Will Climbing Mount Meru Help me Acclimatize on Kilimanjaro?
Mount Meru Acclimatization

Exposure to higher altitudes like Mount Meru is beneficial for acclimatizing to Mount Kilimanjaro. At home, trekking at high peaks will test your ability to adapt to the altitude. Although the acclimatization you experience may be temporary and not applicable to the conditions in Tanzania, it is still recommended. It is important to avoid discovering on Kilimanjaro that your body’s response to altitude is negative. Some individuals struggle to acclimatize even at altitudes as low as 10,000 to 12,000 feet, so it is better to find out in your home country. Climbing Mount Meru usually takes place a few days before climbing Kilimanjaro. The summit of Mount Meru reaches almost 15,000 feet, which is equivalent to the altitude of the main high camps used on Kilimanjaro. By climbing Mount Meru first, you are more likely to be acclimatized to the highest campsite on the trip, reducing the risk of altitude sickness. This allows for a shorter duration (5 or 6 days) when climbing Kilimanjaro immediately after. However, it is important not to be too aggressive in attempting both treks back-to-back as it can put excessive stress on your body and increase the likelihood of altitude sickness. While combining the Meru and Kilimanjaro climbs can enhance the chances of summit success compared to a longer Kilimanjaro climb alone, it can also decrease the chances. The success of this schedule depends on your hiking ability. In general, it is advisable to climb Meru, especially if you want to do it for the sake of climbing and not just for acclimatization purposes.

Mount Meru is situated in Tanzania, not far from the Kenyan border. Its 4566m height makes it the fifth highest mountain in Africa. Meru is a very rewarding climb, offering stunning views of Kilimanjaro and of the Momela Lakes from near the summit. For those who are unsuccessful in reaching the summit, there is a beautiful and less taxing walk around the crater in which armed rangers can be hired from the park headquarters. While the mountain is often overlooked in favor of its taller neighbor, it is a great standalone trek with a mix of wilderness and cultural experience. On the Momella Route, there are huts available for accommodation. This makes it a good preparation experience for those planning to trek Kilimanjaro, as it is very similar to sleeping in the mountain huts on the Marangu Route.

Acclimatization on Kilimanjaro

When climbing Kilimanjaro, the body is subject to a number of variables at different points along the climb, from weather and terrain to altitude and duration of exposure. We could consider “success” on Kilimanjaro to be reaching the summit, and a major factor in achieving this goal is prevention of Acute Mountain Sickness. The cause of AMS is still not entirely understood; it is thought to be related to mild cerebral and pulmonary edema. Trekking too high too fast does not give the body time to adjust to the changes in atmospheric pressure, and the lack of time spent at each altitude is a common cause of AMS on Kilimanjaro. The best indicator of someone’s susceptibility to altitude illness is previous experience at high altitude, so even if you haven’t had problems before it is still a risk. With Mount Meru being over 1000m lower than the summit of Kilimanjaro, each time spent ascending and sleeping increases the body’s level of acclimatization and fitness at altitude. Acclimatization on Kilimanjaro is something which happens naturally as a direct result of the time spent on the mountain. Giving the body more time to adjust to changes in altitude is the best way to prevent altitude illness. This is done simply by taking more days to ascend to higher altitude, so naturally it takes longer to reach the summit. Studies have shown that the slower the ascent, the higher the success rate. Note: for those planning to climb Kilimanjaro, the Western Breach route has a very good acclimatization schedule because it approaches the mountain over several days from the northwest, and goes gradually upwards to the breach. This is in contrast to the popular Machame route, where trekkers climb high on the first two days and then spend a long time at altitude.

Importance of Acclimatization

Severe high-altitude illnesses, such as cerebral and pulmonary edema, are life-threatening and can occur at any altitude on Kilimanjaro. Cerebral edema swells the brain and causes confusion, changes in behavior, and loss of consciousness. This can lead to coma and death if not treated immediately. Pulmonary edema is a buildup of fluid in the lungs, and the victim will cough up frothy or pink sputum, suffer exercise intolerance, and have gurgling breath sounds. This can also be fatal. People suffering from these critical illnesses must descend immediately and be evacuated to a hospital, which is extremely costly. Most sufferers can make a rapid recovery when at a lower and safer altitude. High-altitude illnesses, such as these, are caused due to a lack of acclimatization. When climbing high too fast, the body will make extra red blood cells, which causes the blood to become too thick. High-altitude illnesses occur when there is a change in weather or the climber does not descend fast enough. This is far less likely to occur to those who climb Mount Meru before Kilimanjaro, as they are already acclimatized to higher altitudes and will only need to spend a few days before reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit.

2.2. Challenges of Acclimatization

High altitude causes a number of physiological changes in the body, for example deeper and faster breathing, increased heart rate, and changes in blood pressure. At highest altitudes, an abnormal breathing pattern known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing may develop. The decreased air pressure has a number of effects. At 18,000 feet (5500m), the air pressure is only around 60% of that at sea level, and as a result, the oxygen available to the climber is effectively reduced by around 40%. The body responds to the reduced availability of oxygen by increasing the amount of oxygen it carries. This is done by increasing the production of red blood cells containing hemoglobin, which transport oxygen in the blood. At the same time, the body produces extra blood capillaries to supply the muscles with more oxygen. These processes take time, and it is the increased number of red blood cells and capillaries present in a well-acclimatized person that give the blood its increased viscosity and a higher hematocrit level. The main way in which the body adapts to the reduced oxygen availability is by increasing ventilation and heart rate to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles and the brain. This is why climbers at high altitudes often feel as though they are working much harder than normal even when performing simple tasks.

