of scenic wonders.

Following the initial trickle of climbers to these slopes, the number of people attempting to reach the highest point in Africa has risen to over 20,000 per year. Such a statistic may horrify you. The image of immense crowds of walkers and their porters traipsing across the slopes and the thought of squalid, cramped campsites and of broad, eroded trails strewn with litter are indeed horrific. Thankfully, the reality is very different and every visitor to these slopes ought to strive to ensure that this remains the case.

It is essential to select the route that is most appropriate for you. Be aware of the scenic variety, remoteness and popularity of each route, but most importantly, when choosing your ascent route, be aware of the degree of difficulty of that route. Don’t let a false sense of bravado or an overestimation of your ability allow you to select a route that is beyond your capabilities. If you are inexperienced, less fit, have never been to altitude or have previously struggled at altitude, you should tend towards one of the easier routes and consider the Marangu or Rongai Route.

If you are fitter, have some experience of walking and being at altitude you may wish to consider the Machame, Shira or Lemosho approach routes coupled with an ascent to the summit via the Barafu Route. If you are very fit and properly acclimatised you might like to consider one of the tougher ascent routes, such as the Umbwe Route, in conjunction with an assault on the Western Breach.

Kilimanjaro's Routes


There are six official trekking routes on Kilimanjaro that provide a range of opportunities for experiencing the mountain. 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 most common ascent is via the Marangu Route. This relatively easy five-day trip ascends Kilimanjaro from the south-east. The lower sections provide fine forest and moorland walking. The lunar landscape of the Saddle then leads to the foot of Kibo, from where the final summit bid is undertaken via the Normal/Marangu Route. You descend this route by retracing your steps. This is the only route on which all overnight stops are made in purpose built huts. Since this is the shortest and cheapest route on the mountain, it is frequently very busy and there is the risk that the facilities along the trail can become stretched.

The second most popular ascent route is the Machame Route. This longer, six-day climb is harder and more spectacular. It climbs Kilimanjaro from the south-west and enjoys some of the finest forest and heath/moorland scenery on the mountain. The final push to the summit is via either the tricky Western Breach or, more usually, the Barafu Route. The stipulated descent route for this path is the Mweka Route. Increasingly popular and recently renovated, this path is no longer the wilderness experience that it once was. Nonetheless it constitutes an exceptional, fully rounded expedition.

Of the more unusual ascent routes, the Rongai Route is the easiest. This six-day climb is an excellent alternative to the Marangu Route 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 north-east. The path coils across the lower slopes and detours via Mawenzi, allowing you to explore this extraordinary second summit area more fully than on any other route. It then makes the final summit bid via the Normal/Marangu Route. Descent from the mountain is along the Marangu Route. Less heavily used and exceptionally scenic, the Rongai Route is a very fine outing on Kilimanjaro.

The Umbwe Route is the most direct, strenuous ascent route. Climbing stiffly through the thick forest on the southern slopes of the mountain, it rapidly gains height and affords you little time to acclimatise properly. The summit bid is often made via the Western Breach, but is sometimes conducted via the Barafu Route. Regardless, descent is via the Mweka Route. For those who are fit and fully acclimatised, this is probably the most dramatic way to climb Kilimanjaro and experience many of its finest vistas. It must not be underestimated though, since it poses a very real challenge.

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. The more enjoyable Lemosho Route is fractionally longer and allows you to ascend to the plateau on foot, where as the Shira Route begins much higher on the mountain and accesses the plateau by 4WD vehicle. Both paths then either climb to the summit via the Western Breach or, more frequently, traverse the mountain beneath the Southern Icefields to ascend via the Barafu Route. Descent is once more along the Mweka Route. The Lemosho Route is longer than any other route on the mountain, and whilst being more expensive offers the best opportunity to acclimatise properly ahead of the summit bid. The isolation and space enjoyed as a result of the remoteness of both trailheads means that these are very good ways of escaping the crowds, at least on the early stages of the climb.

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.

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