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The Western Breach and Mt Meru Expedition

 

This classic mountaineering expedition ascends Kilimanjaro by the legendary Western Breach. It is the toughest non technical route on the mountain and an excellent choice for trekkers who already have experience of high altitude, scrambling and strenuous days in the high mountains.

Unlike the other routes on Kilimanjaro the Western Breach route passes right through Kilimanjaro’s crater wall and into the volcanic crater itself, where we can see the Reusch Crater and the Furtwangler Glacier.

Before setting off for the Western Breach, we climb Mount Meru for extra acclimatisation, where we take advantage of the new and very comfortable mountains huts and spend an extra day at 3500m. We then approach the Western Breach by the Umbwe route.

Day 1. Arrive in Arusha. Hotel transfer. It's a 1hr drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Day 2. Begin the ascent of Mount Meru. Trek from the park gate at 1500m to the Miriakamba Hut 2500m. 4 - 5 hrs walking on easy paths, 1000m of ascent. It's a 1 1/2hr drive to the park gate from Arusha.

Day 3. Trek from the Miriakamba Hut to the Saddle Hut (3570m);1070m of ascent on a good path, steep and muddy at times 3 – 4 hrs.

Day 4. Acclimatisation day at 3750m. Optional walk to Rhino Point, a subsidiary peak with views of Kilimanjaro. It’s well worth taking it all in at sunset.

Day 5. Set off at about 3AM. Climb from the Saddle Hut to the summit at 4566M, then reverse the whole route back down to the park gate. The summit is reached by a narrow ridge which is exposed and airy in places. There are good views down into the crater and across to Kilimanjaro. 14hrs, 996m of ascent followed by 3000M of descent. This is a tough (and often underestimated) day out. Hotel transfer.

Day 6. Rest day in Arusha.

Day 7. Begin the ascent of Kilimanjaro. Travel to the Umbwe Gate at 1400M in a 4 x 4. Follow a path through the rain forest to the Forest Caves Camp at 3000M. 1600M of ascent, 6hrs. Very steep.

Day 8. Trek from the Forest Caves Camp to the Barranco Hut at 3950M. We continue through the forest and into open moorland – where the views of the Breach Wall are awe inspiring, the best on the mountain. 950M of ascent, 4 hrs. Very steep and exposed in places.

Day 9. Acclimatisation day. You’ll probably want to sit in the mess tent and eat chocolate, but short acclimatisation walks available.

Day 10. Trek from the Baranco Hut to the Arrow Hut at 4800M on a good path. The views are mind blowing – a stunning day. 900M of ascent, 5hrs.

Day 11. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Set off at 4AM to climb from the Arrow Hut to the summit at 5895m, then around the crater rim to Stella Point (an Ice Axe may be required, depending on snow conditions). From here, head down to the Barafu hut at 4600m, and then on to the Mweka Hut at 3100m on a good path. Tough trekking over scree, easy but exposed scrambling and rock fall danger, followed by an endless descent back to the rainforest. 1095M of ascent 6 – 8 hrs followed by 2795M of descent, another 6 – 8 hrs.

 

Day 12. An easy walk (on jelly legs) through the forest to the Mweka Gate at 1600M of descent, 4 hrs. 1500m of descent. The prospect of a cold beer at the park gate will keep you going. Hotel transfer. Clean up, and catch the evening flight home.

 

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The Western Breach - further information

Much has been written about the perils of ascending Kilimanjaro by the Western Breach route.

In February 2006, a 40 tonne rock avalanche swamped the ascent path. The rocks hit a group of climbers near to the Arrow Hut with the force of a freight train. Three were killed and four were seriously injured. An examination of the route revealed that much of it was exposed to loose rock and that the melting glaciers were likely to generate more avalanches as they released rocks that had previously been locked in ice.

Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are still melting, so more rockfalls are expected. While it is impossible to predict when they will fall, it is possible to predict where and the route has been changed to minimise the danger...but the danger is still there and climbers unavoidably spend time on parts of the route that are exposed to this danger.

It’s important to remember that this is a trek and not a climb. Experienced trekkers will have encountered this kind of thing before and will be able to minimise (but not eliminate) the danger by wearing helmets, assessing the terrain and moving quickly on the parts of the route that are exposed to falling rock.

It’s not so much that the Western Breach poses excessive danger to climbers, the problem is that rock fall is unpredictable and exposure to the danger cannot be avoided. Mountaineers accept, and deal with, far more risk when climbing, for example, Mont Blanc – the difference is that Kilimanjaro is considered to be an objectively safe mountain that attracts many novice climbers.

Another risk associated with the Western Breach that climbers need to be made aware of is that The Rock Steps, at 5500 – 5600M are difficult to down-climb which means that you are committed to the route after this point. In the event of an emergency such as illness, injury or deteriorating weather you can only descend by heading up the mountain, and down one of the other routes.

It’s important that potential Western Breach climbers are aware of the difficulties and risks associated with this route before deciding whether or not to climb it.

It is for these reasons that only competent, experienced and fit hill walkers are eligible to climb the Western Breach with Gorilla Mountaineering and all climbers must acclimatise on Meru before undertaking the trek.

Now that you are aware of the issues associated with climbing Kilimanjaro by the Western Breach, give me a call and we'll discuss the trip!