Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with Kiliwarrior Expeditions
There are many different ways to climb Mount Kilimanjaro through a variety of companies, but in this post I’m going to share my experiences with Kiliwarrior Expeditions as well as use my experience to give you an idea about what to expect when trying to decide between different routes with different companies. If you read all the way through, I hope it becomes apparent how much Kiliwarrior Expeditions actually cares for each and every client so much so that climbing with Kiliwarrior Expeditions is actually as luxurious as a trip can be on Mount Kilimanjaro. If you want a direct comparison of the Western-Breach to other routes skip to the last paragraph on Day 7 of “The Climb” section to get my personal opinion on it.
First of all there are countless companies nearing in the hundreds to thousands that offer a variety of routes with varying days on the mountain for each. However, there is no doubt that the longer that any one person spends on the mountain acclimating to the altitude the higher the success rate. With Kiliwarrior Expeditions they offer a 9 day climb from the Lemosho Gate via the Western-Breach, and the year 2019 they are boasting a 99% success rate for getting clients to the top. If you are a first time climber who is not accustomed to higher altitudes or don’t know your ability on a trek like this, then I’d say there should really be no question. Choose the 9 day route with Kiliwarrior Expeditions. Imagine spending a few thousand dollars on a budget company then spending money on flights, a hotel, taking time off of work, and then don’t make it to the summit because the budget company was rushing you to the summit before you could properly acclimatize to the altitude. This is why I say there should be no questions on what company to choose if hiking at a high altitude is not something you’re accustomed to.
There are a few seasons that almost all companies offer for their climbs which is mostly to avoid the rainy season. The best months being in the summer from June - October, ideally August, but there are also winter climbs from January - March.
The way Kiliwarrior Expeditions works is that you inquire to the owners on dates you request that work best with your schedule, and desire for group size and then the owners, either Tom and Gerry, will make recommendations if perhaps you are inquiring on dates during the rainy season, or if they can pair you up with other climbers which might make a better climbing experience. Keep in mind you will be on the mountain for 9 days with a lot of down time, and because of this I’d highly recommend going with other people if you aren’t set on being alone or just in your small group. Personally I got paired up with 10 other random people that I had never met before the climb, and I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for them the whole 9 days would have been a lot more monotonous. The owner Tom told me beforehand that the people you climb with will be your best friends for life, and while I took it lightly at the time HE WAS RIGHT! The other people I climbed with are truly friends for life that made the 9 day climb insurmountably more enjoyable than if I had just been alone with the porters and guides.
When traveling to Tanzania you will need to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport at least two days before the start of your climb for two reasons. One is so you can get adjusted to the time difference and altitude in Arusha at roughly 3,937 feet or 1200m. This doesn’t seem like much, but for those who have lived at sea level their whole lives these two days could make a difference. The second is because the day before your climb you will have a gear check with the guides so they can make sure you are properly prepared for the weather you will or might encounter at all times throughout the climb. Many other companies only give you 1 night at a hotel before the climb, meaning once you arrive to Tanzania, you start your trek the very next day.
After flying in Kiliwarrior Expeditions will pick you up from the airport and drive you to your hotel in Arusha which is located about 45 minutes away from the airport. Arusha is the main city that many companies use for their Kilimanjaro climbs, but it is primarily known as the city where all Safaris start from, as it is closest to the best national parks (Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, and Tarangire National Parks). The owners Tom and Gerry always try to get all their clients on one particular climb to stay in the same hotel to make things easier for everyone. Keep in mind that two nights before the climb, and one night after the climb are included in both the Standard and All-Inclusive Packages. Kiliwarrior Expeditions has a good relationship with Kibo Palace which is where I stayed during my visit. If you have some down time in Arusha before or after your climb be sure to eat at George’s Tavern for some great pizza, and walk around a few of the markets in town.
On the first day of the climb you will have a 9 A.M. start from your hotel. At this time you will lock up your luggage with the hotel with everything that you don’t need for the next 9 days in the hotel’s storage room. I was worried about a few of my things, but YES I found it to be very safe. If it wasn’t a safe place to leave your belongings Kiliwarrior Expeditions and other companies wouldn’t do business with them. From Arusha it is approximately a 3-4 hour drive until you start your t with time spent checking in at the first gate before driving another 20 minutes or so to the Lemosho gate. This process can actually take a while if there is a lot of other companies in front of you waiting to get checked in. The Lemosho Gate is also where the porters check and weigh their bags because as per Tanzanian law they are not allowed to carry more than 20 kg.
