Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Much of this information is excerpted from KILIMANJARO 1:50,000 Map and Guide by Mark Savage.
It is recommended that you obtain this valuable resource which is available from Kenya Litho Ltd, Nairobi. *

Questions and Answers (FAQ)

So you think you may wish to attempt the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro?  Hundreds of people from all over the world do so every month.  This page is intended to provide basic information regarding such an undertaking. Hopefully, some of you will utilize this info in your own climb, provide feedback, and this page will become a more valuable resource.  Until then, consider it still under construction!


Normal Tourist Route (Marangu)

The vast majority of those attempting the climb of Kilimanjaro take this route, which starts 20 linear miles to the southeast.  This is the route from the main entrance to the park and is the only route with enough accomodations for the dozens of hikers in the various stages of the typically 5-day process.  On the one hand it is perhaps the least scenic route to take, but it is one of the easiest, which of course adds to the mass appeal.  It passes south of rugged Mawenzi Peak climbing from east to west to north and then leads west across the Saddle to Kibo, the caldera which everyone recognizes as Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A typical climb has you leaving in the morning or early afternoon of day 1 from the main entrance in Marangu.  At 1,980m/6,500ft, this is the end of the road for vehicles and 2 or 3 hours away from Moshi or Kilimanjaro.  This first ascent is through a mostly wooded area which can be very hot along the trail.  It is a bit of a relief to get into the relative shade of the rain forest, although now progress becomes more difficult as it is usually wet making the going slippery over the roots and rivulets.  The day ends at the 2700m/8850ft high Mandara Huts, which are nice A-frame sleeping huts with a larger A-frame dining hall.

Day 2 starts off rather strenuously, climbing through the remainder of the rain forest, but the forest soon opens up to heather and moorlands.  This is where you get your first view of the mountain, which has been obscured since entering the park.  You now start walking toward it, always in front of you (except when hidden by the small canyons in the hills you are traversing), never seeming to become larger, cetainly not fast enough.  The day ends at Horombo Huts at 3700m/12100ft.  There is a wonderful sunset view of the valley so far below and an excitement shared because here there is a double occupancy -- those who have completed their climb that morning spend their one overnight here on their return and they have (usually) encouraging stories to tell.

Day 3 takes up where day 2 left off, on the moors.  As you travel and the sun heats the valley below, the clouds come rolling up the mountain, often enveloping you in a small, gray, lonely world of step, step, climb, step...  After passing the last water spot and Mawenzi Peak, you find yourself on the Saddle which is a vast alpine desert reminiscient of lunar lanscapes.  The climb now is but a simple walk, hardly any slope at all.  But why does it seem so difficult?  When you finally are cheered by your predecessors arriving at Kibo Hut, and get a chance to rest and think again, you realize the impact that the 4700m/15400ft altitude is starting to impose upon you.  In fact, it is likely that you are showing some of the signs of altitude sickness:  fatigue of course, headache, naseau, inability to fight off the cold, or inability to sleep.  Kibo Hut is not a terribly friendly place.  Right at the base of the peak, the height looms above you in almost dire fashion.  The barracks-like building is generously described as spartan, and the cold really starts to get to you, there being nothing here remotely like firewood or other staples that hasn't been carried up these many miles by hand [or, more likely, head, believe it or not].

Day 4 starts justs after Midnight.  You probably couldn't sleep much anyway, The darkness is both a blessing and a curse -- you don't get to see the daunting task ahead of you nor understand your relative lack of progress, but the accompanying cold can be a bitter enemy to deal with.  Snow can be another mixed blessing, being a problem in all aspects except providing a little better footing on the scree.  The idea is to somehow survive [and you can't imagine the fool names you're calling yourself now for getting yourself into such torture] the endless switchbacks and the final climb over volcanic rocks to reach Gillman's Point (5680m/18600ft) in time to rest and enjoy the sunrise beyond Mawenzi Peak.  The view here on the edge of the crater is spectacular [if the clouds haven't arrived yet] and the thrill of success is indescribable.  If you are still in good condition and have the time, Uhuru (Freedom) Peak is still another hour and a half walk around the edge of crater, eventually rising to 5896m/19343ft, the highest point on the African continent.

Exhiliarated, but sadly, you leave, rushing down the mountain scree in a barely controlled slide.  Gaining strength all the time, you complete in one day what it took two to do coming up, easily reaching Horombo Huts, encouraging those you now pass who are slowly shuffling upward.  The end of Day 5 sees you back at your hotel, thrilled to share your story, where the warm bath/shower, soft bed, and celebratory wine you brought with you, never seemed so good before.

