28 July 2010
Machame x2 and Rongai
Kilimanjaro is the highest peak and highest volcano in Africa. Summited 28th July 2010, October 2013 and September 2015. Both a 7 summits peak and a 7 volcanoes peak
Kilimanjaro is both the highest peak and highest volcano in Africa and the largest free-standing volcanic mass in the world. It has three main volcanic peaks–Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, while the summit is called Uhuru Peak.
The altitude is significant, 5985 m, but it’s still at an altitude most people can climb if they prepare beforehand. Unfortunately, the success rate is quite low due to too many people underestimating the mountain, and wanting to do it as fast as possible. The 5-day routes have a success rate as low as 27%. If you ask me, 7 days, or more, is the best option for climbing Kilimanjaro. I have climbed both the Rongai and Machame 7-day routes, taking all my clients to the summit.
The Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are several routes up the mountain: Machame, Rongai, Lemosho, Northern Circuit, Marangu (the oldest route with the lowest success rate), Shira, and the Umbwe Route. Maweka is only used for decent.
The Rongai route goes from the north side of the mountain and has fewer people than the more popular Machame route, which has a slightly better profile for acclimatization. Both of them have beautiful scenery so you cannot go wrong with either one of them if you take it slow so you acclimatize well.
What I like about Kilimanjaro is that we enter at the gate, meet and greet our guides and porters and then start our trek through the different climate zones on the mountain. Machame gate is at 1800 m and Nale Moru on the Rongai route is at 1950 m. The first part is rainforest, with the possibility of seeing monkeys. It is surprisingly cool hiking through the rainforest with very tall trees that create shade that protects one from the sun.
I also enjoy that every day is different – different climate zones with different scenery. We see beautiful flowers and plants and sometimes interesting animals like chameleons.
After coming out above the rainforest we come to an area where there are bushes – high ones – but no trees. After the rainforest, it is refreshing to come up and above. From there we continue towards a rockier part where we have spectacular views; this is also the area where we’ll see the beautiful giant lobelia. Finally, we enter the alpine desert, the last climate zone near the summit. There are still a few plants and we can see birds quite high up.
All the days are different both in terms of distance and time we use; the higher up we get, the slower we walk, to make sure we are acclimating well. On Kilimanjaro, there is no real climbing, but you have to plan to walk between 4-10 hours a day, and 12-14 hours on the summit day. On the Machame route we “climb” the famous Breakfast Wall. It is called that because it is the first thing we do after finishing breakfast at the Barranco Camp. It is a nice climb, where there is no need for any ropes; it is just that it is a bit steep so we walk slowly up the very good path, and we let the porters who are faster than us pass us on their way to the next camp.
What I love is when we get high on the mountain, on a clear day there’s a view down to the plains and nearby villages.
Many people are surprised by how hard it feels to trek up the mountain on some of the days, normally after we are above 3500-4000 m altitude. This is quite normal; we just take it slow and do the right things to make sure our bodies acclimatize well. On any mountain, the summit day is hard because we normally climb about 1000 altitude meters on the last day. On Kilimanjaro, we start before midnight so that we manage to reach the edge of the crater by sunrise. The trek through the night can be challenging for some, but normally not worse than most people can handle. To be able to push through it and make it all the way up is something you will thank yourself for later.
To stand there at the edge of the crater and either view the planes below or on a cloudy day be above the clouds, is just incredible. Seeing the sun come up is a moment you will cherish and remember forever. All the hard work has paid off and is so worth it! Just thinking about it makes me smile.
For many, the final trek from the crater edge to the summit is longer than they thought, but as we slowly make our way there it is amazing to be standing on the highest peak of Africa. Yay!
Most people are surprised to learn that there is a glacier next to the summit. Unfortunately, it is shrinking year by year. I can see a significant difference since I was here for the first time in 2010. It is said that it might be difficult or impossible to climb the Machame route when the glacier is gone as there most likely will not be any fresh water to drink at the last camp.
From the summit we go down quite fast; it is incredible how different it is to go down versus hiking up. It is simply easier and easier the further down we get, largely because we get more and more oxygen.
We take a more direct path when coming down the mountain, so it takes 6 days to the summit and 1 day from there to the gate. Finally, back at the gate, we say goodbye to our helpers on the mountain, whom we could not have done without. We head to our hotel where a well-deserved shower and a great celebration dinner await. Maybe a dip in the pool before dinner too?
Because we’re in Africa and have just climbed its highest peak, let’s go on a safari afterwards. Seeing the lions and elephants, giraffes and my personal favorites – Pumbas – just outside the car are real “pinch my arm” moments. Being there and seeing the animals live that you can usually only see on TV is incredible.
If you’re lucky, there might be an opportunity to do an air balloon safari too. I just love seeing the sunrise from a balloon while quietly gliding along above the wildebeest and hyenas, among others. Are you lucky enough to have seen all of the Big 5?