After the check-in process and driving over to the Lemosho Gate you will eat lunch before starting the trek to Big Tree Camp. Again the porters weigh their bags one more time here to make sure any last second things weren’t added. When you actually begin hiking the lower elevations on the mountain begin in a tropical rainforest. This is why on the packing list they have convertible hiking pants incase it’s hot and humid. For my climb I never switched over to shorts because it was all overcast and very comfortable weather when we started. You may be wondering what is the distance and time between each camp, but trust me when I say it doesn’t matter. The times they tell you from camp to camp are very arbitrary because it greatly depends on the group. Again and again you will hear the term “Pole Pole” which means slowly, slowly when translated from Swahili. If you don’t fully understand what this means you will learn quickly! The pace they set in the beginning is the slowest of slow, and I’m talking about an 80 year olds average walking pace kind of slow. At first they are gaging how well everyone is prepared for the climb, but over the days it won’t really change much.
I consider myself to be a fairly in shape hiker, and even our head guide Hosea actually said our entire group was the fastest he’s ever guided a group up the mountain. At first I didn’t believe him, but after getting to know him he explain how really unprepared some people show up to Kilimanjaro expecting it to be a walk in the park. Even after he knew we were an in shape group the guides still go very “Pole Pole” because their whole idea is that it isn’t a race, and it’s better to conserve energy. The overall idea is no matter how slow you go eventually at some point they will get you there. However, do yourself a favor, and be prepared. Personally I really wanted to know how fast I could have gone up the mountain, but after a few days I really started to understand their reasoning.
On our 7th day I saw other clients from different companies looking their absolute worst because other companies tried to have them hike from Barafu Camp to the summit in one stretch at a much faster pace and not all people could successfully summit because of that. Keep in mind that is the way 95% of companies take clients which I will get into more detail about later.
Like I said earlier, distances and time are very arbitrary even the signs at each camp seemed very inaccurate, but getting to Big Tree camp from the gate will be a very easy fast day. This is why you begin after lunch.
From Big Tree Camp you will get an early morning start to Shira Camp 1. The first few days up the Lemosho route are all longer distances with mild elevation gains where as the days go on the distances will get significantly shorter until the end, but the elevation gains get steeper. From the Tropical rainforest you will transition slowly into the Heather Zone where you will lose the tree cover as you go up. By the time you reach the spot to eat lunch the tree cover will be gone completely, and this is why they have sunscreen on the packing list. Don’t take it lightly because the higher in altitude you are the easier it will be to get sunburned so better not to start out with one the first day you lose the shade.
From the spot where you eat lunch you go up a fairly steep ridge over to Shira 1. Don’t worry at their pace you likely won’t even break a sweat. Once our group had gone up the all of the elevation to Shira 1 our guide leading at the time stepped out of the way to let us finish the final stretch at our own pace. Once at Shira 1 it should be sometime in the afternoon when you get there, and the first thing you will do is sign into the registry book. This is a book to track progress at various camps throughout the climb.
Aside from hanging out and killing time you will soon realize the porters literally do everything for you. When you get there they will offer you a hot shower from a standard solar camping shower, or hot water in a bowl with soap to clean up. If you are really trying to get clean you might want to take advantage of the actual shower at the lower elevations before it gets too cold at the higher elevations. Personally I’m the type of person to tough it out for the 9 days so I just cleaned up in the bowls of hot water.
Shira 1 is the first place where you can get views of the mountain if the clouds aren’t blocking it, and this is where I really started to take photos when it cleared up in the late afternoon. This is also the camp where I would start sleeping with your electronics in your sleeping bag because while it may not seem cold when the sun is out the temperature will drop at night, and I constantly had trouble keeping my phone alive in the cold weather.
On Day 3 you will get another morning start to move from Shira 1 to Moir Camp into the Moorland. This is where even the bushes begin to disappear. The hike from Shira 1 to Moir Camp does not seem to have a whole lot of elevation gain, but then again this is another day where the elevation is spread out over a greater distance.
