Which climb is more challenging Mt. Kilimanjaro or Mt. Meru?

15 November 2020    Abe Moshi

8 minutes reading time

ABE’S FIRST MOUNT MERU EXPERIENCE:

“Mount Meru – Just do it! It is an experience and if you like trekking, it is absolutely fantastic! I would do it again!!!!” – Abe Moshi, September 2019.

Mount Meru is an active (but dormant) volcano located north of Arusha in Tanzania

At 4562 metres it is Tanzania’s second highest mountain and the fourth highest mountain in Africa. The mountain became well known mainly because it is only 70 km from Mount Kilimanjaro: Mt. Meru has become a popular “warm up” trek for Kilimanjaro climbers.

Mount Meru also has a second peak, called Little Meru

Little Meru (3801 m/12533 ft) is usually visited on an acclimatisation walk on the afternoon of the second day of your trek. You walk from the Saddle Hut to Little Meru and back.

Introduction
Trekking and mountain climbing Mount Meru had always fascinated me for a while now. However, I didn’t know it was so amazing until I finally experienced it. I went for the Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak trek with two of my friends and a group of complete strangers whom we soon befriended…
We were a group of fairly experienced hikers (not rock climbers) and this helped although our group included people who had never been at altitude or coped with some of the exposure this walk presents on the last day (Summit Night).

Raw statistics are this is a 30 mile walk with 11800ft of ascent in total (a certain amount of up and down) reaching 15000ft.

This is done over about 72 hours (in our case Wednesday 25th September noon to Saturday 28th September noon).

Day 1: Is about 5 hrs walking, 9 miles and 4100ft of ascent following the access road to hut 1. It’s relatively easy going and the pace is set as Pole Pole following an armed ranger. We encountered a buffalo on route so it’s not a gimmick having a ranger!

Hut 1 is at 2500m, comfortable with running water and even a shower. We ate well and slept well.

Day 2: Is 4.5 miles 3800′ of relentless ascent taking just over 4 hours following a good path which climbs at a relentless gradient!

Saddle hut is at 3500m and has the same accommodation (2 bunk beds per room) but is more basic with no running water. However it’s clean and once again we ate well. Then after lunch, Everyone did a side trip together with the ranger and guides to Little Meru (3020m) which was just under an hour and a half round trip.

After little Meru, we came back to camp for dinner and then It was early to bed anyway, as next day is an early start to catch sunrise.

How early depends on the guide assessment of your fitness and speed. It could be as early as midnight or as late as 2am (we started our summit night at 1:30am) but bearing in mind sunrise is around 6am you do not want to miss this. Neither do you want to be rushing or hanging about.

It’s 4 miles and 3500ft of ascent to the summit and it took us 5h 45min.

The first climb is to 3800m – Rhino peak, after which you actually loose 100m of height as the route traverses (in the dark) some rock slabs and scramble. There are fixed chains to assist if need to hold onto something for support and balance so as not to fall off the mountain as we were walking on a steep wall with literately no place to put your feet., This was one of the hardest parts as it was dark, there was a lot of fog and it was raining!!! – sometimes gripping the metal chains for support was slippery, dangerous and painful due to the wet and cold weather – my fingers were constantly frozen that even taking photos was an issue.

Rhino peak during day light coming back from the summit…

It’s then slog on to the summit past a few false peaks raising hope that the top has been reached!

Once the weather station (radio tower) is passed it’s a rock scramble to the summit. We caught the sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro prior to reaching the summit. We asked our guide if we will make the summit in time for sunrise, he said If you will not it’s better to catch the sunrise before the weather station as the ascent to the summit is on the West side therefore the sunrise is missed unless make this last stretch in time.

Mount Kilimanjaro sunrise from Mount Meru radio tower on the way to summit…
I remember by now altitude kicking in and each step a bit harder. It’s absolutely worth it. Breath taken away by sunrise and reaching 100m close to the summit was a real achievement for our group. It is was very unfortunate that we did not make it to the tip of Big Meru as there was a lot of snow and ice on the floor which prevented us from reaching the summit board as we did not have crampons (neither did we expect to need them – snow and ice were not on the forecast). After you summit both Meru peaks you are to get two certificates; one for reaching Little Meru (12470 ft / 3801 m), and the other for making it to “Socialist Peak” – the main Mt. Meru summit (4,562.13 m / 14,967.6 ft)..

