It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world, with its summit of 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level and at about 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) high from its plateau base. Kilimanjaro is also the fourth most topographically prominent peak on Earth. Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Mawenzi, Shira and Kibo. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, the highest peak, is dormant and could erupt again.
There is an obvious absence of exploitable topography en route to high camp and inadequate use of the climb high, sleep low principle is afforded. This results in a low success rate, with some 40% of all route users failing to pass beyond Gilman’s Point, and some 20% failing to reach even Gilman’s point. Since Marangu Route camps enforce a policy of distanced segregation between climbers and support staff, porters cannot be tasked with guarding climber’s rooms.
Known s ‘Shira Plateau Route’ the normal route (used by some 95% of operations) has been designed to intersect with Machame from east of the Shira Plateau onwards. This causes crowding at Barranco, a camp which serves 4 of the 6 routes, and places a severe ecological burden on the immediate region during the high season, with as many as 300 climbers and 900 support staff abluting themselves within a few hundred square metres.
There is little advantage in spending three consecutive nights at around 4,000m - as occurs on the standard 7 day route - and that a more intelligent use of the additional day is to work harder on day 4 by pushing onto Barafu, and thereby affording a decent night’s sleep at Barafu with the option of a less crowded daytime assault (particularly appreciated by otherwise sleepy children and by those wanting to photograph the assault), or else a pre-assault excursion and rest day prior to summitting.
In our experience Umbwe has always attracted an unusual calibre of climber with the attraction of this route seeming to be the very fact of it being the hardest route by which to summit, and having some of the poorest acclimatisation facility and the highest rates of AMS. The route is so steep that it uses only two days to reach the same point that is reached in three days on Machame.
The traditional route and all variations on this route (used by all other operations except Team Kilimanjaro) either effectively straight-lines the navigation from the start point all the way to the summit, (via 3rd Caves) or simply dog-legs from second caves to Kibo Huts via Mawenzi Tarn. Neither of these options make anything like adequate use of the topography to exploit the essential climb, high sleep low principle of safe and thorough acclimatisation.