Shira Plateau Route

Starts from West Kilimanjaro and requires a very long, complex drive, but it is possible to drive up as high as 4,000 meters.  From here it is a relatively easy and pleasant journey to the Arrow Glacier Hut on the west side of the mountain.

Umbwe Route

This is a very spectacular but difficult route from the south to Barranco Hut or Arrow Glacier Hut.

Barranco/Barafu Route

Via Barranco/Barafu, its not too hard.    A bit more up and down than the Marangu route, since  you circumnavigate on the plateau.

Arrow Glacier - Western Breech Route

This is route is reportedly more challenging than the previous.

Loittokitok Route

From Kenya to the northeast, this route is usually officially closed, but it may be possible to acquire permission from the Head Ranger in Marangu.  It joins the tourist route on the Saddle.

Mweka Route

Also from the south, but leads to Barafu or Kibo Huts.

Machame Route

Between Shira and Umbwe Routes from the southwest.  It joins the Shira route at Shira Hut, the previous stay being at Machame Hut.

Climing Routes

40 Rock and Ice routes are described in the Mountain Club of Kenya's guide to Mts Kenya and Kilimanjaro and Andrew Wielochowski's 'East African International Mountain Guide.'  See these guides for more detail on these routes which climb either Kibo or Mawenzi.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQ)

Did you go with a group, or did you hire a guide, cook, and porters on your own?

I went there alone, perhaps with a pre-reservation at the Marangu Hotel, don't remember.  They then provided very good guides, porters, food, etc. (for a price, of course).  They do this every day.

By reading your home page, I see that it took you 4 days to climb.  Would a 5th day have helped with altitude sickness?  (The REI group suggests that so that more people can enjoy the success of summiting).

If I were to do this again, I definitely would allow for an extra day or two [total of 6 or 7 for the round-trip].  This could make a difference (+/-) both in terms of how I felt, the weather, and other factors.

I see by your account, you kept a daily log...About how many miles each day did you go?

I've tried to figure that out from maps and such, but without a pedometer... I once figured that the four days covered 60 miles one-way.  I just revisited this question and decided that that may have been kilometers which would bring it down to 40 miles, which may still be a bit too high.  A typical days walk is only about 5 hours at a fairly slow pace.

Actually, sadly, I didn't keep a log.  If I were to go again, I would make a point to carry a notebook and write down all my observations and feelings as they occur.  There are two reasons for this:  The first is that it would force me to stop for a few moments every now and then to write.  The more one rests, the slower one climbs, the better should be one's chances of ultimate success. There's really not much else to do, so why hurry?  The second reason is the more obvious in that, when you get home you could type it all in, edit it a bit, and then have a valuable personal memoir.  It could also serve very well here on a home page for others to read.

How many days did it take you to descend?

From summit to the park entrance in Marangu is two days, one overnight.

How much water do they recommend you take along?

They provided some, tho' I had bottled water I believe.

How did you treat the water...boiling, iodine tabs, both?

I had tablets but relied on bottled water as I recall.  Plus they boiled the tea water.

How do the porters carry and handle the water?

You have a duffle bag full of clothes, extra snacks/water bottles, film, toiletries, flashlight, extra charged video batteries, etc.  One of the porters is your personal bearer; he puts that on his head [yes, that's what I said] and walks up that way twice as fast as you, depositing it at your bunk/sleeping mat for the evening.  Got too much stuff for one duffle bag?  Hire another porter.

You carry a small knapsack with water/snacks for the day, camera(s), valuables, etc.

There is another porter that carries the food and other supplies necessary for you, your guide, your porter, and himself.

What kind of foods do they cook, offer you?

The Hotel Marangu did a very nice job; better than the Hotel Kibo which is considered to be on a par in some guides.  They would make soups, some sort of rice or pasta, and chicken or whatever.  I was impressed both with the quantity and quality of the food under the circumstances.  Plenty of tea.  Tablecloths, very English.

What is the address and telephone of the hotel that you stayed at in Tanzania?

The Marangu Hotel telephone is Marangu 11, address is PO Box 40, Marangu.  The Kibo Hotel is given as Marangu 4, PO Box 102 Marangu.

What contacts are there in Tanzania for further information?

