Kilimanjaro trek: Rongai 5night or Shira 7night?

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Aug 12th, 2005, 09:26 AM
  #1
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Kilimanjaro trek: Rongai 5night or Shira 7night?

Looking for more advice here, this time about which route to take while climbing Kilimanjaro.

I have narrowed it down to 2 routes that ATR provides, the Rongai 5night and Shira 7night.

I am leaning towards Shira 7night one, but wanted some input.

If you need more details, ATR's website has links off this site (I couldn't get the actual climb specs webpage URL for some reason): http://www.africatravelresource.com/...anjaro/03.htm#

Thanks again for your time and help!
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Aug 12th, 2005, 09:40 AM
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There is really no choice here.

A 5-night climb is rather pointless - giving you about a 40% or less chance to summit. And the 2-hour stretch from Gillmans to the summit is brutal.

7 nights are much better! The 1-hour stretch from Stella Point to the summit is more doable.

ATR is not licensed to climb. Who will you be climbing with?
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Aug 12th, 2005, 10:28 AM
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Awesome, that's exactly what I was thinking.

ATR has a contract with African Walking Company. I have been told they are licensed... do you have a site handy where I can confirm that?
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Aug 12th, 2005, 11:37 AM
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African Walking Company is a licensed operator, look at the official list
http://www.tourismtanzania.go.tz/Doc...t%20Agents.pdf

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Aug 12th, 2005, 12:13 PM
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Not sure where climbhighsleeplow gets their stats from but sadly it isn't as clear cut as that.
What is your fitness level? How used to trekking are you ? Are you used to camping out for 7 nights at altitude \ in the cold? Are you looking to hit the true summit or the crater rim (to pick up the certificate)?
The 5 night Rongai route has a days acclimatisation at Mwenzi Tarn and while the last drive for the (lower) summit is hard (and very long), its eminently doable for the suitably fit. The Shira route is harder full stop with some steep climbs (and descents) along the way. I'm not even convinced the acclimitisation is much better as the first night is at 3600m and the next at 4400m. And its still a good 5 \ 6 hour slog to Stellan point on the final 'climbing' day from Barafu Camp (with the summit beyond).
As you note ATR use African Walking Company (as do many travel agents in the UK such as Exodus).
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:52 AM
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have you thought about western breach? my husband and i just returned; we are marathoners and still had a tough time because of acclimatization; the longer you can take, the better your chances; have you looked into F&S kiliwarriors? they are the best on that mountain--the guides are well trained and the porters are like family; they use top of the line equipment and the food is sensational--even have portable toilets(something you will be very happy with at that point) they are a class act all the way and you will make it to summit with them because of the care they give you to get there. out of a 10 score, i'd give them 15+....we just returned last week and we have a cherished memory of a vacation of a lifetime because of them
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Aug 16th, 2005, 08:08 AM
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Hi Mindy-
WOW that's terrific! While in good shape, we definitely are not marathoners. We were considering the Western Breach, but then decided it would be too difficult, as well as too long, as we are incorporating other things into our trip and only have so much time..
Thanks for the info, I look forward to your trip review!
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Aug 17th, 2005, 05:56 PM
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Hi BostonGal - sorry for jumping on your thread, but I'm starting to plan a trip just like yours for next summer, but I was thinking about the Machame route.

Climbhigh and others - what do you think of this route? I would do it with the extra acclimatization day at Karanga camp. I know that your company uses this route, but I figured I get a comparison to BostonGal's choice of Shira.

Thanks for any opinions/suggestions.

We'll also be doing safari, so I have been reading all your threads and getting lots of ideas! You guys are a great resource!

Karen
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Aug 17th, 2005, 06:39 PM
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Hi Karen

Yes, stopping at Karanga is the best way to do Machame as the hike from Barranco to Barafu is a really long one. And more time to acclimatize.

The problem with all the Eastern approaches is the midnight ascent! It is cold, it feels neverending, it is steep and you don't see anything (forget about taking pictures). As a result most climbers arrive at the summit in a zombie-like state after a night of no sleep!

