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Mount Meru: a guide

A group of trekkers celebrating at the summit of Mount Meru in front of the Tanzanian flag

A guide to climbing Mount Meru

Why everyone should climb Kilimanjaro’s little brother

Mount Meru, which overlooks the city of Arusha from the nort, is used by many trekkers as a warm-up trek to Kilimanjaro. In other words, it acts as an hors d’oeuvre to the main course of Kilimanjaro, which lies about 60km to the east.

And a perfect starter it is too:. Though smaller, it’s also quite similar in several ways. Firstly, to reach its volcanic summit you have first to climb through a number of vegetation zones. Secondly, for the final  march to the summit you walk at night. And what’s more, like Kili, the highest point itself is just the highest point on the crater rim.

What’s more, at 4566m (14,980ft) it provides the trekker with the perfect opportunity to acclimatize to Kilimanjaro’s rarified atmosphere.

In other words, the mountain offers a taste of the challenges that lie ahead on Kilimanjaro, whilst also whetting the appetite for the thrills and beauty of that mountain.

However, Meru is worth doing as much for the differences as for the similarities it shares with Kili. In particular, there’s the greater abundance of wildlife. It lies at the heart of Arusha National Park, a reserve that’s teeming with animals. Trekkers should see buffalo, giraffe, elephant, bushbuck, dik dik, colobus, blue monkey and warthog. Luckier ones may also see leopard and hyaena. While twitchers will be more than content with the variety of birdlife on offer. These include the noisy Hartlaub’s turaco, the silver-cheeked hornbill and black-and-white bulbul.

Meru is not an easy mountain

It all sounds like the perfect holiday, no? A safari-and-trek all rolled into one. Well, yes, in a sense it is. But there is one point that I must emphasise: do not underestimate Mount Meru. Though it may be more than a thousand metres lower than Kili, it’s still well above the height necessary to bring about altitude sickness. And with almost everybody taking just over two days before reaching the summit, the risks are not small.  

There is also some night-time scrambling. It’s nothing serious, and you don’t need any climbing skills to complete it. But there is nevertheless more scrambling on this mountain than on Kilimanjaro.

So though Mount Meru may not carry the cachet, prestige or the sheer scale of Kilimanjaro, it’s no pushover. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the first successful recorded ascent, though still in dispute (being credited to either Carl Uhlig in 1901 or Fritz Jaeger in 1904), occurred at least a dozen years after the conquest of Kilimanjaro.

Meru remains an awfully big mountain – the 10th highest peak in Africa in fact – and as such it should be treated with respect.

Practicalities

The route

There is only one main route up Meru. It begins at Momela Gate, around 15km from the main Ngongongare entrance to the park where you pay your park fees. Having paid up and driven those 15km, past the plain known as Little Serengeti (Serengeti Ndogo) because of its similarity to Tanzania’s most famous park, you arrive at Momela Gate (altitude 1597m; 5240ft). Here you pick up your ranger and possibly hire your porters.

The route from Momela Gate to the summit is punctuated by two sets of accommodation huts. The first are the Miriakamba Huts (2503m, 8212ft), a day’s walk from Momela Gate. The second are the Saddle Huts (3560m, 11,680ft), lying a short day’s walk from there. From the Saddle Huts it’s a further day’s walk – or rather, a night’s walk – to the summit. So there’s no camping on Meru – you all stay in the huts.

The cost of climbing Mount Meru

 The agencies in Arusha (the best place to organize this trek) offer trips up Meru for either three or four days. Dont’ think that, by booking a four-day trek, you are more likely to reach the summit. This is not like Kilimanjaro, as that extra day is actually spent on the way down, not up. We still think the four-day trek is the better option. It’s a bit too much of a rush, otherwise, going from the summit to Momela Gate in one day. Plus, we’re always grateful to spend a second night at Miriakamba. But if you’re on a tight budget you’ll save yourself a small fortune in park fees by taking a day less.

These park fees tend to be a little cheaper than the equivalent charges on Kili and are as follows:

Conservation fee (formerly known as Park Entrance fee): US$45 per day (US$22.50 per day for under 16s)
Hut fee: US$30 per night
Rescue fee: US$20 per trip
Guide/ranger fee: US$15 per day

Once again there is 18% VAT to pay on top of each of these fees.

Total

Thus for a four-day/three-night trip you’re looking at a total figure of US$350 plus VAT. And that’s just for the park fees alone. On top of this you’ll need to pay the park fees of the porters/guide fees too. (These fees will be factored into the total amount the trekking agency charges you.). But count on a Mount Meru trek to start at about US$700 per person. The exact price you pay will depend on the number of days you want to spend on the trek. It will also depend upon how large your group is. 

Incidentally, you may have noticed in the above examples that there are in fact two guides in the party. One of these is supplied by the agency, one by the park.  (We have called him a ranger/guide to avoid confusion). The park supplies the ranger/guide and is compulsory. It is he who carries the gun which, should any of the local fauna take an unhealthy interest in your party, could come in very handy. However, these rangers in our experience are often better guides, particularly if you’ve booked with a cheap agency. They usually have good English, a well as a greater knowledge of the park. Indeed, on one of our previous Meru treks we didn’t even see the agency’s guide until the end of the first day!

A Mount Meru climb – further reading

You can read more about a trek up Mount Meru in our Kilimanjaro guide book. In it you’ll find details on how to prepare, how to pack and how to book. You’ll also find a full route description and plenty of advice on getting the most from your Meru climb. Our company, Kilimanjaro Experts, also organises treks on Mount Meru. It really is a fantastic walk – don’t miss the chance to try it!

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