The Kilimanjaro National Park Warden is listed as Tel: 50, PO Box 96, Marangu. One might also try the Tanzania Tourist Board, P. O. Box 2485, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.  Their telephone numbers are (255 51) 27672 or 27673 and their Fax is (255 51) 46780.

There is a travel agent (Kibo Hotel And Tours, Ltd.) listed in Moshi as Telephone 2503.

You went in late November...which year?

Uhhh, I guess it must have been '89.

Is that Kili's spring, winter, fall, summer?

As it is just a couple hundred miles below the Equator, those terms don't particularly apply.  More important are the rainy seasons, the "long" from late March to mid June and the "short" from October into early December.  However, the mountain is climbed year around.

A recent report suggests that September, the mid to late part of the long dry season, is an ideal time to go, although one can't bet on the weather, particulary at the summit where sudden changes are not unusual.

What kind of First Aid do they offer?
First Aid...should I bring items to cover most minor accidents?

Well, it is limited there.  If you brought a small first aid kit it could make sense.  Don't expect to be able to buy much of any of this in Tanzania.  Much of it should be available in Nairobi though.

Basic Kit:

        Aspirin                 Throat Lozenges         Bandages & tape
        Sun Block               SunBurn relief          Eye Drops
        Iodine                  hydrocortisone          Imodium (anti-diarrhea)
        Diamox (anti-mountain sickness)

Advanced add:

        Sleepling Pills or Valium               Laxative
        Broad spectrum anti-biotic              Antihistamine
        Decongestant                            Canestan creme
        Codeine                                 Lasix
        Foil blanket                            Hand/body warmer packs

What are the chances of a major accident (falling, dehydration, altitude sickness...etc)?

On the tourist route this is pretty slim, but things do happen.  My "mentor" told me that two people died on the mountain during his visit.  If you are not a real experienced climber it just doesn't pay to take any chances because the infrastructure is really not in place for an emergency.  But the tourist route is not difficult in itself.  The most likely problems are blisters, sprained ankles, and, of course, mountain sickness.  The latter comes in wide degrees unpredictable to the particular individual.  Roughly, three out of four people who start up, make it to Gilman's Point.

Did you experience any altitude sickness?

Yes, everyone does to varying degree.  The issue is how, and how much, it happens to affect each individual.  Surprisingly, I'm told that some fit, young males are particularly susceptible to it.  Part of the reason for that may be that they can move quickly up the mountain with the result that they don't acclimate well.  The name of the game is to force one's self to go slow, slow, slow.  It is not a race and the less radical affect on your system, the better.

In my case, the main problem was a headache that scared me into thinking that I wouldn't be able to even attempt the final ascent.  Decided to start anyway, after having come that far, and hope for the best.  Amazingly, it disappeared very soon after starting.  I also had trouble sleeping and probably had some appetite loss.

I was also very much afraid of frostbite on the final ascent -- so much so that I actually gave up.  A long rest with my feet under a space blanket, over a kerosene lamp, plus the warmth of the rising sun, gave me a second chance.

Did you spend all the nights in the huts...if so, what are they like?

On normal climbs, every night [but the final ascent itself] is spent in one of the huts which, though very basic, are quite acceptable considering the circumstances.  There are 2/4/6/12 man huts the first two nights and a barracks-like environment the evening before the final ascent.  They usually have some sort of a bunk, not much else.  Lavatories, showers are outside.

I see by your home page, you got very cold...what kinds of clothes did you wear?  (Thermal-Max, layering of Capeline (sp?), polar fleece, Gortex shell, etc.

For the most part, the medium-priced parka and snow pants I had [see picture] were quite sufficient, with layers of sweaters and thermal underwear.  The bigger problem was my feet on the climb and also sleeping.  Can't remember if I had a sleeping bag or not.  Think I did, but I was cold anyway in the unheated huts and did not sleep well at all.  It had snowed the night I climbed which was a blessing on the one hand as it creates somewhat better footing than the bare scree.  But it added to the cold for my feet and I was very afraid of frostbite.  I would try battery-heated socks if I were to climb again.

What temperatures can we expect during the trip?

Day 1 is HOT!!!, night pleasant to chilly.  Day 2 starts with a pleasant chill, gets hot, turns cool.  The night is cold!.  Day 3 is similar to day 2, just overall cooler.  Night/Day 4 is frigid to the top, then you don't care any more!