Having done these different routes at least twice (and at 46 I am never in the best of shapes), I think that you should always consider the Western Breach route with an overnight at the crater when you plan for Kilimanjaro. It is gentler with only 2000ft altitude gain daily and there's no night climbing. Overall, it is a much better experience hence the 95% and higher success rates from all the top companies.
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Aug 18th, 2005, 03:40 AM
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Thanks for the reply, climbhigh...! I have been trying to read up, and I picked Machame because it sounds like a very scenic route (summit night not counting). How does the scenery compare on the Western Breach? I'll have to research that route some more...

Thanks again,
Karen
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Aug 18th, 2005, 04:06 AM
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The two routes offer different scenic experiences.

On the Lemosho/Western Breach route, you see the more dramatic western areas of the mountain. This part has a violent history (from here the glacier shaped the Barranco Valley). You walk past several water streams, small waterfalls and senecios. And most of the way you see the mountain looming larger and larger.

Once on the Breach, you can look down and see the dramatic vistas of Shira, Barranco and beyond. When you reach the crater rim you can touch the snows of Kilimanjaro and even hike to the actual ashpit! None of this is possible on Machame.

On Machame, however, you have more of a jungle start to the climb since the Lemosho area is drier. (but you will experience the jungle anyway near Mweka camp on your descent). You have some vistas near the Shira camp, the really beautiful Barranco Valley with waterfalls and plants and some desolate lunar lanscape between Karanga and Barafu. When you look up you see the Eastern side of the mountain which is less dramatic. And then it is night and you see nothing after that!

You can also expect 100s of people in camp every night on Machame. The squat long-drop toilets are taking the brunt of plenty of upset stomachs and not a pleasant experience!

http://www.go-kilimanjaro.com is a good resource for helping you choose a route!
Eben
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Aug 19th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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Thanks Eben! I'll have to look into the Western Breach route some more. I have been to your website - it is wonderfully informative!

Karen
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Aug 29th, 2005, 01:53 PM
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Hi,

I just got back from 6 days on Mt. Kenya and 6 on Kili. We went on the Shira route. That worked well, though I think that 7 days may be better than 6. The combination of a long day 4 and a 1:00 AM hike to the summit(starting 8 hours after ending day 4) on the 6 day version was a bit tough.

The big issue is altitude. A longer and slower ascent is better. The data that I saw showed a 45-50% success on 4 day treks and 85-90% on 6 day hikes. In our 9 person group, 8 summitted and only one of the 8 had altitude difficulties intense enough to induce vomitting on the summit climb. He still made it, but wanted to get down quickly! The Shira route includes a fair amount of up and down, but that is very good for adjusting to altitude. Climb high, sleep lower is good advice and on the way up Shira offers a lot of opportunities to do just that. Training for the hike is overrated, though being in better shape is a plus. I am 51 and in no better than average shape, though I do a lot of hiking each summer. If you can walk 8 hours a day for several days, you can probably make the summit... assuming that you do not have altitude problems and there is not a lot that you can do to prevent that except go up slowly. Don't forget the Diamox. It can be quite useful.

As a former Bostonian (now in the flatlands of Chicago for 2 years) I would be happy to share experiences and advice if you would find it helpful.

FYI, while getting to the top of Kili was a thrill, Mt. Kenya was a much more interesting hike. Kili is big, but it is not really a very pretty mountain. Just my opinion...
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Aug 29th, 2005, 11:57 PM
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Dear all,

I can no longer resist from jumping on this thread as I read several things here which absolutely do not comply with our own (and very recent – we just returned two weeks ago) experience. (I have to mention perhaps in advance that Mt. K. was not my first high mountain as I climbed several peaks above 6000m already.)

We did the Rongai route recently, but decided to take 8 days for it without any acclimatisation before. Our calculation was as follows: On other trips (Nepal, Bolivia) peaks of 6000m had been possible on day 10 of the trip, which is very much in line with the “professional” approach of climbing Mt. K. after an acclimatisation tour (Mt. Kenya or Mt. Meru) resulting in at least 8 days on a mountain all together too. Climbing in 5 days without acclimatisation is obviously possible for some people, but definitely not for everybody – and there is no way of making a reliable individual prediction! Consequently we compromised on the (unusual) duration of 8 days. In the hindsight I must say: This is probably the most comfortable way of climbing Mt. Kilimjaro.

