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Last week, climbers reaching the top of Kilimanjaro may have thought they were hallucinating. That’s because the park authorities made another sign change, the second in two and a half years.
In January 2012, the old, weathered, wooden Uhuru Peak sign was retired in favor of a shiny new green sign with yellow writing. Nearly everyone disliked the new sign because it lacked character and was not as visually clear as the predecessor. Well, the park decided to return to the look and feel of the former sign.
Some minor changes to the words and font have been made.
The new “old” sign reads:
- MOUNT KILIMANJARO
- YOU ARE NOW AT
- UHURU PEAK, TANZANIA 5895M/19341FT AMSL
- AFRICA’S HIGHEST POINT
- WORLD’S HIGHEST FREE STANDING MOUNTAIN
- ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST VOLCANOES
- WORLD HERITAGE AND WONDER OF AFRICA
Ultimate Kilimanjaro is now offering the newest, most exciting route on Kilimanjaro — the Northern Circuit route.
The Northern Circuit route traverses nearly the entire mountain around the quiet, rarely visited northern slopes. No other route on Kilimanjaro ventures into these areas, giving trekkers a feeling of true wilderness. The route is very scenic, offering beautiful views throughout the climb and spectacular vistas almost a full 360 degrees around the mountain. Additionally, as the longest route on Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit has the longest acclimatization time, giving you the highest chance of reaching the summit successfully.
With a high success rate, incredible varied scenery and a very low number of visitors, the Northern Circuit route is certainly one of the best routes on Kilimanjaro.
Mount Kilimanjaro has no shortage of amazing visually stunning sights. The climb from the trailhead to the summit of Kilimanjaro rises from 6,000 ft to 19,340 ft, crosses five ecological zones, and offers plenty of spectacular things to see.
Here’s a list:
Kilimanjaro routes begin in the lush rainforest, which receives approximately 80 inches of rain annually, mostly during the rainy season months of April through May and November.
5. Shira Plateau
The Shira Plateau is located on the western side of the mountain. The plateau is actually a caldera, a collapsed volcanic crater, created 500,000 year ago that was later filled with lava debris from another eruption.
6. White Necked Ravens
White necked ravens are commonly found lurking around campsites and huts looking for some leftover food. They get their name from a patch of white feathers on the back of the lower neck.
7. Plane Crash Site
In November 2008, a small passenger plane carrying four tourists and the pilot crashed on Kilimanjaro at 14,200 ft. The wreckage remains on the mountain on the saddle between Uhuru and Mawenzi.
9. Lava Tower
Sitting at 15,900 ft, Lava Tower was caused by a volcanic eruption dating back between 150,000-200,000 years ago. Climbing the tower is a fun activity for people feeling extra adventurous.
Kilimanjaro’s 10,000 year old glaciers have drastically disappeared by 85% over the last 100 years. Because of this rate of decline, many experts expect the glaciers to completely disappear in the next 50-70 years.
13. Kilimanjaro Sunrise
Many climbers especially enjoy the spectacular sunrise while heading up to the summit. It is viewed from above the clouds, as climbers approach Uhuru Peak in the early hours before the dawn.
15. Uhuru Peak
At 19,340ft, Uhuru Peak is the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. The word Uhuru means “freedom” in the Swahili language. The green signage pictured above replaced the original wooden signs that were on the mountain for decades. Then the park decided to go back to the wooden signs a couple years afterwards.
45% of climbers use the Machame route.
40% of climbers use the Marangu route.
8% of climbers use the Lemosho route.
5% of climbers use the Rongai route.
1% of climbers use the Shira route.
0% of climbers use the Umbwe route.
In contrast, Ultimate Kilimanjaro clients use Lemosho (75%), Rongai (12%), Machame (10%) and Marangu (3%).
Crater Camp is a campsite that is located near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, around 18,800 feet above sea level. (Uhuru Peak is 19,345 feet above sea level.) It is utilized by some climb operators during longer routes, usually via the Lemosho or Shira route.
The campsite sits in between Uhuru and the Furtwangler Glacier. Understandably, clients are intrigued at the opportunity to sleep next to the disappearing glacier.
