How I climbed Kilimanjaro quietly and avoided the crowds
climbing Kilimanjaro without crowds

To have Mount Kilimanjaro to yourself you must do two things, one of them is choosing the less busy months of the year and secondly, you have to choose a quieter and less popular route like the Northern Circuit Route, Rongai Route, Umbwe Route, or the Lemosho Route. Many hikers come to Mount Kilimanjaro with fantasies of a huge wilderness expedition on the tallest freestanding peak in the world. They at least anticipate some alone to consider the most difficult physical endeavor they may ever encounter. It can be really depressing to discover a circus instead of quiet.

Although serious mountaineers place Africa’s contribution to the seven summits high on their bucket lists, little technical expertise is needed to climb the 5,895-metre (19,341 ft) inactive volcano. A decent level of fitness, an optimistic outlook, and a body that adjusts to altitude pretty well are all necessary for success. It’s hardly shocking to learn that many people are making the ascent.

Kilimanjaro draws 50,000 climbers annually, up 25% from 2008, and that figure is around 50 times greater than those who tackle Everest or Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska. This information comes from Tanzania National Parks. Since it might be difficult to control the impact of so many boots pounding up and down one mountain, hikers are forced to follow established routes and stay at authorized campsites. Permanent houses are seen in camps along one of the routes, Marangu. On the others, complex tent settlements are built each afternoon and then dismantled the next morning when climbers arrive and depart—sometimes in their hordes.

Kilimanjaro National Park has improved despite, or perhaps because of, an increase in visitors. Now, there is a weigh station at each camp where the porters and guides sign in.

Weigh-ins guard against overly heavy loads for porters while also guarding against rubbish on the mountain. To make sure that what goes up Kilimanjaro and is not eaten along the way, comes back down, groups must weigh their trash. In the past, worn-out porters frequently concealed their trash in the bushes.

Human waste, however, continues to be a problem. In the rough terrain, digging new latrines is difficult, and the cold weather slows the decomposition process.

Fortunately, I was warned about the Kilimanjaro crowds and the pollutants they would leave behind, including noise, trash, and excrement. I planned my ascent to avoid the mountain’s busiest places, and I picked up other crowd-avoiding strategies along the way.

Hikers on Kilimanjaro can pick from six well-traveled climb routes that converge on the top.

Marangu and Machame Route are the two most popular routes, earning the names Coca-Cola and Whiskey. Ironically, the longer routes—Rongai, Lemosho, and Shira—have become more well-known due to their reputation for quieter travel. Although Umbwe, the toughest route, draws few climbers, it has the little possibility for essential altitude acclimatization. All climbers, with the exception of Rongai, ascend the mountain’s southern face and descend it.

Choosing a route is essential for avoiding crowds, so my climbing companion and I chose the Northern Circuit route because it skirts around the mountain’s busiest spots while still being gorgeous and rarely traveled.

The extra few days that are needed for this allow hikers to explore more of the mountain and give themselves more time to acclimate, but they also lengthen the route by roughly 86 kilometers and raise the price of the seven-day trip. The price of a trek varies widely depending on the number of days, the size of the party, the reputation of the operator, the standard of the gear and food, the quantity and expertise of the guides and porters, and any extras like transportation and hotel stays.

Our hike began at Lemosho Gate along the Lemosho trail, starting from the west, after a bumpy three-hour drive from Arusha, the center of northern Tanzania’s safari and tourist circuit, through some of the mountain’s greatest rainforest.

We reached Big Tree camp after a leisurely three-hour climb amid the chirps of birds and monkeys. We were met by a Sykes monkey and a small group of trekkers living in tents under the location’s famous huge tree as the evening’s rain began to fall. The following day saw more rain, but it only added to the enchanted setting of massive trees covered in old man’s beard lichen and surrounded by blooming St. John’s wort. Before arriving to Shira camp, which was situated alongside a creek, we eventually emerged from the forest into short heather, a gloomy scene of grey-green bushes. We were snuggled in our dining tent due to a chilly fog, but in the evening, the clouds suddenly parted to give us our first glimpse of the still distant summit.

