Part II : The Umbwe Route
The Umbwe route is one of the least travelled of the ascent routes of the mountain. There are far, far less people on this ascent route than on the Marangu (aka 'Coca-cola') route or on the Machame (aka 'whisky') route.
The Umbwe route is shorter than either of the above routes, but it is steeper. In fact, in a few places, it even requires you to use your hands. However, I must stress that this is not a particularly challenging trail by "rugged mountain trail standards". Here's my point of reference: In the Adirondack mountains of New York state, there are many rugged trails that have a few rock steps that require a hand-hold or two. This trail is no more difficult than that.
Umbwe Gate Locator Map
Scenically, the Umbwe is very very beautiful. It goes through beautiful thick rainforest down below, and follows the ridgeline between the Barranco valley and the valley to the west, giving lots of spectacular views as you climb above treeline. It has an excellent section of Moorland. And, as I've said before, it is a quiet and seldom travelled route.
The Umbwe route is a 'lower mountain' route. It brings you from a park gate to a point partway up the mountain, where it ends. From there, you choose an 'upper mountain' route to get to the summit.
The Umbwe Route starts at the Umbwe Gate (where else?) at 5,300 feet, and ends at the Barranco Campsite at 13,000 feet. You will likely be getting a ride to this gate with your guide and porters.
one of the Umbwe Route
The Umbwe route starts off, as mentioned earlier, at the
Umbwe Gate at 5,300 feet. You'll need to register here with park
officials. Make sure your passport number is handy!
Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves Map
The trail starts off on a nice gradual grassy grade (its actually an old road that is only used occasionally by park staff). The hiking is not steep here and you have time to relax and enjoy the wonderful lush forest scenery.
about 3.5 km of this, at about 6,500 feet, the route leaves the
forest road and follows a more convential "trail". The grade
is steeper and the footing is a bit rooty and uneven, but nothing
too bad. This continues on, becoming steeper about 3 km further
on (7,700 feet), and the footing a bit more rough. The lower
umbwe caves are reached at 9,700 feet. This marks the end of
what I call 'Segment one' of the Umbwe Route. Total elapsed distance
is about 9.6 km. There are a few limited but spectacular views
of the peak of Kilimanjaro as you near the Umbwe Caves.
Lower Umbwe Caves Campsite
The Caves are nothing more than overhangs in some lava flows, and in any case you can't camp at them anymore due to park rules. Just above the caves are a scattering of semi-level campsites in the thick forest. It is here that you will likely spend the first night.
Umbwe Gate to Umbwe Caves
Elevation Profile over Distance
Umbwe Route, Segment One
|Start Altitude:||5,300 feet
|End Altitude:||9,700 feet
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Lower Umbwe Route - click map to view
Segment two of the Umbwe Route
The second part of the Umbwe route is from the lower Umbwe Caves to the Barranco Campsite. Immediately after starting out, just a few hundred feet in elevation above the lower Umbwe Caves, you transition into this wonderful low forest, with small branches draped everywhere with moss. Because of the low canopy, the area is suffused with sunlight (if its sunny!), and the effect is ethereal and otherworldy. The trail also becomes very nice and has good footing.
Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco Map
Shortly after this, the first of the truly good lookouts are reached, at just over 10,000 feet. There are spectacular views up and down Barranco Gorge, and, if the daily clouds haven't rolled in, excellent views of the upper summit of Kili.
At this point the ridge narrows, and becomes very steep-sided, especially on the Barranco Gorge (the east) side. If you are fearful of heights, you might not like this area, but it is really not too bad, especially since the area is still vegetated with small trees, which tends to lessen the effect of exposure. The trail continues to ascend, with little ups and downs.
At about 1 kilometer uphill from the lower Umbwe Caves is the first 'rock step' (as it is often referred to in various literature). This is an approximately 25 foot (8m) steep section, surrounded by low trees. You need to use your hands a bit on this section. It is not an 'exposed' location, but still, you don't want to fall here, or you might twist or sprain something. A bit of care and you will be fine!
Ascending an easy rock rib
Above this step, the trail contiues, with good footing, at moderate steepness. The famous Kilimanjaro Moorlands, with their strange and alien-looking plants, are reached less than a kilometer further on (at approx. 11,000 feet of altitude). You are pretty much out in the open here and if the weather is clear there are excellent views in all directions.
The Upper Umbwe Caves are reached at about 2.1 km up from the Lower Umbwe Caves. Again, these more of an overhand in a lava flow than an actual cave. This is a good spot for a lunch stop or break.
Annotated picture of lower Umbwe Route
The Kilimanjaro Moorlands
From the Upper Umbwe Caves it is another 2.4 km to go. There are some rocky steps along the way, but nothing as steep as the first step. A height of land is reached at just over 13,000 feet, and then it is a short little walk down a slight hill to the Barranco camp, right at 13,000 feet.
The Barranco Camp is one of the 'big' campsites on the mountain. You'll see tons of people and tents here. Fortunately, the Umbwe route ends at a little detached portion of the Barranco camp, far away from the main mass of tents. There are lots of good and flat campsites. View of the Barranco Gorge and wall, and of the main summit above, are spectacular.
Total distance for the entire second segment is about 4.5 km.
Day 2 - Umbwe Caves to Barranco
Elevation Profile over Time
Umbwe Route, Segment Two
|Start Altitude:||9,700 feet
|End Altitude:||13,000 feet
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Upper Umbwe Route - click map to view
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