The Northern Circuit – Mount Meru

28th February 2013

The third major attraction of Arusha National Park is the crater of Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth highest peak. The rugged ash cone of this dormant volcano has not seen any lava action for a century, and is not predicted to do so in the near future, so those wishing to climb its 4,566m height can eliminate at least one concern. A hike up and down Mount Meru is usually a three- or four-day round trip, if you take it at a relaxed pace and explore the plains, forests, moorlands and volcanic lava desert that make up its landscape. If time, funds and stamina permit, it is a good ides to climb Meru as a means of acclimatising before attempting the summit of Kilimanjaro. Mount Meru also has the advantage of being far less visited than its grand neighbour, so the lower slopes are more densely populated with wildlife and there is a good chance of encountering larger animals such as giraffe and various antelope. Although smaller than Kilimanjaro, with no snow-covered peaks, the climb up Meru can be extremely cold and requires proper mountain gear for overnight camping. Mount Meru is also very steep in parts, and climbers will need stout walking shoes.

Many of the tour operators listed in this section can arrange for you to climb Meru, and will ensure that you have appropriate porters, food and equipment. A fully equipped climb generally costs upwards of $200 per day, including the park requirements for an armed ranger ($20/day), hut fees ($20), park fees ($25), and overall rescue insurance ($20), plus the cost of a guide, porters, food and transport to the park. The price is considerably lower if you climb in a larger group. Factor in tips at around $10 per day for your guide.

Most climbs follow an itinerary similar to the following :

(this itinerary was devised with assistance from Tropical Trekking; see Tour Operators listings for further information)

Hikes generally begin and end at Momela Gate. A path leads up from here to dense mountain rainforest where huge moss-covered cedar trees grow, and there is always a chance of encounters with buffalo, giraffe and colobus. Many climbers stop for a picnic along the way, perhaps at Mayo Falls (1,900m), to rest and breathe the fresh forest air and maybe bathe in the cold, clear mountain stream. The walk continues in the afternoon through the beautiful upper rainforest to Meru Crater and then Miriakamba Hut at 2,700m for supper and the first night on the mountain.

After breakfast, hikers traverse the lower alpine regions on the northern crater rim in order to reach the Saddle Hut at 3,500m. This walk is quite steep and requires a major effort from all climbers. Close to the Saddle Hut the vegetation is reduced to only low moss-covered bushes and shrubs that can survive such high altitude. You will usually reach the hut by mid-afternoon, and can rest or summon more energy to explore the rocky summit of ‘small Meru’, from where the views are superb in all directions, and the sharp Crater Rim leading to the Meru Summit is revealed. You spend the night at Saddle Hut, with breathtaking views of the night sky, often above the cloud line. Climbers can start the ascent to the summit in the early morning, as early as 2am, with the aim to reach the summit at sunrise. It’s best to do this climb at full moon, but take torches in case it is not bright enough. Between the Saddle Hut and the summit the reduced oxygen of high altitudes cuts climbers’ breath short and the pace is slow. When you reach the summit you can enjoy the first morning light while recovering from the night’s exertions. The views are spectacular, as the orange-red sky fades behind Kilimanjaro and the morning sun rises across the African plains. The descent continues back along the Crater Rim to the Saddle Hut for a picnic stop, and on in the afternoon to reach Miriakamba Hut, for the final night. The next day brings climbers back down to Momella Gate along a trail that wends through open glades where buffalo and bushbuck can be observed in the morning light and there are often fabulous views of the Momela Lakes and Kilimanjaro.

Shorter walks on Mount Meru

For those less energetic or adventurous, or just pushed for time, there is an hour-long walk from the open plain of Kitoto through the forest to Jekukumia river and a short distance on up the mountain to either Meru Crater or Njeku. The forest ends abruptly on the rim of Meru Crater, with views of the sheer cliff face rising 1500m to the ash cone summit.

The walk to Njeku is longer, and leads to an ancient sacrificial site once used by the people of Meru in times of drought. Njeku literally means an old woman who commands great respect, but in its context here it refers to the site of an old juniper tree, which is connected to a spiritual legend about an old woman who had the power to make rain. Continuing further on from Njeku brings you to a viewpoint overlooking a waterfall gushing through a gorge of the Ngare River.

All walks through the park must be arranged with park officials at the gate, and you must take an armed ranger for protection in case of encounters with irritable buffalo.

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