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Kilimanjaro Routes

There are five ascent trails leading up to the foot of Kibo peak.

These are: Lemosho/Shira Route, Machame Route, Umbwe Route, Marangu Route and Rongai Route. The Mweka Route is only used for descent. Each of the five ascent routes eventually meet with a path circling the Kibo cone, a path known as either the Northern Circuit or the Southern Circuit depending on which side of the mountain you are.

The trails mix and merge at this point, so that by the time you reach Kibo just three trails lead up to the crater rim: the Western Breach Route (aka the Arrow Glacier Route), Barafu Route and the nameless third path which runs up from Kibo Huts to Gillman’s Point, and which we shall call the Kibo Huts Route. Which of these you will take to the summit depends upon which of the five paths you took to get this far: the Shira, Lemosho, Machame and Umbwe routes can use either the difficult Arrow Glacier Route or the easier (but longer) Barafu Route, while the Marangu and Rongai trails use the Kibo Huts Route.

You can deviate from this rule and design your own combination of trails to take you to the summit and back but it will require special permission from KINAPA and the agencies charge a lot more to organize such a trek.

Marangu Route

The Marangu route(5-6 days) is the oldest and has traditionally always been seen as the most popular trail on the mountain (though see the statistics opposite for the current story). It is also the one that comes closest (though not very) to the trail Hans Meyer took in making the first successful assault on the summit. Plus it is the only ascent trail where camping is not necessary, indeed not allowed, with trekkers sleeping in dormitory huts along the way. From the Kibo Huts, trekkers climb up to the summit via Gillman’s Point. The trail should take a minimum of five days and four nights to complete, though an extra night is usually taken after the second day to allow trekkers more time to acclimatize.

Machame Route

The Machame route(6-7 days) now vies with Marangu as the most popular trail on the mountain. It’s certainly the one the majority of guides consider the most enjoyable. Though widely regarded as more difficult than the Marangu Route, the success rate on this trail is higher, possibly because it is a day longer at six days and five nights (assuming you take the Barafu Route to the summit) which gives trekkers more time to acclimatize; most trekkers also take an extra acclimatization day in the Karanga Valley. You can also take the more difficult Western Breach Route though this shortens the trek by a day or two so it would be wise to build in acclimatization days if taking this option.

Shira and Lemosho Route

Shira andLemosho (6-8 days each) both run from west to east across the centre of the Shira Plateau. The Shira Plateau Route is the original plateau trail though it is seldom used these days, for much of it is now a 4WD track and walkers embarking on this trail often begin their trek above the forest in the moorland zone. The Lemosho route improves on the Shira Plateau Route by starting below the Shira Ridge, thus providing trekkers with a walk in the forest at the trek’s start, giving them more time to acclimatize. As with the Shira Plateau Route, you can ascend Kibo either by the Western Breach or by the Barafu Route; allow five nights for the former (though this is too fast for such a long trail) or a recommended seven nights for the latter.

It’s common for trekking agencies to refer to the Lemosho Route as the Shira Route, which is of course confusing. If you have already booked your ‘Shira’ trek and want to know what route it is that you will actually be taking, one way to check is to see where your first night’s campsite will be; if it’s the Big Tree Campsite – or Mti Mkubwa in the local language – then it’s actually the Lemosho Route that you’ll be using.

The Rongai Route

The Rongai route(5-6 days) is the only trail to approach Kibo from the north. Indeed, the original trail began right against the Kenyan border, though recently the trail shifted eastwards and now starts at the Tanzanian town of Loitokitok after which the new trail has been named (though everybody still refers to it as the Rongai Route; it is also sometimes called the Nalemuru Route, after the nearby river). For the final push to the summit, trekkers on this trail take the Kibo Huts Route, joining it either at the huts themselves or just below Hans Meyer Cave. Again the trek can be completed in five days and four nights though most trekkers take a detour to camp beneath Mawenzi peak, adding an extra day.

The Umbwe Route

The Umbwe route(5-6 days) is the hardest and least popular trail, a tough vertical slog through the jungle, in places using the tree roots as makeshift rungs on a ladder. Having reached the Southern Circuit, trekkers then traditionally continue north-west to tackle Kibo from the west and the more difficult Arrow Glacier/Western Breach Route, though you can also head east round to Barafu and approach the summit from there. The entire walk up and down takes a minimum of five days if going via the Barafu Campsite (though this is entirely too rapid; take six minimum, with a day at Karanga Valley); or four/five minimum (again, this is way too short; six is better) if going via the Western Breach, with additional days if sleeping in the crater.