Martina & guide in rainforest on Lemosho

Lemosho vs Northern Circuit

Oct 18, 2021

The Lemosho and the Northern Circuit (or Grand Traverse) are two of the best Kilimanjaro routes, as both are very pretty and have high success rates. They also have some differences. We discuss all of these details to help you decide which is best for you.

Lemosho and Northern Circuit facts

Here are some quick facts about each route, starting with the Lemosho route.

Lemosho route

  • Total distance: 70 km / 43 miles
  • Starting point: Lemosho Gate
  • End point: Mweka Gate
  • Duration: 7 or 8 days
  • Summit success rate: High
  • Busyness: High

And now here are some basic Northern Circuit facts ...

Northern Circuit (or Grand Traverse)

  • Total distance: 98 km / 61 miles
  • Starting point: Lemosho Gate
  • End point: Mweka Gate
  • Duration: 9 days
  • Summit success rate: Very high
  • Busyness: Low
Group Photo Lemosho Gate Kilimanjaro

Both the Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes start at Lemosho Gate (2,100 m)

Map of the Lemosho and Northern Circuit

Take a look at the map below which shows the Northern Circuit and the Lemosho, two of Kilimanjaro's ascent routes. The Mweka descent route is used by climbers of both routes.

Northern-Circuit-vs-Lemosho-Route-Kilimanjaro-Map

Map showing the Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes

Description of the routes

As you can see in the map above, the Lemosho and Northern Circuit share a lot in common. They do, in fact, start off as the same route, and only diverge near the 4,000 m mark. They meet up again near Uhuru Peak (the flag), and after that follow the same descent route (the white dotted line). So for a few days on the climb, Lemosho and Northern Circuit climbers share the same trail.

The difference between the two routes comes in the middle of each, when the Lemosho veers right to travel along the southern slope of the mountain, while the Northern Circuit veers left to travel, as the name suggests, along the northern slope of the mountain.

 

 

Distance and duration

The Lemosho route can be climbed over seven or eight days. The seven-day route is 70 km (43 miles), while the eight-day route is a little longer as we do slight a detour to Moir Hut for a night, and this isn't included in the former's itinerary.

The Northern Circuit is a nine-day route. At 98 km (61 miles), it's markedly longer than the Lemosho. It's actually the longest ascent route on Kilimanjaro, which helps to explain why it has the highest summit success rate. But more on that in a bit.

Steepness and trail difficulty

The Lemosho is a little steeper than the Northern Circuit in certain places, as it ascends the mountain quicker. That said, neither is problematically steep. Remember, Kilimanjaro is a non-technical mountain, meaning you don't need climbing equipment to get up it.

Trekkers climbing up steep path in the forest of Kilimanjaro

Both the Lemosho and Northern Circuit take you through this section of the rainforest

The only place where steepness could be an issue for some is Barranco Wall ...

Barranco Wall

The Barranco Wall on the southern slope of Kilimanjaro is the steepest section up the mountain, requiring you to sometimes use your hands and knees. You climb Barranco Wall on the Lemosho, but not on the Northern Circuit.

This is a major distinction that could be a deciding factor for anyone who is anxious about heights. As you can see in the video below, Barranco Wall is perfectly manageable. But if you're nervous of heights, the Northern Circuit could well be your answer – you can rest assured that there will be no steep sections on your Kilimanjaro climb.

 

Crowds

The Lemosho is the second busiest of the seven Kilimanjaro routes, after the Machame. The Northern Circuit, on the other hand, is one of the quietest routes. This could well be a deciding factor for some: do you want a really quiet climb, or one that at times is relatively busy?

The Northern Circuit is far less busy than the Lemosho, so it's a great option if you'd prefer a quiet climb.

Campsites

The campsites along the two routes only differ in the middle section of each climb where the paths diverge. The seven-day Lemosho has you stay at Shira 2 Camp, which is known as being one of the most picturesque campsites on the mountain. On the eight-day Lemosho, on the other hand, you stay at Moir Hut, which is the same for climbers of the Northern Circuit.

Northern Circuit climbers stay at POFU Camp, Third Cave and Kibo Hut. POFU Camp is, in fact, used solely by Northern Circuit climbers, making it one of the quietest campsites on the whole mountain.

All Lemosho climbers, on the other hand, stay at the more well-known Barranco, Karanga and Barafu Camps.

Barafu Camp and Kibo Hut are both base camps, and after this the two routes once again share the same (and final) campsite on the descent, namely Mweka Camp.

The campsites on the northern slope of Kilimanjaro are small and quiet, and this means you have a greater chance of spotting some wildlife. The campsites on the Lemosho, on the other hand, can be relatively large and busy. Some make well like the vibe of a busy camp, and the chance to meet more people from other groups.

