The Rongai trekking route of Kilimanjaro is one of the 7 climbing routes to the summit of the mountain and also the only one that starts from the northern side of the mountain. It is known for being the most scenic route of them all, mainly because unlike the others, it takes you across the mountain starting from the lee ward north and ending in the wind ward south side, with the option of using a pace so slow that you have ample time to take in the surrounding beauty.
Part of this beauty includes a drive around the whole eastern side of the mountain, as you head north to the starting point - Rongai gate. This is also one of the few routes of the mountain where you may get the chance to get close to big game animals while on your trek through the first stages and it is seldom used when compared to the others, thus for most of the way you get to go through some of the barely touched areas of the mountain.
There are two standard variations to the route namely the 6 day and the 7 day treks, with the longer variations giving the highest chances of success due to the longer acclimatization periods. The route itinerary for the 7 day trek is as follows:
- Drive to Marangu gate then to Rongai gate followed by trek to Simba campsiteThis day usually begins in the morning with a drive from Moshi (or wherever your hotel is for the previous night) to where the TANAPA headquarters for the region are - Marangu gate for registration and checking of the necessary documentation. From here there is about an hours dive to Rongai gate where the actual journey begins, with the drive taking you through the eastern side of the mountain and near lake Chala. Then a short hike through plantations and the rain forest should get you to the first campsite for the night, with the possibility of spotting some wildlife along the way.
- Trek from Simba campsite to Kikelelwa campsite, through Second cave campsiteThis day begins early in the morning, after having breakfast - trekking slowly up the mountain to Second caves campsite and then to Kikelelwa campsite. This is by far the longest trek on the route and longer variations of Rongai (greater than 7 days) would allow you to stop at the Second caves campsite for the night, where there is a cave nearby that you may explore. This stage starts in the heath region and ends in the moorland with the possibility of spotting some game in the earlier stages.
- Trek from Kikelelwa campsite to Mawenzi tarn campsiteNo rush on this day as the days trek is short, going up what is the the last parts of the moorland into the dry alpine desert region of the mountain. The first symptoms of altitude sickness are normally experienced at Mawenzi tarn, thus requiring the need for a shorter trek and more acclimatization.
- Acclimatization day (optional), trek from Mawenzi tarn campsite to Mawenzi ridge and back.The acclimatization involves a short climb up the slopes of Mawenzi up to a marked point on one of its the ridges, followed by a descent to Mawenzi tarn campsite. This day also gives you a chance to explore the surrounding areas and do some sight seeing; However, for the 6 day trek, the acclimatization is done at the end of day 3. All in all, be sure to get some good rest and nutrition on this day as you are going to need it for what is the marathon trek to come.
- Trek from Mawenzi tarn campsite to Kibo hutsThis day begins the start of the hard part, with a long trek across the stone filled saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo. Dry windy weather should be expected for this part along with more altitude sickness; However if you still are good by the time you get to Kibo huts then it's highly likely that you will be okay for the rest of the way - just remember to get some rest early at the end of this day.
- Trek from Kibo huts to Uhuru peak (summit) through Gilman's point and Stella point then descent on the same day to Horombo huts through Kibo hutsThis day begins at midnight - the end of day 5 (or 4 for the 6 day trek). A key thing to remember here is go light, bags should only be used to carry cameras, water and other things necessary for reaching the summit. An even better approach is to have no bags. The path for the day takes you up the steep scree filled slopes of Kibo, following a meandering path, which is by all means the path of least resistance, so any shortcuts may see you knee deep in scree; However no climbing skills are necessary for this part, just a good resistance to altitude sickness.
There usually are a lot of people climbing on this day, so for most of the way you should be able to see a lot of torches (head mounted) flashing both in front and behind you, along with the large silhouette of what is the remaining part of Kibo in front of you. Still, no matter how large it may look, don't let this discourage you as after about 5 hours of climbing you get to the top, after all this is the part you have been training for, you have been training haven't you? If you haven't then do so, but from here on wards, the remaining section is a piece of cake.
The summit is usually reached anytime from just before dawn to just after dawn, rewarding you with some of the most spectacular views that many people only get to enjoy once in a lifetime, and for some of your unlucky colleagues - maybe never. So take some time to explore and enjoy the area before heading down the same path you came up with until you get to Kibo huts for what is a well earned breakfast, then on the same day head down to Horombo huts campsite.
- Descent from Horombo huts to Marangu gate through Mandara hutsThis is the final day of the trek and there usually is no rush. Most people would have the opportunity on this morning to get to know and take photos their crew, guides, porters and all - usually culminating in what is a morale boosting song and dance. The last trek of the route begins after breakfast heading down from the moorland where Horombo huts is, into the heath and finally down into the montane forest as you pass Mandara huts, before finally reaching the end at Marangu gate.
The itinerary described above is for the starndard trek and there are itineraries available that take longer that 7 days with a higher chance of success. In all cases, you would need to use the services of a tour and travels company to climb mount Kilimanjaro. For more information about the trekking route click to activate the map below, and on any place (green marker) to get more information about it.Refernces
1. Photo - By Raidarmax (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Photo - User: Bbb at wikivoyage shared [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons