Climbing Kilimanjaro during the rainy season

Whether to do it, how to do it, and what to expect

April and May is traditionally the low season on Kilimanjaro, and few people climb at this time.

There’s a good reason for this, of course: these two months are usually when the ‘Long Rains’ happen – the longest and wettest of Kilimanjaro’s two rainy seasons. (November to mid-December is the other rainy season, known as the Short Rains.) You can read more on this matter but following these links about Kilimanjaro’s climate and the best time to climb the mountain.

We usually try to steer climbers away from climbing at this time. When I was last on the mountain, in January of this year, the first three days of the trek were subjected to almost constant rain and it can make for a pretty soggy, unpleasant climb. It can be quite disheartening too.

But for those who absolutely have no choice but to walk during the rainy season, don’t get too downhearted. We have had letters from several readers who positively recommend the experience. Take, for example, trekker Jack Hollinghurst, from the UK, who wrote to us way back in 2006:

‘…I do think that you don’t give enough encouragement to walking in the rainy season. I was forced to walk at this time by holiday dates and thought it excellent. Due to the hugely reduced numbers of trekkers on the mountain me and my friend were given our own room at all of the huts (including Kibo, where it is about 12 beds to a room) and [your] advice about having dinner early at Horombo is irrelevant as there were about five other groups there at the most.

‘…the walking is [also] much more enjoyable when you have some peace and quiet…Maybe you should advise walkers to wear waterproof trousers at this time of year (although I didn’t take any and was fine) but otherwise I wouldn’t walk at any other time of year.’

His sentiments were endorsed by Martin Fehr from Denmark, who wrote on the same subject:

‘Don’t be afraid to recommend climbing the mountain [at the end of] April. Our porters were so happy to have work in low season, we didn’t get a lot of rain, and there were absolutely no climbers on the mountain besides us, which made our climb exceptionally great! Plus the top of the mountain was all covered in snow – a challenge, but soooo beautiful (and it was great to be able to “sleigh” down the mountain as well).

However, Martin does go on to warn ‘Of course, by climbing the mountain during the low season you are very much at the mercy of the elements – and conditions can be quite extreme at this time.’

Martin’s experience – and his opinion of walking in the low season – seems similar to Tom Stoa, another reader and Kili conqueror who sticks up for the rainy season:

‘I went in April despite the recommendations of you and everyone else to avoid April due to weather, simply because that is when I could go. No regrets. I chose the Marangu route, 6 days, because of the huts – I figured that despite the rain, we would be warm, dry and comfortable in the huts at least. And that was correct (and we were lucky, it mostly just rained at night). Being the off season, my son and I had a hut to ourselves each night, and the big dining hut was also nearly empty.

‘We made the summit just fine. My only regret was not having crampons for the big icy snowfield between Hans Meyer Cave and before Gillman’s Point. We were gingerly kicking steps in the snow, or trying to step in the steps of others. Having some alpine climbing experience, I know that a slip would have resulted in a nasty, long slide with a crash onto the rocks below. I know that crampons are not customary on Kili, but for that route, on that day, they would have made all the difference between a very sketchy and slow slog, versus an “easy” and safe walk up.’

The advice given in the above quotes is worth reiterating: that the rainy season is perhaps the only time that the Marangu Route is the best route to take: as the only route on the mountain where you sleep in huts rather than under canvas, it is thus the only trail that virtually guarantees you  a dry night. 

So there you have it. It would seem that if you have an adventurous spirit, consider the Marangu Route and taking crampons and/or ice axes, can put up with some pretty extreme conditions and are prepared for some possibly treacherous walking – then the low season is a fine time to climb!