Kilimanjaro, with its lush forests, glowing glaciers, mysterious presence, and beautiful straddling landscape is a magnificent mountain. Home to three volcanoes, it towers over the surrounding landscape in East Africa and beckons adventurers the world over for the adventure of a lifetime. If you’re wondering: how long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro, I explain the duration on the various treks below.
I was fortunate enough to experience the glory of this mountain during my summit attempt a couple years back.
Kilimanjaro marked a definite turning point in my life.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is an adventure of a lifetime. It may very well be the most physically demanding thing you ever do, but also one of the most rewarding.
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How high is Kilimanjaro?
At 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, the fourth highest of the Seven Summits and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
Located in northeast Tanzania, just 3 degrees south of the equator, it is also commonly referred to as the roof of Africa. The greater part of Kilimanjaro lies 4,800m above the surrounding plain that averages around 1,000m above sea level.
The starting point for most explorers attempting a summit of Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro Airport, one of Tanzania’s International airports.
Kilimanjaro airport is suitably located close to the towns of Arusha and Moshi. These towns, in the shadow of the great mountain, serve as the start and end points of the trekking adventure and on a good day provide great views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro
A number of factors and the route chosen to reach the summit determines how long it takes to climb Kilimanjaro.
Depending on your climbing experience and route, a trek on Kilimanjaro can take anything from five to nine days.
The minimum number of days on the mountain is 5.
This comes from a ruling made by the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority declaring it mandatory to spend a minimum number of days on the different routes. At least five days on the Marangu and Rongai routes and at least six days on the rest.
This, in an attempt to increase the safety of climbers, prevent ascending beyond the acceptable climbing limit, and reduce the number of emergency evacuations from Kilimanjaro.
The longer the trek the more it costs. And the longer one has to go without the usual comforts while on the mountain.
Naturally, this leads to climbers choosing a shorter route
This choice should be made with caution though. Taking a shorter adventure in an attempt to save costs may put your entire expedition at risk.
However trivial it may seem, deciding how many days to climb Kilimanjaro is one of the most important foundations in your preparations.
Read on to find out how to prevent altitude sickness and the particulars of a successful climb.
The key to a successful climb
You may be wondering how long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro and if it’s possible to try to experience as quick as possible.
The summit of Kilimanjaro can be reached without any climbing gear or climbing experience, but this is by no means a reason to underestimate the difficulty or the risks of the climb.
The height at the start of the trek is 2.250m.
At a maximum height of 5,895 metres, Kilimanjaro is in the extreme altitude zone.
Statistics show that, out of the more than 50 000 climbers that trek Kilimanjaro each year, less than half reach the summit. This is comparative to my own experience on Kili – we were a group of 13 climbers, and only six of us reached the summit at Uhuru.
The summit success rate is heavily dependent on the route chosen. This is because the various routes differ in terms of the duration of the climb and how long you spend acclimatising on the mountain.
There is a direct correlation between time spent on Kilimanjaro and success rate.
On the minimum five-day route, it is estimated that only 34% of the climbers reach the summit. This percentage increases to just under 47% on the six-day routes and an even larger increase to 80% on the eight and nine-day routes.
The longer you spend on Kilimanjaro, the more your body gets accustomed to the higher altitude and lower oxygen levels, the safer your hiking experience and the better your chances of reaching the summit.
The camps at the longer treks are often located at lower altitudes than the daily trekking route. As you’ll learn in a minute this is one of the ways to minimise the mitigate the effects of altitude sickness by walking high and sleeping low.
The longer treks also include the option of a daytime summit attempt. Not only is your body better rested for the final summit in this case, but the summit is also less crowded when compared to the shorter treks that involve a midnight summit attempt.
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The single biggest obstacle that gets in the way of the goal of reaching Uhuru peak for the majority of hikers is altitude sickness. This condition is caused by exposure to extreme high altitudes and body not being able to adapt quickly enough to the reduced oxygen levels.
Different people cope better with altitudes than others and it’s not possible to tell who is better equipped. There is also no way to predict how you will react in this extreme environment. Not even fitness or endurance levels are any indicator. Often times, the more fit one is the quicker the ascent up the mountain jeopardising one’s own goal of reaching the top.
Kilimanjaro is a dangerous mountain from an altitude perspective, particularly on summit day. The climb calls for an increase in altitude of 1,200 metres from a height of 4,600 metres. It is likely that many hikers will experience some form of mild altitude sickness during the climb. Ascending too fast can cause headaches, loss of appetite, dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea. These mild symptoms are not serious and will normally disappear within a day or two. More severe symptoms include uncontrollable coughing, vomiting, and fever.
Not to worry.
With advance preparation, it is possible to minimise the effects of high altitude.
Some tips to inhibit altitude sickness?
- Drink water. As much as you can and then some. You will carry the water you need for the day in your day-pack and the porters carry the rest.
- Walk slowly. At a regular pace. This gives your body time to adapt without overdoing things.
- Avoid heavy exercise and pushing your body too hard.
- Walk high, sleep low. This is something you’ll hear often and it’s good advice. This exposes the body to higher altitudes while giving it sufficient time to recover.
- Refrain from alcohol, smoking, sleeping pills, and other stimulants.
- Do not continue the climb until any of the mild symptoms completely disappear. You need to be confident that your body has fully acclimatised before continuing.
