Alternative Lemosho itinerary
The following is a typical 8-day itinerary for the 69.5km Alternative Lemosho Route – my favourite route on the mountain encompassing the best forest on Kili’s western slopes, the vast Shira Plateau, the tranquillity of the Northern Circuit, views over the dusty Saddle to Mawenzi and, of course, the final push up the snowy slopes of Kibo to the highest point in Africa.
Day 1: Lemosho Glades to Mti Mkubwa
Altitude Gained: 396m
Breakfast at your hotel is served from 0700. Please ensure that you have packed your bags before breakfast, have signed over your extra luggage that will not be required on the mountain to reception, and have deposited your valuables into the hotel’s safe.
Transfer and Registration. You will normally be collected at 0730 from your hotel. In the event that climbers have to be collected from other hotels before they collect you, this may need to be amended to 0800. Your driver will transfer you 111km and some 2 hours 10 minutes from Arusha to Londorossi Gate (it’s even further from Moshi) where you complete registration formalities. Climbers should have their passport numbers for their registry entries (unless under 16 years of age or East African citizens), and are advised to have kept their passports and valuables in the hotel safe (excluding the amount they will budget for tipping their crew).
Following registration you continue a further 12km by vehicle to the route’s start point. This final drive can take anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour 30, depending on road conditions. Please be very careful in wet weather or following a spell of recent rains as the road can become badly damaged and there is risk of being jolted inside the vehicle. When the road is in poor condition it is sometimes not safe or even possible for the vehicle to reach all the way to the road head. In this event there will be some 180 additional metres of vertical ascent to trek and 1.9km required to reach the start point.
The whole of the first day’s trek is spent in some of the most pristine and beautiful forest to be found anywhere on the mountain. Given the rather isolated nature of this route, which sees relatively few tourists, encounters with wildlife on this trail are greater than on most other routes. You will also see some of Kilimanjaro’s more unusual flora, including the beautiful red impatiens Kilimanjarii, one of the great emblems of the mountain.
Our first day ends at Mti Mkubwa, the Big Tree Camp (2785m), where, as with every night on the trek, you will arrive to find your tent already erected and a snack awaiting. A full dinner follows before you settle down to sleep to the sounds of the forest, with monkeys calling and the noisy turaco bird in this most blissful of locations, underneath the spreading branches of a beautiful old podocarpus tree.
Day 2: Mti Mkubwa to Shira One
Altitude Gained: 719m
This second day, the most varied on the trek, starts off with a continuation of yesterday’s march through the forest. Before long, however, you leave the trees behind to enter the grasses and wild flowers of the Heath and moorland zone. Note how, already, your guide has started to set a deliberately slow pace, in order to help you acclimatize to the lack of air pressure at this altitude.
Still climbing, you eventually round the northern slopes of the Shira Ridge – Kilimanjaro’s little-known third summit – and pause to admire our glimpse of our destination, the magnificent snow-covered Kibo summit.
Descending a short distance, you arrive at your second campsite, the Shira One Campsite (3504m), on the western edge of the Shira Plateau, with views across the plateau to Kibo.
Optional afternoon acclimatisation ascent of Shira Ridge 3959m (Kilimanjaro’s 3rd volcanic summit) for arguably the best views of Kibo (clear weather permitting).
Descend to sleep lower at Shira One 3508m for overnight. Excursion distance = 7.6km.
Day 3: Shira One to Moir Huts
Altitude Gained: 657m
The trek from Shira 1 Camp to Moir Huts takes you across the moorland and desert of the Shira Plateau before rising along the flank of a re-entrant. On the way you pass Fischer Camp – an abandoned campsite named after a renowned mountaineer. The scenery is fairly uniform though the views ahead to Kibo keep you reaching for your camera. You should arrive for a late lunch at Moir Huts. You can then rest and relax in this chilly campsite before, if you’re feeling OK, heading off for a sunset acclimatisation trip to the top of the nearby 4305m ridgeline before dinner. The excursion distance is 1.9km.
Day 4: Moir Huts to Pofu Camp
Altitude Lost: 122m
As mentioned before, peace and solitude are the main characteristics of this path. In terms of acclimatisation, you actually achieve the lofty altitude of 4402m today before falling to the Second Pofu Camp at 4033m. It won’t be unusual, therefore, for people to feel some symptoms of altitude sickness (often a headache) by the time they arrive at one of the Pofu Campsites. So do try to go pole pole and to drink lots to avoid this; and furthermore, don’t set off from Moir Huts if you’re feeling any symptoms of the altitude as you are going to even more remote places.
The walk begins with perhaps the steepest climb of the day, a relentless slog up a barren slope to exactly 4300m. Cairns both mark the top of the ascent and the way forward, as you spend your day making your way around Kibo’s northern face, dropping down into the many north–south valleys before clambering back out of them. Though this can get a little monotonous, note how the character of each valley is different to its neighbours, with some decorated with everlastings, others blanketed in heathers, and still others virtually pure, lifeless desert.
Eventually, after three hours, you’ll come to the first of the Pofu Camps followed in short order by some boulders that you need to scramble over to reach the second (45 mins) and most popular of the three possible Pofu campsites.
