Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide

Here is everything you would possibly need to know to climb Kilimanjaro

Marangu Route

One of the most famous as well as the oldest route, the Marangu route is also known as the “Coca Cola” Route. The name has endured due to the fact that the huts accommodation along the route sells cola, candies and water - a peculiar trait specific to this route only. However, despite popular claims that it is the most popular, the Marangu route actually boasts one of the less impressive success rates when it comes to completion, owing to the relatively lesser acclimatization time.

Starting from the Marangu gate, this route takes an average of 6 days to complete and is the only route that includes dormitory style accommodation throughout as against camping in tents. It climbs along the eastern face of the mountain through the Mandara and Horombo huts. It has a gradual slope and a relatively direct path up, but the short time frame of the route allows for lesser time for acclimatisation that must occur at various altitudes through the trek. However, accommodating a day for acclimatization might solve this problem. The Marangu route was known to be the most popular route for a while, but has been surpassed by the Machame Route. Here is a basic breakdown of the 6 days leading up to the ascent of Uhuru Peak

Day

Start

Altitude (m)

Altitude (ft)

Finish

Altitude (m)

Altitude (ft)

Time (hrs)

Distance (kms)

Distance (mi)

1

Marangu Gate

1842

6046

Mandara Hut

2700

8858

4-5

8

5

2

Mandara hut

2700

8858

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

6-8

12

7

3

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

Mawenzi Ridge

4389

14400

2-3

5

3

Mawenzi Ridge

4389

14400

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

1-2

5

3

4

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

Kibo Hut

4703

15430

6-8

10

6

5

Kibo Hut

4703

15430

Uhuru Peak

5895

19341

6-8

6

4

5

Uhuru Peak

5895

19341

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

4-5

16

10

6

         

Horombo Hut

3720

12205

Marangu Gate

1842

6046

5-7

20

12

          
 

Total

82

50



Here is a list of huts and stop that are scattered along the Marangu Route:

    • Mandara Hut (2700 mt.): The first overnight stop of the trek.
    • Horombo Hut (3720 mt.): The next checkpoint, used for 2 nights including a night for acclimatisation.
    • Kibo Hut (4703 mt.): The final stop prior to the morning of the ascent.

The other landmarks that will be part of the Marangu Route are:

    • Maundi Crater (2775 mt.)
    • Zebra Rocks (3980 mt.)
    • Mawenzi Saddle (4350 mt.)
    • Lava Hills (3900 mt.)
    • Kibo Desert and Saddle (4500 mt.)

 

Pros and Cons of the Marangu route :

Here are a few Pros of the route

  • The Marangu route is the only route with hut accommodation throughout the length of the climb upto the Kibo Huts.
  • It is also the only route that traverses up and comes back down the same way, making it one of the more crowded routes.
  • Supremely inspiring panoramic views coupled with never-seen-before moonlike landscapes will certainly remain etched in your memory for a long time!
  • It is considered to be the cheapest of the routes when it comes to cost, owing to the fact that the climb can be completed in 5 days. However, it is advised that an additional day is added into the itinerary for acclimatisation, allowing for a better overall trek experience.

Here are few Cons of the route:

  • The Marangu route can be completed in the least amount of time, consequently giving the body the least amount of time to acclimatise as well.
  • Being the only route that goes up and comes back down the same way, it always tends to be crowded by climbers as well as those who are returning back. Thus, while it may be the cheapest option, be prepared to encounter a lot of people through the 6 days.

PRICING DETAILS FOR THE MARANGU ROUTE

While you might be tempted to hook onto one of the flashy $1000 tour packages for Kilimanjaro, it is imperative to understand why this might be a very bad idea. Owing to the fixed park costs that every tour company must incur, it leaves a marginal sum of money for accommodation and other necessities. This can be the difference between a life changing, successful climb and a terrible, uninspiring experience atop Kilimanjaro. Here is a basic cost breakdown that will shed light upon how much you should be paying for the climb:

1) One-Time Fees

  • Rescue Fees: 20$ per person

2) Per Day Fees

  • Entry Fees (or Conservation Fee): $70 per person
  • Entry Fees for Guide and Porters: 3500 Tanzanian Shillings (TZS), which converts to about $1.6 per person. This will include their entry as well as hut fees. (There can be up to 3-5 helpers per person).

