In recent years, the Machame route has gained in popularity, and more climbers use this route than the Marangu route. The Machame route has a much better acclimatization schedule, and has a much higher success rate than the Marangu. As it has become more competitive, it has also become cheaper.
The scenery is spectacular. The vistas and views will take your breath away. The hiking can be tough with the relatively long days, but you will gain a lot in terms of acclimatization. Lack of good acclimatization is the main reason most trekkers do not make the summit. On the Machame route, you can take a 6 or 7 day option, the extra day can be valuable for your acclimatization.
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You will sleep in tents, there is no hut accommodation on this route which means you will need to choose your operator carefully. The last thing you want at the end of a day’s hiking is an old and leaky tent!
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This route usually involves leaving at midnight to make your summit attempt from Barafu Camp. Those who do not like the idea of walking after dark might want to consider the Lemosho Route. Many of the operators who use Lemosho, provide an option for leaving for the summit first thing in the morning. If this is an important factor, it’s worth asking your chosen operator if you can use the Machame route in conjunction with a daytime summit push.
It’s also possible to scale the Western Breach to the summit from Arrow Glacier Camp.
Merging with the Lemosho and Shira routes near the Lava Tower, Machame takes you up the Barranco Wall, which contrary to many scaremongering articles, is a tough, but not at all technical scramble.
The Machame route uses a different route on the descent, which keeps the trails less busy than the Marangu which uses the same route to descend as to ascend.
I Opine: The Machame route is a far better option than the Marangu route in terms of scenery and acclimatization protocol. It’s a busy route, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. If you cannot afford the high-priced Lemosho route, then this is a very good option. Some say it’s more “difficult” than the Marangu route, simply because the hiking days are longer. But the summit success is much higher, owing to the extra acclimatization.
Overview of the Machame Route: (7 day option)
Day 1: Machame Gate (1640m, 5380ft) to Machame Camp (2835m, 9300ft)
Distance: 11 kilometres, 7 miles
Length of hike: 5-6 hours
After breakfast, you will be driven to the Machame Gate, to complete form-filling and other bureaucratic formalities. Prepare to spend quite some time hanging around as nothing gets done quickly here.
You will start at the trailhead, hiking through the rainforest. The trail can be fairly steep at times and the pace is slow. It’s warm and humid here, and rain is possible. It can be pretty muddy, so you’ll glad of your gaiters.
The “Old Man’s Beard” (a type of lichen) hangs from the trees, the sounds of the birds and monkeys make this a beautiful hike. You will have a packed lunch en route.
For more information on the Montagne forest zone, click >here<
Your camp for your first night on the mountain is in the rainforest, at it’s very edge, before heading into the Heath and Moorland zone tomorrow. After tea, coffee and a snack, you will meet your tent for the first time before dinner. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will set you up for tomorrow’s hike.
Day 2: Machame Camp (2835m, 9300ft) to Shira Plateau (3850m, 12630ft)
Distance: 6 kilometres, 3.5 miles
Length of hike: 5-7 hours
Today you will leave the forest glades behind you and trek into the Heath and Moorland zone. The vistas start to open up and the vegetation changes. On a clear day you can see Kibo – Kilimanjaro’s summit and your final destination! You will see beautiful lobelia, senecios, and the ‘red hot poker’, stunning red flowers. You may start to feel some of the effects of altitude, so take it slowly and enjoy the surroundings.
The hike is quite steep in parts, as you climb the Shira ridge and it’s a long, slow day. You should not feel overly exhausted by the time you arrive at camp, as your guide will set a slow pace.
Depending on your operator, there are various camps for tonight. Shira 1, Shira 2 or Shira Cave. All of them are on the Shira Plateau. Be warned – it can get bitterly cold at night. You may find yourself hiking the daytime in a t-shirt and shorts, but come nightfall, you’ll need those layers.
On a clear night, with only the moon and stars lighting the sky, the view of Kibo is nothing short of majestic.
Day 3: Shira Plateau (3850m, 12,630ft) to Barranco Camp (3,900m, 12,950ft) via Lava Tower (4600m, 15,090ft)
Distance: 11 kilometres, 7 miles
Length of hike: 5-7 hours
Today is a very important day in your acclimatization schedule. You will be having lunch at Lava Tower, which is at 4600m, before sleeping at 3900m. This exposure to a higher altitude will give your body a crucial time to adapt.
The hike takes you across the Shira Plateau, with amazing views of Kibo. As you get closer to Lava Tower, you will notice the changes as it becomes more bleak and rocky. Entering the desert zone, there is less vegetation and the environment seems increasingly harsh, with an often icy wind. The air is noticeably thinner, so be sure to keep well-hydrated and eat plenty.
From Lava Tower you can see the Arrow Glacier and the formidable Western Breach, towering up to the summit.
After lunch at Lava Tower, you will make your descent to Barranco Camp, back in the heath and moorland zone through the Barranco valley. Passing the giant senecio forest, the Barranco campsite is set on the banks of a mountain stream, with Kibo looming high above.
