The Rongai Route

(4-6 days ascent only; total including descent: 5-7 days)

This is the only trail to approach Kibo from the north. Indeed, the original trail began right against the Kenyan border, though recently the trail shifted eastwards and now starts at the Tanzanian town of Loitokitok, after which the new trail has been named (though everybody still refers to it as the Rongai Route). For the final push to the summit, trekkers on this trail take the Kibo Hut Route, joining it either at the huts themselves or at the 5000m mark just below Hans Meyer Cave. Again the trek can be completed in five days and four nights, though trekkers usually take a detour to the campsite beneath Mawenzi peak, adding an extra day.

CONTENTS

Are you sure it’s called the Rongai Route? What are the disadvantages with this path?And what are the advantages? The Rongai itinerary

RONGAI-ROUTE

ARE YOU SURE IT’S CALLED THE RONGAI ROUTE?

The name Rongai Route is actually something of a misnomer. Sure, it’s the name that everybody uses but, strictly speaking, it’s not the correct one. The real, original Rongai Route used to start at the border village of the same name but was closed several years ago by the authorities who decided that two trails on a side of the mountain that few trekkers visit was unnecessary.

You will still see this route marked on many maps, but today all trekkers who wish to climb Kili from the north now follow a different trail, also known as the Loitokitok Route after the village that lies near the start. (Just to confuse the issue still further, this isn’t officially the correct name either, for along the trail you’ll see various signs calling this trail the Nalemuru Route – or, occasionally, Nalemoru – though this name is rarely used by anybody.)

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WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES WITH THIS PATH? 

At first glance, this trail seems decidedly unattractive. The lower slopes at the very start of the trail have been denuded by farmers and present a bleak landscape, while the forest that follows is little more than a narrow band of woodland which soon gives way to some rather hot and shadeless heathland. Indeed, the parched character of Kilimanjaro’s northern slopes often means trekking parties have to carry water along the way (often all the way from the Third Cave Campsite to the Outward Bound Hut); your agency should have supplied you with enough porters for this.

And then there’s the expense: if you are booking your trek in Moshi, Arusha or Marangu, the cost of transporting you to the start of the trail can be quite exorbitant, pushing the price up above most other trails.

AND WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES? 

So why, if this route is more expensive, dangerous and barren than all the others, should anybody do it at all?

Well for one thing, there’s the wildlife. Because this side of the mountain sees fewer tourists, and because animals tend to gather where humans don’t, your chances of seeing the local wildlife here are greater than on any other route bar, perhaps, those starting in the far west on the Shira Plateau.

During the research for the first edition of this book we encountered a troop of colobus monkeys, while later that same day we came across an elephant skull, with elephant droppings and footprints nearby; and at night our little party was kept awake by something snuffling around the tents (a civet cat, according to our guide).

Buffaloes also frequent the few mountain streams on these northern slopes (though, as previously mentioned, these streams, never very deep, are almost always dry except in the rainy season, and consequently the buffaloes choose to bathe elsewhere for most of the year).

The flora is different here too, with its juniper and olive trees. And if at the end of the ascent you do feel you’ve somehow missed out on some of the classic features of Kili – lobelias, for example, or the giant groundsels, which don’t appear regularly on the northern side (though see the next paragraph) – then fear not, as both can be found in abundance on the Marangu Route, the designated descent route for those coming from Rongai.

Furthermore, opt for an extra day – which we strongly advise, for reasons not only of acclimatization – and you will spend that extra night at the Mawenzi Tarn Hut, which not only allows you to savour some gobsmacking views across to Kibo, as well as some splendid senecios (groundsels) on this northern side, but also gives you the chance the following day to walk across the Saddle, many people’s favourite part of the mountain. And finally, when it comes to the ascent, we found the walk from the Outward Bound Huts to Gillman’s Point to be marginally easier than that from Kibo Huts, (though admittedly the two do share, for the last three or four hours or so to the summit, the same path).

Other advantages include the drive to the start: Coming from Moshi the road passes through a rural heartland, so giving you the chance to see village life Chagga-style, which we heartily recommend. Furthermore, if you manage to find other trekkers to join you and split the cost, the transport should not be too expensive.

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* Experienced, safe – and brilliant! – guides
* New Routes
* Unmatched success rate for getting trekkers to the top
* The best information for trek preparations
* Fully fledged KPAP partners
* Strong ethical policy towards the environment

…And a lot less expensive than you’d think!


