Kilimanjaro Climbing Guide

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

Umbwe Route

The Umbwe Route rightly holds the reputation for being one of the most formidable and taxing routes up to the Uhuru Peak. Characterised by a quick and unrelenting ascent, the Umbwe route cuts through the Southern face of Mount Kilimanjaro, parallel to the Machame route, before cutting eastward after the Barranco Camp underneath the Southern Ice Field, along the Southern Circuit. The descent is through the Mweka route. Consequently, the Umbwe route is one of the least used and least crowded routes up Mount Kilimanjaro. It is advisable to be a well versed and practiced climber if you are attempting this route. The route does not reserve much time for acclimatisation, nor does the ascent profile ever cease, right up to the top of the mountain. The ascent takes a minimum of five days, but people often add another day for acclimatisation after reaching the Barranco camp. The Umbwe route is ideal for experienced climbers who are looking for a secluded climb all the way up to Uhuru Peak. Here is a day-wise breakdown of the ascent up the Umbwe Route

Day

Start

Al tude (m)

Al tude (ft)

Finish

Al tude (m)

Al tude (ft)

Time (hrs)

Distance (km)

Distance (miles)

1

Umbwe Gate

1,600

5,249

Umbwe Camp

2,900

9,514

5-7

11

7

2

Umbwe Camp

2,940

9,646

Barranco Camp

3,976

13,044

4-5

6

4

3

Barranco Camp

3,976

13,044

Karanga Camp

3,995

13,106

4-5

5

3

4

Karanga Camp

3,995

13,106

Barafu Camp

4,673

15,331

4-5

4

2

5

Barafu Camp

4,673

15,331

Uhuru Peak

5,895

19,341

7-8

5

3

Uhuru Peak

5,895

19,341

Mweka Camp

3,068

10,065

4-6

12

7

6

Mweka Camp

3,068

10,065

Mweka Gate

1,640

5,380

3-4

10

6

Total

       

53

32




Pros and cons of climbing the Umbwe Route

Umbwe Route Pros

  • This is the shortest route up Mount Kilimanjaro and also the steepest. It may be the best way up time and distance wise. Being the steepest also means it is the most difficult way up the mountain too.
  • Given the high level of difficulty associated with this route, it is usually not picked by most climbers, making it quite empty and crowd-free all the way up to the Kibo crater.
  • Some also suggest that the Umbwe Route cuts through the forests and ridges in ways that make for some of the most stunning and spectacular views of the peaks as well as the surrounding land.  

Umbwe Route cons

  • Being the shortest way up Mount Kilimanjaro is no saving grace for the Umbwe route as it makes for the most difficult and hard-fought way up the mountain. It is not advisable to take this route unless you are a seasoned and experienced climber.
  • The trek is completed in 6 days time. You cross the Barranco Camp on the second day itself - the camp that other routes take 3 to 4 nights to reach. This shows just how steep the route is. This also means that it leaves the body with the least amount of time for acclimatisation as well. This only adds to the difficulty level of the Umbwe Route.
  • The success rate of the climb may be high, but statistically speaking that is because of the fact that only approximately 200 climbers attempt this route annually as compared to the thousands that traverse the other Kilimanjaro routes. This clearly goes to show that the Umbwe route is not the most popular ways up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Umbwe Route Compared to other routes

The Umbwe Route can be considered as one of the most extreme ways up Mount Kilimanjaro for multiple reasons. It is the shortest of all routes with respect to distance, while also being the steepest climb up. It is also one of the least popular routes with only approximately 200 people making the climb up the Umbwe route. This is also because the Umbwe route should not be attempted by those who lack professional training and combing experience. The success rate for amateur climbers up the Umbwe route will certainly be under the 10% mark. Therefore, if you are a seasoned climber looking for a climb filled with solitude while being one that tests your skill, challenges your mental capacities and takes you the limit, then the climb up the Umbwe route might be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. People also consider it to behold some of the most jaw dropping views of Mount Kilimanjaro when compared to the other routes. Therefore, the Umbwe route might not be the correct route for those of you who are inexperienced climbers. The Marangu or the Rongai route would serve better for inexperienced climbers. For returning climbers who are looking for a change, the Rongai route would be ideal - owing to it being the only route that approaches the Uhuru Peak from the Northern side. It would, however, be the ideal route for an experienced climber looking for a tranquil yet super-challenging way up Mount Kilimanjaro which can be completed with a day to spare in comparison to the other routes.

