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Kilimanjaro 5895m mountain focus

Links: Kilimanjaro expeditions or Mountain focus home page

Kilimanjaro: Overview / Machame route / Rongai route / Lemosho route / Safari
September 2006 expedition leaders, Sarah and Kingsley, on the summit.
'Jambo' Swahili for hello…
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and is the tallest freestanding mountain on earth. It is crowned with an everlasting snow-cap which can be seen from hundreds of miles away making it a truly majestic and beautiful mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro is within Kilimanjaro National Park of Tanzania which is situated near the Equator. On a clear day it is possible to observe the curvature of the Earth and to see views as far as the plains of the Masai Mara from the summit of Kilimanjaro.

There are very few other places in the world where you will experience such diversity in climate and vegetation during your ascent and descent and combined with interacting with the locals, the magnificent views undertaking a climb on Kilimanjaro really is an unforgettable experience, one that will stay imprinted within you for many years.
History and background
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcanic mountain and has three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo the highest at 5,895 metres, Mawenzi at 5,149 metres and Shira the shortest at 4,005 metres. The highest summit "Uhuru Peak" is located on Kibo's crater rim.

Although Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, Kibo is dormant and could erupt again, with the last major eruption being between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on the mountain, of which the most famous one was on the western outer rim of the main summit, Kibo. This area which was formed by lava flow is now known as the "Western Breach".

Tanzania National Parks, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation list the height of Uhuru Peak as 5,895 m (19,341 ft). That height is based on a British Ordnance Survey in 1952, however since then the height has been measured as 5,892 metres (19,331 ft) in 1999, 5,891 metres (19,327 ft) in 2008, and 5,888 metres (19,318 ft) in 2014.
The summit crater icefields on Kilimanjaro, lit by the sunrise on the summit day
One of the 7 Summits
As the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro makes up one of the Seven Summits (i.e. highest mountains on each of the seven continents). Climbing the Seven Summits is becoming quite popular with mountaineers and was first achieved on April 30th, 1985 by Richard Bass. The other mountains on the Seven Summits are listed below in height order. Should you be interested you can also climb Elbrus and Aconcagua with us.

Mount Everest - Asia - First ascent 1953 - 8,848 meters
Aconcagua - South America - First ascent 1897 - 6,961 meters
Denali - North America - First ascent 1913 - 6,194 meters
Mount Kilimanjaro - Africa - First ascent 1889 - 5,895 meters
Mount Elbrus - Europe - First ascent 1874 - 5,642 meters
Mount Vinson - Antarctica - First ascent 1966 - 4,892 meters
Mount Kosciuszko - Australia - First ascent 1840 - 2,228 meters
First Successful Summit
The first person recorded to attempt to reach the summit Kilimanjaro (Kibo) was probably Austrian-Hungarian Count Samuel Teleki in 1887. Unfortunately his attempt was not successful due to problems with his ears and was forced to turn back. Another attempt was made by the American naturalist, Dr Abbott, who had primarily come to investigate the fauna and flora of the mountain slopes. Abbott was struck down by illness fairly early on in the climb but his companion, Otto Ehlers of the German East African Company, continued and claimed to have reach 19,680ft (5904m). This was disputed and dismissed by others, especially as the height he claimed to have reached a summit level that is at least 8 metres above the highest point on the mountain.

Although they didn't summit themselves, both Teleki and Abbott, played a part in the success of the eventual conqueror of Kilimanjaro, by Dr Hans Meyer. Following his summit attempt Teleki provided information about the ascent to Meyer; and Abbott provided accommodation in Moshi for Meyer and his party during their successful expedition of 1889.

In total Meyer made four trips to Kilimanjaro, his first two summit attempts were unsuccessful; however he finally reached the summit on his third attempt, in 1889. Meyer brought together all the things required to successfully reach the summit, being a skillful and determined climber, but also having enough food and drink along the route, especially near the summit. He establishing camps at various points along the route that he had chosen for his attempt, including one at 3,894m (12,980ft; Abbott's camp); one, Kibo camp, 'by a conspicuous rock' at 4,263m (14,210ft); and a small camp located just below the glacier line at 4,578m (15,260ft). It was due to these intermediary camps that Meyer was able to have a number of attempts to the summit with porters bringing food to each of the camps every few days food.

Meyer also had a considerable back-up party with him, including his friend and climbing companion, Herr Ludwig Purtscheller, as well as two local headmen, nine porters, three other locals who would act as supervisors, one cook and one guide were also supplied by the local chief, Mareale. The team carried the equipment to each of the camps, whilst also keeping the camp in order following Meyer's strict code of discipline, which involved punishments of ten or twenty lashes.

