Climbing Kilimanjaro over 5 days was a big achievement for me. Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro at 5,895m is quite an emotional experience but what was it like to take the Marangu Route?
HOW DIFFICULT IS THE MARANGU ROUTE?
Marangu is often referred to as the Coca-Cola Route owing to the fact that you can get a can of coke in each hut being the most ‘touristy’ or accessible trail. Our guides told us a different story saying the Marangu Route is the soft drink compared to hard liquor!
Marangu is the only route where you get the luxury of sleeping in huts along the way, however, this didn’t shelter us from the cold on our December challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
This reputation of being the easiest of all seven Kilimanjaro routes is somewhat deceptive. Being the shortest route you ascend more quickly up Kilimanjaro which poses acclimatisation issues. For this reason, Marangu route has the lowest success rate of people not making it to the summit.
HOW IS THE SCENERY ON THE MARANGU ROUTE?
Marangu is reportedly the least interesting of the routes as you ascend and descend by the same trail unlike the other Kilimanjaro routes. Having only experienced the Marangu route, I was completely wowed by the scenery with distinct change in vegetation each day.
TREKKING MARANGU ROUTE IN 5 DAYS
The first three days are all about acclimatising to the altitude. Our guides constantly reminding us to walk ‘pole-pole’ (slowly, slowly in Swahili).
We are not in a race, and in fact, there is really no need to rush anyway. You are only heading to a hut where you’ll be sat shivering so best to take your time, enjoy your walk, take lots of photos and let your body adjust to the increase in altitude.
The summit day to Uhuru Peak, was a different story! Find out about days 4 and 5 with the challenging climb up Kilimanjaro and the joyful descent that followed.
DAY 1: Marangu Gate to Mandara Huts
- Trekking time: 4 hrs
- Distance: Approximately 8 km
- Elevation: Marangu Gate (1,879m) to Mandara Huts (2,720m)
- Habitat: Montane forest
We drove from Arusha through Marangu village to Kilimanjaro National Park Gate where we did all the necessary paperwork to sign into the park. The luggage was off-loaded from the bus and the porters took our main bags including the food and water needed for our trek. The heavens opened at this stage which wasn’t a great start but I was too excited to let that bother me.
Armed with our day packs, we headed into the rainforest along a clear trail. We passed by streams, mini waterfalls and over wooden bridges, it felt strangely like we were in the English countryside with the nettles, blackberries and ferns, and of course, the rain. Fortunately, the rain subsided, blue skies appeared and the glow of the sun shining through the trees certainly put a smile on my face. There was lots of bearded moss hanging off the trees, looked like some kind of Indiana Jones movie set.
We set off later than hoped so we were pushing on to get to Mandara huts placed in a forest clearing before sunset, we just made it ready for photos by our first board, the ones I’d only seen in photos before. Looking out over the huts, we were above the clouds with a peachy glow of the sunset, my first taste of feeling like you were going up in the world, literally.
The climb for the porters is like second nature and they were ready at Mandara huts with hot tea and coffee for the much slower hikers. The huts are A-framed huts at Mandara can house around 60 trekkers, there’s showers, toilets and running water… not to drink though! There is a main large hut where we joined together for dinner before adding more layers to keep warm for bed. Went to bed a little weary at 9.45pm to the loud shrieking sound of the monkeys in the trees.
DAY 2: Mandara Huts to Horombo Huts
- Trekking time: 6 hrs
- Distance: Approx 11 km
- Elevation: Mandara Huts (2720m) to Horombo Huts (3720m)
- Habitat: Moorland
Waking up to blue skies, sunshine, birds tweeting and the Tanzanian ladies playing local tunes put me in a good mood for the day. A hot bowl of water and soap was placed on the steps by the porters for us to wash with before breakfast.
The first hour of the hike on day two was still in the rainforest habitat but then transitioned into moorland vegetation at the base of the Maundi Crater. It was more open with more grassy plants and many yellow flowers. You can see lots of Sage too, apparently if you boil this, it’s great for unsettled stomachs… I was hoping we would have no need for this. Across the open moorlands you can see some of Kilimanjaro’s most wonderful endemic plants such as the giant lobelia and the giant groundsel.