- If any of the symptoms continue excessively, it is imperative to go down
Having said this- how long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro? Even though it is possible to climb Kilimanjaro in as little as 5 days, the longer routes such as Lemosho, Shira and Rongai come highly recommended. Both in terms of safety and success. The shorter routes of Marangu, Machame, and Umbwe are only recommended for experienced climbers, accustomed to being at high altitude.
As you can see, the best thing you can do to maximize your chances of reaching Uhuru and the highest point in Africa:
POLE POLE. Swahili for slowly slowly.
- Slow walking pace
- Longer trek duration. The longer the better
How long does it take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on the various routes
There are a total of six different routes you can take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Each route is varied in the duration on the mountain, the types of accommodation, the level of difficulty, the type of scenery, and other factors.
The table below lists each route, sorted by the number of days usually taken on each route.
|Route||Number of Days||Route Length|
|Marangu Route||5||64 kilometres (40 mi)|
|Umbwe Route||6||37 kilometres (23 mi)|
|Rongai Route||6 (+1)||65 kilometres (40 mi)|
|Machame Route||6/7||49 kilometres (30 mi)|
|Lemosho Route||8 (+1)||66 kilometres (35 mi)|
|Northern Circuit||9 (+1)||90 kilometres (56 mi)|
The classic Marangu is the most established route being the very first route used by climbers on Kilimanjaro. Since then it has become the most popular route. Often referred to as the “coca-cola” route, it is the only path where trekkers stay in basic huts as opposed to camping. There is no electricity in the huts, but there are separate dining and bathroom facilities.
It is favoured by tour operators as it is the shortest route, requiring no camping gear to be carried. Climbers choose this route because it is the quickest and is often considered to be the easiest path up the mountain. It is also the cheapest option and requires no need to purchase expensive hiking equipment.
However, this being an easy trek is a misconception and this route has one of the lowest rates of climbers who reach Uhuru Peak, due to its short profile and less time to acclimatise.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Marangu route
The Marangu route is the shortest itinerary at a total of 5 days on Kilimanjaro. The odds of reaching the summit are however, greatly reduced at such a short time-frame.
Trekkers sometimes spend an extra day to acclimate to the altitude at Horombo Hut and this extra day on the mountain is highly recommended.
The Umbwe route is considered to be the most difficult and direct way up Kilimanjaro to reach Uhuru peak. The route is short and steep providing very little opportunity for acclimatisation and should only be chosen by experienced climbers, not beginners.
The Umbwe route is also one of the most scenic routes with low traffic, very remote, and quiet. However, the chances of summiting are also low.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Umbwe route
The route is set out at a minimum of six days. Recommended for those with great endurance it has a poor acclimatisation profile and a rapid ascent. An additional day is recommended when attempting this route.
The Rongai Route is the only route on Kilimanjaro that approaches from the North, relatively close to the border with Kenya. This camping only trek is for those looking to have a true wilderness experience before joining the Marangu route at Kibo camp.
This remote trek is less scenic and flat, but is a good choice for those looking to hike during the rainy season as the North side of the mountain receives considerably less precipitation.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Rongai route
Rongai is a moderately difficult route offering relatively fewer acclimatisation opportunities than the other routes. The minimum number of days required here is six days on Kilimanjaro, although seven days comes highly recommended.
Another popular option, the Machame route offers a scenic path through four diverse landscapes and climatic zones. It provides impressive views while also being one of the cheaper routes due to its easy access and shorter itinerary. Due to its popularity, it is a busy trail so expect a crowded trek if choosing this route.
Often referred to as the “whiskey route”, Machame begins from the south traversing Kilimanjaro’s southern ice field. Another plus point for the Machame route is the safe acclimatisation transition by climbing higher during the day and sleeping at a lower level leading to a higher summit success rate.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Machame route
The Machame route comes with two options and although you have the choice of completing this route in 6 days on Kilimanjaro, it is recommended to choose the 7-day trek.
When you arrive at Karangu, instead of continuing to Barafu stay an extra night. The extra day lowers your risk of altitude sickness, more adequately prepares your body for the climb, and increases your odds of making it to Uhuru peak.
The Lemosho route is said to be the most scenic route on Kilimanjaro with panoramic mountain views throughout. As an added bonus, the route is less frequented which means not having to deal with any crowd while climbing. Another advantage of the Lemosho route is that due to the gradual slopes, it offers excellent acclimatisation and has a high summit success rate. Lemosho is a camping-only route.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Lemosho route
The standard route takes 8 days total climb on Kilimanjaro, starting in the south-western slopes of the mountain, although this can be extended with a stay at Karanga Valley.
NORTHERN CIRCUIT ROUTE
The Northern Circuit route is the longest route up Kilimanjaro. It is also the newest route, traversing the mountain around the beautiful northern slopes on a circumnavigation of the mountain, approaching the summit from the east before descending on the same route as the Machame and Lemosho.
This long, scenic route offers beautiful views from the western approach. The long days spent over 13,000 feet are great for acclimatising, resulting in the highest success rates of all routes on Mount Kilimanjaro.
With a low number of hikers, diverse views, a high success rate, and varied scenery, the Northern Circuit route is one of the best routes on Kilimanjaro.
How long does it take to climb Kilimanjaro on the Northern circuit route
This newest route is also the longest route, both in terms of days and distance covered. It is offered as a minimum of 8 days to complete or a 9-day trek with an overnight stay in the crater. Because of the time spent on the mountain and the gradual acclimatisation profile, the Northern Circuit has the highest Kilimanjaro summit success rate.
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