In the late 1800s there was a lot more snow on Kilimanjaro than there is today, and above 4500m Meyer would have had to trek in snow for almost the whole day, proving to be a lot more technical and challenging than the snow free route used today by thousands of trekkers each year. At one stage the whole of the mountain summit was covered by an ace cap, estimated to be more than 100 metres deep. Since 1912 Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap, and since 1962 it has lost 55% of its remaining glaciers as these have been rapidly receding over the past century. It is estimated that if the present rate of recession continues the majority of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro could vanish altogether.
Group photo at the Lava Tower (4600m), with the head local guide Evans on the right
Climate and Vegetation
As ascent on Kilimanjaro is like going from the Equator to the Artic. The temperature drops 1c for every 200 meters of height and it is this that has caused the natural formations of the five very distinct vegetation and climatic zones. These five zones are around 1000 meters in height per zone and encircle the mountain so each day gives you a different climate and different vegetation to hike through. There's very few other places in the world where you will experience such diversity making it a very unique place. You certainly have to ensure that you have the appropriate clothing to deal with all different weathers and extremes of temperature both during the day and at night.

Zone 1: Lower slopes: This zone includes cultivated land, grasslands and populated human settlements and is around 800 to 1600 meters in altitude and is very dry and warm.

Zone 2: Rain Forest: This zone is from around 1000 to 2800 meters and is predominately wet.

Zone 3: Heath/moorland: The heath and moorland are overlapping zones and are also classed as Low Alpine zone as temperatures can drop to below 0c but be warm during the day. Most precipitation in this zone is from the fog and mist. The zone is from 2800m to 4000metres.

Zone 4: High desert (Alpine desert) : This zone goes from 4000 meters to 5000 metres and receives very little rain, intense daytime sun and cold night time temperatures varying from freezing to 40c.

Zone 5: Summit zone (Artic zone) : This zone gives you hot day time sun and freezing cold at night as characterised by artic conditions with very little rain. The oxygen is so thin in the zone of 5000 meters to 5900 meters that you have to be so careful as to not burn from the suns radiation.
Silhouettes of the group at the summit sign (left of picture), with headlights still on at sunrise

Routes on Kilimanjaro

There are seven main routes leading up the slopes of Kilimanjaro to Uhuru Peak. These are the Shira Route, the Lemosho Route, the Machame Route, the Umbwe Route, the Mweka Route, the Marangu Route and the Rongai Route. At Icicle we offer you the choice of either ascending using the Machame or Rongai Routes as these are both so much more quieter than the other routes and more importantly offer the greater chance of summit success.
Routes used by Icicle on Kilimanjaro...
We offer ascents via the Machame or Rongai routes on the mountain. We avoid the 'normal' Marangu Route, as it gains height every single day, not allowing your body any time to acclimatise. For the descent the Mweka Route offers the quickest method of losing height, which is an essential method of avoiding potential altitude sickness issues that may affect people after their summit bid. January and February are popular months for climbing Kilimanjaro. July through to September are the dry season and are "high" season, with April to mid-June tending to be the rainy season. The Icicle Kilimanjaro treks run from later January, February and March, and also in September, months which usually have the most favourable weather conditions.d

Machame (Whiskey) route

The standard Icicle "Kilimanjaro 5895m" trek runs from Saturday to the following Sunday (9 days) and uses the Machame Route for ascent, and the Mweke Route for descent.This route is a lot quieter than the others as its slighty harder but offers the best views. This route gives you a greater acclimatisation potential in that you ascend to around 4000m, then spend three days traversing around the mountain at this altitude before ascending to the final camp at 4600m. This means you are very well acclimatized to move to the top camp just before the summit day. Clearly this works as we have had a 95% success rate on the mountain since 2005. The route rewards climbers with tremendous views over the expansive Shira Plateau, has an optional scramble up Lava Tower, a climb up the Great Barranco Wall, and a traverse under Kilimanjaro's Southern Icefield. The route also descends through some amazing jungle scenery on the way to the park gate, and it is highly likely that you will see Blue and Gibbon monkeys swinging through the trees. At present there are no huts on the Machame Route and therefore the only accommodation option on the route is camping.

Rongai (aka Loitokitok) Route
The Rongai route is the only easy route starting from the North, and offers great views of the Kenyan savannahs. The route runs from the north-east, and has no technical parts along the route, so it is suitable for less experienced climbers. It is also much drier than the other routes, and relatively quiet due to most people using other routes up the mountain. Descent from the summit is down the Marangu route. This route is usually completed in 7 days, but can be done in 6 days, and has some huts on its route, but also requires some nights camping.
Other routes on Kilimanjaro (only used for bespoke trips by Icicle)

Marangu "Coca Cola" route

The Marangu Route, which is commonly known as the "Coca Cola" route, is the most popular "tourist" route to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The route gained its alternative Coca Cola name more than a century ago when locals supplemented their income by selling bottles of Coke and other drinks to hikers who took shelter in sleeping huts along the trail on their way up the mountain. Although the Marangu Route is the easiest route to the summit of Kilimanjaro, many climbers still fail to summit via this route due to lack of proper acclimatisation, as many try to reach the summit in as few days as possible.

