Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide

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

Rongai Route

The Rongai Route is the only route that trails along the northern edge of Mount Kilimanjaro, close to the Kenyan border. It stands out for some other reasons too, mostly known to be the route with a more gradual slope than others, often used by climbers that make the ascent during the rainy season (the northern face of Kili receives lesser rainfall), as well as one of the least crowded routes. Even though all these do a lot to make the Rongai route stand out, there are countless other hidden secrets that make traversing along the Rongai route a unique and unmatched experience. While the landscape and terrain might not be a varied as some of the other routes, the ascent is less formidable, the physical challenge for the body more palatable, and the panorama’s of the summit more expansive. Moreover, it is considered to be one of the easiest ascents, quietest trails and allows the climber to traverse more than one face of the mountain. The entire ascent through the Rongai route can be completed in 6 days. Here is a basic breakdown of the entire trail based on days and altitude.

Day

Start

Altitude (in Mts)

Altitude (in Mts)

Finish

Altitude (in Mts)

Altitude (in Mts)

Time (hrs)

Distance (km)

Distance (miles)

1

Rongai Gate

1,950

6,398

Simba Camp

2625

8610

4

8

5

2

Simba Camp

2625

8610

Kikelelwa Camp

3630

11,910

3-4

6

4

3

Kikelelwa Cave

3630

11910

Mawenzi Tarn

4,315

14,160

4

5

3

4

Mawenzi Tarn

4,315

14,160

School Hut

4,703

15,430

5-6

8

5

5

School Hut

4,703

15,430

Uhuru Peak

5,895

19,341

6-8

6

4

 

Uhuru Peak

5,895

19,341

Horombo Hut

3,720

12,205

4-5

16

10

6

Horombo Hut

3,720

12,205

Marangu Gate

1,843

6,046

5-7

20

12

Total

79

49


Pros and Cons of Climbing the Rongai Route

Pros:

  • The Rongai route is the only route that traverses Kilimanjaro from the Northern side. This also happens to be the side that receives the least amount of rainfall. So you can expect clear skies and relatively acceptable weather through the climb.
  • The Rongai Route, owing to the lack of rainfall, is also known to provide some of the most clear and enthralling views of the Kibo and Mawenzi Peaks. Additionally, the view is aided by the Kenyan highlands stretching behind you - something specific only to this route.
  • The Rongai Route is also known to have the most gradual slopes throughout the 6 days of the trek, allowing for a less strenuous ascent in general.
  • The route is also generally less crowded than the other more popular routes. This allows for a greater sense of attachment to the process of climbing and accomplishing the task at hand.
  • It is also the only route that has signages in English and Latin on trees and plants (at the lower levels) allowing the climbers to engage with the trails and the surroundings.
  • The ascent is through the Rongai Route and the descent through the Marangu Route - exposing the climber to completely different sights and views on both the legs of the climb.

Cons:

  • The ascent up Rongai route begins with a drive that is much longer than the others, as you go around the eastern face of the mountain toward the Kenyan border, after which the ascent begins. Some people find it treacherous to sit for 4-5 hours in a car right before beginning a week long climb.
  • Some routes reserve a day for acclimatisation at approximately 4000 metres, but the Rongai route does not include this. The ascent in altitude on the third and fourth day are pretty steep, and some climbers can be affected by the same, leading to altitude related sickness or some symptoms of it.
  • The diversity of plants and vegetation is considerably lower on this face of the mountain, owing to the lack of moisture that this side receives. Forests are much thinner and sparse dispersed after 2500 metres. The terrain can often become relatively monotonous is this respect.