We passed many porters coming down after their climb, the bags they carry on their heads are just huge, some without hiking boots, and yet they still greet you with big smiles saying “jambo, caribou” (Hello, welcome in Swahili).
Three hours into the trek, the temperature dropped and the clouds started to drift along in front of the mountains, whilst this was pretty, I did start to pray that rain was not on its way. Unfortunately, no one up there was listening to me. The clouds got thicker and the rain started raining cats and dogs, as the English would say. We quickly put on our rain jackets, I was cursing that I had not brought my rain trousers with me on today! The wind was powering up too, the grasses that were stood still only the minutes previously were now dancing around.
The group were all getting a little peckish and there was a lovely picnic area with wooden benches and tables to enjoy our packed lunch. Well, it would’ve been if it wasn’t throwing it down. The white-necked ravens were scavenging around to catch and food that didn’t make it into our mouths.
Starting off in the sunshine, the change in the elements was speedy, it really pays to be prepared with the right clothing. My teeth were chattering, it was cold, lost feeling in my hands so it was definitely time for the gloves. We sang songs on the way to keep us motivated. The clouds we could see were white clouds as opposed to black which was encouraging, think we were free from more rain.
We made it to Horombo huts after drying off on the last stretch, we had been walking pole-pole as recommended so the trek took us around 7 hours. We stood on the platform drinking warm coffee with a few more layers on, some of the group were doing handstands against the board that highlighted our new altitude of 3720m. Watching the view above the clouds, gave you a new burst of energy, life was good right now!
DAY 3: Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut
- Trekking time: 5 hrs
- Distance: Approximately 9 km
- Elevation: Horombo hut (3,720m) – Kibo hut (4,720m)
- Habitat: Alpine desert
Early wake up call to set out to Kibo huts through the alpine desert. Day three is a shorter trek which will allow us to rest before our midnight start to the summit that night.
The weather cold and fresh, few clouds but no cause for concern just yet but they were covering Mount Kilimanjaro and Mawenzi! We passed many giant Senacio trees which is Africa’s largest indigenous tree. The last watering point is 4130m where we filled our bottles up which will be boiled to purify. Most importantly, we need to ensure we have enough water for the challenge ahead.
After a steep hill, the land certainly did become more barren with volcanic rock terrain and the enormity of Kilimanjaro became apparent. Feeling nervous about the big black cloud following us, I kept looking ahead to the blue skies and white fluffy clouds. I could definitely feel the air was thinning out, my breath was getting a little shorter with the altitude, I honestly thought it would be worse though.
Arrived at Kibo Huts to sunshine and after a nice cup of tea, the weather took a dramatic change and a massive block of cloud shifted in and engulfed Kilimanjaro and we saw the peak of Mawenzi poking out the top. The change can happen that quickly.
We prepared our equipment such as head torches, gloves and extra layers whilst it was daylight ready for the big summit. Water will freeze up in the pipes of a camel-bak so good to carry your water in a thermal flask.
Time for some sleep to conserve some energy, the big day was upon us. I struggled to sleep, too many emotions going round in my head, excitement, anticipation and simply praying that I make it. I was told summit day was tough but you never know how your body decides to react, you may have the mental stamina but just hoped the altitude didn’t get me.
DAY 4: Summit day of Kilimanjaro
- Hiking time: 9 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 5 hours descent to Horombo
- Elevation: Kibo hut (4730m) to Uhuru Peak (5895m) to Horombo hut (3720m)
Distance: Approximately 5.4km ascent and 15 km descent
- Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit
Managed to get a couple of hours and the alarm went off at 10.30pm to get some porridge and coffee inside us and prepare for our summit bid. At this point I was layered up the max. Four thin layers on the top, thick fleece and down jacket. On the bottom, one base layer, fleece trousers, and thermal omni-heat trousers. Two pairs of gloves for the hands. Balaclava, hat, and scarf. Shit got real, we were actually doing this!
With our head torches on and poles in hand we embarked on the rocky path under the moonlight. The first part of the trail consists of a rocky path to the Hans Meyer Cave (5,150m), where we stopped for a little rest and refuel with energy bars. It was important not to rest too long, it was taking a lot of concentration to put one foot in front of the other. The pace was getting slower with the reduction in oxygen.