Day 4: Barranco Camp (3,900m, 12,950ft) to Karanga Camp (4023m, 13,200ft)
Distance: 6 kilometres, 3.5 miles
Length of hike: 4-5 hours
After breakfast, you need to tackle the Barranco Wall. A 500ft rock face, it is challenging, but not technical. You’ll need to scramble, using your hands in a few spots. At certain points it is quite exposed, but your guides will help you. Take it slowly and steadily and you’ll get there. It’ll take about an hour and a half, and once you get to the top, it’s an exhilarating feeling. You’ll have incredible views of Kibo towering overhead, and the craggy peaks around you.
After the Wall, you will descend through the Karanga Valley and up again to Karanga Camp in time for lunch. As it’s a relatively short day, you’ll have plenty of time to rest up before tomorrow’s trek to Barafu Camp – your last camp before the summit! If you are feeling fit and strong, some operators offer to take you on an acclimatization hike in the afternoon.
Note: if you are taking the 6-day Machame route, you will have lunch at Karanga and continue on to Barafu camp. I don’t recommend doing this, as it means you have a full day’s hiking at pretty serious altitude, and then only a few hours sleep before your summit attempt! The night at Karanga strongly increases your chances of summit success.
Be sure to eat plenty and get a good night’s sleep – tomorrow is a tough day.
Day 5: Karanga Camp (3960m, 13,200ft) to Barafu Camp (4680m, 15354ft)
Distance: 3.5 kilometres, 2 miles
Length of hike: 3-5 hours
Today you will be heading to your “base camp” – the last camp before the summit.
From Karanga, you are faced with a tough uphill hike to Barafu Camp. Barafu means “ice” in Swahili, and it’s very windy, cold and exposed at this altitude. The environment gives way to rocky outcrops, windy wilderness and an increasingly inhospitable land. It’s spectacular up here! The air is thin, you will likely feel out of breath during today, but keep the slow, steady pace and remember to drink plenty of water!
Barafu can be a crowded camp, tents pitched in the spaces between the rocks. It’s cold and exposed. Be sure to rest well, as tonight you will have the toughest – but most rewarding – hike of the whole adventure! The afternoon should be spent arranging your daypack with everything you need for the summit.
After a hearty dinner – try to eat even if you don’t feel like it – head to your sleeping bag at about 7pm, as you’ll be woken at 11.30pm.
Day 6 : Barafu Camp (4680m, 15354ft) to SUMMIT then descend to Mweka Camp
At around midnight, wearing all the clothes you possess (it’s freezing!) you will start the toughest but most exciting part of the hike. Heading uphill from Barafu camp, moving very slowly across the rocks and scree, you will make your way in the light of the moon on a clear night. You’ll have a headtorch as well.
The route is steep, using switchbacks through the volcanic scree. Tonight’s hike is all about determination, and using all your mental reserves to get you through it. The air is very thin and you will be glad of that extra day of acclimatization. You may pass people who are forced to descend as the altitude gets the better of them.
One step at a time.
After 5-6 hours, you should reach the Crater Rim, in time to see the dawn break and push the night off the mountain. A rest at Stella Point, admiring your efforts and the drama of the sunrise over craggy Mawenzi and Mt Meru. High above the clouds, the break of dawn will give you new found enthusiasm – the worst is over. Now it’s a 1-2 hour hike to the Summit!
Continuing along the crater rim from Stella Point, you slowly make your way to the summit – Uhuru Peak. The view is incredible. The effort is worth it – huge glaciers against black volcanic rock, up here above the clouds a sense of excitement and peace at the same time.
After photos and congratulations, it’s time to tackle the descent. Make sure your boots are well-fastened to prevent your toes from being crushed in the front of the boot. Extend your poles slightly, to help you balance whilst walking downhill.
You follow the same path back to Stella Point and then off the crater rim and down the mountain. It can be a bit brutal on the knees, but as you descend, your lungs will enjoy the extra oxygen after the thin air at the top!
Stopping for lunch at Barafu Camp, you’ve still got a few hours ahead of you before you can really relax. The hike down at first feels easier than all that relentless uphill, but it can be quite exhausting. Take it slowly, it’s not a race.
Towards the late afternoon you will arrive at Mweka Camp for your last night on the mountain. Rejoicing in your achievement and a good night’s sleep ahead of you. It can be bittersweet as the adventure is coming to a close. Some operators arrange for your laundry to be taken down the mountain ahead of you, so that it’s ready for when you reach your hotel.
Final Day: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
More downhill greets you this morning, and as you approach the rainforest once again, it can get quite muddy. You may need your rain gear, and the heat and humidity will be a welcome relief from all that cold!
At the gate, you will collect your certificate of achievement for either Uhuru Peak or Stella Point, and bid farewell to your guides and porters. After giving them their tips, you will be taken back to your hotel, back to normal life with the memories of the adventure etched on your mind.
A hot shower and a cold beer will be your reward!