The Rongai Route
(4-6 days ascent only; total including descent: 5-7 days)
This is the only trail to approach Kibo from the north. Indeed, the original trail began right against the Kenyan border, though recently the trail shifted eastwards and now starts at the Tanzanian town of Loitokitok, after which the new trail has been named (though everybody still refers to it as the Rongai Route). For the final push to the summit, trekkers on this trail take the Kibo Hut Route, joining it either at the huts themselves or at the 5000m mark just below Hans Meyer Cave. Again the trek can be completed in five days and four nights, though trekkers usually take a detour to the campsite beneath Mawenzi peak, adding an extra day.
Are you sure it’s called the Rongai Route?
The name Rongai Route is actually something of a misnomer. Sure, it’s the name that everybody uses but, strictly speaking, it’s not the correct one. The real, original Rongai Route used to start at the border village of the same name but was closed several years ago by the authorities who decided that two trails on a side of the mountain that few trekkers visit was unnecessary.
You will still see this route marked on many maps, but today all trekkers who wish to climb Kili from the north now follow a different trail, also known as the Loitokitok Route after the village that lies near the start. (Just to confuse the issue still further, this isn’t officially the correct name either, for along the trail you’ll see various signs calling this trail the Nalemuru Route – or, occasionally, Nalemoru – though this name is rarely used by anybody.)
What are the disdvantages with the Rongai Route?
At first glance, this trail seems decidedly unattractive. The lower slopes at the very start of the trail have been denuded by farmers and present a bleak landscape, while the forest that follows is little more than a narrow band of woodland which soon gives way to some rather hot and shadeless heathland. Indeed, the parched character of Kilimanjaro’s northern slopes often means trekking parties have to carry water along the way (often all the way from the Third Cave Campsite to the Outward Bound Hut); your agency should have supplied you with enough porters for this.
And then there’s the expense: if you are booking your trek in Moshi, Arusha or Marangu, the cost of transporting you to the start of the trail can be quite exorbitant, pushing the price up above most other trails.
What are the advantages of the Rongai Route?
So why, if this route is more expensive, dangerous and barren than all the others, should anybody do it at all?
Well for one thing, there’s the wildlife. Because this side of the mountain sees fewer tourists, and because animals tend to gather where humans don’t, your chances of seeing the local wildlife here are greater than on any other route bar, perhaps, those starting in the far west on the Shira Plateau.
During the research for the first edition of this book we encountered a troop of colobus monkeys, while later that same day we came across an elephant skull, with elephant droppings and footprints nearby; and at night our little party was kept awake by something snuffling around the tents (a civet cat, according to our guide).
Buffaloes also frequent the few mountain streams on these northern slopes (though, as previously mentioned, these streams, never very deep, are almost always dry except in the rainy season, and consequently the buffaloes choose to bathe elsewhere for most of the year).
The flora is different here too, with its juniper and olive trees. And if at the end of the ascent you do feel you’ve somehow missed out on some of the classic features of Kili – lobelias, for example, or the giant groundsels, which don’t appear regularly on the northern side (though see the next paragraph) – then fear not, as both can be found in abundance on the Marangu Route, the designated descent route for those coming from Rongai.
Furthermore, opt for an extra day – which we strongly advise, for reasons not only of acclimatization – and you will spend that extra night at the Mawenzi Tarn Hut, which not only allows you to savour some gobsmacking views across to Kibo, as well as some splendid senecios (groundsels) on this northern side, but also gives you the chance the following day to walk across the Saddle, many people’s favourite part of the mountain. And finally, when it comes to the ascent, we found the walk from the Outward Bound Huts to Gillman’s Point to be marginally easier than that from Kibo Huts, (though admittedly the two do share, for the last three or four hours or so to the summit, the same path).
Other advantages include the drive to the start: Coming from Moshi the road passes through a rural heartland, so giving you the chance to see village life Chagga-style, which we heartily recommend. Furthermore, if you manage to find other trekkers to join you and split the cost, the transport should not be too expensive.
Rongai Route itinerary
For a day-to-day itinerary of the Rongai Route please click on this link: Rongai Route itinerary >>
Rongai Route GPS
For a file of GPS waypoints for all our routes, please click on the following link Kilimanjaro Rongai Route GPS. This will take you to the relevant page on the website of Trailblazer Publications, who publish the Kilimanjaro guide. The file is in .gpx format, so you can download it straight onto your GPS.