Mount Meru, situated east of the Great Rift Valley and about 40 km southwest of Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania's Arusha National Park, is considered an active volcano and is the country's second highest mountain. It is also considered the fourth highest mountain in all of Africa by some (after Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and the Rwenzoris - aka the Mountains of the Moon). 500,000+ years ago, Mount Meru erupted in a tremendous explosion that destroyed it's cone shape and resulted in a horseshoe crater with the eastern side removed. The resulting mountain has its summit on the west side with it's inner walls rising over 1,500m from the crater floor, making them among the tallest cliffs in Africa. In the past 100 years, eruptions have been reported as the Ash Cone continues to build inside the crater. The first ascent is still in dispute and credited to either Carl Uhlig in 1901 or Fritz Jaeger in 1904.
Although this is a spectacular mountain with amazing scenery and wildlife, it's location in East Africa means that most international visitors will visit Mount Meru as a secondary trip in conjunction with their primary destination, usually Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, or the Ngorongoro Crater. Reasons to do this summit include: (1) amazing views into the summit crater and ash cone, (2) hiking along the crest of the crater rim, (3) nice, but distant, views of Kilimanjaro from the summit, (4) the ability to see a lot of wildlife on the lower slopes in the form of a walking safari, (5) the chance to escape the tourist crowds, and (6) for Americans, the ability to summit another peak taller than Mount Whitney. Arusha National Park provides certificates for people who summit the Little Meru sub-peak (3,820 m / 12,533 ft) or Socialist Peak - aka the Mount Meru summit. Although the name Socialist Peak is listed on the summit certificate, this name was rarely used and given that the Tanzanian government is moving more towards capitalism, it will probably never be more than a curiosity.
The 14 km (8.7 mi) or 19 km (11.8 mi) YDS class 2 Momella Route is the primary and only official route to the summit today. This route starts at the Momella Gate (1,500 m / 4,921 ft) and uses one of two tracks to Miriakamba Hut (2,514 m / 8,250 ft), either a shorter 5 km YDS class 1 route or a longer 10 km YDS class 1 route that allows one to see more wildlife, scenery including waterfalls, and old huts. From the Miriakamba Hut, you take a 4 km YDS class 1 trail through some forests up to the Saddle Hut (3,566 m / 11,700 ft). From Saddle Hut, you can either summit Little Meru (3,820 m / 12,533 ft) or follow the route another 5 km YDS class 2 to the Mount Meru Summit, aka Socialist Peak. On the way up to the summit from Saddle Hut, the first notable bald area you'll reach is Rhino Point where you can get amazing views of the summit and the inner crater walls, providing there are no clouds. You'll know you are at Rhino Point because there is a pile of bones in the center of the clearing. The easy YDS class 2 portion of the hike involves crossing two moderately long low-angle rock slabs above Rhino Point. Also from Rhino Point to the summit, there are green blazes and arrows painted on the rocks to show you the way, however, these can be hard to see at night. There is a metal flag of the United Republic of Tanzania on the summit as well as a wood box and summit register.
Before Mount Meru was included in Arusha National Park in 1967 it was also possible to reach the summit via the North and West Slopes, however, use of these trails to enter the park (and reach the summit) is now illegal. It is, however, legal to climb the inner Ash Cone but the park only recommends this for researchers and issues a special permit for this activity.
Momella Route Trail Map: Zara Tours
MOMELLA GATE: Most people who visit Arusha National Park make a visit to and stay at either Arusha (1,387 m / 4,550 ft) or Moshi (831 m / 2,726 ft), the closest towns to Mount Meru. The major international airports used to access these northern Tanzania towns include (order from most convenient to least): Kilimanjaro International Airport (code: JRO), Nairobi, Kenya (code: NBO), or Dar es Salaam (code: DAR). From either of the towns take the A23 (aka Arusha-Moshi Road) to Usa River Village about 10 km east of Arusha and just west of the Lake Jipe Bar. From here turn north on to the dirt access road and follow it about 30 km until you reach Momella Gate. The access road is fairly rocky so if you hire a car, a 4WD is recommended. There are no regular buses or public transportation to the park so you will have to walk, hire a car, hire a taxi, or hitch a ride. Often times you will be able to hitch a ride from the A23 junction as well as Momella Gate.
There are a considerable number of regulations you should follow to climb this peak, however, if you know the rules things can progress smoothly. A tour operator or trekking company is not required to climb this peak (unlike Kilimanjaro) so you can arrange everything yourself, however, many tour companies that offer Kilimanjaro treks also offer ones for Mount Meru and using one can make your life easier (though more expensive). Some tour operators offering Mount Meru trips include: Zara Tours, Dik Dik Hotel and Restaurant, and Ahsante Tours.
PARK FEES (MANDATORY): There are a number of mandatory fees that must be paid to enter this park and climb the mountain via the only official route, the Momella Route. Of course, you can attempt an illegal summit via the North or West Slopes to avoid the fees, but these are not as scenic as the official route.