Sunrise at Gillman’s Point
The trail then zigzags up to Gillman’s point (5,685m), which is located on the crater rim. This section was tricky, it was steep and a lot of stone scree, you need to dig deep to find the energy to scramble and pull yourself up, I found giving myself a talking to at this point to mentally get me there.
The sun rising from behind Mount Mawenzi was just what I needed, it was a blue line layered with an orange line, this vista was quite simply awesome. Little tip, don’t be too exhausted to remember suncream at this point, you will end up with a very burnt, flakey face like me, not a good look!
Some of the group were hit with the effects of altitude with sickness, nausea and headaches. It seemed the only thing that was giving me a headache was my head torch was too tight.
Reaching Stella Point
From Gilmans Point to Stella Point (5,765m) was around 30 minutes through a layer of snow then the final stretch to Uhuru Peak was draining. Don’t think I have ever walked that slow in my life but your body just keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Definitely short of breath, it does draw upon your mental stamina to keep plodding on.
Summiting Kilimanjaro at Uhuru Peak
I MADE IT to the Uhuru Peak, the highest mountain in Africa…. I was overcome with emotion and cried, a mix of sheer exhaustion and euphoria. A big hug from a fellow hiker in the group helped. We spent a little time taking in the views of the glaciers and the landscape as far as you could see, still in disbelief with what we had just done.
We had left three girls at Gilmans Point as the guides felt they wouldn’t make it, and to my surprise, one-by-one, they arrived at Uhuru Peak personally accompanied by a guide. Well, I cried again each time they made it, I was like a proud mum… the whole group made it 5,895m into the sky. Hello roof of Africa!
Descending from Uhuru Peak to Kibo Huts
We could only stay at the summit for 45 minutes maximum due to the altitude, the thought hit me “Oh jeez, we gotta get back down now”. We were deliriously tired but there really is no option.
Once we reached Gilmans Point, it was time to descend the steep scree section, this is not easy with exhausted legs, you find yourself almost running especially as you could see the Kibo huts in sight which meant rest and refuel. My guide Simon grabbed my day pack and linked my arms to act as an anchor so I didn’t fall over on this terrain.
Last trek for the day from Kibo to Horombo Huts
We squeezed in a little sleep, I felt rather guilty waking the team up to eat before we headed back to Horombo. We could not stay at Kibo so there was no option but to give the guys a good shake. The descent to Horombo didn’t seem too bad after the events of that morning, we reached the huts by sunset ready for dinner and a big fat sleep!
DAY 5: Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate
- Trekking time: 7h
- Distance: Approximately 19 km
- Elevation: Horombo hut (3,720m) to Marangu Gate (1,879m)
After breakfast, we continued our descent, passing the Mandara hut, down to the Marangu gate. The experience was very different to the way up, no rain this time. By the time we reached the forest the sun was out, glistening against the strings of moss hanging from the trees. I peeled off some layers of clothing and my speed started to quicken to ‘haraka haraka’ (fast, fast in Swahili), I think the thought of beer you can buy from the office at the bottom was giving me extra power to soldier on.
Tips were given to the main guide and who split this and we presented to each of the porters, chefs and guides to thank them for their wonderful efforts and motivation on the trek. Big thanks to Simon who stuck with me and kept me going, these amazing porters don’t get enough credit.
In turn, we were rewarded with our certificates and a local song from all the team. We joined in and had a dance to their harmonic Swahili beats, not sure where we found these reserves of energy from.
It was now time to celebrate and cheers to the immense challenge we had conquered. I will never forget the way I felt on reaching the summit of Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro., that will stay with me forever. Some memories money just can’t buy!
Preparations for Kilimanjaro
Our trip was organised by Trekkup which was a package including flights, accommodation, guides and food.
A gear list is supplied by the company as well as joint training programme climbing the dizzy heights of the Dubai skyscrapers. We were advised not to consume alcohol 3 weeks before to give our bodies the best chance.
Now, whilst being physically fit is a massive bonus, for me, it was more willpower and determination that you need bags of to get you to the roof of Africa.
Travel Insurance for adventures
Always make travel insurance a priority for any adventure! World Nomads is my go-to guys and provide insurance for climbs up to 6,000 metres. You can buy and claim online even when you’ve left home.
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