Climbing Mount Meru

Mount Meru is the best acclimatization hike for Kilimanjaro. Our climbers say how much they enjoyed it and are so glad they did it before Kilimanjaro. It is an often-overlooked trek, but those trekkers who do it are rarely disappointed. The mountain is a tremendous, sheer volcanic massif, which can be seen from Kilimanjaro on a clear day. The views both from the summit and the approach walks are stunning. The slopes are heavily forested and mainly populated by buffalo and elephants. On the lower slopes, baboons and curious blue monkeys are often spotted. It is a four-day trek to the summit via the Momella Route, which is a superb trek in its own right but can also be used as a very steady climb to the summit and superb acclimatization for Kilimanjaro trekkers. The climax of the mountain and objective of the trekkers is the summit of Socialist Peak, which is a sparsely treed, craggy peak that takes around an hour to walk to from Miriakamba hut. This peak offers excellent views of the ash cone in the crater below and views of Kilimanjaro to the north. On the southern and eastern sides of the mountain, the crater walls have been broken by subsequent eruptions to form impressive cliffs, the most dramatic of which is the 1500m high Breach Wall. The ash cone itself is a minor peak on the crater floor, which is now seen to be a result of a relatively recent eruption. On the eastern side of the mountain, one can walk down into the crater for a very interesting trek around the ash cone and possibly see some buffalo. On the north side of the mountain, one can walk to the crater floor or descend down to saddle hut and look at an excellent view of Kilimanjaro and the Momella plains.

Acclimatization Benefits of Mount Meru

Altitude acclimatization is a process where the body overcomes the stress of the reduced amount of oxygen in the air. With gradual exposure, the body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen, enabling the trekkers to climb higher. Thus, it is a requirement to spend a few nights at a medium altitude before going to a higher altitude. This key factor is a key factor in preparing the body to enter the altitude zones of Kilimanjaro without suffering from sickness and thus increasing the chances of reaching the summit.

If you plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro but are not sure you can handle the altitude, this is the trek for you. Many hikers still underestimate the effects of altitude and realize it is not for them only when it is too late on Kilimanjaro. By then, the money wasted is substantial, and altitude sickness can be dangerous at worst and, at best, may take the enjoyment out of your Kilimanjaro trek.

This trekking is ideal for acclimatization for a Kilimanjaro climb. It is a hike through the Afromontane forest, into heath, and then into alpine desert. Near the summit, the terrain is rocky with high altitude. This is a similar environment to Kilimanjaro, and the trek allows trekkers to sleep in huts and do some game viewing on the way (matches day 1 of Marangu route).

Mount Meru is an ideal pre-trek for climbers bound for Mt Kilimanjaro. It is located in Arusha National Park in Tanzania. It is an exciting and challenging trekking place. The viewpoints are excellent. The official summit, Socialist Peak, offers wonderful views of Kilimanjaro. However, ultra adventurous trekkers may want to climb to Mount Meru’s true summit, which is in the crater and is referred to as the ‘Ash Cone’.

Similarities to Kilimanjaro

As Mount Meru is less known, it also means that it is far less climbed than Kilimanjaro. The benefits of this are that Meru has a quieter, less touristy climb which resides in the Arusha National Park. With Meru being less crowded than Kilimanjaro, the paths are less worn and the rainforest is virtually untouched. Therefore, the trek through the forest is far more impressive and there are more chances of seeing wildlife. The forest begins at an altitude of 1000m and is inhabited by elephants, buffalos, giraffes, baboons, and black and white colobus monkeys. On the fourth day of the ascent, the trail to Socialist Peak leads to a barren moonscape with stunning views of the ash cone in the crater below. This would be comparable to Kibo on Kilimanjaro. Due to Meru’s lower levels of traffic, the terrain is less dusty and the volcanic rock in the craters is far less loose, meaning less chance of injury.

Mount Meru the Advantage

Another benefit is that successful climbers on Meru who have applied for a second entry into Kilimanjaro National Park receive a discount on their Kili park fees. This is because the Tanzanian government recognizes that the extra acclimatization gained through climbing Meru means there is a decreased chance of failing to reach the summit, and therefore climbers will spend an extra day paying for park fees. A discounted day on the park fees can be worth a substantial amount, and climbers can cash in their savings for a celebration back in Arusha!

For those attempting the trek to the top of Kilimanjaro, climbing Meru first can boost chances of a successful summit attempt in more ways than just acclimatization. On a practical level, the walk through Arusha National Park to ascend Meru is a great opportunity for viewing wildlife. Though Kilimanjaro overshadows Meru in terms of high altitude flora and fauna, Meru houses a variety of ecosystems and is home to many different animals, including elephants and giraffes, which are rarely seen in the Kilimanjaro parks. This can serve as a ‘starter’ to the safari experience and can lead to a longer post-Kilimanjaro safari on the northern circuit.

The trekking route on Meru known as the Momella route is very scenic and passes through many different environments. One of the highlights of this trek is the walk up to the summit of Little Meru. It is a tough climb but the views at the top are fantastic, and it is a great way to help the body acclimatize to higher altitudes. The trek to the summit of big Meru has some similarities with Kilimanjaro. At around 4500m, you will enter into the alpine desert and the terrain becomes rockier as you approach the summit. This is a good test to see how the body copes with the conditions on Kilimanjaro, and if you find it too difficult, then you may decide not to attempt the big ‘Kili’ at all.

Mount Meru is a great place to acclimatize and have some fun before heading into the high altitudes of Kilimanjaro. Many locals will tell you that “Kilimanjaro is just a bigger version of Mt Meru.” This statement is not entirely true as the two mountains have vastly different routes and require different amounts of technical experience. In contrast to Kilimanjaro, where all routes are designed for trekkers, Meru only has one trekking route to the summit. The other routes on the mountain involve steep technical climbing and are very rarely attempted.


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