Kilimanjaro - Which way to the summit?
Exodus Product Director and veteran Kili climber Jim Eite takes us to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro – but which route would he recommend?
On most mountains the only way is up, but on Kili (and yes I have climbed it so I can call it Kili), you have a choice! Unfortunately it’s just a question of which way up, but it's still a choice!
Over my past ten years at Exodus, I believe that we have stayed well and truly at the forefront of treks on Kilimanjaro. We were one of the first companies to start offering the beautiful Rongai Route and now in 2008 we are the first to introduce a pioneering new nine-day climb, ascending via the Northern Circuit. So, with so much choice, which way to the summit is best for you?
In some books this route is also called ‘Nale Moru’ or ‘Liotokitok’ but most now use the name Rongai. Although some companies offer it as a five-day trek, this in my opinion is not giving climbers the best option on Rongai. The five-day route gives little time to acclimatize, and bypasses Mawenzi, one of the three volcanoes that make up Kilimanjaro.
Mawenzi is a jagged peak, formed when the volcanic cone eroded away leaving a volcanic plug jutting out of its surroundings. Generally unclimbed now due to dangerous loose rock, it forms a spectacular backdrop to the third night on the six-day Rongai Route climb – the night that’s missed out on a five-day climb! The six-day climb is an ideal way up for those who are either not so confident at altitude, or unsure of their physical fitness. Although the summit day on every route is tough, the prior four days trekking on Rongai are not, and if you acclimatize well this is an ideal option.
Like Rongai, the Shira Route traverses the mountain, ascending and descending different ways. Here the trekking days are longer, but you have eight days to acclimatize. Climbing from the west the route winds its way up onto the Shira plateau, left by the collapse of Shira volcano into a caldera and then filled by lava when Kibo, the third and highest volcano, erupted many years ago.
This route is the ideal trek for those who are confident trekking for eight consecutive days, but maybe not so experienced at altitude. The extra two days allows time to acclimatize, before heading to the summit from Barafu. Again the summit day is tough – a 12-hour day, climbing and descending well over a 1000m in altitude.
The Northern Circuit
The Northern Circuit is new to Exodus, and new to me. Although I’ve walked much of the track, I’m sorry to say that after over 40 climbs this is the route that I haven’t yet trekked. It climbs from the north before winding anti-clockwise, traversing below glaciers and ice fields to Barafu and the summit attempt.
This route is ideal for someone who wants something different! It’s nine days on Africa’s highest mountain, it gives time to acclimatize, but also involves those extra nights in a tent! Although we try and make camping as comfortable as possible on all treks - carrying tables, chairs and spacious two-person tents, providing three-course dinners and hot lunches, and dishing out plenty of warm washing water - those extra nights camping aren’t for everyone.
On all routes the summit day is tough, and your fitness – both mental and physical - will be tested. The altitude gain, and distance, is similar to that of ascending Ben Nevis but with 50% of the oxygen! For those who haven’t trekked at altitude it is hard to imagine the effect of this, but I can assure you it makes it hard.
Prior to your trek, improving your cardio vascular fitness will help, as your body will be more efficient at getting oxygen round your system, but there is little that can help you prepare for altitude. If I was you (and I’ll be getting back in shape to climb Kili with a special group on the Northern Circuit early next year (departure date: Mon 12 Jan - Sat 24 Jan 09) in aid of our porter school), I’d get some fitness training in now. When you get there, listen to your guides and body as you start to experience what a lack of oxygen can do to you.
Why do we avoid Marangu and Machame?
So when we offer the three best routes on the mountain, why should we want to include the crowded Marangu and Machame trails offered by many non-specialist trekking operators? Over our 34-years of operating we have acquired the knowledge and experience to pioneer new routes and to provide our clients with the best treks possible. So stop considering a slog through Machame Forest or the motorway that’s Marangu, and pull on your boots on Shira, Rongai or the Northern Circuit for the climb of your life!
Make your 2013 resolution now and join exodus for a Kilimanjaro trek.