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Before I booked my Kili climb with WHOA Travel I was considering doing a private climb with another tour company and spent hours researching each trail that leads up the mountain, trying to decide which one was best suited for my hiking style.  There are 7 climbing routes on Mount Kilimanjaro: Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Northern Circuit and Umbwe.  WHOA Travel only climbs the Machame Route, the most popular (and therefore most crowded) of the 7 routes.  This route can be done in 6 days but 7 days is the recommended length and that’s what we will be doing.

So what exactly will it be like hiking the Machame Route on Kilimanjaro?  To sum it up it’s a 37 mile (62 km) hike through 4 climate zones.  6 days will be spent climbing up and 1 day will be spent climbing down.  Here’s a more detailed itinerary of what I can look forward to:

Day 1

  • Machame Gate (1,800 m) to Machame Camp (3,000 m)
  • Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
  • Distance: 11 km
  • Climate: Rainforest

After a 45-minute drive from Moshi we’ll arrive at the Machame Gate, the starting point of our climb.  The guides will get us registered, finish repacking the bags for the porters and by early afternoon we will be hiking through the rainforest of Kilimanjaro.  This will be one of the few days on our hike with shade and plenty of plants and animals to see so I will be on the lookout for some curious colobus monkeys!

machame route 7 days
Hiking through the rainforest. Image courtesy of WHOA Travel

Day 2

  • Machame Camp (3,000 m) to Shira Camp (3,840 m)
  • Hiking Time: 4-6 hours
  • Distance: 5 km
  • Climate: Heath

This is a relatively short hiking day, leaving the rainforest behind for the mossy moorland.  Many previous climbers say that Shira camp is their favorite, offering spectacular views of nearby Mount Meru.

This is probably the day where I would start taking Diamox pills to prevent altitude sickness.  The side effects include frequent urination which can be bothersome when you have to pee in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures but I’m willing to deal with that.  I remember getting altitude sickness in Cusco and it’s not something I want to repeat while hiking on a mountain!

Day 3

  • Shira Camp (3,840 m) to Barranco Camp (3,950 m)
  • Hiking Time: 6-8 hours
  • Distance: 10 km
  • Climate: Alpine Desert

This is a day for acclimatization training.  The best way to acclimatize your body to higher altitudes during a hike is to go slowly, drink plenty of water and follow the rule of “climb high, sleep low”.  Today’s hike takes us up to 4,600 meters to the Lava Tower, a 300-foot tower of volcanic rock, where we’ll have lunch before descending to a lower elevation at the Barranco Camp.  If I don’t stay hydrated then more serious effects of altitude sickness such as headaches and vomiting could occur.  I’ve heard that this is one of the most difficult days of the trek aside from Summit Day.

machame route 7 days
Hikers resting at the base of the Lava Tower. Image courtesy of WHOA Travel

Day 4

  • Barranco Camp (3,950 m) to Karanga Camp (4,000 m)
  • Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
  • Distance: 5 km
  • Climate: Alpine Desert

I am NOT looking forward to this day.  This is the day we climb the dreaded Barranco Wall, a steep 800-foot wall with a trail so narrow that hikers and porters must travel along it in single file.  I’ve always had a fear of heights and thinking about scrambling up this wall makes me really nervous.  But on a positive note I bet the views at the top will be spectacular!

machame route 7 days
So many tiny climbers on the Barranco Wall. Image courtesy of Andrew Purdam via Flickr Creative Commons

Day 5

  • Karanga Camp (4,000 m) to Barafu Camp (4,600 m)
  • Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
  • Distance: 4 km
  • Climate: Alpine Desert

This is a short hike through the last of the alpine desert where we’ll arrive early at Barafu Camp to rest up for the big day.  On a 6-day Machame hike Days 4 and 5 are combined.  Climbers head from Barranco Camp straight to Barafu Camp which makes for a pretty long day.  It’s faster and less expensive but you lose a day to acclimatize which decreases your chance of summiting Kilimanjaro.  Not to mention the lack of rest from hiking longer the day before.  Not worth it in my opinion!

Day 6

  • Barafu Camp (4,600 m) to Summit (5,895 m) to Mweka Hut (3,100 m)
  • Hiking Time: 11-14 hours
  • Distance: 17 km
  • Climate: Arctic Zone

SUMMIT OR BUST!!  At around 11 pm (or 10 pm for slow hikers like me) we’ll wake up, don our headlamps and start the grueling 7-8 hour ascent to Uhuru Peak.  I checked the moon phases and noticed that we’re hiking the day before the new moon so my headlamp will be an essential piece of equipment on this night.  Still, I plan to shut it off during a few rest periods so I can marvel at the stars from the roof of Africa.  I bet it will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

But first I have to get to the top!  I made a playlist of upbeat and inspiring music to get me through this rough night and I’m sure I will need to convince myself many times to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We should reach Stella Point (5,670 m) just as the sun is rising where we’ll enjoy a break before hiking another hour to the real summit point, Uhuru Peak.  Unfortunately when we reach the summit our celebrations will be short-lived.  The temperatures at night can get down to -15° F (-26° C) and the air is thin.  Our group will have about 10-20 minutes to spend at the summit before heading back down.

The descent from the mountain will be almost as difficult as the ascent.  Loose gravel called scree will make us practically fly down the mountain but it will be rough on the knees.  We’ll arrive at Barafu camp in record time for a quick lunch and a short rest before heading to Mweka Hut for the night.

I can't wait to see this view from Uhuru Peak! Image courtesy of Hans via Flickr Creative Commons
I can’t wait to see this view from Uhuru Peak! Image courtesy of Hans via Flickr Creative Commons

Day 7

  • Mweka Hut (3,900 m) to Mweka Park Gate (1,800 m)
  • Hiking Time: 3-4 hours
  • Distance: 8.5 km
  • Climate: Rainforest

Last day on the mountain!  Compared to the rest of the trek this will be an easy day.  Our hike down the mountain will be quick where we’ll arrive at Mweka Gate to receive our summit certificates and celebrate.  Then it’s on our way back to the hotel in Moshi for a much-deserved hot shower and beer!


I’ve read over this itinerary a thousand times but now that I have less than 100 days until my climb the anxiety is starting to creep in.  Doubt gnaws at me, telling me that I haven’t done enough to prepare my body.  But with each workout I gain a little more confidence so that hopefully by March I will feel ready to conquer Kilimanjaro.

8 Comments

  1. I like how the “climate” kept changing. I hope you came prepared. I would’ve loved to do this, it would be really good for my heart.

  2. That is so awesome!

  3. WOW! My niece’s best friend in high school climbed Kilimanjaro! What an amazing time you’ll have! Can’t wait to read all about it!

  4. Wow! Sounds like an amazing experience! Can’t wait to hear about it! I know the “up” is harder than the “down” but it is interesting to read how many more days will be spent on it!

  5. Good luck, I’m a little jealous. Can’t wait to read about your trip.

  6. Hello. We are doing Kilimanjaro in the first week of January. Would you recommend the 6 day or 7 day Machame hike?

    • Yash, I DEFINITELY recommend the 7 day hike. I took a poll from our 22-person hiking group after we got back and none of them felt they could have done the Machame Route in 6 days. There was another group hiking alongside us that chose to do the trail in 6 days. Many of them got altitude sickness and not all of them reached the summit.

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