Summit temperatures (Fahrenheit) range from 41 to -5 (5 to -20 Celsius) day/night.  At 12-13,000 feet (4000m) the temperature may vary from 70 to 14 (F).  Starting off and then the end of the last day, sunburn is a real threat as temperatures are likely to be around 90 (F).

It has been suggested that the altitude will get me before weakness does.

Yes, the altitude is the ultimate enemy.  There is nothing that requires any particular strength or dexterity.  It is the lack of oxygen in your system, and your system's reaction to that, which does you in, something like a sprained ankle or whatever excepted.

We have been training for the better part of nine months and have really intensified the last three months.  Does that sound OK?

That sounds good.  Mostly you must be reasonably fit, very determined, and a bit lucky.

What kind of clothing to wear and what sorts of things to take?

You will start in jungle heat.  You must have clothes to protect yourself from the sun and heat on the first day or two.  A wide airy, hat would be good.  Ultra-violet ray protection is necessary for your eyes all the way - get UV sunglasses.  Good comfortable shoes.  Hiking boots would be fine as they provide protection against sprains - there are rocks and slippery places.  The main thing is that the footwear be broken in, comfortable, and the right size -- it needn't be super fancy.  Blisters are much more likely on the way down than up.  Bring some athletic tape to protect the skin and plan to use it coming down the moment you notice any discomfort in your feet.  Extra pairs of warm socks.

By the end, cold will be your enemy.  If I were to go again I would take battery-heated socks for the last night's climb.  You must be prepared for winter blizzard conditions the last night.  Bring some high-energy food supplements to eat as you walk.  A small bottle of oxygen might be a good idea to have -- but I don't know what problems there may be regarding transport of that, or if it could be found locally.

I took some hand/body warmer pouches which helped a little and are cheap.  I think a sleeping bag was necessary; I don't remember if I took one or rented one.  I had a lot of trouble sleeping because of the cold.

Consider a small video camera and extra batteries charged at your hotel -- there is no electricity on the mountain.  Bring a small flashlight, extra batteries.  Anything you forget to bring from home, Europe, or Nairobi will tend to be unavailable, of poor quality, or very expensive.

What route would you recommend?

That depends on just what it is you wish to accomplish.  By far, the greatest number of climbers take the standard tourist route.  The reason for this is that this is where the accomodations are.  There may indeed be other places to stay on other routes but for the most part they are not well maintained, if they exist at all.  If you want to do this with a minimum of personal hassle, the tourist route is the way to go, unless you book with a tour group that takes care of all the planning.

But if you gotta be different or wish to have a real, more technical climb, then you could try one of the other routes (see above).  But you may have to provide your own tents, water, etc.  This should be planned rather well in advance of the climb because the park may hassle you if attempt to do things outside of their "normal" expectations without written permits, which may be difficult to obtain.  Of, course, if you prearrange with an agent who does this on a regular basis then there should be no major problem.

What outfit did you use to climb Kilimanjaro!

At first I took this to be what clothes I wore [the pink taffeta blouse with the ruffles...] Then I realized you were talking about guides and such!

I just sort of showed up in Kilimanjaro.  Not sure if I had made any hotel reservation or not -- probably did.  Went to the Marangu Hotel which was run then by two veddy English biddies.  But everything that they arranged was first class [relatively speaking].  They have their own connections with guides and what not and they set this all up -- this is their daily business, of course. It was not cheap is one of the main things that sticks in my mind.  The Kibo Hotel up the road does the same sort of thing, but our stuff all seemed a tad better [tablecloth, soup with each meal, better food, etc.].  Then there are several lower class avenues from other hotels and agencies in Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Moshi, etc.

There are Safari Agencies which do this sort of thing all the time in East Africa, tourism being a very major industry in the area.  These will range from super first-class to, well, let's just say that the adventure might be more in the process than the end result.  Actually, I'd be quite surprised if you came back with a real horror story using any of the reputable outfits.  These agencies handle multiple safaris every day [lasting anywhere from half a day up to a month] and while they may have a lesser call for the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb [it being a good week in itself], there are certainly several that include it in their normal bill of fare.  In many cases you can combine it with the more typical safari to some of the animal reserves, and/or a stay at the beach hotels on the Indian Ocean.

Generally speaking, Nairobi Kenya is the best place to start, even though such attractions as Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and others are located in Tanzania.

Have you ever hiked up Mount Washington in New Hampshire?  The terrain is very steep and rocky.  How does this compare with Kilimanjaro?  Do you know anyone who has done both mountians?