It has to be said that the three Pofu Camps are all fairly uncharismatic places, perched on chilly ridges between the valleys and with not a toilet between them (hopefully your agency will have packed one for you to use). There’s not much to distract you so just sit and watch the mist roll in and see if you can spot the eland that are said to hang about in these parts (and after which the campsites are named). If the skies are clear enough you should get a full frontal view of Kibo, while Mawenzi peers coyly over your shoulder and the lights of Kenya twinkle in the far distance below.
Day 5: Pofu Camp to Third Cave Campsite
Altitude Lost: 97m
Unsurprisingly this stage continues in pretty much the same vein as the previous one as the path continues on its merry traverse around the northern slopes. Once again the trekker is asked to negotiate numerous valleys, mostly dry, one or two slightly more fecund, and one at the very start of the day that is, so it is said, favoured by buffalos in search of water during the dry season.
The gradients aren’t quite as dramatic on this stage and the day slightly shorter though you’ll still find yourself pretty puffed out by the time you reach Third Cave Campsite. The reason for this is clear when you look at the gradient profile and see how much ascending and descending you have to do on this stage. The views, however, provide ample compensation, with Kibo to your right and Mawenzi gradually looming larger and larger ahead of you, though you won’t see much of the glorious Saddle that separates them until the next stage.
Day 6: Third Cave Campsite to School Huts
Altitude Gained: 751m
After gently traversing the northern slopes of Kilimanjaro for the past two days, today you start the trek upwards from Third Cave Campsite to School Hut. But while the distance may be shorter than the previous two days, the height gain ensures it won’t be an easy walk. On the way, the views across the saddle to Mawenzi continue to make the heart stop and jaw drop. Ask your guide to take you to see the dead buffalo too, well-preserved and wedged between rocks just a 100m or so from the main trail.
At School Huts aim to get to sleep as soon as possible as you will be woken at around midnight to begin your assault. Don’t worry about waking yourself for meals – your crew will rouse you for these. You probably won’t feel like eating but please endeavour to do so as you’ll need the energy reserves.
You are advised to get all your gear ready for the summit bid before you go to sleep as you may feel disoriented when awoken for the assault.
Night 6/Day 7: School Huts to Uhuru Peak and Mweka Camp
Distances: School Hut to Summit via Gillman’s Point: 5.9km
Summit to Mweka Camp: 11.5km
Total = 17.4km
Ascent to Uhuru Peak: 1178m
Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp: -2789m
Around midnight (your guide will judge the time that is optimal for you based on your pace thus far) you will quit camp for the assault via Gillman’s Point to the summit. Tonight is very difficult – particularly the final 550m – and you’ll need to commit to fight for the summit. You will inevitably feel like giving up and going to sleep. This is normal and can be overcome with perseverance.
When resting please ensure you only stand or sit and do not lie down or close your eyes. Please trust your guide; he is very adept at judging whether your condition will allow safe progress or whether you have succumbed to a potentially dangerous condition and to proceed will not be safe. Nausea and headaches are normal and around a quarter of climbers will vomit at or near Gillman’s Point. While very uncomfortable, these are not symptoms that are indicative of being at risk, per se. The onset of cerebral and pulmonary oedema are marked by distinctive early warning symptoms that your guide is capable of identifying. Please maintain regular dialogue with him and frequently update him on how you are feeling.
Avoiding loose scree slopes above Kibo Hut, you ascend from School Hut via Hans Meyer Cave (5259m) and Gillman’s Point (5719m), to Uhuru Peak (5895m). When you reach Gillman’s Point you will sit and rest. At this point the body often thinks you have finished your uphill fight and will be trying to coerce you into giving up and turning around. While you may genuinely believe that you have already exhausted your reserves in reaching this point, this is actually very unlikely to be so.
Remember that you are less than 200 vertical metres short of the summit (via Stella Point), the journey from here is much less steep, and you have plenty of time for further pauses. If you do feel the need to give up at Gillman’s Point please proceed towards the summit for just two minutes before making your final decision. In most cases this act of re-establishing momentum is enough to persuade the mind and body to cooperate with your intentions and you will ordinarily find hidden reserves for a final push, reserves that you were not aware you still had.
On the summit your guide will advise how much time you can spend there in consideration of your condition, your timings, and the weather. The brain does not function very intelligently at this altitude so please remember to take many photographs in all directions or you will probably regret not having done so at a later stage.
From the summit you will turn around and descend to Stella Point. When you reach Stella Point your guide may opt to switch left onto the loose scree, a departure from the ridge up which you ascended. On arrival at Barafu you would usually have time to rest an hour or so before continuing the descent after some refreshments.
From Barafu you will usually descend to Mweka Camp for overnight. If your guide judges that a shorter day will benefit you and preserve sore knees and ankles, he may decide to stop short at Millennium Camp (3827m) instead.
Day 8: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
Altitude Lost: 1473m
It’s just a couple of hours further now from the campsite to Mweka Gate, where those who made it to the summit or Stella Point will collect their certificates. A car will be waiting to take you back to your hotel, and a land of warm showers and cold beers. Your trek is at an end.