Fee Type Amount Period Notes Entrance US$25 per day Although Mount Meru has been climbed in 1 day and 2 days is very reasonable, the park has a regulation stating that climbs of the mountain will take a minimum of 3 days with a recommendation for 4. This means you will need to pay more fees and it may be difficult to avoid if you are also getting a mandatory guide (armed park ranger). jrsteven notes that the park considers a "day" to be from dawn to dusk, not any 24-hour period. Hut US$20 per night There are nice huts at Miriakamba Hut (8,250') and Saddle Hut (11,700') that you can stay in or you can camp in the vincinity of the huts. The hut fees need to be paid whether you are using the huts or camping. Rescue US$20 per trek Self-explanatory :-) Guide US$15 per day Guides are mandatory for the Momella Route (the only official hiking route) to protect you from elephants and buffalo that you may run into on the trail. You can arrange for them at Momella Gate and all fees are paid to the park (not to the guide). Park Commission US$5 per trek This fee is listed in Lonely Planet, however, it did not appear necessary to pay this fee during a trip in January 2002 (Ref: John).
All fees are quoted in US$ and should be paid in hard currency, preferably US dollars (travellers checks or cash). Before optional services such as a porter or tour operator, park fees come out to be US$185 for a 3 day trip or US$245 for a 4 day trip. If you hire a porter, you will also have to pay for their entrance and hut fees (US$1 / day, US$1.50 / night).
GUIDE / PARK RANGER (MANDATORY): As mentioned above, you are required to hire an armed park ranger to be your hiking guide. The primary reason for having an armed guide is to scare off any elephants or buffalo that you run into on the trail since these animals can easily kill or injure people. The porters take elephant encounters very seriously so if this is any indication, you should as well. It should be noted that the rangers do not carry radios though they have radios at the two huts. This means if you run into trouble on the trail, you may not have any help until you reach a hut.
jrsteven mentions "The armed guide, however, is a very good idea. We encountered numerous and very dangerous elephants and buffalos. Once, as were were descending, our guide held up his hand to halt us (like they do in the movies) and told us to go back a few hundred feet. A minute later an elephant crashed out of the underbrush near where we previously were standing, crossed the path, and plunged back into the bush. It made a very big elephant-sized hole in the bushes and trees. The guide said he saw the trees up the slope bending as the elephant was approaching. Exciting, to say the least."
HIKE START TIMES (MANDATORY): You can only begin your hike from Momella Gate between 9:00am and 3:00pm. This is to avoid conflicts with the wildlife in the park. These times are posted and if you arrive outside these times they will not let you in the park, even if you arrive at 3:03pm (Ref: John). Furthermore, if you want to take the 10 km "long road" route up to Miriakamba Hut and do the entire trip in 3 days, you will need to start your hike by 10:00am on the first day.
Generally, the best times to climb this peak are from June to February with occasional rains in November. The dry season is from July to March. December to February generally offer the best views of Kilimanjaro which can often be seen from the summit and most places in Arusha National Park.
ON MOUNTAIN: The two established hut / camping sites are at Mirakamba Hut (2,514 m / 8,250 ft) and Saddle Hut (3,566 m / 11,700 ft). If you are going on a park sanctioned trip with the mandatory guide, you will most likely be staying at Miriakamba Hut on Night 1 and Saddle Hut on Night 2 and optionally Night 3. About the only ways you won't stay here is if some emergency happens. You can also camp in the vincinity of the huts. There are also huts for the rangers, caretakers, and porters / cooks here as well as a kitchen. The caretaker also sells spring water, beer, and Coke at mountain prices (e.g. 350 ml Coke at 1,500/= vs. 200/= (Tanzanian Shillings) in town in Jan 2002 - the exchange rate was US$1 = 900/=).
From jrsteven: "You really don't need porters if you are an experienced hiker with good equipment. Water is collected in rain troughs at the two huts - and at least in October , the troughs were quite full. You just need to boil or filter the water before drinking it."
OFF MOUNTAIN / MOMELLA WILDLIFE LODGE: Near Momella Gate, just outside of Arusha National Park, there is a main lodge here with a restaurant, bar, and conference rooms in addition to a number of bungalows and chalets. You can rent a room or camp here. This lodge is run by Lion's Safari International who you can contact for availability and prices.
OFF MOUNTAIN / NATIONAL PARK RESTHOUSE: This resthouse is run by the Arusha National Park and offers both rooms and camping facilities. Contact Arusha National Park (contact info under Mountain Conditions Section) for reservations.
OFF MOUNTAIN / LOGISTICS CENTERS: Before and after your visit, you can always stay in Arusha or Moshi, the closest towns. Arusha is the primary logistics center for safaris and other trips to the Crater Highlands (e.g. Ngorongoro Crater), while Moshi is the primary logistics center for Kilimanjaro treks. The Mount Meru Novotel in Arusha is generally considered the best hotel in the area.
Use the following resources to check conditions on Mount Meru:
ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
P.O. Box 3134
Tel: 255 27 2501930/1-9
Fax: 0255 27 2548216
ZARA TOURS AND TRAVEL INTERNATIONAL
P.O. Box 1990