Day 1 – Londorossi Gate/Shira trail head – River Camp (~3050 m/~10000 ft)
Walking distance: 7 km/4.4 miles Walking time: 4 hours Altitude gain: ~950 m/~3100 ft
The starting point for the Shira Route is the Londorossi Gate (same as for the Lemosho Route). It is a two to three hour drive to get there and on this first day you may well spend more time driving and waiting around at the gate than you will be walking. This already indicates another advantage of taking one of these lesser trafficked routes. You do indeed have a better chance to see some wildlife on the first days, though this applies to Lemosho more than to Shira.
The bird life is excellent, there may be more Colobus monkeys, and some really, really lucky people may even see elephant or buffalo. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)
You follow the Ngarenairobi River as you leave the forest and enter the next vegetation zone: moorland and heather. Your first campsite is located between the road and the river. If you choose to walk, then the first day takes you up to six hours (with breaks) or much less, depending where exactly you start walking.
Day 2 – River Camp – Shira Huts (3850 m/12630 ft) via Shira Cathedral
Walking distance: 12 km/7.5 miles
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Altitude gain: 800 m/2630 ft
The next day begins with a steady climb up the slope towards the Morum Hill and Morum Barrier. This is where the Shira Plateau begins (and half of the climbers begin their Shira trek). The road continues after the gate, but only emergency vehicles are allowed here.
You now start heading south east on a mostly flat path across the plateau. In another two hours you reach the junction of the Shira and the Lemosho Route, the location of the Simba Cave Campsite (3590 m/11780 ft) on the side of the Simba River. Not long after you pass the turn off to another campsite, called Fischer Campsite (3885 m/12745 ft), which is some way off the main trail.
For those who didn’t make the detour there are still the great views from camp: Shira Needle, Cathedral and Shira Hill, and Kibo itself and the Western Breach.
Day 3 – Shira Huts – via Lava Tower (4640 m/15220 ft) – Barranco Huts (3985 m/13070 ft)
Walking distance: 9 km/5.6 miles
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Altitude gain: 135 m/440 ft (790 m/2590 ft to Lava Tower)
The day starts with a good two and half hours of walking mostly gently uphill (and scrambling a bit for two short sections). Following the slope of the Shira Plateau you gradually leave the heather and moorland behind and enter the mostly barren alpine desert region, enjoying breathtaking views all the way.
Soon you come across the first junction, continue on the main trail. After some bends, ups and downs you reach the junction with the busy Machame Route. Shortly after you come to another junction. Continue straight on towards Barranco.
After a much deserved lunch break near the Lava Tower you descend into the beautiful Barranco Valley, the result of a massive landslide some 100,000 years ago. The valley is sheltered by towering cliffs and is much greener. There is vegetation again, most notably the giant senecios and lobelias. You have great views across the plains way below and you also get your first glimpse of the Barranco Wall. You will climb that tomorrow.
Day 4 – Barranco Huts – Karanga Camp (4040 m/13255 ft)
Walking distance: 5.5 km/3.5 miles
Walking time: 4-5 hours
Altitude gain: 55 m/185 ft
Today, first thing in the morning, you will tackle the Barranco Wall. It is strenuous to climb because the air is already so thin and it is very steep. And if you never set foot on any mountain in your life it may in places appear a little precarious. But in no way does it require climbing experience!
The wall is exposed and you will use your hands to steady yourself, but you can pretty much walk all the way to the top. Only at a few points do you need to scramble. Don’t forget to turn around every now and then and admire the views, including the line of climbers/ants behind you.
You’ll have a short break to enjoy the stunning views, and then it’s down again on a much gentler slope. From here it’s another couple of hours over volcanic scree and through several small, sheltered valleys until you reach the Karanga Valley Camp. The narrow and steep Karanga Valley is a green oasis, albeit a cold, windy one. The camp is on the other side of the valley (another climb…) and you can spend the afternoon resting, exploring, or chasing that perfect picture of one of the iridescent, malachite sunbirds that live here.
Day 5 – Karanga Camp – Barafu Huts (4680 m/15360 ft)
Walking distance: 3.5 km/ 2.2 miles Walking time: 4-5 hours
Altitude gain: 640 m/2105 ft
The walk today is short. You leave the Karanga Valley on an easy but steep path, through an increasingly inhospitable landscape, with the Southern Glaciers looming to your left. The path keeps getting steeper until you reach the Barafu Camp for lunch.
This is the benefit of having the extra night at Karanga in your schedule. You have plenty of time to eat, rest and recover, prepare everything for the summit attempt, maybe even go on a short acclimatisation walk, eat some more, and then have an early night. Tonight is the night. Barafu Camp has an otherworldy feel to it, perched on an exposed ridge in a bleak and barren landscape. Do familiarize yourself with the area before the sun goes down! It is quite possible to simply step of the edge if you have to stumble around in the dark to find the toilet.
Day 6 – Summit attempt via Stella Point (5752 m/18871 ft) to Uhuru Peak (5895 m/19340 ft) and descent via Mweka Route to Millenium Camp (3820 m/12530 ft) (or to Mweka Hut)
Walking distance: 5 km/3 miles ascent + 10 km/6.2 miles descent
Walking time: 5-6 hrs + 1-2 hours up, 5-6 hours down (the overall walking time may vary from 10 – 16 hours)
Altitude gain: 1072 m/ 3511 ft (Stella Point) or 1215 m/3980 ft (Uhuru Peak)
Descent: 2075 m/6810 ft
Your day pack should be ready with everything you will need tonight, make sure everything you are wearing is bone dry! This day will likely go down in your memory as the most physically challenging day in your whole life. Likely it will also be one of the earliest starts you ever made.
You will wake up some time between 11 pm and 1 pm. There will be some hot drinks and maybe some food, but mostly it’s a matter of crawling out of your sleeping bag, putting on a few more layers of clothes, your boots and your head torch. Grab your day pack and off you go… You may feel horrible. Don’t push yourself too hard. Take all the time you need and for goodness sake don’t let anyone pressure you into moving faster than you feel comfortable to. Steady, steady, one tiny little step after the other.
Successfully you will reach the UHURU PEAK! What you just accomplished is truly impressive and no matter what you expected, the reality of it will be totally different. Some people get very emotional, some are on a big high, some are so dazed, they barely take any notice at all. There is no way to describe or imagine the experience of climbing to nearly 6000 m altitude. You now have to drag yourself back to Stella Point. From there it’s nearly 1100 m down, down, down… Until you get back to Barafu. The descent is cruel on the knees and you will appreciate the walking poles!
Lunch should be waiting for you at Barafu. You just want to collapse and sleep; you can not imagine getting up from that chair again. But after what you have done to your body today it is not safe to remain at this altitude. You have no choice but to pack up your gear and keep going, the sooner the better. Down and down you go, for several more hours, to Millenium Camp or Mweka Huts.
Day 7 – Millenium Camp – Machame Gate
Walking distance: 20 km/12.5 miles
Walking time: 5 hours
Descent: 1990 m/6530 ft
After beakfast you set off, through some really pretty forest with lots of birdlife. Try to muster some interest. It may distract from the pain. Once you get to the gate you’ll have to endure some more formalities, but eventually you will say good bye to your guides (a sad and emotional moment), climb into the vehicle waiting for you and be whisked away to your hotel for hot showers and cold beers.