Many people may not realize there are 7 different routes up to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Lemosho has been rated the most beautiful, and most successful route with about 98% success in an Uhuru Peak summit from this route. It is also the longest which gives more time for acclimatization which is why more people are so successful in summiting. The Lemosho route is typically climbed in either 7 or 8 days.
On July 18, 2019 I completed my first of the Seven Summits! I arrived to Moshi, Tanzania with an 8-day itinerary for the mountain which ended up being 7 because I’m a bad-ass. Before even leaving for Africa, I kept asking myself why I signed up for the longest climb when physically, because of my experience at altitude and the amount I have trained this year, I could have totally done the shortest route, but nevertheless, I was climbing Lemosho, and was and ready to go.
Day 0– Materuni Waterfall
My cultural shock was little-to-none compared to Nepal. Maybe it is because I had already immersed myself in a 3rd world country once before, or maybe it’s also because my hotel in Moshi looked like a tropical island resort. Either way, I woke up ready for whatever adventure awaits. For my rest day in Moshi, I decided to check out the infamous Materuni Waterfall. It is a short hike from the Materuni Village. You are surrounded by tropical plants and trees that grow incredibly in the fertile volcanic soil. Coffee plants, Banana, Avocado, Mango, and Pineapple trees all surround the trail as you begin. The trail is fairly flat and only takes about 45min to an hour to get to the falls. With overcast conditions in the rain forest, you feel like you are on a tropical island rather than a giant mountain. The falls are gorgeous and continue to make you feel like you are in a tropical paradise. On the return you have the option of the “coffee experience” where you pick your own fresh beans, grind them by hand and drink your handmade espresso. I do not like coffee so I opted out of this adventure but overall, Materuni is a MUST see if you have spare time in your trip.
DAY 1- Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp (9,000′)
We started the morning by driving from Moshi town to the Londerossi Gate (not Lemosho). Londerossi is where the registration office is and we ate lunch there as well. I made some friends from the other camps that I would continue to see sporadically during the climb, and we all headed out and down towards the Lemosho Gate entrance. Finally time to start hiking! all of the camp and gate signs give estimated times of travel to the next camp. It was estimating 4 hours for a short 7km to the Big Tree Camp. It barely took me 2 hours to get there. Many guides stress going “pole-pole” which means “slowly-slowly” and it will be very slow going if you are in a large group. But it was just me so I got to set the pace! A couple other girls were supposed to be with me but they switched to the September climb. I found that in July, it is busy season but not quite peak busy season, so there were a lot of tiny groups of 1-3 people, but only a few massive groups. I would pass a majority of these larger groups on the way up since it was just me. I saw a bunch Colobus Monkeys in the rain forest on the way to camp, and could hear them chatting and hopping between trees; super cool to see out in the wild. I did not sign up to do a safari after the trek so this is the extent in wildlife I would get to see. We arrived at camp with plenty of time to spare. They feed you incredibly well to make sure you have enough calories for the mountain but I was convinced I was going to gain weight there was so much food! Day 1, easy. Done.
DAY 2- Big Tree Camp to Shira I and Shira II Camp (12,700′)
Today I skipped a camp because I am such a bad-ass. We started a little later than nearly all the other groups and I passed almost all of them on the way up to Shira I. Any of the groups that do Lemosho in 7 days instead of 8 usually skip Shira I camp. As I passed these groups, many of the other guides were asking if we were also skipping. Internally I was hoping but was almost afraid to ask if that was even a possibility. It wasn’t until we stopped at Shira I in time for lunch that my guide asked me if I wanted to and I was ecstatic to say yes. It was only 11am and there was no reason I needed to spend an extra night on the mountain at this point. I felt great, and wanted to keep going. So my 8-day climb now became a 7-day climb and we continued across the plateau and up to to Shira camp II. As for the hike itself, starting from Big Tree, it was very up and down for the first mile or so until leaving the rain forest into the Moraine vegetation zone. Once above the forest, the trail steepens as you follow a ridge up to the Shira plateau. The plateau is pretty flat between the camps I and II. Right before Shira II it steepens as you officially begin to climb up what is officially considered part of the Kibo (Kilimanjaro) Volcano.
FUN FACT: The Kilimanjaro mountain is made up of 3 volcanic cones: The Shira Caldera, Kibo (Uhuru Peak), and Mawenzi. By climbing the Lemosho route, you get to climb Shira and Kibo, and view Mawenzi from summit base camp!
DAY 3- Shira II up to Lava Tower (15,000′) and down to Barranco Camp (13,000′)
A steady climb from camp II up to the Lava Tower warrants excellent views of the Shira Caldera below. the Lava Tower gets you up close and personal with the southwest side of the mountain. A quick stop for lunch and it’s all down hill from here. The decent to Barranco camp is decently steep in spots, so knees beware. You can see the camp below pretty immediately and just watch it get continuously closer on the decent. if the clouds haven’t rolled in, you should have a fantastic view of “The Breakfast Wall” that will be climbed the next morning. Many get intimidated by the near 800′ of climbing that is required first thing in the morning but don’t worry, it looks much worse than it is.
