Mt Meru (4,566m) is only 50km from Kilimanjaro but with superb trekking and immense natural beauty the excellent potential for acclimatisation on this volcano is often overlooked. With an armed ranger escort we avoid the main track and take a route up through the ancient forest. Higher up there is thrilling trekking around the crater rim with stunning views across to Kilimanjaro or back to the plains and volcanoes of the Great Rift Valley.
Day 1 Early start from Arusha for short game drive in Arusha National Park; we invariably spot buffalo, zebra, giraffe, monkeys, antelope, often elephants and superb birdlife. Then starting from Momella Gate, we use the longer Fig Tree route ascent, up through savanna and montane forest, dense on the lower slopes but thinning as we gain height. Our first night's stop is in the comfortable Miriakamba Hut (2,600m) with great views over the plains below. Walking time 4-5 hours.
Day 2 Meru is a dormant volcano with a crater surrounded by steep cliffs. The cliffs of the inner wall are over 1,200m high, some of the tallest in Africa. We follow a spectacular ridge from where we peer down into the crater to the recently erupted Ash Cone. Forest gives way to giant heather, groundsel, and other high altitude plants, as the path zig-zags up the steep slopes or winds through narrow gullies to reach Saddle Hut at 3,570m. Walking time about 4 hours. Short afternoon hike option up to Little Meru Peak for acclimatisation.
Day 3 Anyone wanting to attempt the peak at 4,566m can leave at 2am. It is a spectacular but very difficult ridge walk made more tricky by the cold, wind, steep scree and altitude. It should not be attempted by anyone who is not absolutely certain of their abilities at this height. It also involves a long and strenuous trek down.
Alternatively a 5am start for a short hike up to Rhino Point at 3,950m in time for sunrise. Kilimanjaro is now a silhouette as the sun rises from behind its massif; the view is simply stunning. Back to the hut for a late breakfast and then descend to meet our vehicle and return to Arusha.
Day 4 EXTRA DAY - To maximise your chance of reaching the summit it’s a good idea to spend an extra day exploring the Ash Cone area in the crater floor from Miriakamba Hut - very few people do this.