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. Very few people climb at this time. There’s a good reason for this, of course. These two months correspond with the mountains main monsoon season. And few people want to climb the Roof of Africa in the rains. But is climbing Kilimanjaro in the rainy season really so bad?
When is the rainy season on Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro actually has two rainy seasons. The rainy season of April and May is known as the Long Rains. As its name suggests, this is the longest and wettest of Kilimanjaro’s two rainy seasons. November to mid-December is the other rainy season, known, unsurprisingly, as the Short Rains.)
We at Kilimanjaro Experts usually try to steer climbers away from climbing during these rainy seasons. There’s a good reason for this. When I was last on the mountain it rained almost non-stop for the first three days. And it just made for a pretty soggy and unpleasant experience.
It can be quite disheartening too. Because it’s hard to keep up morale when everyone in the party is soaked through.
Furthermore, this trek actually took place in January. Which isn’t even, usually, a rainy season month! So if it’s that bad in a ‘dry-season’ month, what must it be like during the monsoon months?
Is climbing in the rainy season so bad?
For those who absolutely have no choice but to walk during the rainy season, don’t get too downhearted. Indeed, several readers positively recommend the experience. Take, for example, trekker Jack Hollinghurst, from the UK, who wrote:
‘…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) …. 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.’
Martin Fehr, from Denmark, echoed his sentiments:
‘Don’t be afraid to recommend climbing the mountain [in] 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…. Conditions can be quite extreme at this time.’
Further praise for climbing Kilimanjaro in the rainy season
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. 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’s thus the only trail that guarantees a dry night.
So there you have it. I do still recommend a dry-season climb if you have the choice. After all, it’s likely that climbing Kili is something you will only do once. So you may as well make it as perfect as possible.
But if you have no alternative but to climb in the rainy season, don’t despair. As long as you have an adventurous spirit, then it can be a great time. Because the lack of people on the mountain can more than compensate for the occasional downpour. To mitigate the impact of the weather, consider taking the Marangu Route. Maybe look at taking crampons and/or ice axes too. (If you’re uncertain, then at least speak with your agency about the wisdom of bringing them.) But if you do all this, can put up with some pretty extreme conditions and are prepared for some possibly treacherous walking – then a low season climb might just be a wonderful experience!