Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – What to Expect 

Do you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Africa’s tallest mountain and the world’s TALLEST free-standing mountain? I recommend that you should, as it will be a life changing experience you will never forget! 

I completed my climb in June 2023, and successfully summited with the rest of my group. We were the first hike of the season, and I was the first Australia to hike with the company of my choosing since 2019. Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, Africa and stands at 5895m above sea level. This was the first “proper mountain”, I have climbed.  

I choose to hike the Machame route, a 7-day return hike and one of the routes with the highest success rate.  In this blog post I am going to give you an inside look into my experience hiking the Machame route. I will give an idea of the terrain, what I wore, how long it took and what you can expect! 

 What Tour Company did I use? 

I went with Kandoo Adventures, which are an incredible company I couldn’t recommend more! The whole experience was perfect from beginning to end. The airport pick-ups were smooth and on time. The guides were knowledgeable and caring. Food was delicious, tents and accommodation were great.  

I will have a review of Kandoo adventures coming out shortly. You will need to hike Kilimanjaro with a guide or tour company.

Where did I Start my Tour? 

I started my tour in Moshi. This is most likely going to be your starting point with whatever tour company you choose. I did not do any exploring around Moshi, as my tour guide advised me against it. I was a solo female traveller, and he suggested it could be unsafe.  

You will most likely fly into Kilimanjaro airport and have an airport transfer to your hotel, included in your tour. 

What’s the Daily Schedule like?

You will start off each day getting woken up around 6.30am before having your breakfast around 7-7.30am. You will pack up your porter bag before breakfast, then make your way to the mess tent. 

After breakfast you will have a health check and get your day pack sorted for the days hiking. You will start hiking around 8am and hike anywhere between 4-8hrs in one day, depending on the distance between camps. On long days, you might stop somewhere for lunch. Majority of the time you have lunch at your next camp.  

There will be plenty of breaks while you walk, time for snacks, bathroom, and water. Once you reach your camp, it will all be set up for your (thanks to your incredible porters). You will then have lunch and rest until dinner time. After dinner you will have another health check, then you will most likely be in bed around 7-8pm. 

What to Expect

DAY 1 – Machame Gate to Machame Camp 

Altitude: 1800m to 3000m 
Distance: 11km, 5-7hrs hiking 
Terrain: Montane Forest 
Clothing: Light leggings, Rain Pants, short sleeve top, rain jacket 

The first thing you will do when you arrive at the Machame gate, after being picked up from your hotel is wait for your porters to sort out your luggage. You will complete your registration and have a lunch (which is usually packed and included). This process can take anywhere between 1-2 hours. 

Before you begin your hike, you will need to get your porter bag and day pack checked, to make sure you have no forbidden items. This too can take an hour or so, depending on how long the line is.  

Once you begin your hike, you will be walking through some beautiful forests. The paths here (and like the majority of Kilimanjaro) are very distinct. You’ll undoubtably have your porters rush by you with your packs, while you and your group shuffle along.  

There are some light ascents in this section, nothing too major if you have some fitness. Don’t worry because you will get plenty of breaks! This is the section where you are most likely going to need your wet weather gear, as this area does get a lot of rain. After a few hours, you will reach your camp where (hopefully) you are a treated to some incredible views! 

DAY 2 – Machame Camp to Shira Camp 

Altitude: 3000m to 3850m
Distance: 9km, 4-6hrs hiking 
Terrain: Moorland 
Clothing: Light leggings, short sleeve top, rain jacket, puffer jacket 

This part of the trail will start off with a steep ascent straight from camp. You are ascending pretty much the whole time in this section. The track does follow over some rocky terrain, which will be slippery in rain. You will also need to complete a short rock scramble in a few sections.  

In this section you will start to head above the clouds, which is when you start realising you are gaining altitude! After a couple hours walking you will reach Shira camp. This is the most exposed campsite, which means it will most likely be very cold and very windy. This was one of the coldest campsites I experienced on the trail. 

DAY 3 – Shira Camp via Lava Tower to Barranco Camp 

Altitude: 3850m to 4600m to 3950m 
Distance: 12km, 6-8hrs hiking 
Terrain: Semi Desert 
Clothing: Medium leggings, rain pants, long sleeve lightweight top, rain jacket, puffer jacket, buff and bucket hat 

This will most likely be your second hardest day on the hike, after the summit day. It’s a big day of gaining altitude and then descending. They do this to get an idea of how you are going to manage summit day, and if you are likely to have signs of altitude sickness. Don’t worry if you do! You still have a few days to adjust before the summit day. 

The first section leading away from the campsite is quite steep, and walking through what I would call ‘lava fields’. I am not sure if they are, but this is what it reminded me of. You will be walking up hill for around 2 hours, before the path starts to flatten out slightly. There is a short steepish climb to Lava Tower. This is where you will have lunch (if you can stomach it).

From Lava Tower you start descending. This is where you also need to be careful, as you can get altitude sickness if you descend too quickly. The path leading to Baranco camp is very dusty and barren. You will have a small section where you will follow a stream and pass through some high-altitude plant life.  

Baranco Camp has some of the best views on the train, so I hope you get some clear skies! 

DAY 4 – Baranco Camp to Karanga Camp 

Altitude: 3950m to 3930m 
Distance: 7km, 4 hrs hiking
Terrain: Alpine Desert 
Clothing: Medium leggings, rain pants, long sleeve lightweight top, rain jacket, puffer jacket, buff and bucket hat 

This is the most technical day of the whole climb. You will have to complete a bit of rock scrambling for 200m to an altitude of 4200m before you descend again. This is where the famous kissing rock is, which a scramble that requires you to be face to face with a rock (close enough for a kiss). This isn’t a super hard section, but if you haven’t completed any rock scrambling before – you may find it challenging.  

