Options for climbing Kilimanjaro

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 9-15, 1997
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Options for climbing Kilimanjaro
Question: I'm looking for the best source for information on climbing Kilimanjaro. When is the best time to travel there, and organizations that furnish such trips?

Christopher Pirie
San Francisco, CA
[email protected]

Many Kili trips include time in Tanzania's wildlife refuges
Adventure Adviser: There are a slew of U.S.-based outfitters that lead guided ascents of 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, many of which follow long but non-technical routes to the summit and then tack on several days of wildlife safari to the end of the trip. Regardless of which organization and route you choose, be aware that the high altitude combined with varying terrain, including loose rock, snow, and scree can be challenging for even well-conditioned hikers, and it's not unusual that even the fittest trekkers are sidelined with bouts of altitude sickness. The way to minimize your risk of this is to sign on with at least a six-day climb; many organizations will get you up and down in five days, but the extra day will give you the much-needed acclimatization time at 12,500 feet. As for when to go, almost all groups avoid the rainy season--April, May, and November--and run trips throughout the rest of the year, but the best time to go is during the driest months, either August or September. Still, you'll need to be prepared for rain and cold temperatures (close to freezing at night) at the higher elevations on Kili regardless of when you go.

That said, probably the most well-versed outfitter when it comes to Africa's highest peak is San Francisco-based Mountain Travel Sobek, which offers three Kili climbing options. For an off-the-beaten path Kilimanjaro experience, consider their six-day ascent up the northern slopes via the Rongai Route, followed by a descent down the Marangu route; most nights are spent in "luxury camps," which means porters will set up tents and prepare meals for you--a good thing after long days of trekking. With a three-day walking safari through Big Game country at the end, this 18-day trip starts at $3,890 per person. A similarly strenuous six-day trek follows the Machame Route and is part of a 14-day Tanzania trip (starting at $3,290 per person). Finally, experienced high-altitude trekkers can sign on for Mountain Travel Sobek's seven-day ascent via the Shira Route, the most rugged and demanding path to the summit (17 days, from $3,450 per person). For details, call 800-227-2384.

REI Outfitters (800-622-2236) also takes six days for the summit attempt by way of the Marangu route, followed by a safari in Serengeti National Park; their 18-day Tanzania trip starts at $3,395. Wilderness Travel prefers the less-traveled Shira Route as well, claiming that it allows for the best acclimatization while climbing and therefore gives trekkers a better chance of summitting--close to a 100 percent success rate, versus 30-60 percent via other routes. Their rigorous eight-day climb is followed by a full week in Tanzania's various wildlife refuges and starts at $3,695; call 510-548-0420. Finally, Overseas Adventure Travel's (800-221-0814) six-day trek, followed by a week-long wildlife safari, will set you back $4,690 per person.

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