Get To Know The Risks Of Climbing The Western Breach Route On Kilimanjaro

The Western Breach is the most difficult and dangerous ascent path on Mount Kilimanjaro. The route is extremely steep and rocky, with deadly rockfalls occurring during high winds. Although you don’t need to become a rock climber in order to climb the Western Breach, mountain climbing experience is required or, at least, very strongly recommended to attempt this route. There is no single, well beaten path through the Western Breach compared to other ascent routes because the surroundings change all the time due to snow, ice shifts, and littered rocks.

If you seek a challenge and prefer less crowded routes, the Western breach on Kilimanjaro may be ideal for you. (1) This technical summit route involves scrambling to reach the top and is relatively less demanding. Typically, it attracts a younger audience.

At an elevation of 4,860m, Arrow Glacier camp serves primarily as a stopover point for climbers who are ascending Mount Kilimanjaro via the Western Breach route. (2)

Hut accommodations are exclusively available on the Marangu route of Mount Kilimanjaro, whereas hikers on all other Kilimanjaro trails have to rely on campsites and sleep in tents. (3)

Man standing on rocks during happy with his Kilimanjaro hike
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What makes the Western Breach problematic is that the geography of the mountain puts climbers into a dangerous channel. The route sits on the western side of Kibo and is a gap to the summit that was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions and lava flows from Kibo’s Crater. Tumbling rocks are funneled into this area and, while ice used to hold loose rocks in place, the mountain is continuing to go through a glacial retreat so, as time goes on, rockfalls are becoming more hazardous.

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What Hiking Trails Lead To Kilimanjaro’s Western Breach Route?

  • Lemosho — the Lemosho route has great acclimatization landscapes, beautiful scenic views and is generally easy underfoot. The route boast very high summit success rates, on its 8 day hiking variation, and is one of the best routes to approach the Western Breach. That’s because the duration spent acclimatizing at Lava Tower (4,600m) will later help you properly adjust when you are pushing toward the summit from Arrow Glacier camp (4,800m).
  • Machame — the Machame route is the second best trail to approach the Western Breach because it shares similar landscapes as the Lemosho route. Expect a smooth and gradual climb until you arrive at Arrow Glacier camp.
  • Umbwe — the Umbwe Route is the hardest route on Mount Kilimanjaro due to Its unkempt trails and poor acclimatization opportunities. This is the worst route to approach the Western Breach because there’s very little room for physical recovery and altitude adjustment.
  • Shira — the Shira Route used to be Mount Kilimanjaro’s most scenic route until it was replaced by the Lemosho Route. Shira is remote and covers the entire Shira Plateau, however the altitude drop of 3,600m, at the start of your hike, makes this path not ideal when approaching the Western Breach.

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If you plan to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro via Gilman’s Point or Stella Point, you will inevitably cross the Furtwangler Glacier. (4) This is because the glacier is situated on the Kibo Crater, which is part of Kibo Peak and is accessible through all the established routes.

The Dendrosenecio, a massive species of groundsel, is prevalent on the Shira Plateau and can be encountered while traversing the Machame, Lemosho, and Northern Circuit paths on Kilimanjaro. (5) Although it also grows on other well-known mountains in Tanzania such as Mount Meru, the plant’s geographic characteristics tend to differ.

Mount Kilimanjaro has five distinct climate zones, including Moorland. (6) Moorland is situated at an elevation of 2,800-4,000m (9,000-13,000ft) and is the third climate zone located above the forest zone.

Preparing yourself above 4,000m, on Mount Meru, prior to climbing Kilimanjaro can help your body adapt and cope with the reduced atmospheric oxygen levels during the expedition. (7) This is particularly important if you plan to trek on routes such as Marangu and Umbwe that have steep elevation gains.

1. Death Zone: Arrow Glacier Camp On Kilimanjaro

The Death Zone is an area that sits between Arrow Glacier Camp and the Western Breach. On January 4, 2006, a group of American climbers were making their way from Arrow Glacier Camp to the Western Breach, when they were struck with 39 tonnes of rock that were lodged 150m above their heads. Three climbers were killed and another hiker, along with four porters and a Kilimanjaro tour guide, were badly injured. In response, Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) closed the Western Breach until December of 2007.

Investigations revealed rocks that were previously locked up in ice were freed and fell onto the hikers. Usually isolated rocks fall into this area, but in this case, a whole deposit broke loose and resulted in the tragedy. The glacier continues to melt and retreat, so more rocks are expected to fall.

While it is impossible to predict when rocks will fall, it is possible to predict the area. There is no way to avoid the “death zone” but, by changing the route, you can minimize the exposure from 1-hour down to about 5 minutes.

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2. Point Of No Return: Rock Steps On Mount Kilimanjaro

Another risk factor associated with this route, that many overlook, is the point of no return. When you come at a  point called Rock Steps, at a height above 5,600m, and you suffer life threatening altitude sickness, you would have to continue the ascent, for the remaining 150m or so, and then follow the rim for nearly one and a half kilometres before being able to descend to Barafu. That’s because a descent, on the Western Breach Route, would be very difficult and take too long.

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3. Western Breach Alternatives: Summit Paths To Stella Point & Gillman’s Point

Summit paths to Stella Point and Gillman’s Point are much easier alternatives to the Western Breach. They’re much safer and less challenging overall. Unlike Mount Kilimanjaro routes that lead to the Western Breach, the trails that have access to these ascent paths are Machame, Lemosho, Marangu, Umbwe, Rongai and the Northern Circuit routes.

The Northern Ice Field is a critical source of freshwater for the surrounding ecosystems, as it provides a continuous supply of meltwater that feeds into the rivers and streams in the region. (7) It also plays an important role in regulating local weather patterns by influencing the temperature and humidity levels.

However, the Northern Ice Field, like many other glaciers around the world, has been experiencing significant melting in recent decades due to climate change. In fact, it is estimated that the ice field has lost more than 80% of its volume since 1912, and it may disappear entirely within the next few decades.

The unique location of the ice cap on an equatorial mountain, combined with its rapidly shrinking size, has made it a subject of much scientific study and concern. (8) Researchers are working to understand the factors contributing to its decline and to develop strategies to help preserve this important natural feature for future generations.

The ice cap is made up of several glaciers, including the Northern Icefield, the Southern Icefield, and the Furtwängler Glacier. However, due to a combination of factors, including climate change, the ice cap has been rapidly shrinking over the past few decades..

The snow line on Kilimanjaro is estimated to be at around 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) above sea level. (9) This means that above this elevation, the mountain is generally covered in snow and ice, while below this elevation, the mountain is typically free of snow and ice. The snow line on Kilimanjaro varies depending on factors such as the time of year, weather conditions, and climate change. However, it is generally considered to be higher than on most other mountains at similar latitudes due to the mountain’s high elevation and its location near the equator.

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Save Up To $5,000 On Your Overall Cost Of Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
Get To Know 4 Effective Techniques That'll Prevent Altitude Sickness On Mount Kilimanjaro
Access 4 Months To Avoid Crowds During Your Kilimanjaro Hike
Gain Access To A Complete Kilimanjaro Equipment List
Get A Full 4-Step Training Guide For Mount Kilimanjaro
Avoid 8 Common Mistakes That Lead To Failed Summit Attempts On Mount Kilimanjaro