The summit looked small from our 100m distant position and we were blessed with no wind and perfect visibility. In bad conditions this could be an exposed place.

It was then back down, and yes there is the climb back up to Rhino peak! It’s then you can see what the exposure was really like (as it’s now day light!) – It was not too bad. If you are used to Kilimanjaro treks it’s no worse – Kilimanjaro is just a lot higher (altitude) and has much colder (freezing) temperatures! Altitude sickness is so hard to predict, If you have had previously climbed the higher Kilimanjaro it makes little sense but it’s something to watch.

3hr 45 down for us, a bit slow as one of us was a keen birdwatcher and we were stopping along the way to take photos. Both our guides were fantastic (Temba and Mbise) really looked after us whilst the rest of the crew took care of camp.

After breakfast, it was down to the 1st hut again (Miriakamba Hut), for us 1.5 hours down and the end of a long day, 12.5 miles and 3750ft of ascent plus 7000ft of descent!

Another good meal and sleep before the easy exit walk to the gate the next morning
2 hours and 4.5 miles along a beautiful trail which was more like walking in a park and gently downhill all the way. Once we reached the gate we met our vehicle which gave us a short wildlife safari tour inside Arusha National Park until the late afternoon then we headed back to Moshi.

So overall a fantastic experience!!!
Before booking the trek, we visited a dozen plus tour offices online, to chose the best team to climb Mt. Meru.

Our criteria was:

  1. A fair price with a reliable local company,
  2. Experienced guide receiving fair wages and tips,
  3. Safety, as it was our first hike to Mt. Meru.

Exuberant Kilimanjaro Safaris stood out from the other operators; they ticked all those boxes … and went so much further, on and off the mountain.

The greatest reward of the hike – like anything in life – wasn’t reaching the summit. It was the friendship, respect, and everything we learned along the way.

Tips:

  • Do train for this. Some long walks and some hill climbing will help
  • Talk to your Doctor about prophylactic medication for altitude sicknes, there are some and it might help
  • Take lots of layers
  • You need a good water proof coat
  • Thermals to wear under lighter weight trousers
  • Shorts
  • Layers of clothes
  • Gloves (thick and thin) warm hat and walking sticks (essential)
  • Sunhat sunscreen and insect repellant
  • Head torch
  • You will go from walking in 30c to -5c so layers are key

You will also need cash for tipping the crew, we were a group of 4 yet had;

  • 2 Guides
  • 3 Porters (includes Waiter and chefs assistant)
  • 1 Chef

There is a lot to take and you carry your own day sack with at least 2L of water. So practice carrying 7.5kg which is about reasonable. I personally overestimated Mount Meru, as I compared it to Kilimanjaro so my daypack was a bit on the heavy side (remember Meru is less days than Kilimanjaro).

Tips for 4 ranger: Ranger costs can be shared with other groups, we tipped US$40 from our group.

Because the ranger is shared you do tend to walk in a group of perhaps 10 to 12 which is good for getting to know other trekkers and sharing the experience.

Conclusion about Mount Meru

It was truly a great experience. We caught beautiful view of the sunrise of Mount Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru peak from Mount Meru whilst on our mountain climbing voyage. The view was breath-taking and has left a mark on us.

Mountaineering offers an experience to cherish for a lifetime. Each and every moment of this adventure must be enjoyed. As I personally put it;

“There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is to get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself – in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak, and fatigue that has to be the goal.”

But most importantly; the ascent from saddle hut itself, and that last night to the summit is arguably much more difficult and more challenging of a trek than even the last night on Kilimanjaro. What makes Kilimanjaro the greater challenge is the extreme freezing temperatures and its altitude, if Mount Meru had the same characteristics, Meru summit night would by far be the most challenging between the two peaks.

– Do not underestimate Mt. Meru!!!

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