The Umbwe Route is seldom used these days as an ascent thanks to the fact that it has probably the steepest intial climb, and as one of the least developed of the main trails is given on occasions to be a rough scramble over tree roots and slippery gradients.
Up to the point of Barranco Camp the trail is direct and unrelenting, and is about as close as Kilimanjaro comes to a technical climb. The upside of choosing Umbwe Route is that, apart from the odd party opting for this trail as a descent route, you will rarely come across a climbing party, and the views from the Umbwe Trail, in particular on the second day as you traverse a narrow ridge in the heather fields, are second only to the vistas that spread forth from the summit.
Umbwe Gate 1661m (5449ft) to Umbwe Cave Campsite 2850m (9350ft)
Umbwe Gate is the closest trailhead to Moshi so an early and usually uncomplicated start is possible. The initial hike is through the cultivated fringe the rings the mountain, and is mainly a landscape of small gardens, banana groves and patchwork fields. It is a relief to break out of this, step off what in effect is a 4×4 track, and plunge into the cloud forest proper. Before reaching the campsite the trail emerges from the forest, and a brief traverse through the heather belt follows.
Umbwe Cave Campsite 2850m (9350ft) to Barranco Camp 3985m (13074ft)
This part of the route moves through some of the most quintessential Kilimanjaro landscapes, through the heather belt and on through fields of giants groundsel and dark, brooding ridges. The gradient is is still upwards, with little riled from the steady trudge, but again the views are spectacular and the trail is quiet.
From Barranco Camp the trail links up with the Southern Circuit which offers the opportunity to veer east towards Barafu Camp 4600m (15091ft) for a traditional assault on the summit, or west towards Lava Tower Camp 4600m (15091ft) for the Western Breach summit routes.
The retun journey is usually Via the Mekwa Route
By Peter Baxter
September 29th, 2008