Just before you reach the spot to have lunch you will pass by Scott Fischer Camp and his memorial. Scott Fischer is the one who pioneered the western breach where Kiliwarrior Expeditions will eventually take you up on day 7. Scott Fischer also has a very personal connection with some of the guides who knew him. The 2015 movie Everest is a true story based on one of his expedition where himself, Rob Hall, and many of their clients lost their lives in a tragic storm on May 11, 1996.
After the spot where you will eat lunch you are actually not very far from Moir Camp which sits roughly at 13,680 feet. If you didn’t the night before, this is where you will probably notice the nights getting a lot colder. At Moir Camp you will actually have a worse view of the mountain because you are so close, but in my mind this where we got our first real view of the sunset. Also because you will be so close to the mountain the mornings will be a lot colder for longer because the mountain blocks the sun keeping you in the shadows for all the days to come until you get up over the Western-Breach. I believe it wasn’t until about 9-9:30 every morning that we actually noticed the shadows disappearing.
Again how I said the porters do everything for you, if you didn’t wake up on your own you will be woken up with morning coffee or tea in your tent which you will come to greatly appreciate as the mornings get colder. I always found myself up for the sunrise so I always just went into the mess tent with maybe one other person at the time to try to get warm there. Or if the chef, Mama Lewis, isn’t busy the best place to get warm is inside the kitchen tent!
On day 4 we started hiking around 9:30 to Lava Tower, and this is where I’d say is the last day of longer distance until you begin descending. Even at that it is a pretty short day, and our group of 11 was at Lava Tower by lunch. Once you make it to Lava Tower this is where you will have the most down time. Day 4 and 5 you spend here to properly acclimatize at roughly 15,092 feet. Lava Tower is where bringing a deck of cards really comes in handy to pass the time. Between the porters and clients we had a lot of fun playing spoons and last card throughout the trip. Lava tower is also the first place where you will be noticeably above the clouds, and in my opinion this is where the sunsets started to get really beautiful. However, the second the sun goes below the clouds the temperature drops fast.
Even though day 4 and 5 are very much the same because you spend the night at Lava Tower, on the morning of Day 5 you will hike up to Arrow Glacier at roughly 16,086 feet and then hike back down to eat lunch at Lava Tower. I personally did not think hiking up made any difference for myself to properly acclimatize, but it was nice to get moving for a little while instead of spending all day at Lava Tower just passing time.
Aside from hanging out and playing cards, Lava Tower is actually a pretty nice place to walk around and explore. The best views of sunset from Lava Tower are around it on the the right side. Among the guides climbing Lava Tower is a touchy situation. They are responsible for your safety, and being the case they were pretty upset when they found out I took a few people up the tower. It was kind of a whole ordeal. Basically I went up the tower by myself without telling anyone which sounds bad and irresponsible, but really it is nothing more than a basic scramble. I didn’t see any danger in it at all. When I got down I told one of the head guides that I went up and he looked at me and said congratulations! A few moments later a few others in the group found out that I went up so they wanted to as well. After I showed them the way I took to the top and the guides became aware of it they were very upset. Not angry, just very disappointed which seems worse when it’s someone you don’t want to upset. I was under the impression that it was all okay after I went up the first time alone so I didn’t think twice about taking others, but that’s when it got bad and started some fighting among family members at camp. I guess I’m not saying don’t do it, but know your ability and maybe don’t make it very well known that you are going up or ask a guide to take you if you’re unsure. After a lot of moods were ruined, we went to bed for another very cold night before making the hike up to Arrow Glacier.
You may not have noticed it from the acclimatization hike, but Arrow Glacier is a lot less sheltered from the wind than Lava Tower which is why Kiliwarrior Expeditions chooses to spend two nights at Lava Tower rather than there. At this point I think most people will be done with showers if they have been taking them especially if you’re here when it’s windy. Fortunately for my climb in August, the weather was actually ideal for all 9 days with no rain. At Arrow Glacier you will have an early dinner at about 5 P.M. before going to bed early to prepare for a middle of the night wake up to start your climb up the Western-Breach.