The Rongai Route compared to other routes

The Rongai route is specifically known for being one of the easiest and most gradual climbs up Mount Kilimanjaro. Based on the experience you are looking for, the Rongai route might just be the ideal fit for you. Some people make the climb to experience the entire ordeal by themselves, in isolation from people. If this is why you want to make the climb, the Rongai route might fit perfectly, given how this route is not as frequented as are the other more popular routes. The likelihood of finding wildlife like Elephants is much higher along the Rongai route as against the other routes. Needless to say, this is only possible at the lower altitudes during the outset of the climb. Moreover, the lack of moisture on this face makes it a very good option during the rainy season. However, the lack of moisture does not allow for lush and diverse vegetation, making the scenery relatively monotonous. But this lack of diversity is made up for by the fact that the ascent and descent are through different routes. This allows you to climb up the northern Rongai route and climb down the Marangu Route. All in all, the Rongai route makes for one of the easier and more palatable climbs with less crowded trails and potentially more panoramic views of the peaks and the surrounding terrain.  

Pricing details for the Rongai 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

  • Camp Accommodation 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 6 days come to approximately $900. The rest of the charges depend of the customisations that every climber prefers, cooks and porters, private geat, etc. all adding to the final cost. With this in mind as well as the fixed costs, please 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 Rongai Route here.

Detailed day-wise Itinerary

Day 0: Pre-Trek Prep

Try to arrive in Moshi 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. Make sure you are carrying necessary supplies like sunscreen, a non-freezing water system, energy bars and chocolates, batteries, tang/tea and other such things that may be vital at high altitudes. Equipment will be reviewed and whatever gear is required to be rented will be picked out from the local stores and markets. A pre-trek briefing will follow, and the day will end with a relaxed dinner and a good amount of rest.

Day 1: Nalemuru Gate to Simba Camp

After the preparatory day, the first day of the trek will begin with a long drive. After a quick snack, aim to leave Moshi by 9 AM, heading eastward toward the small mountain town of Marangu. Follow the road all around the eastern face of Kilimanjaro as you climb towards the village of Tarakea. The vegetation is dominated by lush banana and potato plantations, which slowly become more and more fragmented as the altitude increases. A quick lunch break at Tarakea will set you up for the last leg of the drive along the Kenyan border toward Nalemuru. At the outset, one might be surprised to find fences as tall as 2 metres lining the village town of Nalemuru - a trend that will be replicated again during the initial leg of the Rongai trek. This owes to the presence of wildlife in the vicinity due to a few reasons - the Chagga (local inhabitants) have driven away wildlife around other routes up Kilimanjaro, but this town stands out in that respect. Wildlife can be spotted around the village pretty frequently. It is also situated adjacent to the Amboseli National Park, leading to a greater possibility of wildlife finding their way into the village. This is why the fences are used for protection of crop, gear as well as life. A proper 4 hours into your drive, you will reach the point where you leave your vehicle behind once and for all. After the mandatory checking and registration with rangers and the KINAPA officials right above Nalemuru village, you will finally be on your way up Mount Kilimanjaro. Your climb will commence only around early afternoon, owing to the formalities that will have to be completed at the outset of the climb. The first few meters of the climb will be on a well-paved trail that meanders through the settlements filled with amicable and friendly locals. The vegetation is mainly cultivated for specific farming with beans, maize and potatoes along with well planted conifers. A few hundred metres into the trek, at around 220 metres, the path begins to narrow and pierces through the local forest and cultivated land. One can observe the fencing throughout settlements on this face of the mountain that is populated with greater wildlife at the base. The annual precipitation amounts are also relatively lesser as compared to the other routes, allowing for greater proximity to roaming wildlife.

One thing you will notice along the Rongai route is the presence of signs in English and Latin on trees and plants. This is something specific to the Rongai route, not present on any of the other routes up Kilimanjaro. You will also notice that the density of the forest and vegetation as well as its general heights will begin to reduce. At approximately 2400 metres you will start observing the transition from light forest to moorland and heather zones. Erica Trees (lat. Erica Arborea) line the vegetation as the trend of low density of vegetation continues throughout this trail, owing to the lack of moisture that this face of the mountain receives. This transition also indicates another hour’s walk to the Simba Camp (2625 mt.) The entire hiking time for the first day will be approximately 4 hours, just a warm up for the days to come. At Simba Camp, one can expect clean and simple accommodation with individual campsites. The first sightings of Kibo and Mawenzi can also be made from the camp. After a bowl of warm water to wash up, some hot tea and salted popcorns, you will be ready for a relaxed evening at the Simba camp as the cooks prepare a scrumptious meal for dinner. Most of the cooks that are part of the team that joins you on the climb are highly skilled at conjuring up the most amazing of meals in the middle of the mountains, making it something to look forward to every night after a long day’s hike! The night will be comfortable with temperatures ranging around the 10 degrees celsius. Ensure you get all the rest possible to conserve energy for the remaining days on the mountain.