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RONGAI ROUTE ITINERARY

Rongai Route map

Click on the icon above for a map of the Rongai Route

The Rongai Route is the only trail to start on the northern side of the mountain. It is a lovely path involving an ascent of some 26.8km to the summit if taking the direct route, or 37.65km if taking the more sensible – and beautiful – diversion via Mawenzi Tarn. The descent route is Marangu, adding a further 36.75km or so to the total.

Though previously fairly quiet, the improvement and enlargement of the road around this eastern side of Kili combined, perhaps, with our effusive praise of the route in previous editions of the guide, has meant an increase in trekkers on the Rongai Route over the past couple of years, and we expect this trend to continue.

The following itinerary is for six days and follows the diversion via Mawenzi Tarn – as we believe more people take this route nowadays. Remember that most people take seven days on this route though it can be done in as little as five – though we think this is entirely too fast and neither recommend it nor, indeed, arrange such a brief trek for our clients.

DAY 1: RONGAI GATE TO SIMBA CAMPSITE

Distance: 7km; Altitude Gained: 638m

Rongai Gate to Simba Camp

It is an inauspicious start to the trek, our guide taking us up the slopes through what, for many trekkers, is the less-exciting part of Kilimanjaro, a hot and dusty blemish of pine plantations followed by fields of potato and maize, pockmarked here and there with the wooden shacks of those who eke out a living from the soil. It is just about an hour before we turn right and escape into the lush green haven of the forest. When we do so, we’ll be disappointed to find just how quickly the tall trees of the montane forest give way to the more stunted vegetation of the heathland, such as giant heathers and St John’s wort. Still, narrow though it may be this band of forest is still teeming with wildlife, in particular colobus monkeys, with a troop often grazing by the entrance to the forest.

Rongai day 1

Leaving the forest on a trail that slowly steepens, about 50 minutes afterwards we cross a stream and a few minutes later reach the first campsite on this route, known as the Simba (or Sekimba) Campsite, at an altitude of 2635m. It’s always good to get to a campsite, and this one in particular is pleasant: surrounded by heathers, with creatures snuffling about the tent at night and birdsong to wake us in the morning, this spot has a pleasingly wild, isolated ambience.

DAY 2: SIMBA CAMPSITE TO THIRD CAVE CAMPSITE OR KIKELELWA CAMP

Distance: 11.75km; Altitude Gained: 1040m

The path at the start of this 11.75km stage is, perhaps surprisingly, a westward one, its goal seeming to be the northern slopes of Kibo rather than the eastern slopes we will eventually climb. The heathers are gradually shrinking in size now too, and while some trees still cling on at this altitude, they are few in number and scattered. For these reasons, the first part of this stage is rather shadeless and very hot. After 45 minutes a river bed (dry for the best part of the year) joins us from the left and the path follows its course for most of the next hour.

Simba Cave to Kikelelwa Camp

Look back occasionally and, weather permitting, we should be able to see a number of villages on the Kenyan side of the border, the sunlight glinting off the metal roofs. Continuing upwards, the path steepens slightly and begins to turn more to the south. The terrain up here is rather rocky and bumpy. The path continues south-south-west, rounding a few minor cliffs and hills and crossing a number of false summits, before eventually flattening out and arriving at a small, waterless cave – the First Cave. As inviting as the cave and the shade it offers now appear, this is not our lunch stop. That lies 20 minutes further on through lizard country of bare rocks and long grasses and is known as the Second Cave (3487m).

Rongai day 2

From Simba Campsite the path takes an abrupt south-easterly turn directly towards the jagged peak of Mawenzi. Traversing open moorland the path meanders and undulates; assuming we’ve already walked from Simba Camp this morning, we will feel rather drained by the time we stumble into Kikelelwa Camp, situated by a couple of caves by the Kikelelwa River, with giant groundsels and lobelias flourishing nearby. (Incidentally, I don’t know why this should be so but whenever I have walked this stretch of the path – which must be a good half-dozen times now – it has always been either raining or very misty. That said, it has always brightened up in the evening to reveal Kibo’s snowy summit peaking over the ridge that separates the campsite from the Saddle.) Compared to the morning where we gained over 850m, this afternoon’s walk increases our altitude by less than 200m, though the distances of the two parts are about the same and, given the amount of climbs and falls, this latter walk is just as exhausting.