3) Per Night Fees

  • Hut Accomodation Fee: $50 - $60 per person

4) Value Added Tax (VAT)

  • The Government of Tanzania has also imposed 18% VAT on all Kilimanjaro Treks starting from July, 2016. Hence, all headers mentioned above come under this tax bracket.
These fixed costs over 5 to 6 days come down approximately $900. With no camping gear on the Marangu route, the cost of porters will be lesser along with the lesser number of days when compared to other routes. This makes the Marangu route the cheapest route to the Uhuru Peak. However, make sure you get a complete cost breakdown before booking a tour so that you know exactly where your money is being spent. Find the best customised rates for the Marangu Route here

MARANGU ROUTE AS COMPARED TO OTHER ROUTES

While many might pick the Marangu Route due to the cost effectiveness of the trek, it is imperative to understand that this is certainly not the easiest of the routes. It is cheap largely due to the lesser number of climbing days, but that also makes it that much more of a physical challenge for the body. While the Marangu route is comparatively the easier route, it should not be taken for granted as a walk in the park. Amateur climbers are suggested to undergo appropriate and adequate training before attempting the climb. If acclimatisation is your foremost concern, the Machame route might be a good option, but the best route for this would be the Northern Circuit - owing to its 360-degree traverse. Be sure to know that it would also turn out to be the most expensive due to the number of climbing days.

The choice of the route also depends on the type of climbing experience you are looking for. If the ideal climb for you involves isolation and private tours, the Marangu route might not be the best. Owing to the same routes for ascent and descent, coupled with the hut type accommodation, the Marangu route is one of the most crowded. You will run into multiple headlamps lighting up the edges of the trails at night, communal dinners and crowded huts. If that is what you are looking for, the Marangu route is ideal.

The Machame route is ideal if you are looking to traverse the ice field of the Southern Circuit, whereas the Marangu route is highlighted by the surreal and moonlike Kibo desert. All in all, the Marangu Route is the cheapest option but certainly not the easiest; it might be the fastest option but might be gamble based on your climbing prowess and experience.

DETAILED ITINERARY

PRE-CLIMB PREP

Try to arrive in Moshi or Arusha at least a day prior to the trek. This day will be important to adapt to the time zone (if there are long haulers from across the globe), make a climbing checklist to ensure everything is in order and all requirements are packed. Equipment will be reviewed and whatever is required to be rented will be picked out from the local stores and markets. The amount of equipment you will need on this route is lower than others as you shall not require any camping equipment along this route. A pre-trek briefing will follow, and the day will end with a relaxed dinner and a good amount of rest.

Day 1: Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut

After a short drive (between 1 and 2 hours) from either Arusha or Moshi, you will arrive at the Marangu Gate sometime around noon. With basic vegetation to start off with, the approach to the mountain village of Marangu will bring with it terraces of banana plantations. The rest of the terrain is basic and remains the same through the drive. You might not be on your way for another hour or so, as porters repack baggage to acceptable limits (15kg/33 lbs. per porter), stock up on food and provisional supplies for the next week or so, and make sure they have everything they need. Once everything is checked, you will start off at the well-marked and guided forest trail that meanders through the dense rainforest at the foot of the ascent. This is the first phase of the climb, characterised by dense plantation, heavy canopies overhead, and hints of showers based on the season of your visit. Vegetation is dominated by bright red Kilimanjaro flowers (Impatiens Kilimanjari) and their violet relatives (Impatiens Pseudoviola) along with the usual rainforest canopy of large trees, dense foliage and gigantic ferns. Owing to the canopy overhead blocking sunlight in major chunks, spotting variety of wildlife becomes cumbersome. However, you might spot a few blue monkeys jumping along the trees, although they are known to be swift and agile, while also being a bit shy.

Considering the altitude of this part of the trek, it is likely that you run into locals that inhabit the slopes at the base of the mountain, as they frequently make their way into the forest for grass and fodder for their cattle, or wood for their fires.

Approximately 90 minutes of walking along the trail will lead you to Kisamhioni - a famed lunch spot with benches and stools to take a break on. Unload, stretch and replenish lost energy as you prepare for 4 more hours of walking. The transition from the rainforest style of vegetation to moorlands will gradually become apparent as you commence the post-lunch leg of this phase of the trek. At around 2600 mt. the trees start reducing in size, the vegetation density also falls and Erica trees around 2-4 mt. high become the dominant plant type.

