How Hard Is It to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

How awesome would it be to be able to tell your friends and family about the time you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro? Let's discuss the chances of you being able to do it.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in the United Republic of Tanzania and it is an inactive volcano, that stretches 19,341 feet into the sky. While it is not the tallest mountain in the world, it is one of the tallest, dwarfing anything else on the continent of Africa. Of course, since the mountain is there, people have been climbing it for centuries, but how hard is it to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

That’s a complicated answer that is based almost entirely on your level of physical fitness and how your body reacts to low levels of oxygen. The vast majority of the climb is relatively simple, however, to reach the summit, you will have to endure an almost 4,100’ ascent, 50% lower oxygen levels, and 14 hours of grueling physical exertion.

There are other factors to consider as well since there is more than one route up the mountain. Age plays a factor, along with the number of days you are on the mountain and your supply levels. 

What is the weather like on Mount Kilimanjaro?

large mountain range with a lot of snow
Image credits: Erol Ahmed

Weather is a crucial factor in the difficulty of your ascent as wind and sub-freezing temperatures take a larger toll on the body than most people realize. The fact is, Mount Kilimanjaro is so large and so high that it essentially creates its weather.

It can be dry, rainy, or snowing on any given day of the year. Mount Kilimanjaro also sits on the equator, which comes with its interesting weather phenomena. If there is a hurricane in the vicinity, all of that wind is blocked by the wall of the mountain, traveling upwards instead. 

When the wind of that level is shifted upwards and at extreme altitude, it becomes icy cold up top, bringing layers of snow or freezing rain. Hurricanes are frequent visitors to the equator, where the water is warmer and there is plenty of fuel to generate violent, cyclical winds. 

Some monsoons essentially do the same thing, to a lesser degree, thrusting wind up the mountainside, creating all kinds of frigid, watery fun at the top of the mountain. 

Mount Kilimanjaro temperatures according to zone

Since it is sitting on the equator, Mount Kilimanjaro is considerably more stable, temperature-wise, than other large mountains in the world. When it comes to temperature, however, it’s a massive mountain, after all, which means that it changes as you proceed upward, through each zone.

There are five different zones you should know of:

  1. Cultivation zone
  2. Forest zone
  3. Moorland zone
  4. Alpine zone
  5. Arctic summit zone

1. The cultivation zone of Mount Kilimanjaro

This zone is going to be the simplest portion of your climb. While it is not flat, it is filled with rich farmlands that take advantage of the volcanic soil from the inert mountain. 

It’s really just an area that you will pass through, perhaps not even realizing that as you do, you are traveling from an altitude of around 2,550’ to 6,000’. The temperature here is 70°F to 90°F in the daytime and 40°F to 60°F at night.

2. The forest zone of Mount Kilimanjaro

This is where the climb truly begins and, as its name implies, this area is heavily forested with the types of trees that grow in subtropical environs. Here, it is the exact opposite of what you will face near the summit. 

The temperature is warm and very humid during the day, as you would expect close to the equator, with temperatures ranging from 70°F to 90°F. At night time, the temperature can drop as low as 40°F or as high as 60°F.

3. The moorland zone of Mount Kilimanjaro

The temperature will start to dip a little bit here, as you will be between 9,000’ and 11,000’ in elevation. The trees of the forest zone give way to smaller, waist-high shrubs and shorter plants that survive better at higher altitudes. 

It also means that you will be able to see much better and take in a pretty nice view. The temperatures are slightly lower, at 50°F to 80°F during the day, and down to a low of 30°F and a high of 60°F during the nighttime. 

4. The alpine zone of Mount Kilimanjaro

It gets much colder here and the plant life is reduced to small, stunted shrubbery that often doesn’t rise any higher than your hiking boots. The Alpine zone starts at 13,000’ of elevation and lasts until you have reached 16,500’.