Day 2: Simba Camp to Kikelelwa Camp

If you are an early riser, you will be treated to a fantastic viewing of the Kibo peak in a glowing warm orange light as the Sun rises and hits the peak early in the morning for a few minutes. If not, there will be plenty sightings of the peaks throughout the trek. After a healthy breakfast, you will be on your way by 8 30 AM. Today’s leg of the trail goes in a southerly direction penetrating the moorlands in the process. A total altitude gain of 1000 metres will also be the outcome of today’s hike. Today might also mark the first time that symptoms of altitude related sickness might surface. The start of the hike will lead you through the moorlands outlined by Erica tree heathers (lat. Erica Arborea), low-lying grasses and scattered bushes of herbal plants of varying fragrances. The ascent also gets considerably steeper than the previous day. As you approach 3000 metres, the first symptoms of altitude related sickness like headaches and nausea might set in. This is largely due to constriction caused by the low air pressure and its effects on the body. One must also beware that the Rongai route is easier than the Marangu route overall, but the ascent of the second day on the Rongai route is way more strenuous as compared to that on the Marangu route. Ensure that you are well hydrated, and are carrying enough energy supplements, granola bars and munchies.

At approximately 3200 metres, rocky formations typical of the Kilimanjaro ascent begin to appear. The vegetation begins to dwindle as altitude increases, adding to the relative scarcity of moisture on this face of the mountain. Philippia Excelsa bushes are prominent in this part of the route. These bushes indicate the impressive capacity of nature to recover from catastrophes like the wildfires that raged through the Rongai route in 2001. 3 hours into this leg of the trail will lead you to the first of the three so-called Rongai caves (3350 mt.). These are overhanging rock formations, but are still cave-like formations. One can make a short stop to admire the view and take a breather from the strenuous climb, but one is not allowed to use the caves as shelter through the night anymore. One can stop for lunch at the Second cave at 3480 metres and stock up on the calories for the rest of the climb. The expansive views of the Kenyan highlands will never cease to amaze as the clouds swiftly glide overhead. Once lunch is done, the trail will continue in a south-easterly direction through similar terrain as the day has already offered. The Erica heathers slowly diminish as the Philippia Excelsa bushes keep re-appearing. The trail snakes through slopes, terraces and ridges, even small valleys as you keep being fooled by the hills directly in front of you, expecting them to mark the end of today’s journey. During the rainy season one can expect a tad bit of rainfall in scattered phases. Sometimes the rain passes along the moorlands, creating an eery and mysterious fog the blankets the entire plain - a sight to remember!

A few more ridges and you are at the Kikelelwa Camp (3630 mt.). An unprotected natural camp on rocky ground, the Kikelelwa Camp comes across as one of those typical campsites owing to the abundant toilet huts that are present all around the campsite. One can spot the peculiar Tree Groundsels (lat. Senecio Johnstonii Cottonii) right underneath the campsite. As the sun goes down, the mercury drops drastically. While the previous night was a pleasant 10 degrees, the temperature tonight (and for all nights that follow) will flirt with the 0 degree mark. You will be grateful as your cook conjures up a hot bowl of soup or something equally appetising and relaxing, warming the body from within. While the elevation and the fatigue might lead to a loss of appetite, it is imperative for one to maintain a level of calories to replenish the lost energy and be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in the coming days. A freezing night in the mountains will ensue, as you await for the sun to warm your body and soul the next morning.

