Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: Shira Route

The Shira Route is one of the lesser used trails on Mount Kilimanjaro, making it perfect for those wishing to avoid large numbers of climbers on the first few days. The route passes through some of the best parts of the forest before winding across the Shira Plateau, the highlight of many climbers expedition. The Shira Route approaches from the west with the massive cone of Kibo looming straight ahead for a lot of the climb, great for some spectacular photography. This is a great route for anyone who wants to spend a little more time on the mountain as there are plenty of walks and trails around the Shira Plateau that can be added to your standard climb.

Shira Route: Overview

The Shira route is one of 2 routes that approach Kibo from the West (Lemosho being the other). The route crosses the wild and beautiful Shira Plateau regarded as the most picturesque section of Mount Kilimanjaro. This was the original volcano and as you cross the plateau the signs of volcanic activity are everywhere, from the light, porous volcanic rock under foot to the towering lava structures of the Shira Cathedral on the plateau’s southern perimeter.

There are 6 campsites across the Shira Plateau. It may seem strange to have so many but the area covered by the Shira Plateau is a whopping 62km2. Those climbing the Western Breach tend to spend more time on the plateau at these campsites for acclimatization. The Western Breach is very steep and climbers gain a lot of altitude on the day they climb to Summit Camp.

For those climbing standard summit route from Barafu Camp, spending an extra day on the plateau is well worth it if you can spare the extra time and you’ll see more of the mountain than most ever do. From the Shira Plateau The route climbs east and merges with the Machame Route and the Umbwe Route on the Southern Circuit. Those feeling up to it can take an afternoon detour to the impressive Lava Tower at the start of the Western Breach before reaching Barranco Camp. We always spend an extra acclimation night in the Karanga Valley, giving 2 short, 4-hour days before the summit bid.

One of the big advantages of the Shira Route is that it is one of the quietest on the mountain. You are unlikely to see many other climbers until you reach the Southern Circuit if you’re summiting via Barafu Camp and if your summiting via the Western Breach, you’re unlikely to see many other climbers at all.


Start:Shira Gate
6500ft / 2000m
Finish:River Camp
10,000ft / 3000m
Gain:3500ft / 1000m
Duration:4 hours

Pick-up from the hotel is at 8.00am. The drive to the Shira Park Gate takes between 2 and 3 hours through some beautiful countryside. At the Park Gate, Thomas has some paper work to do so you’ve time to relax before signing into the park. After a bite to eat you set off into the forest. The pace is slow and as there is no rush, take time to snap photographs and take in the views!

Today's walk consists of a long, gentle slope heading east, taking us to the forest's edge. The trail is wide and well kept as it also doubles as an access route for rescue jeeps gaining access to the Shira Plateau. As the trees thin, you can see the Shira Plateau to the south and ahead is Morum Hill. Tonight's camp is between the trail and the Ngarenairobi River at approx 10,000ft/3000m. The porters will have climbed ahead with your main bag and you'll arrive in camp to find it already set up. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn and warm water to wash with awaits you, followed by dinner and bed.


Start:River Camp
Finish:Shira Huts
12,600ft / 3840m
Gain:2600ft / 840m
Duration:6-8 hours

Wake-up each day at 7.30am. Hot water and a large breakfast is provided, then Thomas will give you a quick medical check before you leave camp.

A 2-hour hike up a shallow but steady gradient brings you to the Morum Barrier (11,480ft/3500m). From here the route curves south-south-east. The gentle ascent continues for another 2 hours of slow climbing, bringing you to the Simba Cave Campsite (11,780ft/3590m) and the junction with the Lemosho Route. The cave is just to the northeast of the junction. Camp is to the southeast but instead we will head south-south-west for the Shira Cathedral, a flat walk of about 1 hour 30 minutes. After spending some time exploring the impressive lava features at the Cathedral we walk east for 1 hour 15 minutes to the Shira Huts (12,600ft/3840m) in time for dinner. It can dip below freezing on the Shira Plateau at night so wrap up warm. It's a good idea to start sleeping with tomorrow's socks in your sleeping bag from tonight on to keep them warm. Keep your hat, gloves and torch handy too in case you need to go to the toilet during the night.


