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The Machame Route

According to local accounts, the Italian Balletto discovered the Machame Route with the help of his dog. When trying to surpass complicated obstacles through the rain forest, Balletto is said to have thrown a piece of meat for his dog who found the most efficient route to it. Balletto then forged his route by watching where his dog walked.

Probably just a myth, but a nice story anyway. We do know that the Park named a large glacier just to the east of the Diamond Glacier after Balletto as a gesture of thanks for making this very successful route. And it is a very successful route.

The Machame Route begins in the south west of the mountain and proceeds steeply north over two days until attaining the edge of the Shira Plateau at 3900m. From here it drops 50 metres to Shira Camp where it joins the Lemosho and Shira Routes onwards to the summit. From Shira Camp the view west over the jagged peaks forming the southern edge of the Shira Plateau is phenomenal at sunset. We usually take acclimatisation excursions from here a couple of hundred metres upwards to ensure a better night’s sleep and improved acclimatisation.

Access to the Machame Route is relatively straightforward and this is reflected in its costing slightly less to climb than all the other routes. There are imminent plans to tar the road all the way to the gate. We expect this to happen within the next year if the government is able to meet its funding targets.

The Machame Route tends to be our most popular choice because the topography of the route is very conducive to good acclimatisation and the likelihood of summitting on this route is relatively high.

Drawbacks of the Machame Route

Machame is said to have two significant drawbacks. Firstly there is the issue of the two obstacles on the route. Guidebooks make a point of telling readers how difficult the scrambling is on two particular features: just before reaching the Shira Plateau, and just after beginning the ascent of the steep Breach Wall after Barranco. These are not as frightening or difficult as is often claimed however. These two features are pictured at right and above at right. The picture at right looks precarious but there is just one stride that must be taken around this outcropping rock and if the climber is nervous of this move we send a member of staff to stand on the ledge underneath this rock and guide the climber’s feet if necessary. Thousands of people pass this way every year and we have never heard of any accidents here.

The second issue is the high numbers. It is true that in the peak of the northern hemisphere summer the Machame Route has many climbers on it. Team Kilimanjaro however has a means of minimizing the impact of this by leaving camp each morning much earlier than other groups, thereby also ensuring better weather. During bad weather the clouds typically roll in around lunch time. Though that said, it is actually possible to enjoy rain all day long!

Advantages of Machame

The principal advantage of the Machame Route over the standard Rongai, Umbwe and Marangu Routes is that day 3 ascends from 3847m to only 3984m, yet via 4642m at the base of a volcanic rocky outcrop known as the Lava Tower. The 600m height differential ensures that Machame exploits the ‘climb high, sleep low’ principle to maximum effect. This and the fact that the summit assault on the Machame Route is via a ridge rather than a loose scree slope and is therefore considerably less difficult than the assault on Marangu and the standard Rongai Route, is responsible for the fact that Machame boasts the best summit success rates of all the routes after the TK Rongai Route.

Most climbers opt for the 7 day route in order to err on the side of caution with respect to being well rested and adequately acclimatised prior to their assault, however timings on the 6 day route are still safe and most people with active lifestyles and who are younger than around 45 years of age, and not carrying significant excess body mass, will usually manage very well on the 6 day Machame Route.

The Machame route, also known as the “Whiskey” route, is the most popular route on Kilimanjaro. Machame’s draw is in its scenic beauty. However, the trail is considered difficult, steep and challenging, particularly due to its shorter itinerary. Therefore this route is better suited for more adventurous folks or those with some high altitude, hiking or backpacking experience.

The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the south, beginning with a short drive from Moshi to Machame Gate. The path leads hikers through the rain forest to Shira Plateau. Here, many of Kilimanjaro’s routes converge. Then the route turns east and traverses underneath Kilimanjaro’s Southern Ice Field on a path known as the Southern Circuit before summiting from Barafu. Descent is made via the Mweka route.