The climb along the Baranco wall can be slow, due to it being a one-way path and every route needs to do this section. If you are like my group, your day will most likely start around 7-7.30, instead of 8am. This was the best section to me! I LOVE a good rock scramble, so it was fun to do something besides walking. There are two descent scrambles in this section, that will require 3 points of contact.  

Once you’ve reached 4200m you will descend, most likely in the clouds. You reach a small flat section, before you need to do another ascent. The path goes flat, walking on barren terrain, before descending through some alpine bush. There is one small 45min ascent to camp from the small stream, where you are most likely to have a break.  

As this is a short day, its recommended to have a nap or rest where possible. Tomorrow, you start your summit! 

DAY 5 – Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (SUMMIT DAY)

Altitude: 3930m to 4600m (or 4720 if with Kandoo) 
Distance: 6kms, 3-4hrs hiking 
Terrain: Alpine Desert 
Clothing: Medium leggings, rain pants, long sleeve lightweight top, rain jacket, puffer jacket, buff and bucket hat 

This is a short section, where you will walk to base camp! This section starts off with a small but gradual ascent, before flattening out for about an hour. You then have a small ascent up some rocky terrain to base camp. This section feels like you are walking on another planet, the scenery is breathtaking.

If you are staying at higher base camp, you will need to walk for about another hour from Barafu Camp. This section requires walking over smooth rock, which can be slippery. Before walking along a flatter section to higher base camp.  

You will most likely be feeling the effects of altitude at this camp, you can also see the path where you will be summiting behind you! Again, this camp offers incredible views of the surrounding mountain, if the weather permits.  

You will have lunch, then try to have a nap. Summiting is officially on day 6, but you start your summit today. After 3-4hrs napping, you will be woken for an early dinner (around 5pm), before heading back to bed to try sleep for a few hours. Your summit day starts now at 10.30pm! You will usually get hot drinks and snacks, before commencing your climb.

DAY 6 – Barafu Camp/Summit to Mweka Camp (SUMMIT DAY)

Altitude: 4600m to 5895m to 3100m 
Distance: 30km, 12-14hrs hiking
Terrain: Stone scree/ice capped summit/alpine desert 
Clothing SUMMIT: Long sleeve light weight top, thermal top, puffer jacket, fleece jacket, rain jacket, thick leggings, thermal leggings, fleece pants, rain pants – all hand/head gear. 

This is going to be your hardest and longest hiking day. There won’t be much talking for the 6-7hr hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. This section you really are just focusing on putting on foot after another and fighting any physical/mental battles. It is freezing. Especially between the hours of 4 and 7am. I was fully convinced I had frostbite on my hands for about 2 hours.  

This section to the summit is completed at night, so you won’t see much. Hopefully you will reach the summit by sunrise and be treated to a glow like no other. At the summit you will only get about 15-20mins, enough time to get some group and individual photos. Making your way back down to Stella point, which is about a 15-30mins walk from the summit for a break. 

The descent

After a break you start heading back down to base camp – this was the hardest part for me. You are going down stone/volcanic scree which is a nightmare to hike down. You will most likely ski down a lot of this section, be out of breath and have very sore knees. It’s also very dusty so make sure you wear something to cover your nose and face.  

Once you reach base camp, you will be greeted by your team singing! It’s the most incredible welcome and way to congratulate you for summiting!! After a one-hour nap and packing your porter bag, you will have lunch/late breakfast. What’s next? More walking! We got given the choice to walk to 3.5hrs or 5.5hrs. My group chose the 3.5hrs because we were all exhausted.  

I won’t lie, I don’t remember what the terrain was like going to this camp, as I was in a bit of a daze. You will be tired, sore, and exhausted for this section. Once you get to camp you will have a rest, dinner and then hopefully a BIG sleep.  

DAY 7 – Mweka Camp to Hotel 

Altitude: 3100m to 1800m 
Distance: 8km, 3-4hr hiking 
Terrain: Montane Forrest 
Clothing: short sleeve light weight top, rain jacket, thin leggings, rain pants 

Take one last look back towards the summit of Kilimanjaro and give yourself a pat on the back! Not only did you summit but you walked all the way from that peak to your camp in one day.  

This section is all descending, with some flat sections. It can be hard on the legs, especially if it is raining. The path gets very muddy, and very slippery! I wore a poncho during this section to stop myself from getting muddy (I nearly fell over a few times). Once you get to the gate, you will be taken to a lunch spot for one last lunch, before heading to your hotel!  

Conclusion

Did I find Mount Kilimanjaro hard? Honestly, it was a lot easier than I was expecting. I am a seasonal hiker and have pushed myself mentally and physically before, so this wasn’t anything new. The terrain wasn’t that difficult to walk on, and with proper training and fitness, it can easy be achieved.  

The major thing which you cannot control is whether the altitude is going to affect you. This is completely unpredictable and can change every climb. Your best chances of a successful summit will be the listen to your guides, take it slow and drink plenty of water.  

Would I recommend climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Absolutely! This has been my favourite hike to date, and I know this is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. You can hike Mount Kilimanjaro if you have little hiking experience, as it isn’t technical. However, I would still always recommend you have a fair bit of physical fitness.  

I hope you enjoyed this day by day run through on what to expect on summiting Kilimanjaro! Keep an eye out for more Kilimanjaro blogs to come. 

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