Climbing Kilimanjaro Day by Day: A Photographic Journey

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott September 25, 2013 3

Everyone’s goal in climbing Kilimanjaro is to get to the top, to be on the summit when the sun rises over the glaciers and the plains of Tanzania below.

Sunrise over the Kilimanjaro glaciers.

Sunrise over the Kilimanjaro glaciers.

But what about the journey to the summit? What does that look and feel like?

To answer that question, here’s a day-by-day photographic journey of the Marangu Route, from the trailhead all the way to Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro summit.

About the Marangu Route

The five-day Marangu Route is nicknamed the “Coca Cola Route” as it’s the only Kilimanjaro route that offers the option of sleeping in trekking huts in addition to camping. It’s also the fastest Kilimanjaro route: less than 70 hours from the time you enter the park to the summit. This means that going slowly, drinking tons of water and taking acclimatization walks are even more important than on other routes that give you more time get accustomed to the altitude and what it does to your body.

Prior to our trek, we’d heard that the Marangu Route was rather dull on the landscape front.  However, we were pleasantly surprised by both the beauty and variety we found each day. As for pace, aside from an especially challenging final ascent, the progression is fine.  To give you a sense of the pace of the climb, we’ve included the distance we covered and the elevation we gained each day.

Other Kilimanjaro climbing routes include:

Day 1: Marangu Gate to Mandara Hut

Begin: Marangu gate 1,840m/6,036 ft; End: Mandara Hut 2,720m/8,923ft

Elevation gain: 880m/2,887ft; Distance: 8km/5miles

The climb begins much like a walk in the park. Very easy. Almost too easy. Gauzy moss hangs from trees, waterfalls whisper in the distance. Red clay and forest: this is one of nature’s finest complimentary color combinations. Even though this stretch is easy, be sure to go pole pole  (slowly, slowly) to tempo your body and reserve your energy for when things get tough.

Day 1: an easy start through lush rainforest.

Day 1: an easy start through lush rainforest.

Hint: When you get up in the middle of the night to pee, as is apt to happen when you drink more than three liters of water a day, be sure to look up and admire the stars.  It might be one of the greatest night skies you’ll ever see.

Day 2: Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut

Begin: Mandara Hut 2,720m/8,923ft; End: Horombo Hut 3,720m/12,204ft

Elevation gain: 1,000m/3,280ft; Distance: 12 km/7.5mi

Waking up above the clouds as Mandara Hut.

Waking up above the clouds as Mandara Hut.

The landscape changes from willowed rainforest to shrub-strewn heath and moorland. The land becomes textured, perfect for mid-mountain light.

Peaks begin to appear. First Mawenzi Peak and then the snow-capped Uhuru Peak in the distance. Our final goal is in sight. Doesn’t look too far, right?

Solomon, our trekking guide takes a break under the gaze of Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.

Solomon, our trekking guide takes a break under the gaze of Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak.

Day 3: Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut

Begin: Horombo Hut 3,720m/12,204ft; End: Kibo Hut 4,703m/15,430ft

Elevation gain: 983m/3,225ft; Distance: 12 km/7.5mi

As we leave Horombo Hut we come across a stretch of grassland covered with dendrosenecio kilimanjari, the unmistakably-shaped signature trees of Kilimanjaro. Views of the peak and its glaciers continue to appear, reminding us how far we have come… and how far we have to go.

Walking through fields of dendrosenecio kilimanjari on the ascent.

Walking through fields of dendrosenecio kilimanjari on the ascent.

After lunch the walk becomes mind-numbingly monotonous. Barren and brown, this path seems infinite. We begin to sing and play games to pass the time until Kibo Hut.

Traversing the sparse, barren landscape just before reaching Kibo Hut.

Traversing the sparse, barren landscape just before reaching Kibo Hut.

Day 4: Kibo Hut to the Summit to Horombo Hut

Ascent: Kibo Hut 4,703m/15,430ft to Uhuru Peak 5,895m/19,341ft (via Gilman Point and Stella Point)

Elevation gain to Summit (Uhuru Peak): 1,192m/3,911ft; Distance: 10km/6.2mi

Descent: Uhuru Peak to Horombo Hut: 2,175m/7,135ft; Distance: 22km/13.7mi

(Yup, you did the math correctly – that’s 32 km/20mi of walking in one day.)

Wake up is 11 PM after a few hours of less-than-ideal, high altitude sleep. Our guides greet us with bowls of watery porridge. The goal: eat as much as you can to store up energy for what’s ahead.

We begin to walk, plodding our way scree switchbacks.  You can see the headlamps of the people ahead of you as they make their way up the mountain. It’s both hopeful and discouraging all at the same time. “Pole, pole,” our guides continually remind us.

This continues for the next five to six hours until we reach Gilman Point (5,681 m/18,638 ft), an accomplishment in itself, also a resting point en route to Uhuru Peak.

Sunrise begins atop Kilimanjaro peak, trekkers continue their climb.

Sunrise begins atop Kilimanjaro peak, trekkers continue their climb.

Another 90 minutes or so later, we reach Stella Point (5,730m/18,800ft) and the sun begins to appear on the horizon above the clouds. This is your first peek at the Kilimanjaro glaciers glowing in the early morning light.

Enjoying a moment to take in the views beyond Stella Point.

Enjoying a moment to take in the views beyond Stella Point.

Then finally, the Summit, Uhuru Peak (5,895m/19,340ft). Fatigue is forgotten and adrenaline takes over. A posed shot by a little wooden sign has never felt so satisfying.

That our whole group made it to the top made the achievement that much more sweet.

That our whole group made it to the top made the achievement that much more sweet.

The views are even more impressive than we imagined. It’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top where weather can change quickly, so our guides encourage us to begin our descent.

The goal is to return to Kibo Hut as soon as possible, so we “ski” down the scree below Gilman Point.

After a full breakfast and a short rest, it’s time to hit the road to Horombo Hut for our last night. And to breathe.

Day 5: Horombo Hut to Marangu Gate

Begin: Horombo Hut 3720m/12,204ft; End: Marangu Gate 1840m

Elevation loss: 1,880m/6170ft; Distance: 20 km/12.5mi

It’s a long way down, so we get an early start. We all feel relatively well. We didn’t wake up to pee as much. We slept. Our appetites begin to return.

We enjoy the early morning light and clouds as we walk. This is the second time we’ve seen this stretch of terrain, but this time it looks different. It’s in the shadow of the summit, a place we can say we’ve been.

Waking up at Horombo Hut on the way down.

Waking up at Horombo Hut on the way down.

More on Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: For practical advice, check out 5 Tips for Climbing and Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. And if you’re wondering what getting to the Kilimanjaro’s summit can teach you about life, check out Life Lessons from the Top of Africa

3 Comments »

  1. Alexis September 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Beautiful photos. I love seeing what the Marangu Route looks like. I climbed Kili via the Machame route in 2008 and loved every minute of it. I will say, we never had a day of monotonous landscape; it seemed to change hourly. So rewarding to watch the sunrise over the glacier, right? Well done.

  2. Anthony Belindo December 12, 2013 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Saw this link on Twitter this morning. Wow! What a hike!

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