Kilimanjaro - Climbing and Walking Guide

Guide Book

KILIMANJARO

CLIMBING AND WALKING GUIDE
Kilimanjaro
Mawenzi (Kilimanjaro)

GENERAL

Kilimanjaro (5896m), the highest mountain in Africa, has less to offer the climber than Mt Kenya. However, some of the climbs are outstanding and the Umbwe route followed by the Heim Glacier is one of the world's great mountaineering expeditions. Uhuru Peak is the highest point on Kibo, the main pudding shaped elevation. Mawenzi (5149m) is just lower than Mt Kenya, more jagged and separated from Kibo by The Saddle, a flat semi-desert area extending for 5km. Both mountains have poor rock. The majestic south-west face of Kibo is steep and heavily glaciated, extending for 5km and broken only by one easy passage - The Western Breach. The well-equipped Marangu route from the east supplies the easiest approach. Splendid forests and moorlands are followed by The Saddle; finally tedious scree leads to the Kibo crater and Uhuru Peak. The south-west side of Kibo is best reached by the remote and demanding. Umbwe or Machame routes - only suitable for experienced mountaineers. The high level Kibo South Circuit links the remote south-west areas with the Marangu route and provides magnificent views of the ice-cliffs. Uhuru Peak was first attained by H Meyer and L Purtscheller in 1889, and named by them after the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm Spitze.

Geology and glaciology. Kilimanjaro lies on a tectonic line intersection 80km east of the tectonically active Rift Valley. The activity which created this volcano dates back less than a million years, and the central ash pit on Kibo, the highest volcanic centre, may be only several hundred years old. Steam and sulphur fumaroles here are indicative of residual activity. Shira and Mawenzi were two other areas of volcanic activity. Both became inactive before Kibo. The Shira volcanic cone collapsed leaving the Shira Ridge as part of its Caldera Rim. Mawenzi has been heavily eroded to leave a mass of steep-sided ridges and summits, particularly striking on the infrequently seen eastern side. Kibo is the beat preserved centre; it has 3 concentric craters and the outer crater rim rises to Uhuru Peak - the chief summit. The middle, Reusch crater, contains the main fumaroles and in its centre the 130m deep and 400m wide Ash Pit.

The outer crater has been breached by lava flows in several places, the most vivid of these being the Western Breach. The ash and lava covered slopes of Kibo are mainly gentle angled apart from the steep, glaciated precipices which defend its south and south-west flanks. The impressive rock walls on Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi are generally composed of lavas and ashes.

Deep gorges (barrancos) have been carved into the soft rocks and ashes. The most impressive of these is the Great Barranco below the Western Breach and the two barrancos on the east side of Mawenzi. Numerous parasitic cones extend east-west across Kilimanjaro; some are seen near the Mandara Hut (Maundi Crater offers a fine viewpoint), while others lie just north of the Shira Route.

At one stage most of the summit of Kilimanjaro was covered by an ice cap, probably more than l00m deep. Glaciers extended well down the mountain forming moraine ridges, clearly visible now on the southern flanks down to about 4000m. At present only a small fraction of the glacial cover remains. Remnants of the ice cap can be seen as the spectacular ice cliffs of the Northern and Eastern icefields, and the longest glaciers are found on the precipitous south and south-west flanks. If the present rate of recession continues the majority of the glaciers could vanish altogether in the next 40 years.

Flora and fauna. The lower slopes of the mountains are heavily cultivated, in particular those to the south which receive plenty of rainfall. Elsewhere lower rainfall coupled with porosity of the lava soils makes conditions less suitable for cultivation. The forest belt which completely encircles the mountains and extends from ca1500m to 2900m provides the best conditions for plant life. Above the forest belt the porous soils and lower rainfall result in much sparser vegetation with semi-desert conditions prevailing above 4000m. The cultivated belt contains many small holdings (shambas) where bananas and various vegetables are grown. The area is also suitable for coffee and there are several major plantations. The southern, wetter forests contain camphor, podocarpus, fig and other trees; lush undergrowth harbours many giant ferns and Usnea (old man's beard) drapes everything. Vines, mimulopsis and a multitude of flowers can be found in valleys and in clearer areas. The northern, drier forests contain podocarpus, junipers and olives. In contrast to Mt Kenya few large animals are encountered in this zone, though colobus and blue monkeys can often be seen but other inhabitants such as smaller antelopes and leopards are very shy. Many colourful birds are found here, the most noticeable being the Hornbill and the Turaco with its dark red wing markings.

The forests end abruptly without a bamboo zone as on most other East African mountains. Above, the rapidly thinning giant heather zone leads to the upper moorlands; here the giant groundsels and lobelias peculiar to high altitude tropical mountain zones are seen.