And here is where our own experience is in contradiction with what has been written in this thread above:
(1) A 5 night Rongai route tour can not include a rest/acclimatisation day at Mawenzi Tarn unless you have at least one extremely and unreasonably long day on your itinerary. Only when you do Rongai straight (i.e. not via Mawenzi Tarn, but directly from the first to the second to the third cave and on to School Hut) it is possible to do this route in 5 days, provided you are well acclimatised already.
(2) A very early start - we were on the route at 23:45 already - at Kibo or School hut (the eastern ascend) is not necessarily a disadvantage. Of course it is cold at night, but you should be prepared for this. Many people do not sleep well at an altitude above 4500m anyway and if you go to bed very early you can still have a good rest before the summit day even with an early start. Having 5-6 hours for the climb up the rim you can really celebrate the art of “pole-pole” which definitely increases your chances to succeed. Starting altitude at various routes to the summit is approximately the same on the last day and this means that a longer route results in a slower ascent, which can be a significant advantage at this altitude. Taking pictures is not an argument as you always return along more or less the same route – unless you spend a night at the crater.
(3) It is simply not correct to say that only the Western Breach gives you the option of visiting the Reusch crater and the ash pit. You can do this from any starting point – provided you are in good shape at the top. I personally came from Kibo hut via Gilman’s, arrived at Uhuru shortly after sunrise, returned to Stella, descended to the Furthwangler Glacier, which is essentially where the Western Breach route arrives at the rim, and climbed the crater to visit the ash pit. (I did not dare to descend into the crater as I was absolutely alone and too afraid of dangerous gas in the crater itself.) From the crater you can return directly back to Gilman’s (with a short but steep ascend at the end) or to a small saddle further in the east from where you can descend directly to the Kibo Hut (no track, but very fast downhill).
(4) Spending a night at the crater can not be recommended to anybody who does not yet have experience with high altitude. You are in danger of being affected by AMS there and this can become really uncomfortable. But I am sure it’s a unique experience, provided you (and your staff!) are well equipped.
(5) I can absolutely NOT agree to the statement that Mt. K. is “not really a pretty mountain”. Just to the contrary! Along Rongai route via Mawenzi Tarn the moorland vegetation is simply fantastic (many different species of everlastings, flowering senecios, gladiols, etc.) and the Tarn itself is like a gem in a desert. The volcanic upper parts of Kibo and Mawenzi have their own magic in my opinion, and descending along Marangu route rounds up your experience with an impressive rain forest at the end. Where else in the world can you see so many different vegetation zones at one single mountain?

To summarize, my advice would be:
Take your time on the mountain, don’t do it in less then 7-8 days. Try to be at the summit as early as possible so that you have plenty of time for enquiring the whole area and try to visit the ash pit. Take the Rongai route, if you want to have and easy and comfortable ascend.


Have fun!

MarcusW
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Aug 30th, 2005, 03:28 AM
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MarcusW

You presented an interesting and different viewpoint!

But this thread was not about discussing the "best" route to the summit. The choices at the start of the thread were between a 5night Rongai & 7day Shira!

The "best" route (if there is one) probably starts in Rongai and follows the western circuit route around the mountain before ascending via the Western Breach!

Careful about making it sound easy to visit the crater from any of the Eastern approaches! Very, very few climbers have the strength to do this after reaching the summit. In fact, the guides have to be very careful to allow this as the climbing group will certainly split at that point and if something goes wrong there will be trouble.

An 8-day Rongai climb is also very unusual. Instead I would rather consider a 9-day Western Breach climb as you get to experience the more dramatic western side of Kilimanjaro and a more comfortable oppportunity to reach the crater itself.

The midnight ascend via Gillmans is tough as confirmed by the numbers. Statistics (from studying the summit book at the wardens office) show that many climbers give up at Gillmans. Something like 40%?

You are correct that sleeping at the crater rim is not to be taken lightly. But the combined statics from the top outfitters show a near 95% summit success rate when doing so!

I, too, think that Kilimanjaro is beautiful. But others tell me that Mt. Kenya and Mt. Meru are more scenic.
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Aug 30th, 2005, 05:50 AM
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You are right, climbhighsleeplow, the subject here was not the “best" route. Sorry, if I gave the impression to know which one would be “the best”.

Your suggestion sounds interesting too. Did you ever try that part of the circuit yourself? Doesn’t it involve a long stretch without significant gain in altitude? Or what else is the reason that hardly anyone attempts the climb that way?