Machame route map

7 DAY MACHAME ITINERARY

DAY 1

Machame Gate to Machame Camp
Elevation: 5,380 ft to 9,350 ft
Distance: 11 km/7 miles
Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
Habitat: Rain Forest

The drive from Arusha to the Machame Gate takes between 1-2 hours. The journey passes through the village of Machame which is located on the lower slopes of the mountain. As we leave the park gate, we walk through the dense rain forest on a winding trail up a ridge until we reach the Machame Camp.

DAY 2

Machame Camp to Shira 2 Camp
Elevation: 9,350 ft to 12,500 ft
Distance: 5 km/3 miles
Hiking Time: 4-6 hours
Habitat: Heath

We leave the glades of the rain forest and continue on an ascending path up to a steep, rocky ridge. On the Shira Plateau, we pass through heather and open moorlands, then cross a large river gorge to Shira 2 Camp.

DAY 3

Shira 2 Camp to Lava Tower
Elevation: 12,500 ft to 15,190 ft
Distance: 7 km/4 miles
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
Habitat: Alpine Desert

Lava Tower to Barranco Camp
Elevation: 15,190 ft to 13,044 ft
Distance: 3 km/2 miles
Hiking Time: 2-3 hours
Habitat: Alpine Desert

We continue to the east up a ridge and then head southeast towards the Lava Tower – a 300 ft tall volcanic rock formation. We descend down to Barranco Camp through the strange but beautiful Senecio Forest to an altitude of 13,000 ft. Although you begin and end the day at the same elevation, the time spent at higher altitude is very beneficial for acclimatization.

DAY 4

Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
Elevation: 13,044 ft to 13,106 ft
Distance: 5 km/3 miles
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
Habitat: Alpine Desert

We begin the day by descending into a ravine to the base of the Great Barranco Wall. Then we climb the non-technical but steep, nearly 900 ft cliff. From the top of the Barranco Wall we cross a series of hills and valleys until we descend sharply into Karanga Valley. One more steep climb up leads us to Karanga Camp. This is a shorter day meant for acclimatization.

DAY 5

Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp
Elevation: 13,106 ft to 15,331 ft
Distance: 4 km/2 miles
Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
Habitat: Alpine Desert

We leave Karanga and hit the junction which connects with the Mweka Trail. We continue up to the rocky section to Barafu Hut. At this point, you have completed the Southern Circuit, which offers views of the summit from many different angles. Here we make camp, rest and enjoy an early dinner to prepare for the summit day. The two peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo are viewable from this position.

DAY 6

Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak
Elevation: 15,331 ft to 19,341 ft
Distance: 5 km/3 miles
Hiking Time: 7-8 hours
Habitat: Arctic

Uhuru Peak to Mweka Camp
Elevation: 19,341 ft to 10,065 ft
Distance: 12 km/7 miles
Hiking Time: 4-6 hours
Habitat: Rain Forest

Very early in the morning (around midnight), we begin our push to the summit. This is the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. The wind and cold at this elevation and time of day can be extreme. We ascend in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short, breaks. Near Stella Point (18,900 ft), you  will be rewarded with the most magnificent sunrise you are ever likely to see coming over Mawenzi Peak. Finally, we arrive at Uhuru Peak- the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro and the continent of Africa.

From the summit, we now make our descent continuing straight down to the Mweka Hut camp site, stopping at Barafu for lunch. The trail is very rocky and can be quite hard on the knees; trekking poles are helpful. Mweka Camp is situated in the upper forest and mist or rain can be expected in the late afternoon. Later in the evening, we enjoy our last dinner on the mountain and a well-earned sleep.

DAY 7

Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate
Elevation: 10,065 ft to 5,380 ft
Distance: 10 km/6 miles
Hiking Time: 3-4 hours
Habitat: Rain Forest

On our last day, we continue the descent to Mweka Gate and collect the summit certificates. At lower elevations, it can be wet and muddy. From the gate, we continue another hour to Mweka Village. A vehicle will meet us at Mweka Village to drive us back to the hotel in Arusha.