Kilimanjaro Is A Beast

kilimanjaro beast

Is A Beast

Kilimanjaro is a beast of a mountain and anyone considering attempting its summit should not take their success for granted. Its altitude alone demands serious respect but there are many other factors that when combined make this a true challenge to anyone who attempts it.

So why is it so tough? Some simple facts:

  • It is a 2.5 mile vertical climb.
  • You will travel through 5 different climatic zones from Bushland to Arctic.
  • The ascent to the summit: 6 – 7hrs, 1300m – 1400m, dark, cold and it’ll be below zero on the summit.
  • Summit day is over 12 hrs long when you include the descent from the summit to the next night stop.
  • Altitude sickness is a real threat on summit day.

Don’t underestimate just how big Kilimanjaro is. This dormant volcano rises some 5895m (19,341’) out of the ground and is the highest free standing mountain in the world. It’s around 600m higher than Everest Base Camp and also higher than Mt Toubkal with Ben Nevis perched on top! It sits just 205 miles south of the equator and yet has several small glaciers sitting on the top; further proof of just how high it’s lofty summit is.

Between Moshi (1800m, town at the base of Kilimanjaro) and Kili’s summit (5895m), is a tough 2.5 miles of vertical ascending. 33% of that is climbed on the final ascent.

There can be few other places on the planet (if any) where you experience the variation in climatic zones as you do here. For those that make the summit, you will experience all 5. There’s a huge range of temperatures to account for as well as potential rain.

If you’re looking to do this for charity, please visit our Kilimanjaro Charity Challenge webpage.

The climatic zones are generally classified as:

  • Bushland – up to 1800m
  • Rainforest – 1800 – 2800m
  • Heath/moorland – 2800 – 4000m
  • Alpine Desert – 4000 – 5000m
  • Arctic – >5000m

Understand acclimatisation. If you give this scant regard, you do so at your peril. It is absolutely vital here, of all places, to get this right or at least the best shot. The simple key to a successful summit is to get yourself into a position where you can ascend to the summit in good form, and that means acclimatisation (see our Information webpage for more advice, ‘High Altitude’ tab). That in turn means time on the mountain pre-summit; the more the better. Can you train for high altitude?

Once you have cleared the low Bushland and Rainforest, it is the Heath/Moorland zone that will provide the vital acclimatisation period (anything up to 4000m). As with any mountain, the campsite locations (and therefore their altitudes) are often dictated by the shape of the terrain, not necessarily where the Guides would like them to be altitude wise.

The difficulty with Kili is that once you’ve slept at Karanga (3960m), you have a 600m ascent to Barafu, spend the afternoon/evening before you head off to the summit at around midnight. There’s no real time to acclimatise there. So the ascent to the summit basically starts at Karanga. That’s almost a 2000m ascent. It’s no wonder people struggle.

Unlike the resilience built into an Everest Base Camp itinerary, you have one shot at the summit, so make it count. You simply don’t shortcut climbing Kilimanjaro for the same reasons you don’t shortcut Everest Base Camp.

Note … some itineraries go straight from Barranco to Barafu (via Karanga) as time wise it can easily be done. Ignore those that do or tell you it’s better or worse still, think you’re a wimp! All is does it reduce your acclimatisation time, which is never good. 


The Lemosho route. Barranco – Karanga – Barafu is not far but use that stop.
With little time for any altitude adjustment to take place between Karanga and Barafu,
it effectively produces a 2000m ascent to the summit.

Through The Night. Altitude sickness on the final ascent becomes a real threat. At around midnight, after ascending from Karanga earlier that day, you leave Barafu to head for the summit. You’re all togged up (it’ll be cold), head torches on. It will take around 6 – 7 hrs to get there. It’s slow progress.

Altitude sickness is generally quite apparent in a person’s demeanour BUT that is difficult to see in the dark with only a head torch, whilst ascending and everyone’s tired. Most of the symptoms associated with altitude sickness (fatigue being one) are masked by the fact you’re climbing so who isn’t going to be fatigued! So it’s down to the Guides and your fellow trekkers to pick this up and act accordingly.

It’s not uncommon to see a good number of trekkers on the side of the trail, in a less than healthy way, struggling with the altitude, physicality, or both.

All of this is underpinned by the fact you’re camping. With the best will in the world, it will wear you down over a weeks trekking particularly if it has been raining at all. It’s difficult to dry stuff.


Altitude sickness on the final ascent is a real threat.

This beast of a mountain deserves respect. It is there to be climbed but in doing so, you put yourself in the line of fire against many of nature’s elements that come with such a huge range of temperatures, climatic zones, altitude and the sheer physicality that is KILIMANJARO.

But the reward is monumental.

Show me the dates – Lemosho route, Machame route, Charity Challenges

“Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all” – Sean-Paul Thomas


Fantastic feeling – high above the cloud base.
Dawn is breaking over the earth’s curvature.


Approaching Kilimanjaro’s highest point.

Just Do It!


About the Author:

Terry Crosby is the founder and co-owner of Travel and Trek Limited. He started the Company in 2005 after an long military career, which ultimately gave him the skills to set up, run, manage and develop what is now a global adventure travel company. He has extensive experience in all of the countries the company travel to and is an ex Mountain Leader and Arctic Survival Instructor.