As to the Western Breach I have the impression that there is broad consensus among mountain guides to consider this route as the most difficult one - due to steepness. This does not necessarily mean that the success rate is low, perhaps quite to the contrary: Most of the climbers who attempt the Western Breach and spend a night on the crater probably belong to the experienced group – hence a high success rate! Consequently I have doubts that 8 days Rongai can be considered comparable with 9 days via Western Breach including a summit night. The latter I’d consider a serious mountaineering adventure, while Rongai in 8 days has one single tough day only.

Your comment on splitting the party is correct of course, but this is not an issue when you have two persons accompanying - as I have learned is considered “good practiced” with high quality outfitters nowadays. (In my case I asked the guide explicitly to return with my wife on the regular route together with the second accompanying person.)
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Aug 30th, 2005, 06:08 AM
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Just to expand on my comment that Kili is not a very pretty mountain since it generated a few responses. There is no disagreement that Kili has its charms and that, as on any big mountain near the equator, you go through microclimate bands and varied flora as you ascend. However, relative to some other treks (in Nepal or the Andes for example) Kili is not a terribly interesting or pretty climb. In addition, it is far more crowded than many other places that you might trek. That is not to say that it is not a good climb or that I am sorry that I made the trek. I had a great time. But if I was going to do only one or two big treks like this in my life, Kili would not be at the top of my list.
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Aug 30th, 2005, 06:54 AM
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The debate over the difficulty of the Western Breach route will continue forever!

After climbing most of the routes while in my 40s (more than once) and closely monitoring more than 200 climbers of all degrees of fitness, I will say the following with a fair amount of confidence:

A 9-day Lemosho/Shira/Western Breach climb is easier on the body than the eastern routes. The overall high success rate has little to do with the "experience" of the climbers - in fact the great majority of climbers have no altitude experience!

The success is all about:

1. A steady gain in altitude (2000ft per day) over enough days to acclimatize
2. The top outfitters provide better quality guides and equipment in terms of food menus, water, pace, comfort and safety - thereby increasing the chances for summit success.
3. The positive mental aspect of daytime climbs with beautiful scenery to keep your mind occupied.
4. Preparedness. Top outfitters normally prepare their clients better for the climb with quality rental equipment, exercise tips, gear inspections, and more.

How difficult is it? It depends! If you climb it at night with a budget outfitter without enough acclimatization days it can be plain dangerous! Rock falls do happen and if you cannot see the loose rocks above you at night then fatalities will happen (it did about 3 weeks ago).

If you do it right during daytime hours, then everyone can do it! Plenty of children as young as 12 continue to do it. People in their 70s continue to do it!

It is just a trek with 4 minor scrambling (use of hands needed to steady yourself) sections of 5 minutes or less each - compared with the serious one hour long Barranco Wall scramble on the Machame route! At 2 points on the Barranco Wall there are some steep cliff faces where a slip can cause serious damage!

To get back to the Rongai/Western Circuit/Breach/Mweka route. It does have stretches with no altitude gain but once you reach Moir Camp you will steadily work your way higher to the summit at a rate of about 2000ft per day!
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Aug 30th, 2005, 08:06 AM
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Climbhighsleeplow,

Among your success factors there is one which is not applicable to everybody: A positive mental effect can be derived from various and quite different aspects. Some people find it easier to endure a climb of many hours when they do NOT see how much of it is still left. And it can definitely also be attractive to enjoy the stars on the sky while climbing as well as looking forward to the spectacular sunrise. Arriving early on the top also increases the chance of good weather there – probably the most important argument in favour of night climbs worldwide.

Good guides try keep your mind busy during a night climb too, if needed – e.g. by chanting African songs (not a joke!)

Rock fall is a danger of course, but it does not seem that serious an issue at the Marangu route, if I am not wrong.

Have fun!
MarcusW
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Aug 30th, 2005, 08:44 AM
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I agree with Marcus. The risk of a dangerous rock fall is quite small, probably best described as tiny. In addition, while the Barranco Wall does involve a bit of scramble, it is quite easy to negotiate. Personally, I do not like exposed heights and found the wall to be "interesting" but not intimidating in any way. Sure, there are a couple of places where a slip would probably result in serious injury, but it is easy to cross them without slipping. For the most part, the trail is wide, stable, and comfortable for almost everyone. Don't let the easy scrambles frighten you. They made the Barranco Wall the most interesting part of the trail.
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