Don’t believe the hype.
In October 2019, I summited Mount Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho route. This is the full overview of my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike.
It must be one of the most iconic mountains in the world. Mount Kilimanjaro. As a kid, I learned about the mountain and it has had a magnetic pull ever since. Our three-year-old son on a frequent basis will tell me “when I’m big like you, we’re going to walk up Mount Kilimanjaro together, right?” – I guess the mountains appeal is here to stay.
The 5896m Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain and one of the continent’s most magnificent sights. It’s also one of the world’s highest volcanoes, and the highest free-standing mountain on earth, rising from cultivated farmlands on the lower slopes, through lush rainforest to alpine meadows, and finally across a lunar landscape to summits of Kibo, Shira and Mawenzi.
And indeed it is magnificent to see the mountain rise seemingly from nothing in the days leading up to the summit. It is a looming highlight of your trip (or is it – read on) that is always there, looking over you in the background.
But getting more into the practicalities, there are multiple routes up the mountain, I finally decided on the Lemosho route.
- The Mweka route is merely an ‘exit’ route, it is the way out of the Mount Kilimanjaro park. After summiting Uhuru Peak from any of the routes, you will descent to either Mweka Camp or to Mweka gate directly (an extra 10 kilometers downhill).
- The Eastern routes, the Marangu and Rongai routes, are referred to by the locals as the ‘Coca Cola routes’. These are the most popular routes, these have huts (instead of tents) and usually attract the
- Umbwe is considered the toughest route as it has several steep climbs. Because of the way Umbwe is often broken down into smaller day portions (often into 5 days) it is actually quite doable, but still.
- That leaves the Machame, Shira and Lemosho routes. Especially Shira and Lemosho are very similar.
I finally decided on the Lemosho route to avoid the biggest crowds (Lemosho is now the 3rd/4th most popular route) and because of its gradual climb – a fairly safe bet to see how my body would react to higher altitude. It would at least allow my body to gradually acclimatize. And that – for me – was one of the key purposes, at least making sure I would make it and learn how my body would react to these extreme circumstances, also in preparation of future hikes (Annapurna, possible Everest Base Camp, etc).
Summitting the highest free standing mountain in the world is a huge accomplishment.
Also, it might be the easiest way to collect some bragging rights.
Summiting Kilimanjaro has many different aspects. And surprisingly enough, maybe, the physical part is only a minor part of it. I think more than not, mount Kilimanjaro is about mental and logistical preparation.
No matter how trained you are, Mount Kilimanjaro is going to hurt.
The physical pain of climbing up a mountain. The physical pain of altitude sickness. How you are going to deal with this pain, will make the difference here.
If you’ve never camped in a tent in the cold, this will be a challenge.
If you’ve never missed a shower for a week, you’ll have to prepare.
If you’re used to fancy meals, this will be a mental challenge.
So being able to prepare mentally, being ready to embrace the s*ck and embrace the stink will be a big part of how comfortable you will be on the hike. Having an open mind, embracing the circumstances, being positive, communicating well with your fellow hikers and preparing by reading, reaching out to other hikers and other things you can do to mentally prepare will make all the difference.
Having the right food and the right gear. Be sure to pack some snacks you’ll like.
Be sure to have the right clothing. Use my packing list as an inspiration, but also check with your guides, with the tour operator and other hikers.
Again, no matter how trained you are, Mount Kilimanjaro is going to hurt. The more you are used to enduring pain, the more experience you have in walking up steep trails, the more experience you have camping and the more experience you have in similar environments (some parts of the mountain look like Jordan, others like Iceland others almost like Italian or French mountain ranges) – the easier this will be. But again, it is going to hurt no matter what.
It is hard to describe how special it is to stand on the top of a mountain, even if it is only for a few precious minutes. The feeling is amazing and the views of Kilimanjaro are just stunning.
The different landscapes are stunning.
But there is a bittersweet dimension to my hike. Two hours after I reached the summit, another hiker died when he got dizzy and confused from altitude sickness, slipped, fell with his head on a rock and died. It’s all fun and games until somebody dies.
Looking back, the Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike was certainly not one of the toughest things I have ever done. And it was most certainly not one of the most memorable things I have ever done. It most probably won’t make it into my list of favorite hikes let alone my favorite travel stories or experiences.
I think the main thing I learned is that the Kilimanjaro is a rather crowded, commercial, overhyped trail that is mainly a ‘checklist-item’ on many people’s bucket lists. Too many hikers either take the trail for granted, are under-prepared or use it overly for bragging rights.
That aside, some advice:
- Bond with your guide and the rest of the team
- Build a good pace
- Don’t get sick
- The top is one, the descent however is where it happens
- Wear sunscreen
Find more detailed preparations for my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike on:
- Planning and preparing my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike
- Day planning for my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike
- Swahili words for hiking
- Keeping track of the weather on Mount Kilimanjaro
- My packing list for my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike
- My packing list for my day pack on my Kilimanjaro Lemosho hike
And more general preparation for the trail …
- My morning routine when hiking
- My evening routine when hiking
- My hygiene routine when hiking (embrace the stink, bro)
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