Nearly 30 years ago, Wilderness Travel pioneered a route up Kilimanjaro that traversed the less-traveled west side of the mountain, giving hikers the best chance of summit success with enough time to acclimatize and a short summit day (only 840 vertical feet!). The Lemosho-Crater Camp route crosses through various ecological zones—from rainforest to moorland to alpine desert—and unlike more commonly-used and crowded paths, it never retraces steps. Recently, we sent WT’s vice president to experience the thrill of climbing Kili. Would our route still live up to the hype after all these years?
Climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro had been a dream of mine for years. I love a great personal challenge, and what better goal can one set to push themselves physically and mentally than summiting the highest mountain in Africa? The experience certainly lived up to the challenge (I was grateful for training!), and the reward of reaching the 19,341’ summit during the most stunning sunrise exceeded every expectation.
However, it was the compilation of small moments that made this experience one that I will never forget—taking in the many changes in scenery, landscapes, and flora as we moved through each of Kilimanjaro’s five ecological zones, singing and dancing with our amazing crew of porters (60 in all!), trading stories with our incredibly seasoned guides (some of whom had summited the mountain more than 300 times), savoring delicious meals made possible at over 15,000 feet (we even had homemade donuts), and the bonds formed between our group as we accomplished this inspiring goal together. Here are some of my favorite photos during the journey.
Acclimatization Before the Trek (6,500’)
Before the climb even began, we spent the first two nights at an acclimatization camp, resting from the travel and jet lag, going on short day hikes, and completing a thorough gear check with our guides to make sure we had everything we needed.
Forest Camp (9,300’)
Our nine-day trek began walking through the lush rainforest, looking for colobus monkeys with each step.
Shira Ridge Camp (11,500’)
Going into Day 2 of the trek, we were already getting a taste of the dramatically changing landscape as we moved from the forest into the heath zone, taking in the unique plants and pops of color.
Arriving at the Shira Ridge Camp, we had an incredible view of Kilimanjaro in the distance. Not only is Kilimanjaro the tallest mountain in Africa, it is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Moir Camp (13,100’)
Moving higher on the Shira Plateau, from the heath to the moorland zone, the scenery changes to more rocky and arid landscapes.
Lava Tower Camp (15,240’)
The next day’s 2,000-foot ascent took us, as our crew would say, pole pole (“slowly slowly”) through the upper moorland zone with views of Kilimanjaro coming ever closer.
We made Lava Tower Camp our home base for two nights, venturing out for short acclimatization hikes and getting our bodies ready for the final climb to reach the summit.
Arrow Glacier Camp (16,000’)
Our short hike to Arrow Glacier gave us more time to acclimatize and relax before the big ascent. We enjoyed our soup of the day (every day had a different incredible soup on the menu!) and I spent the afternoon playing cards with members of our amazing crew.
Crater Camp (18,500’)
The hike to Crater Camp is the most challenging day of the trip. With an early start time of 5:00 am, we set out on a steep ascent over scree, and certain sections require the use of your hands.
It was exhausting, but also worth the views looking down on Mount Meru in the distance.
Staying at Crater Camp truly felt like sleeping on the top of the world, high above the clouds.
It was surreal to have views of the Furtwangler Glacier on one side of your tent, and the peak of Kilimanjaro on the other.
The Summit (19,341’)
One of the greatest benefits of camping at Crater Camp (in addition to the otherworldly views, landscape, and remoteness) is that it puts us in the perfect location to easily and successfully reach the summit the next morning. Unlike other routes that require climbers to make a 4,000’ ascent from Barafu Camp in the dark before descending the same 4,000’ (or more!) the same day—we were able to complete the summit in 1.5 hours, with enough energy to take in and fully enjoy the summit experience, and we were there early enough to have the peak, bathed in fantastic early morning light, almost to ourselves!
Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro was a true highlight of my life. To push yourself and work so hard for something and be rewarded with this vibrant sunrise over clouds and glaciers in the distance is a feeling that is difficult to put into words. A truly transformational experience.
And of course, none of this would have been possible without Wilderness Travel’s unrivaled Trip Leaders and team of porters, who truly went above and beyond in every way. Their knowledge on the mountain (all Trip Leaders are NOLS certified), experience (many have summited Kilimanjaro more than 300 times), and their compassion, support, and sense of humor were second to none. After all these years, this trip truly lives up to the adventure!
—Text and photos by WT Vice President, Nicole Abbott.
More information about climbing Kilimanjaro
There’s a lot of planning that goes into a trip like this. I was surprised by just how many different routes there are up Kilimanjaro, and how key the route decision is to your Kilimanjaro experience. Our group agreed that Wilderness Travel’s Lemosho-Crater Route was ideal for numerous reasons, but three of the most important were:
- It provided ideal conditions to acclimatize gradually with nine days on the trail
- It was truly the most beautiful route on the mountain, going through each of the five ecological zones and no retracing of steps
- Camping at Crater Camp was not only surreal, it also provided a short and easy summit morning of two hours, giving us the time (and energy) to fully enjoy the spectacular sunrise
Additional information about how to prepare, what to pack, the camp, and our crew can be found on Wilderness Travel’s Kilimanjaro webpage.