Duration: 6 – 7 days
The Rongai route is somewhat less popular with tour operators the the southern routes thanks primarily to the fact that the trail-head lies at the northern edge of the mountains, and is remote and difficult to reach. The trail is picked up north of Kilimanjaro in a heavily wooded area not far from the Kenyan border. This route normally takes 6 days, and is comparatively easy. The main appeal of the Rongai Route is the initial sensation of unspoiled wilderness, which is a stark contrast to the popular Marangu Route and its mountain huts and snack stands at every camp.
For the remainder, however, Rongai has debatable appeal. The opening few hours are focused on a section of the Kilimanjaro Forest that is severely impacted by deforestation and exotic tree plantations, so although it is remote, it is also not by any means the most attractive opening impression. It does, however, include a densely foliated section of heather that is rich with flora and fauna, the later mainly in regards to bird and insect life, and the former thanks primarily to extraordinary floral diversity. The trail ends at Marangu Gate, so you do not miss the lovely cloud forest.
The trail actually merges with the Marangu trail.
On climb day departure is from Moshi town. A 45 min drive takes us to the Marangu park gate for registration formalities. From Marangu Gate we continue to the north east quadrant of Kilimanjaro, a further 68km, and approximately 2 ½ hours on fairly reasonable roads. We reach Rongai trail-head (1996m) at about noon, perhaps a bit later.
Rongai Trailhead (1996m) – Simba Camp (2626m)
Hiking time: 4 hours
Distance: Approximately 6.7 km
Habitat: Forest (Montane)
The early approaches make their way through plantation forest. There is a brief belt of indigenous forest before the trail emerges in open heather, concluding early in the evening at Simba Camp (2 626m). Facilities are basic. Views are good.
Simba camp (2626m) – Kikelewa Camp (3679m)
Hiking time: 6 – 7 hours
Distance: Approximately 11.8 km
Day two amounts to a long and very moderate hike through low heather countryside, with a very fair view of the mountain, but also much of ecological interest, although you will need a good guide to point a lot of it out. It is an environment of minutia, dominated by flowers and birds. The day concludes at Kikelewa camp, similarly in open country.
Kikelewa Cave (3679m) – Mawenzi Tarn camp (4303m)
Hiking time: 3 hours
Distance: Approximately 3.7 km
A short but steep hike brings us to our next camp at Mawenzi Tarn, superbly situated beneath the towering spires of Mawenzi Massive. Afternoon spent acclimatizing and exploring the area.
Mawenzi Tarn camp (4303m) – Kibo hut (4730m)
Hiking time: 5 hours
Distance: Approximately 9 km
Habitat: Alpine desert
Four to five hours will bring us to Kibo Camp. It is from here that the summit push is staged. The remainder of the day is spent in mental and physical preparation for the final ascent, which begins around midnight. Overnight at Kibo hut.
Day 5 – Summit Day
Kibo hut (4730m) – Uhuru Peak (5895m) – Horombo hut (3705m)
Hiking time: 7 to 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 6 to 8 hours to descend to Horombo
Distance: Approximately 5.4km ascent and 15 km descent
Habitat: Stone scree / ice-cap summit
Wake up call usually comes around 23h30, and after a light breakfast we hit that trail. It is now that the going really gets tough. The first section of the trail consists of a rocky path to the Hans Meyer Cave (5150m), and then on to Gillman’s point (5 681m), located on the crater rim. From Gillmans Point we continue around the crater rim to to Uhuru peak (5895m), the highest point in Africa.
Usually a very truncated celebration takes place at the summit before the hurry back to more tolerable altitudes. The return journey pauses at Kibo for sustenance before continuing on down to Horombo Hut.
Horombo Hut (3705m) – Marangu Gate (1860m)
Hiking time: 6 hours
Distance: Approximately 19.7 km
Habitat: Moorland & Montane Forest
Rongai is a good second time Kili climber option. It is not the most visually spectacular, an dthe idea that some climb outfitter sell that it is remote and isolated is an illusion. It is still a popular trail, and fellow climbers are a fact of life. For the best visual impact on all of Kilimanjaro, take my advice and choose Lemosho Route.