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Kilimanjaro Weather

There are two climbing seasons in East Africa: mid-December through mid-March, and early June through mid-October (although these are not absolute). Both of these periods are considered “dry seasons” in East Africa. Mid-December through mid-March is dry and warm, whereas early June through mid-October is generally dry and cool. The highest tourist season on East African peaks is probably the warm dry season, especially around Christmas.

There are two wet seasons, November to December and March to May, with the driest months between August to October. Rainfall decreases rapidly with increase in altitude; mean precipitation is 2,300 millimeters (mm) in the forest belt (at 1,830 m), 1,300 mm at Mandara hut on the upper edge of the forest (2,740 m), 525 mm at Horombo hut in the moorland (3,718 m), and less than 200 mm at Kibo hut (4,630 m), giving desert-like conditions. The prevailing winds, influenced by the trade winds, are from the southeast. North-facing slopes receive far less rainfall.

January to March are the warmest months. Conditions above 4,000 m can be extreme and the daytime temperature range there is considerable. Mist frequently envelopes much of the massif but the former dense cloud cover is now rare.

Despite these broad generalizations, there are always regional and local fluctuations in the weather. East African peaks are so tall and isolated from other ranges that they create their own weather. After a clear morning, at about 10:00 am thick cloud cover often forms around their summits (4,000 meters and up), remaining until late in the day, when the summits clear for the night.

During the dry seasons, precipitation is infrequent, but not unheard of. Compared with mountains of a similar height in other parts of the world, East African peaks seem to have fewer windy periods. However, when wind does occasionally blow, it can be fierce.

Most routes on East African peaks can be climbed in either dry season—however, several locals have reported that with climate change the storms on East African peaks are becoming more violent than a decade ago.

Technical routes, are more weather-dependent. Rock routes that face south are best done in December, January, and February; routes that face north are best in July, August, and September. Ice climbs are just the opposite: south-facing routes are best done in July, August, and September; north-facing routes are best in December, January, and February.

Although all these East African peaks sit astride the equator, they can be extremely cold places, especially during the night. Generally, expect tempera­tures at night and in the early morning at the 4,600-meter level to be as low as minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit).

Daytime temperatures are much more reasonable. It’s possible to wear shorts as far as the top huts (Kibo, Barafu, Austrian, John Matte, Saddle, and so forth) on East African mountains, where midday temperatures can reach 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

However, anyone climbing above the 4,600-meter level should have several thermal layers of clothing. Also, be prepared to feel cooler at noon than you do at, say, 9:00 am or 4:00 pm. The moisture in the clouds that swirl around the summits during the day makes the air feel much colder than it really is.