After a not-so-challenging hike, you will reach Mandara Huts sometime around sunset. With huts for accommodation along with pillows and blankets, you can be assured a good night’s sleep. But remember not to expect continuous electricity or extremely clean accommodation. Carry rechargeable batteries even though their capacity reduces drastically (upto 80%) in the cold. Dinner will be served in a large hut that houses a common dining room for approximately 60 people. But if you feel a bit adventurous, a short walk down to the porters’ and tour cooks’ congregation might find you some savoury local dishes that you’ve never eaten before!

Day 2: Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut

After a good few hours of rest, it is recommended that you start early next morning to beat the waking climbers in approaching the awakening forest. Aim at beginning the second day at around 7 AM, looking at approximately 5 to 6 hours of hiking to the Horombo Huts. The foliage might become noticeably lighter as lobelia (lat. Lobelia Deckenii) and red hot pokers (lat. Kniphofia thomsonii) become abundant in this leg of the hike. An early start is also recommended in order to accommodate the 20-minute detour of visiting the Maundi Crater (2775 mt.). This volcanic crater is unique in the spectacular views it is capable of providing on a clear day in the morning. One can see the Mawenzi peak to the Northwest and the Kenyan village of Taveta to the east, creating a panoramic scape filled with plains and peaks.

After the slight detour, the Marangu trail continues onto the Moorlands, indicating a clear rise in elevation, and a totally different terrestrial landscape to accompany it. While this part of the trek is not the most admirable in terms of sights and surroundings, making the 3-hour hike to a marked lunch spot at 3500 metres might reveal a spectacular view of the Mawenzi Summit. Hope for a clear afternoon, and you might be presented with one of the first clear views of the peak, just a few days and 2000 metres shy in altitude.

The trail continues Northwest after lunch, and as you approach the Horombo Plateau (3725 mt.) the first glimpses of the famed groundsel (lat. Senecio Kilimanjari) will appear. The Horombo Huts are a large settlement of huts that can accommodate more than a hundred people. Descending climbers from the Rongai route also stay in the same huts, making this quite a crowded night high up on the mountain. The sunset is spectacular as the clouds underneath disperse the dying light while the Kibo peak is warmly lit overhead. A communal feeling of motivation and anticipation raises the spirits as you prepare your body to acclimatize and adapt over the next day.

Day 3: Horombo Hut - Acclimatization Day

Just like the sunset, the morning will begin with a warming and inspiring sunrise around 6 am. As this day is meant for acclimatisation, have a laid back breakfast with some leisurely time to allow the body time to adapt to the air and atmosphere. Climbers generally use this day to visit either the Zebra Rocks or the Mawenzi Saddle. At around 4000 metres are the Zebra Rocks - a peculiar formation of black cliffs lined with contrasting white limestone formations rising to 20 metres. A short climb up the adjacent hill can potentially provide you with one of the most enthralling views of the Kibo peak  with the next day’s entire trail tailing the spectacular sight. However, if it is not a clear day, The Mawenzi Saddle (4350 mt.) can be another optional hike, approximately 2.5 hours from the campsite. Returning for a late lunch is possible on either treks, followed by some games and relaxation, along with replenishing lost energy and preparing for two of the most challenging days of climbing to follow.

DAY 4: HOROMBO HUT TO KIBO HUT

An early start on this day is imperative for the remainder of the climb owing to the fact that an early start will allow for a greater window of rest before the final ascent which will begin before midnight on the same day. Aim to be on your way toward Kibo by 7 30 am, keeping approximately 5 hours as a benchmark for this stage of the climb. The ascent to Kibo hut can be completed through the commonly used Lower Route or the less used Upper Route. The Lower Route cuts through the left side of the Lava Hills leading up to the Kibo Saddle. The ascent is easier and more gradual as compared to the Upper Route which cuts from the right of the Lava Hills past Zebra Rocks and the Mawenzi Saddle. Both the routes merge at the Kibo Saddle (approx 4470 mt.). Irrespective of the route you pick, this part of the climb is one of the most scenic stretches, offering jaw dropping views of the Kibo peak as well as the Mawenzi Peak at the outset. Panoramic views of the Kilimanjaro Summit accompany from almost 45 minutes into this stage, as the terrain goes to sub-alpine rocks and dusty loose ground. This only adds to the intensely surreal imagery that develops as you inch closer to the peak with every step.

