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How Long Does It Take to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro typically requires a minimum of five days, but for better success rates, it’s recommended to opt for six, seven, or even eight-day itineraries. Longer durations provide a more gradual ascent and increase the likelihood of reaching the summit. For those with more time to spare, extended routes over 10 days or more offer scenic and leisurely climbs.

Mount Kilimanjaro stands as a remarkable natural wonder, boasting the title of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. With its volcanic origins, it majestically rises almost 5 kilometers (3 miles) above the hot, dusty plains of northeast Tanzania. The rugged, glacier-capped peaks, including the striking Kibo Crater, remain snow-covered throughout the year, a remarkable sight considering its proximity to the equator, merely 400 kilometers (249 miles) to the south.

Mount Kilimanjaro holds a coveted spot on the bucket lists of many enthusiastic hikers and peak-baggers, drawn to its iconic summit. Standing tall at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet), Uhuru Peak claims the title of Africa’s highest point, yet it can be conquered without specialized mountaineering skills or gear. However, despite its accessibility, Kilimanjaro demands respect. Climbing this majestic mountain requires a good level of fitness and determination, along with awareness of the health risks associated with rapid altitude gain.

All Kilimanjaro climbs must be arranged through a registered Tour operator, who provides experienced guides, porters, camping equipment, meals, and water. The duration of the climb is typically agreed upon in advance and varies depending on factors such as the chosen route, budget, fitness level, and the time allocated for acclimatization.

The world record for the fastest Kilimanjaro climb and descent, set in 2014, belongs to Swiss mountain runner Karl Egloff, who accomplished the feat in under seven hours. On the opposite end of the spectrum, leisurely-paced hikers might consider dedicating up to two weeks to circumnavigate the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro before reaching the summit. However, these are exceptional cases. The majority of commercial hikes typically span between five and seven days.

Recommended Duration & Success Rate While Climbing Kilimanjaro

The longer you dedicate to a Kilimanjaro expedition, the higher your chances of successfully reaching the summit. Data from Kilimanjaro National Park reveals that less than 30 percent of climbers attempting a five-day ascent reach the top. However, with a six- or seven-day itinerary, the success rate increases to approximately 45 and 65 percent respectively. In contrast, more than 85 percent of climbers who allocate eight days or longer reach the summit.

Opting for a seven-day or longer climb offers several advantages. It enhances safety by reducing the risk of altitude-related illnesses and fatigue-related accidents. Additionally, a longer duration allows for alternative routes, avoiding the overcrowded Marangu Route, and offers more opportunities to appreciate the diverse landscapes and vegetation. From lush montane rainforests to Afro-alpine moorlands adorned with towering lobelias and heathers, the journey becomes a scenic marvel. Moreover, extended climbs increase the likelihood of encountering wildlife such as monkeys, chameleons, birds, and other fascinating species.

Longer climbs come with two significant drawbacks. Firstly, each additional day on the mountain incurs higher park fees, thereby increasing the overall expedition cost. Secondly, a lengthier climb reduces the time available for exploring other renowned Tanzania attractions like Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Zanzibar. Nevertheless, considering that ascending Kilimanjaro is a unique and unforgettable experience, we highly recommend dedicating at least six, preferably seven days to the endeavor.

Choice of Kilimanjaro Route.

The duration of a Kilimanjaro climb largely depends on the chosen route. With six main routes available, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The Marangu Route is favored by many hikers for its speed, affordability, and convenience, despite being prone to overcrowding. Alternatively, the Machame Route is a popular choice for budget-conscious travelers seeking to avoid large crowds, offering a more scenic and gradual ascent.

For those seeking solitude and willing to invest more, routes like Shira, Lemosho, Rongai, and Northern Circuit provide quieter and more scenic options. However, there are also two faster but steeper routes, Umbwe and Mweka, recommended only for highly experienced mountain hikers who require minimal acclimatization. The Mweka Route is commonly used as a swift descent route by climbers who ascended via Machame, Shira, or Lemosho.

Marangu Route (Minimum 5 days; Recommended 6 days)

The duration of a Kilimanjaro climb largely depends on the chosen route. With six main routes available, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The Marangu Route is favored by many hikers for its speed, affordability, and convenience, despite being prone to overcrowding. Alternatively, the Machame Route is a popular choice for budget-conscious travelers seeking to avoid large crowds, offering a more scenic and gradual ascent.

For those seeking solitude and willing to invest more, routes like Shira, Lemosho, Rongai, and Northern Circuit provide quieter and more scenic options. However, there are also two faster but steeper routes, Umbwe and Mweka, recommended only for highly experienced mountain hikers who require minimal acclimatization. The Mweka Route is commonly used as a swift descent route by climbers who ascended via Machame, Shira, or Lemosho.

Machame Route (Minimum 6 days; Recommended 7 days)

The second most popular route up Kilimanjaro presents a few challenging sections but offers a gentler ascent compared to Marangu and boasts breathtaking scenery. This route allows for better acclimatization, particularly if opting for the seven-day, six-night option. The ascent involves overnight stays at Machame Hut (2,890m/9,482ft), Shira Hut (3,840m/12,598ft), Barranco Camp (3,950m/12,959ft), and Barafu Hut (4,600m/15,092ft). Despite their names, there are no longer functional huts on this route; camping is required.