NOTE: Today the Shira Route merges with the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route as all 4 join the Southern Circut

Start:Shira Huts
12,600ft / 3840m
Finish:Barranco Camp
13,070ft / 3985m
Gain:470ft / 145m
High Point:Lava Tower
15,230ft / 4642m
Max Gain:2630ft / 802m
Duration:6-8 hours

Today you climb high and sleep low for acclimatization. Your destination is the impressive Barranco Valley. You have 2 options for getting there. Those who prefer a less strenuous day or those feeling the effects of altitude can climb a maximum height of 14,860ft / 4530m just after lunch before descending into the valley. Those who feel up for a little more adventure can continue climbing to the Lava Tower (15,230ft / 4642m) before their descent.

Leaving camp you climb east towards Kibo into an increasingly barren land with breathtaking views. Shortly after leaving camp there is a short steep section that involves a little scrambling. After a while you come to another 10 minutes of fairly steep scrambling then the trail levels out. An hour of walking brings you south up a ridge, merging with the Machame route on the Southern Circuit where you stop for lunch, about 4 hours after leaving camp.

After lunch those heading directly to the Barranco Valley descend south for 2 hours to camp. The route has great views of the Lava Tower and the Western Breach. Those heading for the Lava Tower continue to climb a moderate slope for about 45 minutes before arriving at the foot of the Western Breach. After an hour of resting, exploring and even rock climbing you descend to camp, ending day 4 of the Lemosho route. Note that it is normal to have a headache by the end of today - plenty of fluids and a good rest almost always helps greatly.


NOTE: Today's itinerary for the Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route

Start:Barranco Camp
13,070ft / 3985m
Finish:Karanga Camp
13,250ft / 4040m
Gain:180ft / 55m
Duration:3-4 hours

Today's climb is short and beautiful, a favourite of many who climb the Machame route. Before leaving camp look south from camp down a deep gorge in the mountain. You should just be able to see Moshi town on the plains.

Today's main obstacle is the near vertical Barranco Wall. A path zigzags up to the top and while you will need both hands at times, it's a scramble not a rock climb. There is no rush and there are plenty of great photo opportunities on the Barranco Wall. It will take about 1 hour 30 minutes to reach the top, your highest point of the day at 13,890ft / 4233m.

From the top of the Barranco Wall Kibo rises in front of you, an amazing sight. From here it’s an hour's walk to the Karanga Valley. You begin a gentle descent of about 1km into a small valley before a short ascent out the other side. Then it’s another shallow downhill for 1.5km. A steep scramble down a slope takes you to the floor of a gorge (12,925ft / 3940m) and steep switchback path of about 330ft/100m, taking about 20 minutes, brings you to the Karanga Camp. The afternoon’s your own.


NOTE: Today's itinerary for the Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route

Start:Karanga Camp
13,250ft / 4040m
Finish:Barafu Camp
15,360ft / 4681m
Gain:2110ft / 641m
Duration:3-4 hours

The penultimate day of the ascent and a short one. Leaving camp the path begins to rise and does so most of the way to Barafu Camp. The landscape is desolate and the Southern Icefields on the slopes of Kibo to your left add to the surreality of your surroundings. After a steady climb of 1 hour 30 minutes you enter a long, shallow valley. If you turn north and face Kibo, you are about inline with the summit, Uhuru Peak. A walk of 1 hour 15 minutes followed by a short steep scramble brings you out of the valley. Turning north you begin the last leg to Barafu, taking about 30 minutes and with no serious incline.

Once in camp you will get a solid meal and Thomas will brief you on the plan for the summit bid. The views of the summit and also of Mawenzi are great from Barafu. It can be hard to sleep at this altitude and it’s still going to be bright outside, with porters and climbers about, so an eye mask and ear plugs can be useful.

Shira Route: Day 6 Ascent - BARAFU CAMP TO THE SUMMIT

NOTE: Today's itinerary for the Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route

Start:Barafu Camp
15,360ft / 4681m
19,340ft / 5895m
Gain:3980ft / 1214m
Duration:approx 7 hours

You’ll be woken about 11.30pm and hot drinks and snacks will be served. It's vital that you drink as much as you can tonight, dehydration will end your climb. You have 4000ft/1220m to cover before reaching Uhuru Peak. Leaving camp you climb for about 2 hours to the top of a large ridge. From here the path is made of switchbacks to very near the rim. They are not overly steep but it is constant. From the top of the ridge to the end of the switchbacks will take about 3 hours 30 minutes.