We are occasionally asked whether we use Crater Camp on our routes. We do so sparingly. Here’s why. Sleeping at such a high altitude is the most dangerous thing you can do on Mount Kilimanjaro. The previous night’s altitude is about 15,000-16,000 feet in elevation, whether you stayed at Arrow Glacier or Barafu. A gain of 3,000-4,000 feet is simply too much of an adjustment for most people. The result is that there is a high likelihood to be stricken by altitude sickness, especially during sleep. And once that occurs, a evacuation from near the top of Kilimanjaro in the middle of the night, though possible, is a burdensome task.
It is far easier on the body to climb from 15,000-16,000 feet to the summit (19,345 feet), then descend down to Mweka (10,065 feet). Clients who are affected by altitude sickness on the way up will usually recover very quickly as they descend. That is a stark contrast to what would happen if they were required to sleep at almost 19,000 feet.
Because of the increased risk for both clients and staff to stay at Crater Camp, trips using Crater Camp are offered only by special request and are subject to approval by Ultimate Kilimanjaro.
Here is a review of Crater Camp by one of our customers:
In a climbing group, it is common that one or two people turn around on the mountain due to altitude sickness, exhaustion or a variety of other matters. We often get asked what happens to the rest of the trekking party – specifically, whether they must also discontinue their climb. Absolutely not!
Each group will have a lead guide, a number of assistant guides depending on the party size, and lead porters – all of whom are able to escort climbers down. Therefore, when a person cannot continue their ascent, one of the staff members will accompany this climber while the lead guide takes the group to the next destination. The remaining party is unaffected and continues their climb as scheduled.
Most people avoid climbing during Mount Kilimanjaro’s two rainy seasons. The long rainy season begins in mid-March and lasts through early June. The short rainy season is from November to early December. Bad weather makes climbing more difficult and less enjoyable in several ways. Most obviously, rain makes you wet, which robs the body of warmth and heightens the risk of hypothermia. Water causes changes to the terrain, making the ground muddy, soft and slippery. Visibility is reduced by clouds, fog, wind and water. So given this, why would anyone climb during the rainy season?
First, sometimes personal schedules do not allow someone to climb during the dry season. And since the mountain is accessible year-round, they proceed with their trek. Secondly, Kilimanjaro is a very popular (i.e., crowded) mountain during the dry season. Those wanting to avoid the crowds choose the rainy season to have the park to themselves. Lastly, although the chances of encountering precipitation during these time periods are significantly greater than Kilimanjaro’s dry season, it is not guaranteed that this is the case. A large mountain like Kilimanjaro causes its own weather, which is notoriously unpredictable. Therefore, the opportunity for great weather or foul weather exists no matter when a climb is attempted.
If one does plan on climbing during the rainy season, consider the following:
- The northern part of the mountain recevies less rain than the southern parts. Therefore, Rongai is the preferred route when climbing during the rainy season. Marangu is also good route because of the hut accommodations.
- Quality rain gear is essential. Climbers should make sure that they have waterproof, breathable jacket, pants and boots. The day pack and duffel should be protected from rain with backpack covers or plastic bags. Everything inside the pack and duffel should be stored in ziplock bags as well.
- The difficulty of a route increases with bad weather. So do the dangers. When climbing during the rainy season, it is better to plan less strenuous itineraries.
Attempting the Machame route in 6 days is very tough. The standard 7-day route is shown here:
So to do the route in 6-days, you need to shave off one day from the standard route. Here are the options:
- On day two, trek from Machame to Barranco, without camping at Shira. This is difficult because you’d have to climb from 2,850 m to 4,600 m and descend to sleep at 4,000 m. You’ll be on the trail a long time, for 10-14 hours.
- On day four, trek from Barranco to Barafu, without camping at Karanga. This is difficult because it can take 8-10 hours to complete this leg, and then you can only sleep a few hours before you prepare for the midnight assault on the summit and descent, which can take another 11-14 hours. Therefore, you’d be walking for 20 or so hours with only a few hours of sleep in between.
- Through day five, you’d stick to the 7-day itinerary, trekking from Karanga to Barafu. On day six, you’d summit and descend all the way to Mweka gate, instead of stopping at Mweka camp, and get off the mountain. Summit day is already tough without adding an extra 3-4 hours to your walk. This day may last 14-18 hours.
As you can see, none of these are ideal. Therefore the 6-day Machame route is not recommended. Unless you know you are a strong hiker and can adapt quickly to high altitude, the 7-day option is the best option.