Moir Hut (4,200m/13,800ft) to Buffalo Camp (4,000m/13,200ft)
Distance: 12km/7mi, 5-7 hours
Altitude: 200m/600ft down in elevation
Day 5 finally leads off the beaten track into wilderness onto the northern slopes of Kilimanjaro. This is the part that only hikers on the Northern Circuit route will ever get to see, completely away from all other routes. It is also the part for which I had not seen any prior reviews and which thus motivated me to write Kilimanjaro Uncovered.
This day starts with a steep morning ascent up a grey wall of sand back out of the basin in which Moir Hut camp is located. In reward for this effort, a spectacular view of glacier-covered Kibo cone and afar all the way to the horizon awaits you within less than an hour into your hike.
The remainder of the day is relatively easy and leads back down into lower altitudes and thicker vegetation of evergreen bushes. However, easy also means less exciting. Expect a somewhat repetitive and hence tedious alternation between gentle uphill and downhill slopes.
We had fog and clouds during the day, but when the clouds clear, the view extends all the way down into Kenya and, on clear days, all the way into the far away Serengeti plains.
Amidst such a desolate landscape, little things can get one quite excited, like in our case when we spotted our mess tent where we would get hot lunch on the way. Our crew had even put up our toilet tent for us – what a luxury!
On the northern slopes, for the first time on the Northern Circuit, you will also have good mobile reception. Though, for a reason that still remains a mystery to me, not all smartphones are able to connect to the local networks. Data reception, however, works like a charm from now onwards, so beware and turn off your phone if you prefer to stay off-the-grid.
The camp for the night, Buffalo Camp, is one of the highlights of this day – truly in the wild away from all other tourists. While you might have shared all the camps so far with hikers on the Lemosho or Shira routes, and might share the coming camps with hikers coming up on a direct version of the Rongai route, chances are high you will have Buffalo camp completely to yourself. Not even any of the otherwise common long-drop huts or wooden signboards have made it to this part of the mountain (yet).
Finally, in case you wonder whether you might get to see any buffalos at Buffalo Camp, sorry to disappoint. Wildlife viewings (with the exception of monkeys on the lower slopes and crows on the upper slopes) have become extremely rare on Kilimanjaro. I’m not aware of any instance in recent years.
However, fresh tracks prove that animals such as elands (types of antelopes) do come up this part of the mountain, as also nicely summarized in this well-written article about elands on Kilimanjaro by Dr. Hans Schabel.
So why do elands come up so high where there’s nothing to eat? We were told they go up to very high altitudes to lick the alkaline stones in order to boost their mineral supplies (how smart!). Unfortunately, however, they like to walk at night and avoid humans, so don’t get your hopes up. Chances are close to zero that you will get to see them on Kilimanjaro.