Pricing details for the Umbwe 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 gear, 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 Umbwe Route here.

Detailed Day-wise Itinerary

Day 0: Pre-Trek Prep

If possible, try making your way to Moshi at least a day prior to the commencement of your trek. Your body will be better equipped to adapt to fast-changing situations if your biological clock has adjusted to the time zone. Considering the fact that the Umbwe Route is the most difficult to climb, experienced climbers would know the pre trek drill - make an equipment checklist, ensure all gear is up to date and in place, and everything you do not own rented for the trip. Additionally, a few things act as lifesavers while up in the clouds - a water system that does not freeze, dynamo powered torches, sunscreen lotion with a high SPF, and ample energy bars that will last you over a week. A short pre-trek briefing will follow, recapping the route and the challenges that you must be prepared for at the outset. Once the briefing is completed, switch your priority to gain as much rest as possible before beginning the long climb the next day.

Day 1: Umbwe Gate to Cave Camp

The day will begin with another official briefing that will sift through the major highlights and special features along the course. One of the rare comforting aspects of this route is the relatively short drive that you need to make before starting the climb. As you head toward Arusha, you will cross a few supermarkets, serving as the final chance for you to stock up on those energy bars and chocolates - be warned, these will be extremely important on this climb specifically, owing to the exertion that comes with a steep ascent. The rest of the hour long drive is characterised by the usual banana plantations all the way up to the Umbwe village. One can register for the climb at the Umbwe gate, however the fees must be paid at the Marangu route. A thorough check for weight and baggage size will take place here. Climbers must also be vigilant against ploys of the ranger to declare overweight baggage in order to send a family member as an extra porter. Guides generally convince the rangers against this, after which you can finally be on your way up. Expect the climb to begin somewhere around 11 30 AM. The initial few metres are on a well paved, muddy and wide forest track where you run into children from neighbouring villages collecting large amounts of firewood. Watch their eyes light up at the sight of a simple chocolate bar! As the climb progresses, the route becomes muddier and narrower. This change is accompanied by an increased density of the forest with lush vegetation of giant ferns, tall ancient trees and dense grasses, all of which block the sunlight that reaches the forest floor. Bright red Impatiens (lat. Impatiens Kilimanjari) and violet Impatiens (Impatiens Pseudo Viola) add contrast to the dark forest floor.

A quick look at the route map shows how it meanders along the ridge between the Umbwe and the Lonzo river. Certain stretches of the trail reveal the gushing noises of these rivers as they flow down the lush and beautiful Lonzo valley. Depending on the season, you might be greeted with dense and thick fog as well as frequent rain showers. Approximately 2 hours into climbing muddy slopes, the trail suddenly becomes wider and well-paved again with steps and bridges across the valley. However, the exhausting slope never ceases to keep challenging the best climbers as you burn through those energy bars. This well-paved path continues for another 2 hours, after which it gets harder to recognise the way again. You scramble through large hurdles and fallen trees across high and expansive slopes. This is the first time you realise the ordeal of climbing the Umbwe route, and why only experienced climbers make their way up Kilimanjaro through this route. The Lonzo valley reveals itself, giving you an idea of the slope you are climbing, and the over-hundred foot drop through the valley. The TANAPA has created a long wooden fencing throughout this abrupt drop for safety purposes. Another hour through this will lead you to the Cave Camp at 2930 metres, as you realise that the first day of the ascent has climbed over 1300 metres in altitude. Individual open spaces that have been scraped off the lush forest floor are where you will set up your tent for the night. Each terrace can accommodate upto 3 tents. Overgrown with grasses, the first Umbwe cave is situated right underneath the campsite. The cooks will take the limelight hereon as they begin to prepare a gourmet meal for dinner. Indulging in the cooking process establishes quite a bond with the cooks and porters. The temperature is around the 10 degree celsius mark, making for quite a pleasant night on the mountain - the last one for a week!