Day 3: Kikelelwa Camp to Mawenzi Tarn Camp

If the previous night was freezing filled with stars, one can be certain the next morning will be cloudless and sunny. Sunrise will be around 6 AM, one that will be welcomed by everyone on the mountain face. The cloudless morning offers spectacular views of the eastern flank of Kibo, the panorama completed with the Stufen Glacier on the right and the Rehmann Glacier on the left. A few minutes of admiration will be followed by a hot morning breakfast, after which you get into the groove pretty quick. The first half hour of today’s trail takes you through familiar moorland, as tree groundsels become prominent all around. However, the variety of plants and vegetation will dwindle and slowly disappear entirely. The path will also become narrower and the terrain steeper and rockier. The sights and views will continually serve to inspire you as the Kenyan valleys extend to the horizon behind you, while Kibo and Mawenzi tower overhead, reminding you of the start as well as the finish line. Be prepared to feel your pulse throbbing in your head, constriction and heavy breathing as the lungs search for oxygen in the air that delivers only 65% of the oxygen content usually available at sea level. After you cross the 4000 metre level approximately after 2 hours of climbing, the terrain will become considerably rockier, almost announcing the arrival of the supremely cumbersome scree slopes that lie ahead.  Don’t be surprised if you resort to using your hands as you look for better grip on these loose slopes.

One more ridge to overcome and you reach the Mawenzi Tarn Hut at 4310 metres - a site that some hold as the most beautiful campsite on Mount Kilimanjaro. The total walking time might be approximately 4 hours or so, but will sap quite a good deal of your energy. The Mawenzi Tarn Camp is spectacular in the way it presents the natural world - bejewelled with the only lake on the upper mountain levels, coupled with the formidable Mawenzi massif closer than ever before, all of which is situated at a sheer 4000 metres in the skies. What’s more, the location is wind-protected and often hosts a spectacular interplay of weather conditions making for jaw dropping views of not only the Mawenzi peak but also the surrounding terrain. It truly makes for a sight to behold, something you will certainly not get enough of.

After a good lunch comes the time to make an important assessment: rest or acclimatisation trips? If you are feeling sapped of energy, tired, dizzy, nauseous or any other altitude related symptoms, it is important to take some rest. If you feel like your body is coping well with the altitude and the already completed ascent, you can make short acclimatisation trips. If possible, it is advisable to make these acclimatisation trips so that the body can cope with the challenges of the coming days. However, if you face persisting symptoms of altitude related sickness, it is advisable to take a few hours of rest. There are countless stories where a few hours of rest at such altitudes have worked wonders for climbers! So, make a sound assessment of what is important for your body at that point of time, and choose how you want to spend this afternoon and evening. Please remember to keep sipping on water and other fluids whenever possible. The sunset here will offer different scenery from the previous evenings, as Mawenzi scrambles back in the shadow, passing the limelight to the Kenyan highlands and clouds that blanket them as they absorb the hues of the setting sun. The night will be bitterly cold, and it is advisable to prepare for dinner early, and follow it up with a good deal of rest.


Day 4: Mawenzi Tarn Camp to School Hut

This morning starts off in the same chilly manner as the night as the warming sun rays are hidden behind the Mawenzi massif. However, as the sun gets higher in the sky, the first rays will hit the camp and warm you. You are left with two options of the ascent for the fourth day: Go up to the Kibo Huts - a left from the Kibo Saddle, or take the right after the Kibo Saddle to the School Huts. The Kibo Huts are an important checkpoint for the climbers on the Marangu Route. The huts are not given out to the climbers from the Rongai Route, who are given the tents along the camp. The ideal choice would be the School Hut on this leg, and the Kibo Huts on the descent on the sixth day. This way, both the sites can be visited while adding a bit more variety to the entire trek. Remember that you have to declare your choice at the registration desk right at the start of the climb. The terrain as well as the scenery during the fourth day’s stretch is surreal and unusually lifeless, often making you feel like you are walking on the moon. The chunk of the hike will be through the Kibo Saddle which stretches for approximately 7 kilometres, all the way to the foot of the Kibo Crater. Vegetation and plant life will be sparse and scanty, if any, while the terrain will become rockier and dustier than the previous day. Progress will be slower than the previous days as the body tries to cope with the 4500 metre altitude, yielding higher heart rate and breathing rate in the process. The incline of the fourth day’s stretch is similar to the previous days, with stretches of acute slopes that might be relatively difficult to overcome.