Shira Route (Minimum 6 days; Recommended 8–10 days)

The lesser-known yet enchanting Shira Route, situated on the western flank of Kilimanjaro, commences at Shira Gate (3,590m/11,778ft) and later converges with the Machame Route en route to the summit. This route offers a gradual multi-day ascent through a pristine expanse of Afro-alpine moorland, characterized by striking volcanic rock formations. Adventurers may also encounter eland, buffalo, and other large mammals along the way. Altitude-wise, the Shira Route begins above the 3,500m/11,483ft contour, providing ample time for acclimatization before the final ascent to the summit. While it can be completed in six days, an additional day or two is recommended for a more comfortable experience.

Lemosho Route (Minimum 6 days; Recommended 8–10 days)

Lemosho, considered one of the most picturesque routes up Kilimanjaro, shares similarities with Shira as it begins on the western slopes, albeit at a lower altitude. This initial descent reduces the likelihood of altitude-related issues on the first day. Additionally, starting in the forest zone on day one, below the Shira Route’s starting point, offers a unique advantage. On the second day, the Lemosho Route merges with the Shira Route, further enhancing the journey’s diversity and allure.

Rongai Route (Minimum 6 days; Recommended 7 days)

Rongai stands out as the sole ascent route to Kilimanjaro from the northern side. Particularly advantageous during the rainy season, it receives significantly less precipitation compared to southern routes. Even outside of the rainy season, Rongai remains a favorable option, boasting a relatively gradual ascent and an above-average likelihood of encountering large wildlife. Notably uncrowded, at least until its convergence with the Marangu Route at Kibo Hut the day before summiting, Rongai offers a tranquil and serene journey. Opting for the seven-day variation significantly boosts the success rate compared to the standard six-day route.

Northern Circuit (Minimum 9 days; Recommended 10–11 days)

The most remote route up Kilimanjaro commences at Lemosho, veering north around the peaks before ascending from the east. It is the longest route, necessitating a minimum of nine days. However, travelers have the option to extend the itinerary by a day or two to overnight within Kibo Crater, an esteemed experience. Allowing a full week before tackling Uhuru Peak, this gradual ascent contributes to the route’s highest success rate, albeit at a higher cost compared to other options. The extended duration provides ample time for acclimatization, enhancing climbers’ chances of reaching the summit. Despite its remoteness and expense, the route rewards adventurers with unparalleled solitude, stunning vistas, and the opportunity for a unique overnight experience within the crater’s majestic confines.

Factors Affecting The Duration During Climb Kilimanjaro Hiking

The duration of nearly all Kilimanjaro climbs is predetermined, typically with little room for flexibility. Therefore, surprises regarding the length of the expedition are rare, unless unforeseen circumstances such as illness or injury necessitate an early descent. However, the likelihood of successfully summiting depends on various factors, which are worth considering beforehand.

Seasons

Weather conditions on Kilimanjaro fluctuate significantly throughout the year. While sub-zero temperatures and strong winds are common year-round, climbing in dry conditions is far more preferable. As such, the best times for hiking are typically January to March or July to October, avoiding the rainy seasons of April to June and November to December. However, if circumstances necessitate a climb during the rainy season, the Rongai Route is recommended, as it adheres to the drier northern slopes of the mountain.

Altitude

The primary challenge to successfully summiting Kilimanjaro is the rapid increase in altitude from base to peak. Nearly all climbers experience some degree of altitude-related symptoms, including headaches, breathlessness, and insomnia, as well as more severe conditions like pulmonary or cerebral edemas, which can be fatal.

The most effective way to mitigate these altitude-related risks is through acclimatization. This involves allocating as many days as possible to the ascent. Climbers who opt for expeditions lasting over eight days are three times more likely to reach the summit successfully compared to those undertaking the minimum five-day trek.

Additionally, spending a few days at a mid-altitude location before the ascent, such as Ngorongoro Crater, Arusha National Park, or Marangu, can aid in acclimatization. Once on the mountain, it’s essential to maintain a slow, steady pace during the hike rather than pushing to reach camp early.

Your Fitness

Successfully climbing Kilimanjaro demands a reasonable level of fitness. For inexperienced hikers, it’s advisable to follow a training regimen, gradually increasing to a point where hiking for approximately five hours in hilly terrain feels comfortable. Utilize these training hikes to break in your boots and become accustomed to carrying the day pack you’ll use on the mountain. Additionally, incorporating running and cycling into your routine will enhance aerobic fitness, further preparing you for the climb.

Preparing for Mount Kilimanjaro Hiking

To ensure a successful trek on Kilimanjaro, it’s essential to have or highly consider the following items:

  1. Windproof and waterproof jacket and trousers
  2. Sufficient warm clothing for layering
  3. Waterproof gloves
  4. One pair of thick hiking socks and thin inner socks per day
  5. Wide-brimmed hat and UV sunglasses
  6. Broken-in 100% waterproof hiking boots and lighter shoes for evenings
  7. Adjustable trekking poles
  8. Four-season sleeping bag and high-quality ground mat (if not provided by the operator)
  9. Waterproof bladder or water bottles with a total capacity of 2L/68oz
  10. Medical kit including pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, foot blister plasters, sunblock, lip balm, and altitude sickness medication
  11. Abundant supply of energy-rich snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and energy bars.

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