The Routes of Kilimanjaro


The various trekking routes on Mount Kilimanjaro are featured in my book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, which chronicles my attempt to summit Africa’s highest mountain. The book is on sale now as an e-book for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99 at Amazon and other booksellers. Kilimanjaro is featured this month as a new release by the World Literary Café.

The routes on Mount Kilimanjaro are as varied as its terrain and vegetation. All ways to the top are difficult, but none are alike. None guarantee you will reach the summit and make it back safely. Some routes, such as the Marangu and Rongai, are considered “easier” than the others because they offer a better chance of success to most climbers. The slopes they ascend are more gradual and longer, and hence give climbers more time to adjust to the high altitude. Steeper climbs, such as those on the Machame and Umbwe routes, are often preferred by more seasoned trekkers. For those seeking a more roundabout way to the summit with great views or a wide range of biodiversity, the Shira Plateau-Lemosho and the Northern Circuit routes could be options. The route you choose depends on you.

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Map from “Kilimanjaro – A Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain” by Henry Stedman. Trailblazer Publications; 3rd edition. Courtesy of Henry Stedman.

The following are general descriptions of the major routes on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Lemosho Route: A longer, lesser-used route that passes through the Shira Plateau, it merges with the Machame Route. Climbers usually reach the summit either via the Western Breach or Machame Route. Lemosho is a walking safari with possible animal sightings, and guides carry firearms in the event that climbers stumble upon predators.

Marangu Route: Also known as the “Coca-Cola” Route, this is the most popular way to the summit and typically takes six days. Its camps have better facilities than those on other routes. The trail starts at the Marangu Gate and passes through Kibo Huts to the summit. Some claim that it is the easiest route and has a higher success rate because it allows climbers more time to acclimatize and a more gradual ascent.

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Machame Route: Also known as the “Whiskey” Route, the Machame is the shortest and steepest route to the summit. It begins on the south side of Kilimanjaro and reaches the summit by scrambling from Barafu Huts up the slope of Kibo Peak. The hard and fast ascent generally decreases climbers’ odds of reaching the summit, although it may be suitable for experienced climbers who adjust quicker to higher altitudes.

Mweka Route: A short, steep route used only for descent. Climbers on the Machame Route often use it to descend the mountain. The trail begins at Barafu Huts and heads south.

Northern Circuit: A lesser-used route that circles the north side of Kibo Peak. Climbers using this route must use another one to reach the summit. The trail follows the alpine desert band around the peak and offers amazing views of the lowlands below.

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Rongai Route: Also called the Nalemuru, Nalemoru, Loitokitok, or Simba Route, this is a moderately steep route starting on the north side of Kilimanjaro close to the Kenyan border. I dubbed the Rongai the “Kilimanjaro Beer” Route because it lies somewhere between a Coca-Cola and a whiskey shot in terms of potency. It usually takes six days and merges with the Marangu Route at Kibo Huts. Some claim that it is the easiest way and has a higher success rate because it allows more time to acclimatize. It is relatively sheltered from the elements on the drier side of the mountain, less crowded, and scenic with its alpine vistas. The original trail began further away in the village of Rongai, but it was closed several years ago, and the Nalemuru was unofficially renamed the Rongai.

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Shira Plateau Route: A long, lesser-used route on the Shira Plateau that merges with the Lemosho Route at Shira Caves Camp. Trekkers who use this route generally follow the Lemosho or Machame routes to the summit.

Umbwe Route: Also known as the “Vodka” Route, it is one of the most difficult routes on Kilimanjaro. Climbers ascend via the Western Breach or the Machame Route. Considered one of the most spectacular ways to reach the summit, it follows a ridge and then passes below the Southern Icefield to merge with the Machame Route at Barafu Huts.

Western Breach/Arrow Glacier Route: Also considered part of the Lemosho Route, this is the most difficult route to the summit. Climbers depart Arrow Glacier Huts, a camp destroyed by rockslides, and summit by scrambling up the Western Breach or climbing the Breach Wall, a 100-meter-high ascent up an icy rock wall. This requires some technical skill, a high level of endurance, and an increased tolerance for high altitudes than the Machame or Marangu routes. It is prone to rockslides and sometimes icy, requiring climbers to cut ice steps or wear crampons. It was closed in 2006 when a rockslide killed several climbers but reopened in December 2007.

