Located in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's tallest peak at 19,341 feet and the fourth highest of the Seven Summits. Though the climb is technically very easy, the altitude, low temperature, and occasional high winds make this a difficult and dangerous trek lasting anywhere between 7 and 10 days. One of the widly known tips is to add an extra day to help you acclimatize in better chances to reach the summit.
Climbing Kilimanjaro can be the most important part of your Tanzanian holiday. For a budget trek you'll want at least $1,200 (USD). If you choose a more remote route you'll need to set aside more. The average trek can cost from $2,400 to $5,000 per person. Trek operators vary from excellent to downright negligent so be selective and careful not to be too cheap. Once you are on the mountain you'll only spend extra money on the occasional soft drink, beer or chocolate bar from the ranger huts on the way.
The best time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is during one of the mountain's two dry seasons, January to mid-March and June to October. There are several routes available for climbers: Marangu, Rongai (Loitokitok), Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. For obvious reasons some are more popular than others.
Mount Kilimanjaro's Scenic Marangu Route (5 or 6 days)
Dubbed "the Coca-Cola trail" Mount Kilimanjaro's Marangu Route is the oldest of all the trailes, is extremely popular and the least strenuous. It is also the only one where climbers can buy snacks and soft drinks at each stop on the way up. Offering huts to sleep in, this is the route where nearly 90% of all Mount Kilimanjaro's climbers hike so it tends to be a very busy climb. Even with the great popularity of the Marangu Route it has the lowest success rate for reaching the summit. Climbers tend to be poorly-prepared and travel with less-experienced guides. However, this is one of the shorter trails and the only trail that you ascend and descend using the same path.
Rongai, also known as Loitokitok, is Very Unpopular (6 to 7 days)
Originally the Rongai Route began from the north and was known as Loitokitok, but after the trail shifted eastwards it is referred to Rongai. It's difficult to reach the remote trailhead of the Rongai Route and this path is seldom used. Relatively easy when compared to other Kilimanjaro routes, the main draw for climbers is the unspoiled wilderness you must hike through for the first 4 days. After completing the heavily wooded portion of the trail Rongai meets up with the Marangu Route for the last 2 days. This route is usually more expensive and dangerous than the others, but the wildlife brings climbers even if it's so unpopular.
The Shira Plateau and Lemosho Routes (6 to 8 days)
The original trail trekking over the Shira Plateau is, not surprisingly, known as the Shira Plateau Route. Seldom used these days, the fairly new route across the plateau is the Lemosho Route. The Lemosho Route is often regarded as the second timers Kilimanjaro Route. Offering a more remote atmosphere this quieter trail has the potential of spotting big game on the lower reaches. This might mean your first day of hiking will be with an armed game scout to provide protection from predators. It's no wonder the Lemosho Route is gaining quickly in popularity.
Prepare Your Legs for the Burn of the Umbwe Route (5 to 7 days)
With the steepest initial climb of all Kilimanjaro routes, the Umbwe Route is rarely used and one of the least developed trails. This is why it's regarded as the hardest trail with a tough vertical slog through the jungle. Surprisingly the Umbwe Route is not very technical, just requires an "iron will and calves of steel" (ClimbMountKilimanjaro.com) because of the constant uphill battle. Your ears will appreciate the quietness of this remote trail, until you join the masses at Barranco Camp on the second day.
The Machame Route is Most Often Recommended by Experienced Outfitters (6 to 7 days)
Regarded as the most scenic route on Mount Kilimanjaro, the Machame Route or 'Whiskey Route' sees about 40% of Kilimanjaro climbers. The success rate of the Machame Route is higher than the Marangu Route, possibly because it's a day longer allowing more time to acclimatize.
Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically for Your Summit Attempt
Mount Kilimanjaro's summit is possible to reach successfully and many have succeeded. Keep this in your mind. Add preparation to ensure your body is capable and your chances of reaching the top increase dramatically. One of the best ways to prepare for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is to hike. The climb will take days and can be stenuous so hiking will prepare your muscles. It's also a good idea to begin walking, especially with uphill and down hill sections. As you become stronger you can carry a backpack with at least 3 liters of water to stimulate the conditions you'll encounter.
Once on the mountain route of your choice you'll want to keep a few points in mind. In the first days of your climb slow down and enjoy the scenery, this will help you acclimate. Drink plenty of water. By bringing a water bottle with a screw lid you'll have the opportunity to drink the running water on the mountain after day 2. To be extra safe you'll want to use water purification tablets. Before you head to bed try to take a light stroll to a higher elevation, then head back down to your sleeping area. Again this will help you acclimate.
It is strongly recommended that more detailed maps are utilised to navigate your route to the summit. Some excellent detailed route maps can be purchased at the Kilimanjaro National Park Gate.
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