Approximately 5 hours after the commencement of the day’s hike, you will finally spot the School Hut Camp (4725 mt.) with just a ridge or two to cross. A typical aspect of this campsite is the scattered rocks and boulders that line the entire campsite. The campsite might also be scattered with tired climbers taking naps on warm rocks and cavities. Considering the early start to the next day (effectively the same night) it is advisable to take all the rest possible once you reach the campsite.

Many climbers might face great discomfort owing to altitude related sickness. If this is the case, please consult the guide regarding your health and whether you should continue the climb. If you feel sapped of energy and fatigued, make sure you rest with your head elevated and load up on fluids to avoid dehydration. Dinner will be served early, between 4 and 5 PM with the night ascent in mind. It is imperative to make a climbing checklist for the final ascent. This will take place in the dark with just a headlamp and moonlight aiding your vision. Make sure you carry a water system that does not freeze as temperatures plummet to -15 degrees celsius. Stock up on any and every chocolate and energy bar you find and keep batteries inside your jacket (battery capacity reduces by 90% in the freeing cold). Gaiters will be important to prevent rocks entering your shoes and slowing you down. Even if you have headaches and pains around the body, with thoughts of the summit floating around, it is vital to get a few hours of rest before making the final ascent.

Day 5: School Hut to Uhuru Peak to Horombo Hut

After waking up sometime around 11 PM, a short intake of calories will be followed by a final check of gear and supplies. You will leave most of your luggage and gear at the campsite, carrying only bare necessities up with you. 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). While the motivation to make the final stretch might dwindle, visualising the images from atop Uhuru Peak might help your cause, while you long for the warm feeling of the sunlight roasting your body. After crossing the Hans Meyer Cave (5200 mt.) around two and a half hours into the climb, the next landmark is Gillman’s point (5681 mt.) which should take you another couple of hours. You will also be assured of a certificate of completion if you reach this point.

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. After crossing the rim of the Reusch Crater, you will approach Stella Point (5740 mt.) within the next hour where the Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe Routes will merge.

Everything from hereon will look otherworldly, filled with spectacular hues caused by the reflections of the sunlight, as the ground underneath you keeps slipping you back and reminds you to be surefooted. Slowly but surely, you will cross the Rehmann Glacier, it’s cathedral like ice-formations gleaming in a myriad 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.

You have conquered the roof of Africa as the morning sun warmly bakes the expansive 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. This descent will take you to Gillman’s point in no more than 45 minutes. The scree slopes follow, leading you all the way to the Kibo Huts. After a short visit and rest over there, you can make your way back to the School Hut campsite, pick up the remainder of your luggage and prepare to descend to the Horombo Huts. This should not take more than 2 to 3 hours. The climb down to the Hornmbo Huts should not take too long either, with the entire descent taking approximately 4 to 5 hours. Time will pass by faster as the conditions become more amicable for the body, while the sense of accomplishment takes over the mind. The Horombo huts will be a welcome sight owing to the reasonable temperatures and the knowledge of having completed what you were working toward since a whole week! Be assured to get a good nights sleep!

Day 6: Horombo Hut to Marangu Gate

This day begins with the famous tip ceremony for the guides that joined you on the climb. After a group photo and a leisurely breakfast, the descent to Marangu gate begins. This serves as the final chance to admire and absorb the sheer beauty of the landscape and the formidable peaks that tower overhead. Look back and visualise how you were standing atop that monstrous mastiff just a few hours ago! The walk will be on well paved trails that extend all the way to the Marangu gate. Expect to be at the Marangu Gate by early afternoon. Proudly enter your name in the summit record book, maybe even purchase a souvenir, although you might not need anything tangible to remind you of this week! You will receive your certificate by evening at the hotel, where you can relax, unwind and share a few laughs over drinks with the guides that were part of your team.