DAY 4: KIKELELWA CAMP TO MAWENZI TARN HUT CAMPSITE

Distance: 3.75km; Altitude Gained: 627m

Kikelelwa Camp to Mawenzi Tarn Huts

Though this stage to Mawenzi Tarn (4302m) is relatively short at less than 4km and is usually completed in a morning (allowing time for a brief acclimatization trek in the afternoon for those who feel up to it), it’s also steep as we gain over 600m, the path shedding the moorland vegetation as it climbs steadily. Mawenzi Tarn Hut Campsite is situated in one of the most spectacular settings, in a cirque beneath the jagged teeth of Mawenzi. There’s a small ranger’s hut here and a toilet block.

on Kilimanjaro's Rongai Route, teenage trekker pokes his head up through the ground while standing in a cave.

Assuming the walk here was trouble-free we will have most of the afternoon to go on an acclimatization climb up the ridge to the west; if we’re lucky, the sky will be clear, affording us fantastic views of Kibo, though in all probability we’ll merely catch the odd glimpse through the clouds that usually roll in across the Saddle in the afternoon. But no matter, for we’ll get the same views tomorrow morning when the skies should be clearer and the sun will be behind us too. The views back down to the Tarn – which, to be honest, is little more than a puddle with delusions of grandeur – are great too.

DAY 4: MAWENZI TARN HUT CAMPSITE TO KIBO HUTS

Distance: 8.9km; Altitude Gained: 412m

Mawenzi Tarn to Kibo Huts

This lovely day begins with a slight retracing of our steps before we strike out westwards, crossing the ridge and dropping down the slope to tiptoe along the beautifully barren Saddle’s northern edge. With views like screensavers to east and west, it’s a rare trekker indeed who doesn’t rate this day as their favourite on the mountain. The flora is sparse but do look out for eland which are said to stroll up here.

Rongai day 4

We have two destinations at the end of this third day: School Hut (Map 6) or, more usually thesedays, Kibo Huts. Both lie on the lower slopes of Kibo and both are just a few hours’ walk away.

NIGHT 4/DAY 5: KIBO HUTS CAMPSITE TO SUMMIT AND DESCEND TO HOROMBO HUTS

Distance: 6.25km to Uhuru Peak; plus 15.75km back to Horombo Huts (16.55km for Mawenzi Alternative)
Altitude Gained/Lost: 1181m to Uhuru Peak, then 2174m descent from Uhuru to Horombo Huts

Kibo Huts to Uhuru Peak

Rising at around midnight, we begin our slow march up to Gilman’s Point (5719m) on the edge of the Kibo crater, past such features as Hans Meyer Cave (5259m). It’s a steep, slow, cold march and a test of our endurance – this is where we’ll earn our Kilimanjaro certificate. Nevertheless, providing we have avoided altitude sickness and have acclimatized well, there is no reason why we shouldn’t make it up to Gillman’s. This we reach, all being well, at around 5am, though it can be much later depending on both our condition and the conditions on the mountain.

Rongai day 3

Our work is not yet over, however, for it’s around another hour and a half to Uhuru Peak. The gradient on this last section, especially by the standards of this night, is relatively flat – but at this altitude, every step can be exhausting. It is also a glorious walk, however, with glaciers and snowfields on one side and with views over the Kibo Crater on the other. At the end of the trail lies our ultimate destination, Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa! Here, if we’re on time, we can watch the sun rise over the African continent, take photos – and take a breather too!

Uhuru Peak to Horombo Huts

After a rest at the top, we continue back down to Kibo Huts – a walk that is considerably quicker than it was on the way up! At Kibo we take breakfast and relax for an hour or so, before continuing our march down the mountain, through the Saddle, heath and moorland zones before stopping, finally, at the Horombo Huts once more.

Rongai day 5 mk2

We should arrive there at about 4pm – and we have been walking for around 16 hours, less breaks! Exhausting but, if we made it to the top, we’ll think it was worth it!

DAY 6: HOROMBO HUTS TO MARANGU GATE AND RETURN TO HOTEL

Distance: 20km to Gate (20.75km on the Nature Trail); Altitude Lost: 1816m

Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate

And so we come to the last day of our trek, as we march back through the forest to Marangu Gate, smiling smugly at all those coming up the slope the other way. Stopping at the Mandara Huts for lunch, we continue heading down until we once more reach Marangu Gate, where those who conquered the mountain – or at least made it to Gillman’s Point – collect their certificates.

Rongai day 6

A jeep will be waiting to take everyone back to their hotel – and the land of cold beers and warm showers. Our adventure of a lifetime is at an end – and civilization will rarely have felt so good!

RONGAI ROUTE GPS

For a file of GPS waypoints for all our routes, please click on the following link GPS Waypoints. 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.

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