As the switchbacks end you come to the last section of the climb to the crater rim. After 30 minutes you reach Stella Point at 18,870ft/5752m having climbed 3510ft/1070m from Barafu. You’ve now less than 500ft/150m to climb! From Stella Point the path turns southwest and after 45 minutes of steady but shallow incline you reach the iconic sign that marks the summit and the roof of Africa. Looking east, you see the sun rising over Africa, Mawenzi silhouetted against it and the Icefields and glaciers sparkling orange and pink in the early morning glow. Congratulations, you made it.

Shira Route: Day 6 Descent - SUMMIT TO MILLENNIUM CAMP

NOTE: Today's itinerary for the Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route

19,340ft / 5895m
Finish:Millennium Camp
12,533ft / 3820m
Drop:6801ft / 2075m
Duration:6-8 hours

The descent follows the same path you climbed to reach the summit. Trekking poles are useful here; going down is tough on the knees. Depending on your physical state, the descent to Barafu Camp can take 2-4 hours. If you're feeling up to it, food will be provided before an hour or 2 of sleep before continuing down Mount Kilimanjaro.

Leaving Barafu you descend due south for 4km, loosing a lot of altitude over the 2 hour trek. After about an hour you come to a crossroads. To the left is a little used trail to the Horombo Huts on the Marangu Route and to the right is the Southern Circuit leading to the Keranga Valley. You can now see Millennium Camp ahead and below it, Mweka Huts Camp. If you’re feeling good it’s possible to trek on down to Mweka Camp at 10,138ft/3090m (another 3.5km descent), just mention to Thomas. It’s a good idea to give tips to Thomas for distribution in camp, as tomorrow you may not see all the porters.

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NOTE: Today's itinerary for the Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho Route, Machame Route and the Umbwe Route

Start:Millennium Camp
12,533ft / 3820m
Finish:Park Gate
5385ft / 1641m
Drop:7148ft / 2179m
Duration:4-5 hours

Before leaving camp, take a few minutes to look north at the snow-covered cone of Kilimanjaro. It's a beautiful sight and one you will never forget.

A steady descent of about 1 hour 30 minutes brings you 3.5km downhill to Mweka Camp. There are some nice places to grab a few last pictures of the summit on this trail. 5 minutes from Mweka Camp you reach a very clear divide with the forest. From the boundary of the forest to the park gate is 10km of downhill. For a lot of today’s hike, you're walking on a ridge between 2 huge gorges, giving some impressive views through gaps in the trees. After about 2 hours of hiking you come to the start of the 4-wheel drive track and from here to the gate is only a 40-minute walk. This last section of the forest has an abundance of elusive monkeys but if your lucky you may come across a few foraging in the trees. You will also pass young children allowed in by the park rangers in order to collect dead wood for the fire. They are fascinated by digital photography and showing a photograph you just took of them always gets a good reception. Any sweets or chocolate you still have is a welcome treat for these kids.

At the park office you are presented with your certificate if you reached Stella Point (green) or better yet, the summit (gold). Then it is back to the hotel for a hot shower and big feed. All that’s left to do now is get a good night's rest before your transfer onwards or to the airport tomorrow.


Climb length:7 days
Trip length:9 days
Extra night:£90/$180

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro by the Shira Route in 2008 and 2009

Anyone can join the Shira route climbs listed below. To organise your own climb click here

21-29 Sep 2008 View Book
06-14 Jun 2009 View Book
08-16 Aug 2009 View Book

How to Book

To organise your own climb of Mount Kilimanjaro by the Shira route, either call our office on +44 (0)28 9073 6050 (UK telephone number) or fill in your details online by clicking the link below

7-day Shira Route Itinerary

1Arrive in Kilimanjaro International Airport, transfer to hotel in Moshi (approx 1 hour) for night. Receive climb briefing
2Shira park gate - River Camp
3River Camp - Shira Camp
4Shira Camp - Barranco Camp
5Barranco Camp - Karanga Camp
6Karanga Camp - Barafu Camp
7Barafu Camp - Summit - Millennium Camp
8Millennium Camp - park gate. Overnight in hotel
9Transfer to Kilimanjaro International Airport for onward flight or departure

What's included

  • 2 nights in hotel before climb and 1 after (B&B)
  • All transfers to and from Moshi and to and from Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Park fees, guide fees and mountain rescue fees
  • 4 porters per person
  • Food and water while on the mountain
  • tents (individual if requested for no additional cost), sleeping pads and all eating utensils
  • There is NO local payment on any of our climbs!

What's not included

  • International flights
  • Tanzania visa (approx $50)
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Tips for porters (we recommed $80-120 per climber)