By Burnham Arlidge
Standing at almost 6,000 meters, Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain on earth and draws thousands of tourists a year, all with the dream of reaching the roof of Africa. Its rugged beauty, stunning vistas and changing landscape make for one of the best treks in the world.
However, standing 70km South-west of the mountain is Kilimanjaro’s little brother – Mount Meru. The fourth highest peak in Africa, Meru is an active volcano (although dormant) with a rim-lined crater extending across the entire East flank of the mountain with a drop off of 1,500 meters, making it one of the highest cliff faces in Africa. Standing just over a 1,000 meters shorter, Meru is often overshadowed and overlooked by its larger brother. Meru though is an incredible trek in its own right and there are a number of reasons why people looking to climb Kilimanjaro should seriously consider climbing Meru first.
Why climb Meru
Firstly, as mentioned above, thousands of tourists descend upon Kilimanjaro every year – this is not the case with Meru. Although Meru is beautiful and offers a lot of things Kilimanjaro can’t, it still experiences only a tiny percentage of tourists compared to its big brother. This fact makes for a far more relaxed and authentic trek with none of the wild magic being lost by the hordes of climbers.
Another reason to climb Meru is its wildlife. For any animal lovers out there Meru is the place to climb! The lower reaches of the mountain are so abundant in wildlife that it is mandatory for an armed park ranger to accompany you on Meru. You will almost certainly see buffalo, monkeys, warthogs and a wide array of African birds and, if you get lucky, zebra and giraffe also!
The Meru trek is a beautiful one. The jungle landscape on the lower reaches looks like something out the Jungle Book with its gnarled trees and criss-crossing vines. However, one of the main reasons people trek this route is for the crater rim walk near the summit that is very narrow, sharp falling and exhilarating – especially if it’s windy! Once on the summit you’re rewarded with some truly incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape, including Kilimanjaro.
One of the most notable reasons for climbing Meru is to use it as a warmup for Kilimanjaro, almost like a taster session. This is mainly for acclimatization purposes as altitude sickness can be a real problem on Kilimanjaro. Don’t underestimate Meru though, at 4,566 meters, it is a tough trek and easily high enough to induce altitude sickness – I was gulping for air up there and I’ve done my fair share of altitude trekking. Meru is useful in that it is high enough to force your body to acclimatize to the altitude, making the necessary changes it needs in order to account for the lack of oxygen. This makes trekking Kilimanjaro a much easier task as your body has already adapted before you ascend the larger mountain.
On top of the acclimatization, Meru prepares you for the same tour operation as Kilimanjaro. You have a guide and porters to carry your luggage and cook your meals. You move up through several climate and vegetation zones in 1 day and we summited the mountain in the dark – just like Kilimanjaro. We also descended over 2,000 meters in the same day which is a process followed on Kilimanjaro.
I would strongly recommend anyone looking to climb Kilimanjaro to first consider trekking Meru. For myself, the trek up Meru almost eclipsed my trek up Kilimanjaro. The wildlife was highlight for me as we saw several zebra on top of the regular suspects. The landscape was similar to that of Kilimanjaro, but the lack of tourists made the trek feel slightly more special. The crater rim walk was one of the best bits and the views we had on summit morning were breath-taking. Therefore, I believe Meru is a must for any serious trekker who is venturing to Kilimanjaro.