The Western-Breach is the part in the climb where most hikers dread what is coming. Some people like myself don’t find the hike up or the elevation to be an issue at all while others seemingly drop like flies on the way up. I wouldn’t let this scare you because from what I heard this is where you could tell the guides are really looking out for you. Rockslides are not uncommon on the breach which is why you will wake up to get a 3-4 A.M. start, or even earlier if you are very unsure in order to climb the breach while it is still frozen. Unfortunately in our case, we heard 4 rock slides during the night which is very uncommon for rocks to fall before the sun hits it. Being the case, the guides weren’t taking any chances on the breach to the greatly minimize risk. By this I mean you pass through a danger zone where signs warn you not to take breaks and keep moving. Since I climbed the breach with only one other guide so I could make the breach in time for sunrise I wasn’t with the rest of the group, but I heard stories of people in our group seemingly “dropping like flies” and wanting to take breaks so the guides started pulling them up saying “NO WE NEED TO MOVE!” because they knew it was a very dangerous time to be hanging out there. They even have a story of when themselves and clients had to run and hide from falling rocks while they were ascending. I know I just made the breach sound like a death trap, but overall without be trying to be bias toward Kiliwarrior Expeditions I wouldn’t choose any other way to climb Kilimanjaro. Kiliwarrior Expeditions can brag about the Western-Breach that they specialize in because only 5% of climbers summit via this route making it that much more special. Look at the map in the photo below to get an idea about how all other routes converge at one point making it a traffic jam. That aside I will tell you later why you absolutely DO NOT want to come up with another company via Stella Point.
When you cross over the breach it will be a mostly flat walk from there to the glaciers and Crater Camp at roughly 18,500 feet. At this point and the guides always say “We will make the decision when we get there,” but the group needs to decide whether to stay the night at Crater Camp, or summit and descend all the way to Barafu Camp for a better night sleep. If given the option and most people are feeling okay they, CHOOSE TO SUMMIT and then go down to Barafu Camp. Keep in mind just because you summit a day early doesn’t mean you are getting off of the mountain a day early too. Essentially, you are just cutting out a lot of distance that would have to be covered on Day 8 if you had chosen to spend the night at Crater Camp. If you choose the option to spend the night at Crater Camp then you will summit Uhuru Peak for sunrise. This initially sounded ideal to me until I got over the breach, and I saw how crowded the summit was during sunrise so it made me way happier that we summited on Day 7 to have a much less crowded experience at the summit.
From Crater Camp to the summit is just a short 800 - 900 feet more to the summit. If you choose to spend the night at Crater Camp you will descend from the summit all the way to Mweka Camp. Doing this would be terribly long, and exhausting day with probably a terrible night’s sleep at Crater Camp. If you didn’t spend the night there you will still descend via Stella Point, but stop at Barafu Camp which cuts out about half of the distance before the next day down to Mweka Camp. This option in my opinion should be much easier for most people.
Either way when you go down Stella Point it is like sliding down a volcanic sand dune, and this is why I said I’d choose the Western-Breach over any other route to the top. If you’ve never hiked on a sand dune before just know it’s exhausting! Every step you take up is basically cut in half as you step up and slide down. Aside from the entire ascent being annoying now factor in every other company crowding around the route to Stella Point all trying to make sunrise at the same time. So thousands of people starting at 10-11 at night the night before to spend 7-8 hours going up on a sand dune of a trail only to reach an overcrowded summit with zero solitude at all, and then struggling to get your photo in front of the sign because everyone else is trying to as well. Again not to sound bias toward Kiliwarrior Expeditions, but I hope that puts it into perspective about why the Western-Breach is so special! This doesn’t even mention that the clouds are extremely unpredictable on the summit so chances are not unlikely that you won’t even see the sunrise.
Regardless if you camped at Crater Camp or Barafu, on Day 8 you will descend to Mweka Camp which is roughly 5,000 feet below Barafu Camp at roughly 10,170 feet. After breakfast at Barafu if your group moves fairly quickly you might be there by lunch time or late afternoon. At Mweka Camp this is where the group decides when to wake up to finish the trek off of the mountain. In our case we wanted to be hiking by 7 A.M.
There is nothing much more that can be said expect that the hike out is deceivingly longer than it should seem. At some point the guides just let us go to finish the last few miles at our own pace. At the Mweka Gate you will sign the registry one last time, receive your signed certificates, and have an amazing well deserved cold beer! The ride from the gate back to the hotel in Arusha can be somewhere between 2-3 hours traffic depending, but I can promise the shower waiting for you will be one of the best of your life!
