The downside to Marangu is that it offers little chance of acclimatising by the principle of ‘climb high, sleep low.’ It is also, because of its “easier route” status, often selected by people who are less fit and consider it to be the easy option to summit. Sadly, the result is that the number of people who reach the summit is lower than on most of the other routes. Another factor to consider is that ascent and descent are via the same route, limiting variation in scenery.
To make a success of Marangu route, it is advisable to add a day’s acclimatisation trek from Horombo Huts up to Zebra Rocks, and back to Horombo Huts for the night.
The Rongai route is also known as the ‘Loitokok’ route or what used to be called, the old ‘Outward Bound Route.’ The trail starts near the Kenyan border and ascends in a northerly direction. The ascent profile of Rongai is similar to the Marangu route and is considered to be the second easiest route. It meets up with Marangu route at Kibo Huts, where the paths join and lead to the summit.
It also does not offer much by way of the ‘climb high, sleep low,’ principle, so adding on an extra day to the trek is beneficial if you wish to increase your chances of success.
One of the benefits of the route, is that it is a very quiet, less populated route. Accommodation is in tents and the descent from summit heads down the Marangu Route.
The Machame route starts out from Machame forest on the opposite side of the mountain from the Rongai route. The path heads up through the thick forest in a south-westerly direction, taking a total of 6 days to reach the summit. The beauty of the Machame route is that after the forest area, the route heads east, giving you amazing views across the Shira Volcano. It is considered to be one of the steeper routes to the summit, but is very scenic. A night is spent at Baranco camp on the third night, which is at a lower altitude than the second night’s camp, ensuring better acclimatisation. Accommodation on the Machame route is in tents.
The starting point for both the Shira and Lemosho routes, is at the far western side of the mountain. Like Machame, both routes are ranked as very scenic. However, the ascent profile for Shira route on the first day is steep, as you climb up to 3500m from 2200m. The path then meander across the Shira plateau where it ultimately joins up with the Lemosho and Machame routes near Lava Tower. The remainder of the route follows the same paths as the Machame Route and accommodation is in tents.
Unlike Shira and Machame, the Lemosho route covers a greater distance on the first two days, with more time being spent in the rain forest. It is therefore best to do this route over seven to eight days. Like Rongai, it is a quieter route for the first few days until it joins in with Shira and Machame routes. Accommodation is in tents.
The Umbwe route is the toughest and steepest route to the summit and should not be undertaken by anyone who is not fit or unaccustomed to steep trekking. The route heads directly upward in a northerly direction to Baranco Wall where it joins in with Shira, Lemosho and Machame routes. It has a steep ascent profile and offers less opportunity to acclimatise correctly.
The Northern Circuit route is the newest path to open on Kilimanjaro and is often called the ‘360 Route’ or the ‘Grand Traverse.’ Like Shira and Lemosho, it starts on the western side of the mountain at almost 3000m.
The trek can be done in seven days but best completed in eight days. Of all the routes, it offers good acclimatisation as the altitude gain each day is very low. It is also very quiet as the route is seldom used and often your only companions at camp are field mice. It is only when you join up with the Rongai Route at ‘Third Caves Camp,’ and later at ‘Kibo Huts,’ that you see other people. The final path to summit joins the Marangu route and then descends down the Mweka route.