On Mt. Kilimanjaro there are seven approach routes (each starting from a different park gate), and three routes to the summit. There are ultimately over 50 different route combinations. We recommend taking as long as possible in order to properly acclimatize to the altitude. There are only three routes to the top – the least traveled (and most difficult, and beautiful) is the Western Breach. The other two routes to the top, Marangu and Mweka, lead up the more gently sloping east face, trudging through scree (volcanic ‘gravel’) on thousands of switchbacks. These latter two receive a higher percentage of the foot traffic vs. the Western Breach.
Description of the seven approach routes
Description of the three routes to the summit
Success rates based on number of days
To camp in the Crater or not
How the time of year affects your route choice
Three questions to answer to help you decide
Description of the seven approach routes:
- Umbwe Route- the most challenging route, both in terms of terrain and grade. Usually done via the Western Breach.
- Machame Route- is the most popular camping route(and busiest route overall), usually takes 6 days to the top via the east facing Mweka (Barafu Camp) route to the crater rim. It’s also quite pretty and rugged.Best done in 7 days.
- Lemosho Glades- starting from the west side, and begins very gently then ascends onto the great expanse of the Shira plateau, from 3,500m to 4,000 m. This route can ascend up either the Western Breach or the Mweka Route to the crater rim (which averages about 19,000 feet. The high point along the crater rim is Uhuru Peak, at 19,340 feet (5895 Mt.). Treks from the Lemosho trailhead or Umbwe Gate must pay an extra fee to account for a forest department tax. The road to get to the Lemosho trailhead is so atrocious that often vehicles cannot reach the trailhead and climbers begin the trek on a very muddy 4×4 track. It’s usually done in 8 or 9 days, with our without Crater Camp.
- Rongai Route - An approach from the dry northeast (Kenya side), then into the Saddle, and up via the Marangu Route to the top. Best done in 7 days or 8 days (with Crater Camp), to be able to experience the great saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi volcanoes.
- Mweka Route - Used primarily as a descent route. Very direct (only three camps en route to the summit!). Not recommended for ascent.
- Shira Route - This route starts high (over 12,000′ / 3,500m) but on longer climbs offers the chance of easy/gentle hiking from the start of the climb, as well as avoiding other tourists (especially when choosing the remote northern circuit route).
- Marangu Route - the original hut route, starting at the southeast and passing through thick forest, heather and moorland before crossing the great saddle of alpine desert between Mawenzi and Kibo, then up to Gillman’s point before skirting around the south crater rim to Uhuru Peak. Pre-booking and deposits are required on this route (to reserve the huts).
Description of the three routes to the summit:
One of the choices in terms of routes is whether to choose the Southern circuit (Machame Route), Western Breach or northern Circuit. The Southern Circuit is the most popular camping route (and busiest route overall), following the east facing Mweka (Barafu Camp) route to the crater rim. It’s quite pretty and rugged, which is why perhaps is became so popular! The Western Breach, a 1,000 meter steep scramble from camp at 4,900 m (Arrow Glacier Camp) to the crater rim, is a true alpine-adventure style scrambling route (from 16,200′ to 18,900′). We’ve imposed our own restrictions on this route, in order to ensure the group is relatively homogenous (having about the same mountain experience and fitness levels). Also, all those who plan to attempt this have prior experience scrambling on steep slopes. This route requires balance, strength, and nerve. There is also significant danger of rock-fall on this route. We provide helmets to all climbers, guides, and porters. All climbers must sign a liability release in order to use this route. The last choice; the northern circuit, is extremely special. It’s the last vestige of real wilderness left on Kilimanjaro. There are no well-worn trails here on this circuit, and only rock cairns mark the route. It’s common to see Eland, and other animals such as mountain reedbuck, klipsringer, and silver-backed jackals. Also common are signs of leopard and civet cats (from their noctural forays). I highly recommend this, but it requires a minimum of 8 days. Done in 10 days from the Lemosho trailhead, it allows a complete ‘grand traverse’ of Kilimanjaro of west to east.
Succes rates based on number of days:
Once you decide on the route, you need to plan on the number of days to climb. The single most important factor on whether you reach the summit or not depends on the number of days you take. You’ll likely only climb Kilimanjaro once, so you may as well do it right! The best way to do it right is choosing a climb which gives you enough acclimatization time to reach the summit safely. The park minimum is 5-days – that’s 3.5 days to the summit. Only about 50% of those on 5-day climbs reach the summit. Of the roughly 1000 climbers we take up the mountain each year, the average number of days for our treks is 8. Our most popular climb is 9-days, giving lots of acclimatization time and the experience of camping next to the glacier at Crater Camp. Also we do 7 and 6 days treks, as many people simply don’t want to take so many days out of their busy schedules. The results are dramatic when comparing the summit success rates vs. the number of days on the mountain. For Nature Discovery, these are the average summit rates:
6 days: 75%
7 days: just over 80%
8 days: 90%
9 days+: over 98%. It makes a huge difference to take extra days.
To camp in the crater or not:
Then you must decide whether you want to do an overnight hike to the summit or do all day-time trekking and spend a night in the Crater Camp. The Crater camp is very high in elevation (19,000′ / 5800m), so taking enough time is essential to be able to camp here. Treks must me a minimum of 8 days to include a night in Crater Camp. The ‘normal’ way to climb Kilimanjaro is to have the last camp at about 15,000′ (4,600m) and do an overnight ascent to the summit, leaving camp at about midnight, and making for a 12-17 hour trekking day..part of why Kilimanjaro has such a reputation! The option is to trek up to the summit during daylight hours and camp in the crater. The overnight at crater camp does make for a challenging sleep, but success rates for reaching the summit are significantly higher and trekkers can experience much more of the summit, glaciers, and central crater, which overnight climbs do not experience. I can speak from lots of experience that a camp in the Crater is really a special experience, and most people are so glad they chose to do it.
Our recommendations for the best route combinations are:
- Umbwe Route 6 days via the Western Breach (no Crater Camp) -most difficult route up Kili
- Rongai Route 6 or 7 days (no Crater Camp or Western Breach)
- Rongai 8 days with Crater Camp (no Western Breach)
- Lemosho 6 to 10 days via Western Breach or Northern Circuit, with or without Crater Camp
- Shira Route 8 to 10 days via the remote northern circuit, with or without Crater Camp (no Western Breach)
How the time of year affects your route choice:
The best times to climb for weather (avoiding the traditional rainy seasons) are mid-January to early March, and mid-July to early October. Bear in mind that the weather on Kilimanjaro is unpredictable and it is possible to get a week of rain at any time of the year.
During these times, in order to stay out of the ‘crowds’, it’s best to avoid the following:
- Christmas time and the new year (too many other people, and prices are the highest)
- Do not start your climb on a Saturday or Sunday (the majority of groups start on these days)
- If possible do not climb the Machame Route (it’s by far the busiest route)
- Do not climb on a full moon (to arrange the summit 4-7 days AFTER the full moon is best anyhow, for lighting the summit trail during the night).
Three questions to answer to help you decide which route to take:
- Which approach route (gate) to ascend from? And after that do I wish to follow the Southern Cicruit, the Western Breach, or the Northern Circuit to the summit?
- Do I want to camp in Crater Camp or no Crater Camp?
- How many days total do I want to be on the mountain?
Are you ready to start planning your Mt. Kilimanjaro climb? If so, or if you have any questions, contact us. We’d be happy to recommend you to a knowledgeable agent in your area, or if that’s not possible, our own Kilimanjaro experts will take good care of you.