Should We Sleep at Crater Camp?

Crater Camp is a campsite that is located near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Located at around 18,800 feet above sea level, it is very close to the summit Uhuru Peak which lies at 19,340 feet above sea level. The campsite sits in between Uhuru and the Furtwangler Glacier. Climbers who stay here have the opportunity to sleep next to the disappearing glacier.

We lead climbers on Crater Camp variations of the Lemosho Route and Northern Circuit routes. However, we only do so sparingly. Sleeping at such a high altitude is a step up in risk compared to summiting and descending. 

Crater Camp has an elevation of around 18,800 feet, while the previous night’s altitude is around 15,000 feet in elevation. A gain of almost 4,000 feet is a big jump – too much of an adjustment for most people. The result is that there is a good likelihood to be stricken by altitude sickness, especially during the evening. And once that occurs, a evacuation from near the top of Kilimanjaro at night, though possible, is a burdensome task.

It is far easier on the body to climb from 15,000 feet to the summit (19,340 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.

Some operators take their clients to Crater Camp on short 6-7 day routes, with sometimes disastrous consequences. Ultimate Kilimanjaro® offers Crater Camp variations only on our longest routes. Additionally, we stay at Crater Camp after we summit. These two variables improve acclimatization and therefore reduce the chance of AMS for our clients.

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. We don’t want to discourage you. Crater Camp is a magical place.

Below is a Trip Advisor review of Crater Camp by one of our customers.

Crater Camp with Ultimate Kilimanjaro

Which Company to Use?

UK are a partner in the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project. This means they comply with guidelines on porter pay, safety and conditions. If your company doesn’t comply, don’t use them as the local porters will likely not have the right gear for below freezing and wet conditions. They work hard and need help to get a fair deal.

I also snuck a quick look at the Operating Manual the company provides its guides. Very comprehensive with a focus on safety, client satisfaction and staff welfare.

The UK cook even made a birthday cake for my son for the night we were at Crater Camp – just awesome.

Which Route?

Different operators press different routes via their websites. There is a vast difference in the scenery for the various routes. Some are literally straight ascents through jungle to desert to snowy peak (boring). Our route (Lemosho) was far more interesting and scenic, including the amazing plants of the Barranco Valley, and the chance to scale the Barranco wall. It also took us to the Lava Tower which sits at 4600m, so an excellent acclimatization point on the trek as this is the same elevation as Barafu base camp.

Crater Camp or Not?

Our experience was that Crater Camp was an excellent choice and I would do Crater Camp every time if I ever do Kili again.

Without Crater Camp, you will probably get to camp in the afternoon before the summit after a tiring day, quickly have dinner, then try and sleep for 6 hours before rising at midnight for your summit. Then you get to trek in the dark and cold to the top, along with about 100-150 other souls intent on seeing the sunrise. Once you’re there, a few happy snaps then turn around 10 minutes later to walk back down. We saw plenty of people who needed assistance to get back down as they had nothing left in the tank for the 2-4 hour descent (depending on which camp you are sleeping at).

My son is 24 and I am 52 and we did not suffer any major discomfort at Crater Camp, apart from a mild headache on arrival which I put down to the effort expended in getting over the top of Stella Point on the way to the summit. We both slept well in our warm sleeping bags (we were wearing two thermal layers as well).

The other interesting thing about staying at Crater Camp is that it’s an opportunity for your porters to summit as normally only the guides summit with the clients. We had three porters who have been supporting trekkers for years and it was their first summit – a very cool experience for them and for us!

Private or Group Tour?

Also consider the size of your party. We had 13 support crew for only two trekkers. Groups of 12 will have around 50-55 support crew, and larger groups even more. It doesn’t make for a relaxing camp if there are 70 of you!

You will be overfed by your trek company (if they are any good). We were given enough food for 4 people at most meals as they want to make sure you eat and drink to combat Altitude Sickness. The food provided will generally be simple, but tasty and plentiful. Some days you will get a cooked lunch as well, and sometimes you might get a pack lunch if it’s a long walking day.

What Training and Fitness is Required?

A little jogging is good as well and you should be able to run at least 2.5 kms in 15 minutes. I also recommend the beep test as a way of getting fit and aiding fast recovery.

Is it Difficult?

Summiting Kili will be one of the hardest things you ever do, but also one of the most memorable with an amazing sense of achievement.

If you are interested in staying at Crater Camp, please contact us to arrange your climb.