DAY 4- Barranco Camp up “The Breakfast Wall” (13,775′) and down to Karaga Camp (13,200′)
A roller coaster of emotions today on this climb almost perfectly reflect the roller coaster in altitude. I was feeling a little down when I woke up, missing my husband and was just kind of tired and cranky honestly. We start with the infamous Breakfast Wall. Which includes some mild scrambling. Non-climbers might be intimidated by this wall but don’t be. The trail is wide and well marked. There is only one “skinny” section nicknamed the “kissing rock” because you have to hug it to walk by, I did not feel the need to do so. It was still a wide enough path that I felt just fine. I never felt like I was straddling any crazy exposure, granted I have climbed much scarier climbs. After the scramble is over, you think you are nearing the top of the wall, but take my warning: there are like 5 false summits! think of it like a stack of books lined up shortest to tallest. you climb up the side of the short book and top out, but now you have to go up over the next ridge, and the next one, and the next one. I was legitimately getting pissed off. We finally top out for real and the views are incredible. You get a front-and-center view of Kili, and an ocean of clouds down below. I instantly felt better… for now. The way down to Karanga camp is mostly downhill, but it involves jumping one more ridge line as well as dropping into the Karanga Valley before climbing back up to the camp. The last steep pitch before Karanga is hands down the hottest, steepest pitch you will do the entire climb. I felt like it was steeper then the Breakfast Wall! Its about a 200′ climb straight up to camp. Not a fan. However, overall this hike is pretty quick. they estimate 4-5 hours for most groups; didn’t even take me 3. So after lunch, it is time for a nice relaxing chill. You can hike around nearby for more acclimatization, but my knee needed a break if it was going to be in tip top shape for the summit.
Day 5- Karanga Camp to Barafu Base Camp (15,250′)
It is customary for the guide companies to give you a songful introduction to the crew at some point on your trip. Most try to do it earlier in one of the first days on the mountain, in my case it got delayed until this morning because I had skipped a camp that second day which is when they originally wanted to do so. I actually liked it better waiting for today since it is the day before our summit attempt. It was the perfect encouragement and wish of luck to the summit I needed. After singing some songs we headed upwards. A steady incline at altitude, only took me about 2 1/2 hours to get to Barafu. A long time to rest and prep for the next day although my attempt to sleep early failed miserably, I felt good and ready for the summit attempt!
Day 6- SUMMIT! Uhuru Peak (19,341′) and down to Mweka Camp (10,000′)
We started at midnight. I felt pretty good and although we were going what felt like a snail’s pace, we were still passing massive groups. It is a long night as you crawl your way slowly up to the summit although it felt shorter than I thought it would. As we got closer and closer to Stella Point, the wind began to pick up and the cold from the early hours of the morning were freezing my Nalgenes. At just after 5am, we came up over the crest of Stella Point. it was still incredibly dark and the wind was coming off the crater. It was Brutal. Weather reports later indicated that it was a low of 17 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit, with winds up to 15 knots which makes for windchill well below zero. The pace is set and designed to summit by sunrise. However, because I was moving so quickly, we hit Stella point well before dawn and Uhuru Peak at 6am (sunrise wasn’t until 6:30). It was too cold to honestly enjoy much time on the summit, we spent maybe 5 minutes tops, snapping quick pictures in the dark and heading down the crater rim back to Stella point. The sun finally rose as we got there, and the long decent began down the way we came. The decent from the summit involves some glicading on volcanic ash and sand in spots. It only took maybe 2 hours to get back to base camp. After a quick break and some food, we continued down to Mweka camp. Initially the decent was fine, and then the rock steps began….. after passing the Millenium intermittent camp, the last 3 miles or so was all big rock steps and my poor knee made itself known. After a very, very long day, I plopped into my tent and slept like a log.
Day 7- Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5,300′)
A much more gradual decent today, made my knee was thankful but my calves were definitely burning in the end. After 14,000′ of decent in 2 days, my legs were pretty done. It only took me about an hour and a half to descend 6 miles. It was foggy and rainy at the bottom and made for a cool, spooky atmosphere in the rain forest. After packing up the vehicles at the gate, we headed about 5 minutes down the road to where we would eat lunch and celebrate outside the souvenir shop. I was glad to be done. Tired, sweaty, and ready for a much needed shower!
Overall, I enjoyed Kilimanjaro. I kept catching myself comparing notes to my Nepal trek to EBC last year and felt like Kili was significantly easier than Nepal. Mentally I was also in a much stronger place and we all know that climbing something like this is always more mental than physical. Swahili is easier to learn than Nepali as well, I felt I took away more of the language, but unfortunately not as much culture as I would’ve hoped. Moshi town is fairly modernized so I would have loved to visit a village out in the grasslands, and meet tribesmen and I did not get to see anything of that nature. I definitely recommend knocking this one off your bucket list if you have interest in climbing Kili. I also recommend the Lemosho route. it shares much of the popular Machame route but I think is more picture-esque in the first few days before the trails merge.