A Journey Along the Northern Circuit of Kilimanjaro


The quest for Alternative Kilimanjaro Routes grows daily as many companies spring up offering new and unique Climbing Packages. The Mount Kilimanjaro is becoming these days into a venture travel machine. Indeed, I was very fortunate for being invited on a little experimental climbing to explore the seldom used Northern Circuit of Kilimanjaro (September 2009).

In most cases, a handful of routes is used to cram the climbers’ budget along heavily trammeled paths and into littered and congested campsites. This turned out to be one of the rarest experiences on the Kilimanjaro Mountain. It was five days of almost undisturbed Hiking Kilimanjaro in a remote and unexpectedly beautiful quarter of the Kilimanjaro National Park.

Rongai and the Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit

Rongai is at the back-end of the Mount Kilimanjaro, and with a complex entry arrangement and a long journey to the gate. It is not particularly popular with budget outfitters. This is the main drawback, but another thing is the fact that the scenic tableau is not quite as dramatic as on the more popular Southern Circuit Kilimanjaro Climb. 

Some other interesting info:

  • After a couple of days, Rongai links up with the Marangu Route wherein it becomes a zoo.

Yet, the Northern Circuit Route Kilimanjaro peels off at about 2 o’clock and veers westward to circumnavigate the Kibo Crater along its northern extremity. From that point, we didn’t see any other soul.

Our group, made of three old climbing buddies and an added one at last minute, enjoyed three nights at the amazing campsites, located by ourselves. I have to mention that very few people make this particular journey.

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The landscape of the Northern Circuit Kilimanjaro differs distinctly from the south part. It is drier, more moon-like and on some occasions bleakly forbidding.

To the north, the countryside diminishes throughout a slow progression of waves towards the vast expanse of the Masai Steppe, the Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks in Kenya.

The Kibo Crater is ever present with almost no sign of the glaciers that overflow the southern slopes. Water is hard to find and the campsites are widely spaced. There is a deep and eerie silence everywhere that is broken all of a sudden as the trail swings suddenly southwards, and we stumble into the Moir Camp.

Here the trail passes from Shira to Lava Tower. All at once, there are hundreds of porters like a huge flock of starlings moving forwards and back along a meter-wide channel of the path.

The Lava Tower Camp has a familiar human excrement stink. It is crowded with tents, seething with porters and festooned with litter. But, it hardly matters. At this point, our minds are less focused on the aesthetics but on the hard altitude, the fatigue, and the pending challenge of the Western Breach.

The Western Breach

The summit experience begins at Lava Tower. It continues at Arrow Glacier just a few hundred meters and a kilometer distant. The Western Breach seems less than it is.

When we began the climb it was one step in front of the other. Pole-pole…the defining mantra of any meaningful Kilimanjaro Hike. A few selected porters pass up and continue upwards towards the Crater Camp. It was seven hours of solid but unremarkable climbing to get to the lip of the crater and at the end of the Furtwangler Glacier.

At this altitude, the sun shines. It is surprisingly warm and the porters, although a little less gregarious, are still exuberant. A few of them are collecting water from the glacier runoff and they congratulate us as we pass by on our way towards the Crater Camp.

For me, this was the only real disappointment of the expedition. Crater Camp was a shit-hole at 19000-feet height…..See my article on The Beginning of the End of Crater Camp.

We had big plans to explore the Ash Pit, but as dawn broke on our penultimate day the temperature was horrifying and the lack of basic motivation at such altitude had us directing our noses southwards and plunging down towards a more accommodating altitude of the Mweka Camp….

In conclusion, I would recommend Rongai Route to anyone for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. If you can afford a few dollars more, and do your homework to make sure you sign up with a good outfitter, it is the way to climb this beautiful Kilimanjaro Routes.

Get in touch with me if you need any more info on this Mount Kilimanjaro Climb, or any other tips in Hiking Kilimanjaro

Photo by: Gary Johnson