There are few animals other than rodents, though leopard spoor can often be detected. Eagles and buzzards soar high above and smaller birds such as the alpine chat and streaky seed eater can also be seen. In the higher moorland and alpine zones only a few tufts of grass, mosses and lichen are found, together with a few flowers such as the everlasting helichrysums and senecios.

Visiting the Park. Kilimanjaro National Park is well organised but very expensive. The average visitor for 5 days pays about $350 (in foreign exchange) before entry. This covers park fees and a mandatory guide. Bookings must be made and paid only through approved Tanzanian tour agents, who invariably offer packages that include a cook, food, porters and guides.

As on Mt Kenya it is important to acclimatise well to enjoy the ascent of Kibo (see comments on Diamox in the Introduction). Routes start at less than 2000m and it is recommended that at least 3 days are taken to reach the final cone. The weather on Kilimanjaro, though generally drier, follows a similar pattern to that on Mt Kenya. The south-west glaciers have their winter season between May and late October. Snow cover is then at its best though conditions are often misty. The best weather is between January and March but usually by mid February the glaciers are becoming icy and devoid of snow.

Several hotels and other agents are worthy of mention; all are able to organise trips.
Kibo Hotel, PO Box 102, Marangu, Kilimanjaro. Tel: Marangu 43151. Rather run-down.
Kilimanjaro Mountain Lodge, PO Box 50, Marangu, Kilimanjaro. Clean, close to gate.
Marangu Hotel, PO Box 40, Marangu, Kilimanjaro. Tel: Marangu 11. Grassy campsite available.
Key's Hotel, P0 Box 5330, Moshi. Tel: Moshi 52250. Wide ranging services including game park safaris. Shah Tours, P0 Box 1821, Moshi. Tel: 52370. Guest house and wide ranging services including game park safaris.
Zara, PO Box 1990, Moshi. Tel: 54240. Fax: 53105. Efficient mountain climbing and safari agents.
Note there is a cheap bunkhouse at the Marangu park gate.
The YMCA at Moshi is a cheap convenient base for the Umbwe and Machame routes.

Unofficial dealings in Kenyan and Tanzanian currencies are illegal, and bank notes should not be taken out of their country of origin. A car brought into Tanzania requires a road tax, valid for 3 months. Namanga or Taveta are the most convenient crossing points from Kenya.

Access: (i) Tarmac roads to the Marangu park gates. Nairobi to Namanga, 170km. Namanga to Arusha, 110km. Arusha to Moshi, 90km. Moshi to Himo, 27km. Himo to Marangu, 10km. Marangu to Marangu Park Gate, 7km. (ii) For Umbwe take the Moshi-Arusha road; 2km from Moshi dirt roads north lead to Umbwe in a further 14km. A dirt track continues for 3km to Kifuni and the park check point. Vehicles will not be allowed beyond here; the track enters the forest and becomes narrow and steep. (iii) For Machame take the Moshi-Arusha road for 9km to where a tarmac road north leads in 14km to Machame village. It is possible to drive with difficulty for another 6km. The park check point is at the edge of the forest. (iv) For Lemosho Route turn off the Moshi-Arusha road and drive through Ngare Nairobi on to Londorossi and the Shira Route Park Gate. Now a rough track leads into the forest and hence Lemosho Glades. This can be a very difficult drive in wet conditions.

Buses and matatus go from Nairobi to Namanga and on to Moshi regularly. From there, Marangu, Machame and Umbwe are all served by buses, matatus and taxis. Kilimanjaro International Airport lies just off the Moshi-Arusha road, 34km from Moshi. If travelling to or from Mombasa, the Taveta crossing may be used. Good services from Nairobi to Moshi include Davano's, tel: 222002 Nairobi and Riverside Shuttle (http://www.riverside-shuttle.com). Both are about $35 one way.

Kilimanjaro Location
Access to Kilimanjaro

 
Routes on Kibo
Routes on Kibo

 
Kilimanjaro Area
Kilimanjaro Area

 
Kibo Map
Kibo Area Map

 
Kilimanjaro from Moshi area
Kilimanjaro from Moshi area

 
In the forest
In the forest

 
Summit Ice Cliffs
Summit Ice Cliffs

 
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WALKING ROUTES

Normal route: from the Marangu Gate (1980m) a wide path leads through forest to the Mandara Hut, 2700m (4h). A path further W, starting just beyond the park gate, is 30 min longer but passes through some of the most beautiful forest hereabouts. In descent the start is clearly marked, about lh below Mandara. Maundi Crater and viewpoint provides a pleasant 30 min excursion from Mandara.