Day 2: Cave Camp to Barranco Camp

The day begins at 6 am. Unlike other sunrises on Mount Kilimanjaro, this one is not as spectacular due to the dense vegetation, darkness and accompanying fog. After a quick and energising breakfast, you are back on the road. However, the road is often quite hard to find, owing to the many trails that lead to and out of the camp. Thankfully, the guide is well aware of the way out; so you can be assured of not wasting any time and energy following the wrong path up. The terrain is quite steep. Don’t be surprised if you need to take help of frosty tree barks to climb up the makeshift muddy steps that relentlessly lift you up the trail. Add to this the slippery and muddy ground that makes it even harder to climb. Thus, the first half hour of this climb is quite cumbersome. If you thought the previous day was steep and muddy, today’s trail will certainly trump that. The trail eventually becomes a bit more gradual in slope just when you enter the heather and moorland zone. Now the landscape will be dominated by the 12 feet tall Erica tree heathers (lat. Erica Arborea). Mosses and lichens will be lined on either side of the trail; some even overflowing onto the trail itself, almost taking it over. Right after this, the Umbwe Valley will reveal itself, while the Umbwe river flows hundreds of feet beneath. A sheer drop on either side of the trail will get your heart racing. The ground also becomes smoother and harder as you climb along this stretch of the trail. Couple this with the first rays of sunshine hitting you, and you feel energised and rejuvenated. Just as you feel the trail has eased up a bit, you hit Rope Rock. A flat 30 feet high rock blocks the trail; it looks impassable at the first glance. The guide will ask you to set your trekking poles and rucksack aside. The only way out is up and over. In what qualifies as the steepest of all stretches amongst all the routes up Mount Kilimanjaro, Rope Rock tests the true climber in you. With minimal gripping points for both hands and feet, the rock takes just a few minutes of steadiness and concentration as healthy muscles and joints take over. After this rock is crossed, the rest of the trail continues through the usual heather and moorland zone.

A well-deserved stretch of the trail exposes a lush and deep valley extending along the left side of the trail, as the snow covered Kibo peak pokes out of the upper slopes in the distance. The Western Breach and the Southern Glacier also become visible as you keep climbing. After 3000 metres, the vegetation changes to a low grasses scattered with rocks. The gradient begins increasing once again as you hit the 3300 meter mark before the second Umbwe cave. Just before you hit the cave, you will observe formations of the famous Giant Scenicos or Tree Groundsels (lat. Senecio Kilimanjari). They are often found with clumps of low Erica tree heather. This also serves as a sign that scanty vegetation is to follow. As the altitude increases, the temperatures become increasingly colder - too cold for perennial vegetation. Another two hours of hiking takes you through the last tow Umbwe caves. A spectacularly beautiful hike is the reward for a strenuous and exhausting day’s climb. Approximately 300 metres after the caves, there comes a crossing. The Barranco valley lies to the left trail, and the Barranco Camp lies to the right. You will mostly go toward Barranco Camp, not being in a position for a detour to the valley. 500 metres onwards, you will reach the southern edge of the Barranco Camp - one of the most beautiful camps on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Day 3: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp

