The Shira Plateau In Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania : A caldera makes up the Shira Plateau, which extends for about 13 kilometers to the west of the snow-covered Kibo summit. That is to say, it is a volcanic crater that has collapsed. Walking on the plateau therefore involves walking over the ruins of the first of Kilimanjaro‘s three extinct volcanoes. Around 500,000 years ago, this occurrence occurred, and the lava and other eruption-related materials from the subsequent Kibo eruption filled the space.
The plateau is known for its biodiversity, in large part because of its closeness to Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. Elephant, eland, and buffalo herds have all been observed leaving this park and making their way up the mountainside.
To spot any signs of wildlife on the plateau, though, would be extremely fortunate. It’s true that occasionally you might come upon a hoof print or perhaps some sun-dried poop lumps. However, it’s unusual to see a genuine animal other than a monkey or a mouse.
Don’t take the walk in the hopes of seeing animals, though the closeness of Africa’s greatest wild beasts does bring a certain frisson of thrill to it. Because traveling such a distance to view some dried elephant excrement is absurd.
SHIRA PLATEAU ROUTE
- Duration: 4-6 days of ascent only; total, including descent: 5-7 or 8 days.
- Distance: 38.02 km/23.75 miles ascent on regular route; 20.6 km/12.75 miles descent; total walking: 58.62 km/36.5 miles.
The original trail across the plateau is called the Shira Plateau Route. (The Lemosho Route wasn’t established for several years.) The Shira Route isn’t often used anymore, at least not by walkers. Instead, it has been transformed into a 4WD route for ambulances to use to get to and from the Shira 2 Campsite.
The few hikers who reserve spots on the Shira Plateau trail frequently start their journey above a forest. This is undoubtedly one of its major drawbacks. I believe that the forest on that side of the mountain is the best on the entire mountain. It seems irrational to miss it at this point. You have two options after descending from the plateau to the base of Kibo at Lava Tower:
- a) You can circle Kibo’s southern flank by taking the longer and simpler Barafu Route. If you choose this route and make additional overnight breaks on the plateau and in the Karanga Valley, the walk could take up to eight days. Seven days are more likely, if not.
- b) The Western Breach Route via Arrow Glacier and the Crater Camp. Using this trail, the hike will generally take 6-7 days.
LEMOSHO OR SHIRA PLATEAU: WHICH ONE’S BEST?
The Lemosho Route is superior, despite the fact that the two routes are similar. In fact, the first two days are the only times when the two differ. You begin your forest stroll with Lemosho. However, when using the Shira Plateau Route, you typically drive all the way up to the plateau. You miss out on Kilimanjaro’s best forest as a result. Or, more accurately, you can see it, but only out of a car window.
Not only do you miss out on the experience, but you can also miss out on some beneficial acclimatization. Therefore, even if the Lemosho Route’s ascent to the plateau may be strenuous, it is worthwhile. While the weeping, retching AMS sufferers who drove up to the Shira Plateau litter the route around you, the advantages of walking rather than driving up may not become obvious until much later as you meander up Kibo with hardly a headache.
Nevertheless, one prominent firm still promotes treks along this path (although even then, they depart greatly from the traditional Shira track). They assert that it has numerous benefits over the conventional Lemosho Route. However, my recommendation is still the same: If you have the choice, always choose Lemosho over the Shira Plateau Route.
WHICH ROUTE AM I ON?
The Lemosho Route is frequently mistaken for the Shira Plateau Route, which is the first thing to know about these two routes. This is especially true of foreign organizations that are eager to publicize the news that you will be crossing the Shira Plateau. It’s understandable that this is unclear; therefore, you should ask your agency to specify which of the two options you’ll be following.
Checking the location of your first night’s lodging is another option. If you’re staying at the Big Tree Campsite, also known as Mti Mkubwa in the local tongue, you’ll be traveling along the Lemosho Route.
THE SHIRA PLATEAU ROUTE ITINERARY
Day 1: Morum Barrier To Shira 1 Or Simba Cave
- Distance: 3.75km to Shira 1, 6.5km to Simba Cave
- Altitude Gained: 99m to Shira 1, 215m to Simba Cave
The journey starts at what appears to be an old concrete gatepost at the very north-western corner of the Shirt Plateau. This post is an antique Morum Barrier (3405m) relic. Here, it seems rather lonely. The environment is windswept, the vegetation is sparse and dry, and the fauna is almost nonexistent.
The following few days will be spent on this plateau. On occasion, groups that arrive late are compelled to camp here. It’s more common to hike to one of the tents on the plateau, though, if everything has gone according to plan thus far. The only viable options are Shira 1 or Simba Cave Campsite, depending on when we arrive.
A short trail leading south from the information boards leads to Shira 1 (3504m). Although the trail crosses multiple streams, the entire trek only lasts about 70 minutes. The Lemosho Route is then followed from Shira 1 to Shira 2 (perhaps through the cathedral) and Lava Tower. We could have taken the Northern Circuit instead of traveling in the direction of Moir Huts.
The alternatives are roughly the same for guests staying at Simba Cave Campsite (3640m), which is accessible by foot along the 4WD route. The main intersection of the road and the Lemosho Route is marked by the campsite, which is embellished with a number of worn-out, ancient wooden toilets.