When it comes to scaling the world’s highest freestanding mountain, there are many things you need to consider. Equipment, time of year, your fitness levels, what pose you’re going to pull at the top and how on earth you’re going to climb to a dizzying height of 5,895 m (19,340 feet) above sea level (ASL). But one thing many hikers fail to look into is the many routes up Kili and how each one can make or break your attempts to summit it. Luckily, at Wild Frontiers we have put together a handy little guide for each route with the climb duration, difficulty rating, scenery rating and distance covered to reach the summit on each route (if you go ‘pole-pole’ of course).
|Climb Duration||Difficulty||Scenery||Distance Covered to Uhuru Peak|
|Marangu||5 - 6 days||3/5||3/5||70 KM (43.5 miles)|
|Rongai||6 - 7/8 days||3/5||4/5||72 KM (44.7 miles)|
|Machame||6 - 7 days||4/5||5/5||62 KM (38.5 miles)|
|Lemosho||7 - 8 days||4/5||5/5||67 KM (41.6 miles)|
|Shira||7 - 8 days||5/5||5/5||66 KM (41 miles)|
|Umbwe||6 days||5/5||3/5||51 KM (51.7 miles)|
Marangu Route (Coca-Cola Route)
Ironically, the Marangu route is considered one of the easiest routes to Uhuru Peak, but it has low success rates. This has to do with the short climb duration and a very rapid ascent profile. The low success rate may also be a case of climbers anticipating an easy climb. To increase your chances of summiting successfully, a climb high sleep low option is suggested to Mawenzi Peak.
The route itself confines hikers to one area of the mountain and is not considered as pretty as the other routes, but Marangu does have huts along the entire route which shield you from the cold better than a tent. It is very crowded and you use the same path up and down which detracts from its beauty, but it has the longest rainforest section of the routes. It is generally the cheapest route to hike due to its proximity to Moshi and therefore the most popular way to climb Kili.
Rongai offers 6, 7 or 8 day climb variations and is the only route that starts on the Kenyan side of the mountain. The route is flatter and dryer. That being said, it is not a route to look at with contempt. Six day ascents are often considered too rapid for novice climbers, but adding an additional night (climb high and sleep low) will help you acclimatise adequately.
Rongai takes you through many unspoiled areas with the possibility of seeing wildlife in the first few days. It is more expensive than Machame and Marangu, as the gate is far from Moshi and requires a long day of driving before you can start the climb. If you have the budget, but are unsure of your fitness going on the other routes then we recommend Rongai as a great alternative to Marangu and its crowded slopes.
Machame Route (Whiskey Route)
Machame’s climb high, sleep low option is considered the best on Mount Kilimanjaro. The route is credited with good acclimatisation and high success rates. If you are a little uncertain of your fitness levels and are a novice climber, then the 7 day variation is suggested. If you are an experienced high-altitude climber, then the 6 day variation is considered suitable.
Machame is the second most popular route up Kili and in comparison to Marangu has more variety in terms of routes up the mountain. This helps Machame score a 5 on scenery as you get to see Shira Plateau, Barranco Wall and Lava Tower. It is also a harder hike than Marangu so it is generally used by more serious hikers looking for a challenge.
Lemosho offers the most climb variations of all the routes on Kili. Climbers can opt for 6, 7 or 8 day climbs. That being said, it is also the most expensive of the routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. Lemosho has a great route altitude profile and high success rates. This is mostly due to a slow start for the first 3 to 4 days. If you elect to take the Northern Circuit from day three you will usually lengthen your Kilimanjaro climb by 2 to 3 days for a total of 8 or 9 days on the mountain.
Hikers only emerge from the rainforest at the end of day two and traverse most of the microclimates on the way up Kili including crossing the vast and beautiful Shira Plateau (you may even spot some buffalo or elephants in the forest towards the base of the mountain). You will also traverse the Lemosho Glades – an overgrown expanse of grass, due to the low number of climbers on the mountain. Again, if you have the budget, it is an amazing way to climb Kili and you’ll barely see a soul on the mountain until the descent.
The Shira Route doesn’t vary a great deal from Lemosho. In fact, the Shira route was the original route and then the Lemosho route was established as an improved successor. Climbers start at a much higher altitude (you will bypass much needed climbing as you are taken to Shira Point in a 4×4 to start you climb) as a result many climbers will struggle with the acclimatisation and may experience attitude sickness. The altitude route profile is poor leading to a low climb success rate. Unless you are looking for a real challenge, by taking out much needed acclimatisation, we don’t recommend this route.
Umbwe is considered the ‘Mac Daddy’ of all the routes on Mount Kilimanjaro and is not for the feint hearted. It is one of the steepest and fastest ascents on Kilimanjaro and is not great for acclimatisation. It is the least trekked, with the second highest failure rate and avoided by almost everyone except the most serious hikers.
Umbwe forfeits some of its beauty for the challenge of climbing the toughest route, but it can be a peaceful climb, as not many hikers attempt this route. There are absorbing views on either side of the hiking trail, especially when you leave the forest on the start of the second day. Umbwe is considered the least technically challenging climb. Wild Frontiers would only recommend Umbwe to the most serious hikers in need of an extreme challenge, but we do of suggest you consult with your doctor before undertaking such a grueling hike.