No, but from the sound of it, Kilimanjaro is much easier from the standpoint of pure technique, but much harder because of the length of the climb and the effects of altitude sickness typical with the height.  Scores of ordinary people, such as myself who had never climbed a mountain before, make it up every week.

Climbs up Kilimanjaro are essentially of two types: the tourist route and all others.  The tourist route is 98% neither steep nor rocky.  The first day there is a section of rain forest where you have to climb over roots and such, but it is mostly all not very steep.  The final climb up to Gilman's Point is mostly switchbacks, but has some 2' - 3' rocks near the summit which you have to climb over a bit.  With those two exceptions the remainder of the tourist route is essentially a walk in the park.  The real problem is the height of the park.

In the category of "other" climbs you can run the gamut from just slightly more difficult than the normal tourist route all the way through very technical climbing, glacier transits, and things I wouldn't know about.  But for these you would need special guides to show you where to go and you would need to perform a lot of pre-planning and special arrangements.

When you see pictures of Kilimanjaro, Gilman's Point is at the top edge, usually on the left side of the picture [most are taken from Kenya].  The highest point (Uhuru) is just a few hundred feet higher and is in the center, roughly, but is an hour-and-a-half extra walk from Gilman's point on the far [southern] side of the crater.  That part, I hear, is a bit rocky.  I was thrilled achieving Gilman's Point, didn't try to walk around the crater to Uhuru.

For a journey to Kilamanjaro how many days would you plan for the entire trip U.S. to Africa and back?

OK, lessee, it takes 2 days to get from here to Nairobi, 2 days to get back. Another 2 days to get down to Kilimanjaro and back.  Five days for the climb.  That says that one could theoretically do this in 11 days from the USA, if one had all one's visas, reservations, and everything in place with some agent.  But I'd say 2 weeks minimum to be safe, probably a week more if one needs to get visas, bookings, etc.  It took me just one week from Nairobi, where I had had a month getting everything put into place and becoming somewhat acclimated to altitude.  I also would recommend more time in the area (Kenya particularly) because this is a great and varied vacation country with safaris, beaches, etc.

How much money would you suggest would be a safe amount to be prepared for most things, like to hire the guide and porters and so on?

$1,000 US strikes me as being the number I spent from Nairobi, perhaps as much as $1,500.  But that higher figure includes my air fare and hotel, as I recall.  I also went pretty much first class, staying at the better hotel, paying as I went instead of through a pre-arranged tour which could well have been cheaper.  There are cheaper places to stay and ways to do this, but I can't see getting away for much less than $100 a day for the week.  I've recently heard estimates of $300/day, not counting airfare from Nairobi, but my guess is that this would tend to be a relatively high-class, all-inclusive tour, arranged in Nairobi.

A recent report suggests a locally arranged (in Tanzania) price of $1200 that includes hotels before & after in Arusha, all park fees, porters, food, tents, etc. -- everything but your personal equipment. 

    Main Expenses:
      o  Airfare
      o  Transfers airports/hotels/town/park
      o  Hotel [only for nights actually stayed]
      o  Porters
      o  Guide(s)
      o  Food and supplies
      o  Park and hut fees -- $500-$600 or more 
      o  Tips -- around $100 depending on number of guides/porters/services

Where did you get your visa?  How much did it cost?

I was working in Nairobi so it was not difficult to get it there, but it meant a half-day to submit it, waiting up to a week, and then another half-day to go pick it up.  Probably somewhat the same wherever you do this, but I'd advise starting it well in advance.  You can apply to any Tanzanian Consulate -- they should have them in Washington D.C., New York, etc.  Except for slight differences in exchange rates, the cost is pretty much going to be the same wherever you get it.  The major impact is on your time [and disposition] which has value.  I paid in shillings but don't recall the direct cost.  Say $10 or less.

Make sure you have several recent passport photos!!  You will also likely need to show some guarantee of return capability in the form of airline tickets, valid credit cards, etc.

It is my understanding that Kenya, a usual stop on the way to Tanzania, no longer requires visa for U.S. citizens.

Those of you who benefit from this information, please provide updated data for those who follow you!  See EMail address below.

Thanks to Jim Kaplan and Dick Averitt for updated data!

* To order map try contacting:

        Executive Wilderness Programmes
        32 Seamill Park Cr.

        Worthing BN112PN, UK

        East Africa Mountain Guides
        PO Box 44827
        Nairobi Kenya


        West Col Productions
        1 Meadow Close
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Last modified: March 25, 2000