Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and the highest free-standing, snow-covered equatorial mountain in the world. Unlike most other great peaks, Kilimanjaro has the distinction of being accessible to anyone with a moderate fitness level; no previous mountain climbing experience is required. The reason for this is because the ascent is more like one long gentle hike rather than a climb requiring pitons, ropes and ice axes.
That’s not to say that you should equate hiking the mountain with a walk in the park. Treks take between five and eight days and you’ll be walking for between six and eight hours per day. Fortunately, you won’t have to carry all your equipment, as all tour operators use porters for the heavy luggage. Over the past few years, the Kilimanjaro National Park has tightened climbing regulations. This is to control the increasing number of tourists who visit the mountain each year and provide a measure of protection to the mountain and its fragile environment. If you want to climb Kilimanjaro you will have to book the trip through a tour operator.
Many tour operators like clients to go for a physical check-up before climbing the mountain, to ensure that there are no hidden problems and that they are at least moderately fit enough to reach the summit (bringing parties to the summit is a matter of pride for tour operators). In terms of fitness, it’s not necessary to embark on a fully fledged fitness regime before you fly out to Tanzania, but it doesn’t hurt to try and build up your lung capacity, get your heart used to physical activity, build up some leg (particularly calf) strength and, most importantly, break in your boots.
The best times to climb Mount Kilimanjaro are between mid-December and February, and June to September. Peak seasons are Christmas and the summer months of the northern hemisphere. The mountain is less crowded in mid-February and late September/early October. If you want a more extreme experience, however, you can climb any time from March to June, which is the heavy rain season.
There are six routes up Kilimanjaro: the Shira Route, Lemosho Route, Machame Route, Umbwe Route, Marangu Route and, running from the north, the Loitokitok (Rongai) Route. All of the routes converge on a path which circles the foot of the Kibo Cone (the summit). There are three paths from the circular route leading up to the summit. Often, tours descend the mountain via a different route to the ascent.
The easiest route to the top is the Marangu Route, which is also known as the Coca Cola Route, owing to its enormous popularity. The primary reason this route is “easy” is because hikers don’t have to rough it in tents, all overnight stays are in special sleeping dorms along the trail. The Machame Route is becoming increasingly popular, almost to the point where it will overtake the Marangu Route. It is jokingly referred to as the Whiskey Route. The Rongai Route (Loitokitok or Nalemuru Route) is the only ascent from the north. It’s considered the least visually attractive route and is somewhat dangerous, but it offers plenty of wildlife and is not as crowded as the other routes. The Umbwe Route is considered the most difficult or as some people call it, “taxing but not technical”. It is the steepest route to the summit but also offers the most attractive scenery on the way up.
Climbing the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro is no easy feat, nor is it particularly cheap, but it is certainly doable and undoubtedly cheaper than scaling Everest. The advantage is that you can bask in the same sense of achievement and enjoy the same wonder at nature as if you had slogged up the tallest mountain in the world. What’s more, you’ll be in a better condition to appreciate it.
Find out more about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at the Mount Kilimanjaro Travel Guide.