Shortly after leaving the Mandara Hut the forest gives way to giant heather, then moorland; the roomy Horombo huts are situated in this zone at 3700m (5h). Not far beyond these huts a faint but well marked trail traverses off left to the Barranco Hut; a long day's walk. On our route, higher up the vegetation thins and the last water trickle is passed. The path continues to the gravelly Saddle which is crossed at length to the Kibo Huts (4703m), situated below the Kibo scree slopes (5h). If there is little snow, water may have to be carried up to here. Starting well before dawn, climb the tedious scree to the crater rim and Gillman's Point (5680m) (5h). For this achievement a certificate is given at the park gate. Now more easily along the crater rim for about 1.5km to Uhuru Peak (1h30). In descent each leg can be done in 3h. The huts on this route are comfortable and camping is no cheaper. All of them have radios.

Umbwe route: on this and the next routes water is scarce. Carry an adequate supply, as dehydration accentuates altitude sickness. From Kifuni (1500m) an old vehicle track continues about 7km in forest (3h). A marked path turns left off this and in 3km a stream and possible campsite are reached (2h). Now steeply through forest with glimpses of Kibo above and the gorge below. At 2940m overhangs are reached, good shelters. Water is available in a slow moving stream about 50m below (3h). Soon the forest ends and the path proceeds along a spectacular narrow ridge. At 3500m a cave (water 10 min away) could be used as a shelter, but it is better to continue to the Barranco Hut at 3900m. This is beautifully situated at the upper limit of the heather zone and commands superb views of the southern ice cliffs and the Breach Wall; water nearby (5h). 30 min east of the hut, following the Kibo South Circuit to the Horombo huts, a stream is crossed before climbing steeply up the side wall of the valley; at this point there is a fine bivouac boulder.

From the Barranco Hut, going north-west for 500m, a ridge is gained and followed north for about lh to a flatter area. One path now heads east-north-east to the site of the destroyed Arrow Glacier Hut and a poor campsite, 4800m (4h). The main path continues north to traverse over streams; a short scramble gains a slight ridge leading north-east up to the damaged Lava Tower Hut (4600m), good campsites and water nearby (3h).

The Arrow Glacier site can be reached from here by a path climbing east-south-east up tedious scree (1h15).

Machame route: from the Park Post (1900m) a well marked path rises fairly steeply through forest. At 3000m the forest thins and the Machame huts are reached; stream nearby (5h). Above, cross a small valley and continue up ridges and through heather with occasional rock scrambles for about 4h to head of a river valley. Traverse west across this then continue north to the Shira Hut (3800m); water close by (5h). The damaged Lava Tower Hut is reached by a well-cairned trail leading east (3h30).

Lemosho Glades Route: an unspoilt, remote, little-used and beautiful way up to the Shira Plateau. Buffalo and other big game animals may be encountered. From Londorossi Park Gate (2250m,) track requiring a 4WD vehicle leads to Lemosho Glades (2000m, 11km, 45 minutes) and a possible campsite (park fees are not paid to camp here). Forest trails lead to Mti Mkubwa (big tree) campsite, (2750m, 3 hours). Water is quite 15min away. The trail steepens, enters the giant heather moorland zone, crossing the Shira Ridge at about 3600m to Shira 1 camp by stream (3500m, 5 hours). Across the Shira Plateau to Shira 2 camp on moorland meadows by stream (3850m, 1.5 hours). A variety of walks are available on the Plateau making this an excellent acclimatisation day. The Shira Hut is a further hour away, here join the Machame and Southern Circuit routes.

Kibo South Circuit: a fine traverse. The middle sections provide magnificent views of the ice cliffs above. From Shira Hut to Barranco Hut as noted above (4h). Then head east to the bivouac boulder under valley wall, 30 min from Barranco Hut (as Umbwe route above). Now scramble up steep trail to top of the Breach Wall. (Turn-off north at this point for the Helm Glacier). The path then traverses over scree and ridges and drops into the Karanga Valley to a fine campsite and stream (3h3 0). Climb out of the valley and continue traversing tediously over ridges till the Mweka-Barafu hut path is crossed (2h). Then traversing again to join the Marangu route just above the Horombo huts (3h).

Descent: the Marangu Route is reserved for those using it exclusively. The Mweka Route is the preferred descent from all other routes. From the summit either the Horombo Hut or the Mweka Hut may be reached in about 6 hours allowing for a short lunch stop and rest at either the Barafu or Kibo Huts.

Mweka route. This is presently only used as a descent route. Not particularly scenic but some fine forests. From Barafu Hut to Mweka Hut (3100m) on the forest edge takes 3h; water nearby. From Mweka Hut down to roadhead allow another 3h30.

Oloitokitok (Rongai) route: the old route from the Oloitokitok Outward Bound School in Kenya. Park fees must be paid and all proper arrangements made at Marangu Park Gate. Access from Kenya is restricted. For further information contact The Warden, Kilimanjaro National Park, PO Box 96, Marangu. Tel: Marangu 50.

