Tanzania boasts of hosting the highest peak in Africa, located in the northern part of the country close to its border with Kenya. The peak in question is Mt. Kilimanjaro which is elevated 19,340 ft or 5,895 meters above sea level and also ranks as the highest mountain in the world that is not part of a mountain range.
Kilimanjaro located in Tanzania close to the Kenya border
Like many other mountains, Mt. Kilimanjaro formed as a result of volcanic activity over a million years ago resulting in its three volcanic cones: Mawenzi, Kibo, and Shira.
Amongst the three cones, Mawenzi and Shira are extinct while Kibo is dormant with minor volcanic activity noted less than two centuries ago. However, the cone is believed to have had a major eruption over 360,000 years ago. On Kibo is the Uhuru Peak which is the highest point on the mountain.
Over the years there has been a notable decline in the glaciers on the peaks of the mountain, and approximately in the next two decades, the ice cap on the mountain will have vanished entirely.
Kibo view from Millenium Camp – photo by Lynn Jackson
Occupying a position as the fourth highest of the seven summits, ascending to the top of the mountain is as much a challenging as an alluring task usually approached from seven different routes that vary in a degree of complexity determined by their individual terrains and time of the year. The routes are Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Shira, Lemosho, Northern, and Umbwe.
Organizing a Kilimanjaro hike means reading up upon and getting your head around a lot of information. I would recommend to proceed in the following step-by-step sequence:
- Why – is Kilimanjaro for you, will you be able to truly enjoy it?
- Who with – do you want to organize a private hike or join a group tour?
- When – which are the best months?
- How long – what can you afford versus what is recommendable?
- Which route – join the masses or go off into the wild?
- Which operator – what are the criteria to watch out for?
Good news first—reaching the top of Africa is relatively easy. You will have porters carrying all your stuff (except your daypack, but you could even pay a small extra fee to have that carried as well), setting up your tent, fetching and boiling water, even carrying and cleaning a portable toilet. You will have a cook and waiter serving you breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. You will have a lead guide and at least one assistant guide to lead you up the mountain, watch out for any AMS symptoms and take care of you in case of any emergencies. You may have people bring you hot water to wash your face in the morning and evening. I’ve even read about hikers literally being carried up to the top by their guides because they couldn’t have made it on their own. I don’t think this is good practice, neither on the part of the hiker (doesn’t it feel like cheating?) nor on the part of the guide (wouldn’t it be better to send their client down the mountain as quickly as possible if they can’t handle it anymore?), but it seems to happen nevertheless. The point being, hiking Kilimanjaro is not comparable to real trekking where you actually have to carry all your stuff and take care of yourself.
Choose a responsible Kilimanjaro tour operator.
Routes offered by tour operators organising Kilimanjaro climbs range anywhere between 5 and more than 9 days. So how long does it take to really climb Kilimanjaro?
Of course we all want to keep is as short as possible, right? After all, who wants to spend more time than necessary without a shower and sleeping in a tent and not showering? And the longer, the more expensive. At least that was my initial thinking…
Kilimanjaro spoils you for choice. There are six common routes as well as few less popular ones, all leading to the summit. By stated order of popularity, the traditional routes include the Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai and Umbwe routes. Choice is good, but it also adds complexity. How to even start?