Climbing Kilimanjaro is not easy. But if you prepare and choose the right route for you, then making it to the summit is possible. There are several routes to climb Kilimanjaro, but which route is right for you? Below are the group climb routes we offer. In this article, we will focus on the 11-Day Northern Circuit group climb.
11-Day Northern Circuit Route
If solitude is what you are after, then the Northern Circuit Route is the best route for you on Kilimanjaro. It is nine days on the mountain. It has a more than 90% summit success rate due to many days you have to acclimatize to the extreme elevation. Less than 1% of all treks are booked on the Northern Circuit. It is a relatively new route. You will start from the same trailhead as the Lemosho route on the west side of Kilimanjaro. You’ll continue through the rainforest until you reach the Shira Plateau. After a side acclimating hike up Shira Cathedral, you split from the Lemosho route near Lava Tower and continue the secluded journey around the Northside of the mountain on the only route that is on that side. You’ll experience expansive views of Kenya below. The route traverses nearly the entire mountain before ascending to the summit from the East.
The 11-day itinerary has an arrival and departure day built-in. That means that day one will not be on the mountain. Rather, you’ll arrive at the hotel in Moshi and have the trip briefing that day and start the hike the next morning.
When you arrive at the hotel look for your trip briefing time posted near the conference room. At the trip-briefing, we will perform a thorough equipment check. We will also give a health check to get your baseline stats. Additionally, we will confirm you have the appropriate mandatory medical coverage and travel insurance.
Kilimanjaro Day 1
The day will begin after breakfast. You’ll be driven to the Londorossi park gate of Kilimanjaro National Park. There you’ll register with the Park Service. After registration is complete you’ll be driven to the trailhead. As you grab your gear, the porters and guides will weigh all the equipment.
You’ll immediately begin to climb up a well-maintained path with intermittent wooden stairs into the verdurous rainforest. This forest is home to a variety of wildlife, including the Colobus monkey. These monkeys are black with a long ‘cape’ of white hair and a white flowing tail.
After a short 2.9 miles, you’ll arrive at Lemosho Forest camp. It is also known as Big Tree camp or Mti Mkubwa camp. The elevation is 8,700 feet. You’ll have gained 1,700 feet and it takes about 2-3 hours.
Kilimanjaro Day 2
The morning begins with breakfast followed by a short hike up a steady ascent through the rainforest. After a few hours, you’ll emerge from the rainforest and have amazing views of the clouds below. You’ll stop for lunch here. The afternoon trek continues up to the Shira Plateau to Shira I camp at 11,600 feet. Weather permitting you may now see the summit of Kilimanjaro. Hiking this day usually takes about 6-7 hours, covers 4.9 miles and ascends 3,000 ft.
Kilimanjaro Day 3
Today begins with an easy day hike to allow your body time to acclimatize. Once you depart Shira I, you’ll hike to the high point of Shira Cathedral at 12,800 feet. From here you’ll be treated to amazing views of the rainforest below as well as Uhuru Peak. You’ll then break for lunch before heading down to Shira II or Shira Hut camp. Along the way, you’ll pass by one of the helicopter evacuation pads and the start of the Shira route. Shira Hut sits at 12,600 feet. This campsite has stunning views, close to the glacier adorned dome of Kibo and the jagged rim of Shira Plateau. The view of Mount Meru floating on the clouds is unforgettable. The day’s hike takes 4-5 hours, covers 9.9 miles, and gains just over 1,000 feet.
Kilimanjaro Day 4
Today begins with a gentle ascent along a distinct trail surrounded by panoramic views. The trail ascends above the Moorland zone and continues through the lava ridges beneath the glaciers above. You’ll stop for lunch at Lava Tower at 15,150 feet. If you watch closely, you may even see a rock slide along the treacherous Western Breach route.
For those feeling strong, there is a possibility to climb up to the ruined hut at Arrow Glacier at 15,700 feet.
After lunch, you’ll leave the Lemosho route and descend back down to 13,800 to camp at Moir Hut.
The day’s hike takes 5-7 hours, covers 7.2 miles, and gains just over 1,000 feet.
Kilimanjaro Day 5
Today begins with a climb out of Moir Valley and a detour to reach the summit of Lent Hills at 15,400 feet. After admiring the views you’ll backtrack to the trail and head east.
In this section, you’ll pass through a field of rock slabs that clink as you hike across them. The final stretch of the day has you trekking over rolling hills until you reach Buffalo Camp at 13,600 feet.
At the camp, there is a huge feeling of space as the Kenyan plains stretch out far below to the north.
The day’s hike takes 4-7 hours, covers 4.4 miles, and gains just over 1,800 feet, but also loses about 1,800 feet.
Kilimanjaro Day 6
On day six you’ll depart Buffalo Camp, and climb to the top of Buffalo Ridge and cross numerous ridges and gullies. The trail continues eastwards through a landscape that has increasingly sparse vegetation to eventually reach your camp for the night—Third Cave Camp at 12,800 feet. Your hike today takes about 5-7 hours, at a distance of 12.4 miles and drops 800 ft.
Kilimanjaro Day 7
Today’s journey continues up toward the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo. Your surroundings change to a more lunar feel with sparse vegetation and scattered rocks across the barren plains. Once you reach the saddle you’ll continue until you reach School Hut at 15,500 feet and camp for the night. It will still be early in the afternoon so you’ll spend the rest of the day resting and preparing for Summit night the next morning. The day’s hike takes 4-5 hours, covers only 3 miles, but ascends 2,700 feet.
Kilimanjaro Day 8
Today is the day, you’ll start around 1 AM. You be woken up by the guide, dress quickly, eat breakfast, grab your gear and begin the ascent by headlamp. You’ll plod along slowly in the dark, ascending quickly up switchbacked trails so that you can be up on the crater rim by sunrise. This is called Gilman’s Point at 18,600 feet. The hike takes about six hours from camp. You will rest there enjoying the views of the sun rising above Mawenzi peak and the crater floor below. Those in the group who are still feeling strong can continue the two-hour round trip to the summit along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet.
The trail passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy most of the summit area. Once at the summit you’ll rest and wait your turn to take photos at the summit sign.
The descent to Barafu is surprisingly fast, and after a snack and, you’ll continue the descent to the final campsite, Millenium Camp. It’s located at 12,500 feet. The total travel time with be 11-15 hours and cover 8.8 miles. You will gain 3,845 feet and descend 6,845 feet.
Kilimanjaro Day 9
Your final day on Kilimanjaro winds along on a sustained descent on a well-constructed path. It meanders through the lovely tropical forest alive with birdsong and boasting lush undergrowth with considerable botanical elements. It concludes at the Mweka gate at 5,400 feet. Once you have been signed out, you’ll continue down through coffee and banana farms to Mweka village, where you’ll be transferred to your lodge in Moshi.
The trail takes about 4-6 hours. It is 7.6 miles and drops 7,100 feet.
Video of the Northern Circuit Route
Map of the Northern Circuit Route
Interested in Booking Your Northern Circuit Climb?
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The Machame Route known as the “Whiskey” route, begins at Machame Gate, located at the southern base of the mountain. From the gate, you ascend through Kilimanjaro’s lush rainforest to the Shira Plateau. Once there you will traverse the mountain beneath Kilimanjaro’s Southern Icefield. You’ll approach the summit from Barafu Hut.