In addition to the ‘official’ routes authorised by the park authorities, KINAPA, some of the more creative trekking agencies have set up their own routes. Due to the strict rules imposed by KINAPA (especially the one about not straying from the official paths), these routes tend to be merely inventive combinations of existing trails. So, for example, the longest route of them all, Nature Discovery‘s Grand Traverse, utilises paths on the Shira and Rongai routes as well as the Northern Circuit and the Mweka Descent.
The ‘Alternative Lemosho’ trek
This has been our favourite route up Kilimanjaro for several years now. In short, it takes the best official route on the mountain – Lemosho – and, in our opinion, improves upon it.
What’s so special about this route?
The Alternative Lemosho Route uses as its template one of the official routes – the standard Lemosho Route. However, instead of heading round the southern side of Kibo, the Alternative Lemosho Route heads round the little-used northern side on a path known as the Northern Circuit. It then heads to the summit via the School Hut and Gilman’s Point.
The reason we like this route so much is that we like to think we know what people are looking for from their Kilimanjaro climb: great views, adventure, the opportunity to see some of the local wildlife, and the chance to spend virtually each day of their climb in completely different scenery to the day before. We also know what trekkers regard as the number one disappointment on the mountain: hordes of climbers that swamp certain campsites and have turned certain routes into one huge unbroken queue of people stretching up the mountain slope.
And we think the Alternative Lemosho Route scores well in all of the above categories. For on the Alternative Lemosho Route you get:
- A great opportunity to spot wildlife The Lemosho Route has always been renowned for passing through the best and most extensive stretch of forest of any trail. The Alternative Lemosho Route not only passes through this same forest, but also passes above Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, affording you the best chance (though still very slim!) of seeing some of the African wildlife that live in Kilimanjaro’s shadow – elephant, buffalo, leopard, antelope and monkey. These animals occasionally climb Kili’s slopes to feed on the minerals in the rocks, so even though you may not see the animals themselves, you should see evidence that they’ve passed this way.
- The chance to get away from the crowds Whilst trekkers are obliged by KINAPA to follow established trails, the Alternative Lemosho Route also takes paths that seldom see other walkers. Only the Umbwe Route is better when it comes to avoiding the crowds.
- The chance to see more of the mountain than on any other route – and get the best views The Lemosho Route is the longest of the official routes on Kilimanjaro. The Alternative Lemosho is even longer, and takes in not only the vast Shira Plateau on the western side of Kibo, but also overlooks desert lands of the Saddle. Plus, of course, there’s the Kibo summit and Uhuru Peak…
- An improved chance of reaching the summit The route offers plenty of chances to ‘climb high, sleep low’, which aids acclimatization, helping trekkers to deal with the effects of altitude – which in turn increases your chances of reaching the top!
What are its disadvantages?
Cost is probably the main one: as it is the longest route on the mountain, so it should take eight days. (Though it can be done in seven.) This, of course, means that your chances of getting to the summit are better. But the longer you spend on the mountain, the more expensive your trek will be (count on each extra day costing around US$300 extra). Getting to the start of the walk is also trickier than getting to the start of the other trails, as the distance is further and the road rougher.
That said, the cost should not be anymore than the regular, Official Lemosho Route. If a company is trying to charge you more than the standard Lemosho Route, ask them why.
There is one other disadvantage. On days 4-5 you are on one of the remotest parts of the mountain, ie the northern side of Kibo. There is no escape route for these two days except retracing your steps back towards the Shira Plateau. (From there you can drop down to Shira II to catch the emergency 4WD vehicle back to civilisation.) As such, it’s important that you are acclimatised thoroughly by the time you reach Moir Huts at the end of Day 3. If you are OK at Moir, then you should be fine as you don’t actually gain any more altitude for the next couple of days until you reach the other (eastern) side of Kibo. But if you do feel rough at Moir, you shouldn’t really continue – which means your trek will be cut very short.
To be honest, this is rare: when we ran treks on this route, pretty much everyone made it to the summit, and the one time I did turn somebody back at Moir Huts, it was due to their fitness rather than their lack of acclimatisation. So it’s not a major concern at all – but it is worth bearing in mind.
I can’t find anybody who offers this route
The Alternative Lemosho Route goes by several different names – reflecting, perhaps, the fact that it’s not an official route. Team Kilimanjaro were the real pioneers behind this route (though they call it the TK Lemosho Route). Other companies offer something similar, though they sometimes call it the Northern Circuit Route to reflect the fact that it goes around the northern side of Kibo. Note, however, that the Northern Circuit seems to refer to several different routes, so make sure you are clear with your tour company of the exact itinerary.
The itinerary of the Alternative Lemosho Route
Please follow this link to view the itinerary for the Alternative Lemosho Route itinerary>>