The third day will be filled by a trek through the low and high alpine zones, traversing along the southern circuit, finally ending your day at the Karanga Camp. The first hurdle in the way is the audacious looking Barranco Wall, which is unlikely to pose much of a threat regardless of its daunting presence. While you might have to use all four limbs to grip and scramble up atop the 250 metre wall, the resulting trail and scenery will be completely worth it. It will be just below the Heim glacier that the trail opens up and presents unseen views of the Kilimanjaro valley. As you walk along the trail for the next couple of hours, splendid views of the southern circuit nestled before the snow-covered Kibo peak will keep revealing themselves. It will be at these stretches of the ascent when you will actually be able to take some time and marvel at the spectacular view and beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro. As the ascent continues, it is unlikely that the combined strain of altitude and steepness will allow you to take some time and bask in the beauty of the mountain as you struggle to make your way to daily destinations. So make the most of this time and absorb the variety of views that present themselves to you. Soon you will be in the Karanga Valley, walking down to the Karanga Camp (3,960 mt.), with the jagged peaks of Mawenzi to the east and slopes with scanty vegetation along the western side. The trek on the third day will last approximately 4 to 6 hours based on the pace you choose to maintain.

Lunch will be served at the campsite as the cooks conjure up another savoury and scrumptious meal. The afternoon and evening of the third day is imperative for the remainder of the journey. Considering the fact that this one is a short day, it is imperative that this time is used for acclimatising your body. Additionally, the Umbwe route is also the steepest and shortest of climbs, which means it is the most physically straining and taxing of all routes as well. Irrespective of the experience and professional training you might have collected through the past, every climb has its own challenges, and the biggest threat the Umbwe Route poses is that of acclimatisation. So make sure you do exactly what your body needs, allowing the body some rest and restocking on energy for the remainder of the ascent.

Day 4: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp

As you move into the business end of the climb, it is vital that you get as much rest as possible through the night. The number of hours of sleep might not be the highest, but make sure you have rested your body and given it time enough to replenish some of its lost energy. With a day hike followed by early dinner and commencement of the summit climb, the fourth day of the climb on the Umbwe route might challenge even the most seasoned of climbers. The day will begin with another warm and vitalising breakfast topped up with some energy drinks. Don’t hesitate to carry Tang or any other sugar based powder - these might not be the healthiest but can provide vital energy on climbs while also allowing the body to rehydrate. Anyway, after breakfast, you will be on your way on the comparatively short 2 mile hike to Barafu Camp (4,670 mt.). As you can expect, the vegetation you will encounter along the way hereon will be scanty and sparse. Given the high alpine desert zone along with windy conditions all year round, the chance for growth of perennial vegetation is minimal. The trek to Barafu camp will take you eastward from the Karanga camp, through intervening ridges and valleys along the lava ridge. The temperature will keep dropping every half hour as you ascent to over 4,500 metres of altitude. You will also join the Mweka route midway through the trek. This is also the route you will use to climb down the mountain after the summit ascent. Following the Mweka route up the ridge for approximately another hour will lead you to the Barafu Hut. This will be your stop for lunch. While you might be given a good lunch, remember to carry lots of water from Karanga itself, because the last water on the mountain is situated over there. The Barafu Camp does not have any water (even though the word Barafu means Ice in Swahili), so all the supplies must be carried keeping the same in mind.

The experience of spending an evening at the Barafu Camp will be memorable for those who have not spent time in such conditions. The campsite is situated in an inhospitable, bleak and totally exposed area that is battered incessantly with gales and strong winds. The tents will be pitched on a stony and narrow ridge which would look quite inhospitable at the outset. However, remember that the aim of this halt is not that of a good night’s sleep but doing whatever is necessary to gain some rest before an exhausting summit climb. As the evening sets in, make sure you take some time to familiarise yourself to the terrain and use the light to pack the equipment that you will be carrying to the summit. Also ensure that you carry water systems that do not freeze over, like thermal flasks. Remember that batteries must be kept close to the body in order to save them from accidental discharge due to the extreme cold temperature. As the mercury drops under the 0-degree mark, a quick and early dinner will be served, after which you must try your hardest to get some shut-eye before the midnight ascent commences.