Sulfur
Reutsch Crater - Sulfur

 
Furtwangler Glacier and Uhuru Peak
Furtwangler Glacier and Uhuru Peak

 
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Ash Pit
Ash Pit

 
Sunrise in Eastern Icefields
Sunrise in Eastern Icefields

 
Midnight at Barranco
Midnight at Barranco

 
at Barafu
At Barafu

 
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CLIMBS

110 The Western Breach 1100m I** 6h to summit.

The easiest way on the south-west side of the mountain; well marked. The first section is on steep scree above the Arrow Glacier Hut, occasional snow/ice patches. Higher up a pleasant scramble and a short loose section lead to the crater rim, 200m below Uhuru Peak. Coming down, route finding may be tricky because the breach fills with cloud in the afternoon. For reaching the summit, .2 ways to continue. (i) Traverse 2km east then south-east across the relatively flat crater floor to attain the Marangu route halfway between Gillman's Point and Uhuru Peak. (ii) The Furtwangler Glacier to the south-east is skirted either on its right or on its easier north side; beyond, an easy gully leads to the level rim, l00m west of Uhuru Peak. Ice axe and possibly crampons useful.

111 Heim Glacier 1200m II/III*** l0h.

A Nelson, H J Cooke, D N Goodall, 1957. The obvious glacier with a dog-leg right of the Breach Wall precipices. An outstanding route; technical difficulties are short. From the Barranco Hut follow the South Kibo Circuit (cut-off point as noted above) and take a rocky then moraine ridge north, directly to foot of glacier. A bivouac boulder lies about l00m below glacier snout at 4500m (3h). Climb the snout or go up scree on left and traverse onto glacier higher up. Follow the easiest line upwards. The top of Window Buttress can be reached in 2 ways.

(i) l00m from its highest rocks, make a traverse left onto a broad ledge on the buttress; follow this left then right to a ramp which is climbed to an ice pitch and the top (II/III). (ii) The broad ledge can be avoided by climbing 450 ice leftwards to the top in 3 pitches (III). 4h. This is the knee of the dog-leg (4800m). Good bivouac site in magnificent surroundings. (From here a long rising traverse left gains the base of the 2 famous Breach Wall icicles, 80m high). Climb easy slopes to a steepening taken direct or avoided by gullies well to the left. Beyond, the angle relents (bivouac sites possible) and the summit ice cliffs are seen. Aim for the left edge of these and pass below them to reach Uhuru Peak (6h).

Note: glacial recession has recently removed the lowest part of the Heim leaving steep, unstable scree and icy patches. In poor snow cover this section could be very hard and unpleasant.

Two icicles mentioned above are part of the Breach Wall Direct Route; the left one was climbed by right Messner, K Renzler in 1978 (l2h including lower sections, VI**). There are a variety of approaches to the icicles: (i) up the lower walls by steep rocks and snow below and left of the icicles, (ii) by steep snowfields and ice to ledges leading right to lowest point of Balletto Gl. (iii) from the Heim Gl. by a left rising traverse. Avoid attempting the icicle in the afternoon when it is often running with water. There are good bivouac ledges at the base of the icicles.

Two other major glaciers lie right of the Heim: the Kersten and Decken. It is possible to find a way up the right side of the Kersten at about grade III/IV. The Decken can be climbed at III. Numerous harder variations exist on all the glaciers.

112 Barafu Route 1300m I* 6h.

Combined with the Machame or Umbwe approaches, this adventurous easy itinerary allows the scenery of the Kibo South circuit to be sampled whilst gaining acclimatisation. The Barafu Hut (for access, see Kibo South Circuit above) is situated in a desolate spot. Unless the snowline is low, water can be hard to find. From the hut the west ridge of the south-east valley depression is followed. The lip of the crater is reached between the Ratzel and Rebmann glaciers. Uhuru Peak is less than lh away. The final slopes before the lip are steep and can be icy. To avoid cutting steps, crampons could then be useful. In descent, times can be halved.

Crater and Summit ice fields. For those well acclimatised a bivouac on the crater floor is very much worth the effort as it allows the Northern and Eastern icefields to be explored (outstandingly beautiful at dawn) as well as the inner (Reusch) crater. Inside the latter are numerous fumaroles and extensive sulphur deposits. The scene within the central Ash Pit is impressive.

Kibo Picture Gallery
Breach Wall and Heim Glacier
Breach Wall & Heim Gl

 
Heim Glacier
Heim Glacier

 
Western Breach Ascent
Western Breach Ascent

 
Breach Wall
Breach Wall

 
Southern Icefields
Southern Icefields

 
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ALW 25/05/13
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