The Umbwe Route
(4-6 days ascent only; total including descent: 5-7 days)
The Umbwe Route is widely regarded as the hardest trail, a tough vertical slog through the jungle, in places using the tree roots as makeshift rungs on a ladder. Having reached the Southern Circular Route, trekkers can continue north-west to tackle Kibo from the west and the difficult Arrow Glacier Route; or you can follow the Southern Circular Route east round to Barafu and approach the summit from there. The entire walk up and down takes a minimum of five days whether going via the Barafu Campsite (a walk of 27.71km in total) or via the Western Breach/Arrow Glacier (a total distance of 24.35km). Either is entirely too rapid, so take six minimum.
How difficult is the Umbwe Route?
Despite its reputation as the toughest trek, the Umbwe Route is still a non-technical climb. Taxing, but not technical. All you need are an iron will and calves of steel; this is truly a trek to test your mettle.
The difficulty is that it’s so damn relentlessly uphill. Indeed, looking back on the first couple of days we can think of very few places where you actually descend, the longest being the five minutes or so at the end of the second stage when you walk down to the Barranco Campsite.
What are the advantages of the Umbwe Route?
As far as rewards go, while your calves and thighs will curse the day God paired them with somebody who would want to undertake such a climb, your heart and lungs will be thankful for the workout. Your eyes, too, will be grateful you chose Umbwe as they feast upon the scenery, particularly on the second morning as you leave the forest and find yourself walking on a narrow ridge between spindly heathers. The gobsmacking views on either side of the trail here are amongst the most dramatic the mountain has to offer, save for those on the summit itself. Your ears, too, will be glad that they’re stuck to the side of your head rather than anyone else’s for they’ll enjoy the break, this being the quietest trail of them all – at least until the second day when you find yourself joining the hordes at Barranco Camp, the busiest on the mountain.
Are there alternative trails on the Umbwe Route?
When trekkers on the Umbwe Route arrive at Barranco, they have a choice: east and round to Barafu Campsite to access the summit via Stella Point; or, if you hanker after the quieter, more dramatic option, you could have joined the path up to Lava Tower to continue to the summit via the Western Breach. The latter option is the connoisseurs’ choice, no doubt, though it is also an extremely risky strategy unless you have taken at least one – and preferably two – acclimatization days en route to the Arrow Glacier Hut. Otherwise, the trip from Moshi up to Arrow Glacier Hut, an increase in altitude of almost 4000m, will have taken you just three days, which is far too rapid.
The saner alternative is to head from Barranco to Barafu Campsites. So that’s Umbwe: dramatic views, blessed solitude and some terrific, invigorating walking – and all without the clutter and chatter of other trekkers. Those who know the mountain consider it Kili’s best-kept secret. And it’s hard to argue with that.
Umbwe Route itinerary
For a day-by-day itinerary for the Umbwe Route, please click on the following link: Umbwe Route itinerary >>
Umbwe Route GPS
For a file of GPS waypoints for all our routes, please click on the following link Kilimanjaro Umbwe 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.