The Umbwe Route is rarely used these days as an ascent thanks to the fact that it has probably the steepest initial climb, and because it’s the least developed of the main trails, so it has become a rough scramble over tree roots and slippery gradients.
The trail is direct and unrelenting up to the point of Barranco Camp. The upside of choosing Umbwe Route is that, apart from the odd party opting for this trail as a descent route (you will rarely come across a climbing party), the view from the Umbwe Trail, in particular on the second day as you traverse a narrow ridge in the heather fields, are second only to the view you get from the summit.
Umbwe Gate 1661m (5449ft) to Umbwe Cave Campsite 2850m (9350ft)
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Umbwe Gate is the closest trailhead to Moshi, so an early and usually uncomplicated start is possible. The initial hike is through the cultivated fringe that rings the mountain, and it’s mainly a landscape of small gardens, banana groves and patchwork fields. It is a relief to break out of this, step off what actually is a 4×4 track, and plunge into the proper cloud forest. Before reaching the campsite the trail emerges from the forest, and a brief traverse through the heather belt follows.
Umbwe Cave Campsite 2850m (9350ft) to Barranco Camp 3985m (13074ft)
This part of the route moves through some of the most quintessential Kilimanjaro landscapes, heather belt, fields of giants groundsel and dark brooding ridges. The gradient is still upwards, with little riled from the steady trudge, but again the views are spectacular and the trail is quiet.
From Barranco Camp the trail links up with the Southern Circuit which offers the opportunity to veer off east towards Barafu Camp 4600m (15091ft) for a traditional stop on the summit, or west towards Lava Tower Camp 4600m (15091ft) for the Western Breach summit routes.
The return journey is usually Via the Mekwa Route