After making a final refuelling stop at 4000 metres, another hour on the trail will get you to the barren, almost lifeless looking landscape of the Kibo Saddle (4470 mt.). Break for lunch here and take a few minutes to give your lungs some time to adapt to the considerably thinner air. Visibility along the barren desert is high, and you can see the Kibo Huts (4700 mt.) in the distance as well. The panoramic vision offers glimpses of Gillman’s point and the north-eastern glaciers. The remainder of the descent, while not too much in distance, might be quite cumbersome as you walk on scree for the first time. Brown, sandy, gravel-like ground will give way upon pressure, almost making you take half a step back every time you take one forward. The thin air will not help the situation either, but it is critical to remain calm and get used to the terrain that will follow.

Expect arrival at the Kibo Huts anytime around 2 PM, which will also mark the end of the proverbially “easy” Marangu Route as it joins with the Rongai Route from here to the Uhuru Peak. Sitting at 4703 metres, this surreal alpine terrain will record low temperatures; however, the sun will hit you hard irrespective of that due to the altitude and thin atmosphere. It is vital to carry sunscreen lotion and lather it on skin exposed to the sun to avoid cases of exposure to Ultra-Violet Rays. The night will be short and the time to rest minimal. Dinner will be served at around 5 30 PM, followed by 5 to 6 hours of rest. The final ascent to the peak will commence at midnight, for which one must be physically and mentally prepared. You might feel physical aches and pains at different parts of your body, accompanied with fatigue, but one must use their mental strength to overcome physical barriers. Focus on regaining calories and stocking up on them for the next morning, and make sure to get some rest.

Day 5: Kibo hut to Uhuru peak to Horombo Hut

The final stretch of the climb begins at midnight after stocking up on some more calories just before starting. Most of the gear does not join you as you take only the main necessities up to the peak. Make sure you carry a water system like a thermos that does not freeze, while also carrying some tea along with it. The start of the climb is shadowed by tired legs getting the blood running through the cold and windy conditions, but half an hour into the climb your legs will come alive. The shuddering darkness will keep breaking with headlamps lighting up snippets of the terrain around you as scores of climbers make the final ascent. Control your breathing, be slow and certain about your stepping (due to the sandy scree you will be walking on) and make sure you carry sugars and carbohydrates you can chew on. While the motivation to make the final stretch might dwindle, visualising the images from atop Uhuru Peak might help your cause. Also remember not to be bogged down when you realise that you mistook a random adjacent hill as the peak in the sparse moonlight, as hills will rise one after another as the altitude increases. After crossing the Hans Meyer Cave (5200 mt.) around two hours into the climb, the next landmark is Gillman’s point (5681 mt.) which should take you another couple of hours.

The Sun will break through the darkness sometime around 6 AM, just after crossing Gillman’s point. Expect the morning rays to lift your spirits, warm you up and give you that adrenaline rush to push you for the next hour or two. You will hit the edge of the Kibo crater and approach Stella Point (5740 mt.) within the next hour, after which the Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe Route will merge.

Everything from hereon will look extremely surreal, filled with vivid colours caused by the reflections of the sunlight, as the ground underneath you reminds you to be sure footed. Slowly but surely, you will cross the Rehmann Glacier, gleaming with a plethora of colours as the sun hits the glacier at different angles. The ground will become flatter, the ascent more gradual, and soon you will see the Uhuru Peak (5895 mt.) in the distance.

The moment is here - you stand atop the roof of Africa as the morning sun roasts the vast plains that typify the cradle of human civilisation. Be assured to feel an unmatched sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and joy, accompanied with headaches, racing pulse and deep breaths! Do whatever you planned on doing up at the peak quickly and plan to head back to lower altitude promptly, shielding the body from excessive altitudes during this critical time. The descent is along the same path as the ascent; you will make your way to Gillman’s point which shouldn’t take you more than 45 minutes. The scree slopes follow, leading up to the Kibo Huts. This should not take more than 2 to 3 hours. This, however, does not mark the end of the day, as you adorn your backpacks and head back to lower altitude at the Horombo Huts (11 km. From Kibo Huts) after a short break to replenish some of the lost energy. You will certainly get undisturbed and deep sleep that night.

DAY 6: Horombo Hut to Marangu Gate

This descent is one that you will remember, as you head back down a successful climber, greeting those that are making the ascent. Not only will this lift your spirits, it will also bring back memories of those moments in the past six days when the challenge seemed unrelenting and even impossible to some. Ensure being sure footed and distribute weight to maintain balance on the climb down, as people can get carried away and injure themselves in this stage too. Expect to reach the Marangu Gate by afternoon. You will receive your certificate that evening, after which a common gesture is to invite the entire group for a drink at the hotel - to unwind, reminisce and share the joy of success!