The temperatures can get as low as 10°F or as high as 60°F during the day, which makes this temperature zone the most chaotic. At nighttime, temperatures can drop down to subfreezing 10°F or as high as 40°F.

5. The arctic summit zone of Mount Kilimanjaro

This is where you will get acquainted with true cold. During the day, the temperatures can run a range from sub-freezing, 10°F to 40°F. At night, the temps can drop as low as -15°F and as high as 20°F.

⛰️ I’ve actually written an entire article covering the average temperature at the peak of Mt. Everest. Might be worth a read if you’re into mountains 🙂

Is Mount Kilimanjaro mostly hiking or mostly climbing?

As we stated previously, much of the ascent is relatively simple, with the final 4,100’ feet being far more brutal. Of course, that might be a part of what makes Mount Kilimanjaro difficult for some, the rapid and intense change in physical exertion. 

Much of the ascent is what you might consider a rough terrain hike. Starting from the Cultivation Zone and ending at the Alpine Zone, you will have ascended 14,000’ in elevation from the beginning to the end of the respective zones. 

It’s more of a difficult hike, however, because you will have to carry all of the gear that you will need for the far more difficult final ascent. You might not even need much of that gear for the vast majority of the trek over the terrain but you will definitely need it during the final ascent. 

That means, from a hiking perspective, that you will be hiking far more loaded down than you would on a traditional hike, just to be able to overcome the final, 4,100’. Depending on your level of physical fitness and the weight of the gear you are carrying, it can take up to 7 days from the first zone to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Can experienced hikers climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

three people hiking in the rain
Image credits: Greg Rosenke

Being an experienced hiker is not quite the same thing as climbing a mountain. It depends on what your experience applies to. Someone who lives and hikes in Florida is going to have a heck of a surprise trying to hike up and eventually climb Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Acclimatization is key. It’s nearly the same thing as moving from Florida to Minnesota or vice versa. Getting used to the Florida heat or the Minnesota winters takes time through acclimatization. 

Since you can’t exactly go and sit on top of Mount Kilimanjaro for a whole week or, at least until your body acclimatizes, you should prepare for a hike that lasts longer than a few days, so you acclimatize as you go. 

How long does it take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Some set records and those of us who just don’t have that kind of adrenaline. Karl Egloff, an Ecuadorian athlete, managed to reach the summit in 6 hours and 42 minutes. 

For a hiker, in good condition, who has never climbed a mountain before, you should expect to make the trip to the summit in roughly a week. Pushing it any faster than that, with no experience, becomes dangerous. 

The average success rate for all climbers is 88.7% and if you want to join the other 11.3%, try to push it too fast. Naturally, when climbers allow for 7 and 8-day climbs, the success rate improves quite a bit. 

The 6 Mount Kilimanjaro climbing routes

There are 6 routes that you can take to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, starting with the Lemosho route and followed by Machame, Marangu, Rongai, Northern Circuit, and the Umbwe route.

The Lemosho, Machame, Rongai, and Northern Circuit all take 7 days or longer. For beginners, it’s best to choose the Northern Circuit, as it is an 8 to 9-day journey that will help you acclimatize before reaching the summit. 

The most difficult route is the Umbwe Route, which has extremely steep climbs and is meant only for those who have either climbed Mount Kilimanjaro before or have a lot of experience climbing mountains. 

The Marangu route is a tough route but an experienced hiker who has dabbled in mountain climbing will probably find this route to be well within their comfort zone. It’s a 7-day journey across this route but it is probably the most difficult of the 7-day routes available. 

Mount Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, but as far as mountains go, it has a very broad summit, so it’s nowhere near as steep and brutal as Mount Denali or Mount Everest. As long as you are in good shape and prepared, you should be able to complete the journey.

Final thoughts

Mount Kilimanjaro is a good idea for those new to climbing mountains, especially to gain experience before tackling bigger and far more dangerous peaks. As a beginner, however, make sure you are well supplied, take it slow and easy, and ensure that you are physically fit for the trip.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.