More About Mount Kilimanjaro:

Click here to learn more about the book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill about the author’s attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Click here for photos and descriptions of the full majesty of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read about the flora and fauna on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read about the dedicated guides, porters, and cooks who work on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read the story of the iconic wooden sign on Kilimanjaro’s summit and the metal one that replaced it in January 2012.

Click here to read about the vanishing glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read about The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the 1936 semi-autobiographical short story by Ernest Hemingway, the 1952 film, and the main character, Harry Street.

buythumbM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. His collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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The Porters of Kilimanjaro


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The porters of Kilimanjaro are featured in my book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, which chronicles my attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The book is on sale now as an e-book for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99 from Amazon and other booksellers.

They are the unsung heroes of any mountain climb — the guides, porters, and cooks who help climbers reach the summit and get back safely. The workers who serve on Mount Kilimanjaro are brave and dedicated souls who work for low pay and risk their lives to assist climbers in their quest to realize their dreams.

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Guides, porters, and cooks have helped thousands of people climb Kilimanjaro since the mountain was first summited in 1889. That team, led German professor Hans Meyer and Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller, included a local guide, nine porters, and a cook.

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Although climbers are responsible for getting themselves to the summit, their support team carries most of the gear and equipment they need to do the climb. Each porter and cook carries up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds), a heavy burden to bear for days and hours on end, again and again, up and down, in any kind of weather, over different kinds of terrain.

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Cooks carry all the food and equipment needed to prepare meals.

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Porters haul climbers who need to be evacuated from Kilimanjaro down in a mobile stretcher — something that looks like a wheel barrow.

Workers arrive at camps ahead of time and set up campsites so they’re ready when the climbers arrive. For every climber on the mountain, there may be three or more assistants helping them.

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Although working conditions on Kilimanjaro can be difficult, most guides, porters, and cooks are passionate about their jobs and take pride in being a member of an elite group. Many start out as porters or cooks and become guides after graduating from mountaineering school. Park management hires some graduates as park rangers. A few go on to start their own tour companies.

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Workers who don’t earn much money often make do with whatever clothing or equipment they can afford or hand-me-downs donated by climbers. In some cases, their wardrobe may consist of tattered shirts, light jackets, worn pants, loafers or tennis shoes with inadequate soles. Underdressed workers often race up the mountain and pass climbers with expensive clothing and gear.

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If you hire an outfitter or guide to help you climb Mount Kilimanjaro, please consider these suggestions when you’re on the mountain.

  • Meet your team. Get to know the guides, porters, and cooks who help you fulfill your dream. Tanzanians are generally friendly and helpful. They go to lengths to help those they care about, including their clients. Learning a few phrases in Swahili, the local language, will go a long way to building rapport with your team. They will remember you as the foreigner who spoke their language.
  • Pay decent tips. Many members of the support team earn very little on a climb. The pay is small but more lucrative than most jobs on the local economy since the guides and porters earn additional money from tips. Giving them a decent tip is the right thing to do. They work hard for you. There’s no set rule for the amount, but a decent tip is reportedly 15 percent of the fee you paid your guide shared among all members of the team.
  • Donate extra gear. You may not need some of your clothing and equipment after you finish your climb. Many climbers donate extra gear to the team. It’s a personal decision whether to give away your belongings, but your team will appreciate it. You can make a donation to any of the many porter support groups that help workers by giving away used gear in good condition. Many are online.
  • Treat workers with respect. The workers on Kilimanjaro work for you and other climbers. They are dedicated professionals and deserve your respect.

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I appreciate what my team did for me on my climb. There was no way I could have focused on climbing Kilimanjaro if I had to what they did for me. I’m grateful that they carried my heavy bags, set up and took down my tent every day, cooked and served me food, and made sure I survived.

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The workers on Kilimanjaro are heroes behind the scenes who deserve credit and respect for doing the difficult job of helping climbers reach a place that would otherwise be uninhabited by humans.

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More About Kilimanjaro

Click here to learn more about the book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill about the author’s attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Click here to learn about the fauna and flora on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read the story of the iconic wooden sign on Kilimanjaro’s summit and the metal one that replaced it in January 2012.

Click here to read about the vanishing glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Click here to read about The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the 1936 semi-autobiographical short story by Ernest Hemingway, the 1952 film, and the main character, Harry Street.

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M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. His collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.