Lemosho Route - Campsite on Kilimanjaro

Campsites like this one along the Lemosho route can be relatively busy during peak seasons

Scenery

First of all, let us just say that you will enjoy amazing scenery on both the Lemosho and Northern Circuit. In fact, both have arguably the best scenery of all the trails. While the Lemosho is known as being the most beautiful of all Kilimanjaro's routes, the Northern Circuit shares much of the same DNA as the Lemosho, and the scenery along the quiet northern slope is also gorgeous.

moorland zone, Kilimanjaro climate

The moorland section of the mountain is, for many, the prettiest section of the whole climb

On both routes you pass through the four upper ecosystems on the mountain, namely rainforest, moorland, alpine desert and the arctic summit. If you'd like to know more, and see more pictures, please read Mount Kilimanjaro climate.

 

 

Acclimatisation and success rate

Acclimatisation is one of the most important topics when it comes to Kilimanjaro. This is because it's crucial to not only your climb's success, but also your health and safety.

Acclimatisation refers to the process by which your body grows accustomed to the thinner air experienced at a higher altitude. If you ask your body to adjust too quickly, it will develop altitude sickness. Common symptoms of altitude sickness are headaches, nausea, sleeplessness and vertigo. At its worst, altitude sickness can be fatal.

If you'd like a more thorough discussion of altitude sickness, please take a look at the video below.

 

 

We see time and again that folks underestimate Kilimanjaro, and try to charge up the mountain too quickly. We recommend you allow yourself seven or eight days for the ascent – some can manage six days, but not everyone. Kilimanjaro isn't a race – it's a journey. And one that should be savoured. Allow your body the time it needs to acclimatise – the climb itself is enough of a challenge!

Giving yourself enough days to climb Kilimanjaro is the number one way to avoid altitude sickness. But there are also some other strategies that can help with good acclimatisation ...

Climb-high-and-sleep-low opportunities

The acclimatisation strategy known as 'climb high, sleep low' is highly effective in helping to avoid the development of altitude sickness. It simply refers to climbing to a new elevation, and then dropping back down to a slightly lower elevation for the night.

On the Lemosho route, you do this once: you climb to Lava Tower (4,630 m) for lunch on Day 3 or 4 (depending on your itinerary), and the drop down to Barranco Camp (3,976 m) for the night.

Lava Tower in snow

Lava Tower is a great lunch stop spot on the Lemosho route

A high and then a low campsite

On the eight-day Lemosho, Barranco Camp is actually lower in elevation than Moir Hut, where you would have spent the previous night. Having you sleep lower than you did on a previous night during the ascent is another acclimatisation strategy.

The Northern Circuit is unique among Kilimanjaro routes in that it actually has you descend in elevation on two consecutive nights during the ascent. To be specific, after spending the night of Day 4 at Moir Hut (4,206 m), you then overnight on day 5 at POFU Camp (4,033 m), and on Day 6 at Third Cave (3,870 m). While it might seem slightly counterintuitive, these slight decreases in altitude actually help your body to acclimatise and prepare it for the big jump in altitude to come on Day 7, when you say at the base camp known as Kibo Hut (4,750 m).

Northern Circuit, best acclimatisation strategy on Kilimanjaro

POFU Camp is actually lower in elevation than Moir Hut, where you stay the previous night

The route with the higher success rate

The Northern Circuit has the highest summit success rate of all Kilimanjaro routes: around 90%. This is because it offers the most gradual ascent, and therefore helps to reduce the chances of altitude sickness. If you've never done high-altitude trekking, this is definitely your very best option for ensuring you make it to the top!

Altitude sickness is by far the main reason why so many climbers don't make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Don't be among those folks!

Two trekkers smiling by Uhuru Peak on a very snow-covered Kilimanjaro summit

Standing at Uhuru Peak is of course the goal for every Kili climber!

The eight-day Lemosho also has a high summit success rate, somewhere around 80%. The seven-day Lemosho has a decent summit success rate, but of course it's lower than that of its eight-day counterpart. This is why we promote the eight-day Lemosho over the seven-day option. If you're going to put in all the time, effort and money to climb Kilimanjaro, rather do that extra day to increase your chances of a successful summit.

 

 

Our opinion

The Lemosho and the Northern Circuit are our two favourite Kilimanjaro routes. We say this because both are very beautiful, and they also have the highest summit success rates. Everyone who climbs Kilimanjaro wants to make it to the summit, after all!

When it comes to choosing between the two, we suggest that anyone who is relatively new to high-altitude trekking opt for the Northern Circuit if they can afford it (the extra day on the mountain means the route costs a little more). There's no way as a newbie to know for sure how the altitude will affect you, as altitude sickness is no respecter of age, fitness or health.

If, on the other hand, you have some experience with altitude, your budget is a little tighter, you're really keen to climb Barranco Wall, or you just fancy the Lemosho more for whatever reason, then we recommend choosing the eight-day Lemosho route. As discussed above, we prefer the eight-day Lemosho to the seven-day Lemosho, as the latter doesn't always allow enough time for proper acclimatisation.

Whichever route you choose, we hope you'll consider climbing with Follow Alice – we'd love to share the experience of our favourite mountain with you!

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