Kilimanjaro. The Roof of Africa. The World’s Tallest Free Standing Volcano.
No matter what you call it, adventurers and mountaineers from around the world travel to Tanzania to climb this incredible peak.
- A Brief Climbing History of Kilimanjaro
- The Routes up the Mountain
- Your Journey: Steps for Creating Your Trip
A Brief Climbing History of Kilimanjaro
Sitting high above the savannahs of the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, at 19,341′, is a massive stratovolcano. As one of the Seven Summits (the tallest peaks on the Seven Continents), it is a popular destination of thousands from around the world, particularly due to the many accessible routes up the mountain.
The massif itself is made up of three volcanic cones: Kibo (19,341′), which many think of as Kilimanjaro, Mawenzi (16,893′), and Shira (13,000′). The volcano is considered “dormant,” although the Kibo crater does frequently exhibit active volcanic activity.
Estimates vary, but approximately 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro each year, making it a hotbed for tourism and mountaineering. The first recorded ascent of Kilimanjaro was done by Hans Meyer and a group of German scientists on task to scout the area for geological samples.
In 1973, the peak and its surrounding area were declared a National Park by the government of Tanzania; in 1987, UNESCO declared the area a World Heritage Site. As a national park, visitor access is restricted by the Tanzanian government only to visitors accompanied by a licensed guide.
The Routes Up the Mountain
The mountain can be climbed year round, although many choose to climb during the “dry seasons” of summer and early fall. There are 5 main climbing routes up the mountain, as well as a technical route on the upper mountain called the “Western Breach”:
- Rongai Route
- Lemosho Route
- Machame Route
- Umbwe Route
- Mweka Route
- Western Breach variation
All routes, except the Western Breach, can be considered high-altitude trekking: none traverse glaciers, none require crampons, and none traverse crevasses. There are a few steep sections of scrambling, in particular the Barranco Wall, but for the most part, the routes consist of hiking paths.
The Marangu and Machame routes are the most popular, and thereby most trafficked, up the mountain. The Marangu route is known as the “Coca-Cola” route because of the huts along the way that serve beverages and meals. The Machame route is also quite popular, although somewhat steeper and more difficult than the Marangu route.
For my trip, I chose the Lemosho route, a lesser travelled, longer route that traverses the Shira Plateau. To me, there were a few advantages to this:
(1) more time for acclimatization
(2) the route is less trafficked, giving me a more “genuine” and “remote” experience of the mountain
(3) I would get to see the Shira plateau, a massive expanse as the result of the collapse of the Shira volcanic cone
For more information on each of the individual routes, there are many great resources available online:
Your Journey: Steps for Creating Your Trip
So. . . this sounds interesting, huh? Of course it does!
As previously mentioned, Kilimanjaro is housed within Kilimanjaro National Park and Preserve, which means by law you cannot enter the park without a licensed guide.
For hardcore, expedition-style climbers, this may be a drawback, as you can’t simply romp up the mountain on your own.
If you are open to it, though, your porters and guides will treat you like absolute royalty. Often times, your guiding service will organize a full team of porters to carry your equipment, a camp chef to prepare your meals, and an assistant guide to tend to your personal needs. For many, this support is incredibly beneficial in making it up the mountain, and certainly helps though with a lesser amount of experience.
If you’re interested in climbing Kilimanjaro, you will need to:
(1) Decide when?
(2) Decide what you would like your experience to be like?
(3) Decide how much you are willing to pay and the service that you are looking for?
Like previously mentioned, Kilimanjaro can be climbed year round, so in theory, you can do it whenever fits your schedule. However, Kilimanjaro is in equatorial Africa, which experiences seasons of heavy rains. For reference, here is an exceptional article detailing the seasons in Tanzania:
You will have to choose how you want your experience to feel? Is this your first time trekking? Are you a seasoned mountaineer? Do you want to enjoy the comforts at home from 19,000′? Or are you looking for suffering?
As detailed in the Routes section of this article, each route offers a different type of experience. Your route selection will, in large part, influence how your trip feels.
You’ll also need to decide if you want to join a larger guided group, or if you want the experience of a private climb. There is a cost-tradeoff there, but clearly those two experiences will differ.
If you perform any brief amount of research on Kilimanjaro climbs, you will notice that prices can vary drastically. Typically, Tanzanian based guide services will be on the less expensive end of the spectrum, with Western companies like Ian Taylor Trekking and Alpine Ascents on the higher end of that spectrum.
The main difference between the Tanzanian based companies and the Western companies will be the support and communication leading up to your trip, as well as your guides on the mountain.
Tanzanian based companies will likely send you a gear list, send you emails with flight information, and may provide you with some other basic information, but for the most part that may be it. Often times, there may be a slight language barrier faced, either through email, phone call, or on the mountain. Additionally, you may find that scheduling time for a phone call is hard because of the time difference.
Western companies are often based in the United States, and will often develop a customized training program just for you. They will likely schedule a 1-1 phone call or Skype call after registration to check in with you on your preparations, etc. And, most likely, your guide on the trip will be American, and will speak fluent English, which may not be the case with a Tanzanian based service.
As with any purchase, you will need to decide your “value matrix”, i.e. what matters most to you.
Not all guiding services are equal, so thoroughly research the reputability of the service that you choose.
After conducting thorough research, I came across the Key’s Hotel Travel and Tours. A Moshi based company, from the start I had a wonderful experience; I explained to them that I was looking for a custom experience. I told them the dates I would like to climb, the experience I had previously, and that I wanted the trip to feel as remote and genuine as possible.
Their guides, porters, and staff were not only excellent, but friendly. They picked us up from the airport, shuttled us to the hotel itself, briefed us on the trip and prepared us for the mountain, and assisted us whenever we asked. As a guide of expeditions and trips myself, I cannot commend them any higher!
If you are interested in learning more about a tour with the Key’s Hotel, contact me at email@example.com and I can organize a custom climb for you at a competitive cost, even with a custom discount!