Shira Route

The little-used Shira Route is a difficult route that begins on the west side of the mountain. The first part of the route is unusual as it offers the option of being driven along the first part of the trail. Although this is an attractive option to some hikers, it also results in climbers missing out on hiking up the rain forest, during which they would acclimatise slowly. Hiking on this route usually starts at Shira Gate, and descent is usually down Mweka to the south-east. Due to the trek starting and finishing in different places transportation is required at the bottom of the mountain. The Shira Route has very low traffic compared to other routes, until the point where it merges with the Machame Route. The Shira Route can be completed in six days, however care needs to be taken to factor in enough time for proper acclimatisation due to the significant altitude gain on the first day of the trek. In particular, additional care needs to be taken for proper acclimatisation for those who opt to be driven along the first part of the trail.

Lemosho Route

It is a relatively new route, created by the Kilimanjaro Park Authority. The trek along the Lemosho Route begins at Londorossi Gate which is located in the western base of the mountain, and leads across the Shira Plateau before circling along the southern circuit halfway around the mountain. The approach to the summit is from the east, and the descent follows the Mweka Trail. The Lemosho Route usually takes eight days (seven nights), however it can be done in as little as six days (with five nights on the mountain).
The team of local porters and some of the guides that are used on each expedition
Camping on Kilimanjaro
In order to protect the environment and nature, camping in most places of the National Park is prohibited; however there are several designated camps on Kilimanjaro along the six trekking routes. Most organized expeditions on Kilimanjaro include the use of a local guide and up to three porters for every two clients. This level of support is necessary to carry all the equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, as well as the mess and cook tents and food that is required for the duration of the trek. Each day camp will be established and set up by your support crew, you will just be required to pack your main kitbag each morning ready for your porter to carry.
Preparation & Acclimatisation
Although the summit of Kilimanjaro can be achieved by many walkers, one of the main reasons for failure is due to lack of proper acclimatisation, and people trying to rush the route over a limited number of days which can be fatal. Anybody can feel the effects of altitude so it is very important and vital to follow the proven, recommended golden rules to allow yourself to acclimatise safely and properly. The main golden rules are to walk "pole pole" which is Swahili for "slowly slowly" which you will hear over and over from all your guides and is even written on T.shirts as its such a vital and iconic slogan which will determine success or failure. The other golden rule is to "climb high, sleep low" of which our itinerary has been formulated around to enable you to ascend the recommended height per day, then descend to spend the night which acclimatise you efficiently and safely. Our experienced guides will give you plenty more advice and guidance during your trek.

An ascent of Kilimanjaro should not be underestimated, and you should arrive for this adventure in good physical condition as the trek is arduous and the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it. We highly recommend that you read our training page (click here) for details on how to prepare or call us to talk it through.

You should be efficient in moving safely over loose and rocky terrain and on sometimes experience on snow using crampons is required, so if you are not already please consider addressing that by either taking part on our Lake District or Scottish Courses, or going out yourself. You will really benefit from using trekking poles on this trek so again you can learn how to use them prior to going.
View of the southern icefields of Kilimanjaro from the Karanga camp at 3961m
Summary and postscript to the focus page
This page is constantly updated as a result of changing techniques, conditions, and latest news. Please don't use this page alone as the research you undertake for an ascent, and it does definitely not attempt to offer any of the instruction of techniques which you will require. Details of many other sources of information have been provided, which you should consult before an ascent. Remember that to climb Kilimanjaro is really a privilege, not a guarantee. If you found this page of use, and have any other information that others may find helpful, then please e-mail us. We will post any useful extra information on the page, and you will be cited. It is this sharing of knowledge that makes the climbing community so close, and this extra knowledge will increase your chances of reaching the summit.
Mountain focus pages
Mountain focus page
Mont Blanc 4810m
Eiger 3970m
Matterhorn 4478m
Gran Paradiso 4061m
Mt Toubkal 4167m
Kilimanjaro 5895m
Mountain focus authors
We are in the process of developing these mountain focus pages for many of the key peaks that we offer trips too, in order to help people prepare better for their trips.
This page has largely been written by Jill from our Windermere HQ, and it's here that most people have their first contact with us, in person or on the phone.
We are always editing these pages, so if you have any feedback about information we should add to the page, please let us know. We feel it's important that all our staff are experts on the mountains we offer trips to, so we are all involved in developing these focus pages.
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