The Guides / Porters
It’s hard to describe in words how much they actually care for you, your well-being, and trying to get you to the summit safely. Mama Louis will cook meals for you that you would never believe are possible on a mountain. I mean fresh food all the way to the summit because they constantly make trips up and down the mountain for you bringing fresh food up while exchanging with trash to take back down. I can only say at look how other budget companies get fed compared to Kiliwarrior Expeditions, and there really is no comparison. The owner Tom even has a great story about how one of his clients noticed someone in another company eating one jelly sandwich and a juice box compared to Kiliwarrior Expeditions 3 course meals plus desert!
When I said the guides were upset about myself and a few others climbing Lava Tower it is because they really care about your safety. Everything they do from checking our heart rate and blood oxygen levels twice a day to just the simple things like hanging out playing cards really shows the amount of effort where you don’t just feel like another client to them. I really couldn’t say the same for some other budget company. Everything I saw in comparison to how Kiliwarrior Expeditions had it on the mountain just never measured up. This is all not to say how grateful I am to have one of the lead guides Ephata take me up the Western-Breach separate and alone so I could get sunrise photos all while he didn’t eat breakfast before hand. I felt so bad I gave him the candy bar they gave me just before we started climbing to eat on the way up so he at least had something as we made the huge climb.
That brings up another point. Mama Louis randomly gives out candy bars to everyone which is just over the top luxurious for a climb like Kilimanjaro, but I felt way too spoiled every time so I always ended up giving it to my porter. Again that reminds me I didn’t even talk about your personal porter. Every client in the all-inclusive package is assigned a personal porter to carry your gear up and down the mountain which would be everything you’re not including in your day pack. Aside from carrying your gear, every time you arrive at camp your tent with your bag and sleeping stuff will be laid out for you when you arrive. At many of the camps after super dusty trails they even clean your shoes for you. All of the over the top nice treatment personally made me feel super bad that they go out of their way to do so much for you, but try and remember that you’re on vacation and it’s their job. One of the best examples of peace of mind I found was the security. When Kiliwarrior Expeditions camps next to other companies they have someone standing 24 hour security to watch your things. Right away you will see how honest and trustworthy the crew is for Kiliwarrior Expeditions but then to have security watch our tents when I was keeping thousands of dollars of camera equipment inside really made me feel safe.
Working on the mountain is hard, but actually considered honorable work in Tanzania. Some people are lazy and don’t work at all, but those that are working on Kilimanjaro really find pride in the work because they can then bring money home to their families. Other than that and I know the website mentions it, Kiliwarrior Expeditions cost is higher than other companies because they treat their workers more humanely and it’s noticeable. They get paid better than other companies, and given nicer clothes when possible. This alone make the workers more motivated to keep working and try hard to give you the best experience possible. I could personally even see how much the owner Tom cared about his employees by just hooking them up with the small things whenever they needed it on the spot.
This post was meant to be informational for Kiliwarrior Expeditions and to give you the best idea of what to expect when comparing different companies for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. My whole stance was not meant to be bias toward Kiliwarrior Expeditions, but after everything I just mentioned I am absolutely sure the cost is justified over any other company for all the reasons listed throughout this post. If you read all the way through it should be clear that there is no comparison when it comes to the standards Kiliwarrior Expeditions sets.
Extra Things to Pack
Aside from what’s on the list there were a few personal things looking back that I wish I would have had or am I happy I decided to bring.
Deck of cards
Extra lip balm
Phone charging cord
There is a lot of obvious things I could point out, but overall listen to the guides instructions. I’m not going to say do or do not climb lava tower, but I will say use your best judgement and it’s probably best not to do it without saying anything to one of the guides like we did. The packing list should give you the best idea on what to bring, but really don’t take it lightly. The last thing you want is to get no sleep during the nights because you didn’t pack properly. I would say a few things again about the Western-Breach, but it is entirely up to the guides judgement to get you out of the danger zone safely. However, do them a favor, and be in shape! Lastly SUNSCREEN! At all elevations keep applying. I think when we lost the tree cover I put it on 3 times during our hiking periods, and I did fairly well to keep protected. The more harsh part was the cold dry air on our noses which and lotion might really come in handy for. All being said, this blog is for information purposes only and I ACCEPT NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY INJURY, LOST INDIVIDUALS, OR LEGAL TROUBLE ENCOUNTERED WHILE FOLLOWING THE INFORMATION POSTED HERE.
The best and most up to date information for climbing with Kiliwarrior Expeditions can be found on their official website.