On the third day, we diverged from Lemosho and headed up the Northern Circuit to Moir camp. We traveled 8 kilometers away from the mountain’s crowded southern face and into a windy alpine desert. In the late afternoon, we went up a nearby ridge and investigated a waterfall surrounded by spiky big lobelias and other alpine plants. The following morning, when we left to skirt the entire summit from west to east, the waterfall had frozen. Although the terrain is flat and easy, this 22-kilometer segment can be completed in two days. The Northern Circuit offers stunning views from the peak all the way to the Kenyan savannah and Amboseli National Park, as well as a wide-ranging panorama looking downhill via heathlands and woodlands.

Between four and six employees are employed by the typical visitor to serve as guides, cooks, cleaners, and equipment porters. My climbing partner and I were accompanied by a 12-person party, which elevated the expedition above our typical wilderness adventures. We enjoyed having big roll-up beds, light loads, and nice meals instead of sleeping on rough ground, carrying heavy packs, and eating dehydrated food. Our meals included soup at lunch, a major dish like chicken and chips for supper, and fruit for dessert. All of this pampering aids in acclimatization to the altitude, but it came at the cost of 12 more individuals who argued politics in camp and passed us every day. Few individuals are aware that they can forego the assistance.

Four to six employees are often employed by a tourist to serve as a guide, chef, cleaner, and equipment carrier. My climbing partner and I were accompanied by a 12-person party, which elevated the expedition above our typical wilderness adventures. We enjoyed having big roll-up beds, light loads, and nice meals instead of sleeping on rough ground, carrying heavy packs, and eating dehydrated food. Our meals included soup at lunch, a major dish like chicken and chips for supper, and fruit for dessert. All of this pampering aids in acclimatization to the altitude, but it came at the cost of 12 more individuals who argued politics in camp and passed us every day. Few individuals are aware that you can do without the support crew

The only requirement is a guide. Of course, few individuals would want to or be able to complete the climb without porters.

several porters. Four to six workers are often employed by a tourist to serve as their guide, chef, and equipment carrier.
The recommended climbing seasons for Kilimanjaro, when milder temperatures and clear sky are most likely, are January–February or August–September. But they are also the months that are the busiest. The easiest way to avoid both crowds and bad weather is to climb in March or October, right before either of the two rainy seasons.

Guides advise beginning the seven-hour trek just after midnight for the last summit attempt from the higher camps.

Walking during the night means less time spent at risky heights and a whole day to descend to safety because many people can’t sleep at the high camps. It is better to “peak” around daybreak for clear sky, according to our guide Charles, and climbing loose scree is simpler when it is frozen. After spending hours walking through pitch-blackness and bitter wind, I also came to the conclusion that Charles’ hypnotic, rhythmic Swahili chanting probably works best to encourage troubled customers to continue when they are unable to see how far they still have to go. From the glittering headlights of thirty other hikers, who appeared to be miles above us in the pitch-blackness, I could hardly make out the stars.

Many hikers at this high altitude get stomachaches, but the terrain is too hazardous for delirious climbers to deviate from the trail when they need to go potty. I regret seeing things I wish I hadn’t littered among carelessly thrown hand warmers and Kleenex, in the narrow beam of my light. More difficult than I had anticipated, the traveling left me with throbbing headaches, severely numb hands and feet, frozen water bottles and camera batteries, and occasional bouts of nausea.

We stood ecstatic at the peak amid a moonscape of loose scree, punctured by hundreds of boot prints that had somehow managed to withstand the howling wind not long after the most amazing dawn I had ever witnessed. There was nothing except a pure sky above us.

As we waited for our time to take a photo in front of the famous Uhuru Peak summit sign, the glaciers shone blue against a still-pink skyline.

It wasn’t until we descended that I realized how valuable our route was for avoiding the congestion. We encountered a crowd of climbers making their way up the south slope via a congested track. When we passed the massive Barafu camp, where climbers were staying in approximately 100 tents before their summit day, I felt tremendously lucky because groups were still arriving. In contrast, we had shared Third Cave and School Hut with two climbers who scarcely made a sound and Moir Hut with one party of three climbers.

Would I attempt Kilimanjaro once more? Yes, however, I’d prefer a daylight climb with vast panoramas and a desolate peak to the restricted headlamp view and cloud-free sunrise. Even a nature-loving misanthrope is better off joining the crowds than criticizing them since the sublime vista from the roof of Africa is shockingly accessible to plain mortals of average fitness.

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Oct 31, 2022
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