Day 5: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp

Hot tea and biscuits will greet you as early as 11:30 PM as you are expected to be up and running with half an hour. Today will be a historic day if all goes well, and it is important to start off with the right mindset. Be prepared to toil over the loose and discomforting scree under your feet, as you feel drained and light-headed due to the exertion and altitude. But, an experienced climber learns how to preserve energy and maintain optimal body condition for longer lengths of time. The walk will commence as you make your way through the scree filled slopes of Kibo. While traveling the crater rim is extremely challenging, you must remain focused at progressing one step at a time. As the scree makes even this seemingly simple game-plan cumbersome, you will find yourself around Stella Point (5,739 mt.) approximately around the time of dawn. This also marks the top of the crater rim - quite a milestone in the final ascent. Making it past the crater rim might be a good checkpoint to catch your breath, recondition your mind and body for the remaining stretch and also absorb the magnitude of this achievement without straying away from the ultimate goal of reaching Uhuru Peak. The halt can be timed perfectly with a warming and sanguine sunrise at Stella Point - one that roasts your deflating spirits back into life! You will also be delighted to know that the route flattens out after the crater rim for the coming couple of hours after Stella Point. Make sure you don’t stop for too long as it gets very difficult to get moving again at such a height if you cool your body down entirely. The remainder of the climb might not be as cumbersome, and you will make the Uhuru Peak standing at a daunting 5,895 metres within a couple of hours. Do not be surprised to run into tufts and stages of snow while on this stretch of the climb. Once you reach the peak, take off your equipment and marvel at the sight and more importantly your achievement for a few moments. The temperature will plummet, the gusts will pick up and the sun will hit you hard. Make sure you have a story to write in the climbers’ notebook up at the peak, and maintain a timeline so you do not get carried away while you’re up there. A few good hours of descent remain before you can call it a day!

The trek down from Uhuru Peak will be considerably less exhausting as the climb up. Down you go through the same scree slopes that you ascended this morning, and make it all the way back to Barafu Camp. After a well-earned but short rest at the camp, you will pick up all your gear and equipment, heading down to more acceptable temperatures and altitudes to spend the night at the Mweka Camp. It is often the case that climbers lose their concentration having achieved what they set out for a week ago, consequently losing balance or slipping on the walk down and injuring themselves. Maintain a leisurely pace and marvel at the scenery, but make sure you do not lose your footing and injure yourself in the aftermath of the mental and physical high. The descent will take you through initial rock and scree slopes that will transcend into the moorlands within an hour or so. You will climb even further down to the forest area where the Mweka Camp is situated at 3,100 metres. Located in the upper forest, the area often receives short bursts of rain showers through the afternoon, so be prepared for those conditions. Finally, put down your gear and luggage, wash your body with warm water, go to the office and find yourself some beer! You have made it down to Mweka Camp after conquering the tallest point in all of Africa! Sit down, relax and enjoy the evening!

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Day 6: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate

A well-deserved and scrumptious breakfast will be served to start off this leisure-filled morning. Waking up with the feeling of accomplishing a week-long ordeal is extremely satisfying! After a short photo session and a few nice gestures around the group, head back down to the Mweka Gate which is a short and scenic hike that should not take more than 3 hours. Make sure you do not exert your knees which might feel quite sore after the exertion of the past week. The Mweka gate is where you enter your details in the register, and also receive your certificate of completion. Once all your luggage and equipment has made it down to the Mweka Gate, the next tradition is to provide adequate tips to your porters and guides for all the support they offered throughout the climb. A short 3 kilometre walk will lead you to Mweka Village where a delicious and hot lunch will await you. The drive back to Moshi after this is quite short, and it should serve as the perfect time to reminisce and wrap your head around the entire experience of climbing the tallest mountain in Africa!