Western Breach Route – The Most Dangerous Route on Kilimanjaro?

The Western Breach trail is a challenging and scenic route that links Arrow Glacier to Crater Camp. Spanning 2,800 feet (850 meters) over a distance of 1.25 miles (2 kilometers), this trail will test your physical abilities and may require some climbing on all fours in certain sections.

Despite the difficulty, this route offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. So, be prepared for a strenuous but rewarding trek through a rocky and steep terrain.

The Perils of the Western Breach Route

The key danger of this route lies not in the climb itself, but in the melting glaciers located above it. As a result of global warming, these retreating glaciers have released previously bound up rocks, making the route significantly more treacherous.

In 2006, a tragic accident further highlighted the risks of the Western Breach Route when three American climbers lost their lives due to a rockfall. This incident led to the closure of the route, as investigations revealed that it was not safe. The route was eventually reopened, but with necessary changes to minimize the time spent in the highest risk area.


The Temptation of the Western Breach Route

While the dangers involved in the Western Breach Route are evident, the route continues to allure climbers. The unique challenge of navigating through a breach in the crater wall, instead of simply reaching the crater rim like other routes, is a major draw. This route also offers the opportunity to camp in the crater and explore landmarks such as the Furtwangler Glacier and the Ash Pit.


Alternative Options for Exploring the Crater

For those seeking to minimize their risk while still experiencing the wonders of the crater, there are alternative options available. While climbing agencies do not typically include a descent into the crater in their standard routes, it can be added as an option. Additionally, on a private climb, it is possible to spend a night in the crater camp. However, proper acclimatization must be considered before attempting this, as the high altitude can be dangerous.


The Risks Involved and Precautions Taken

The Western Breach Route is not without its risks, as evidenced by previous accidents. In addition to the potential for rockfall, there is also a “point of no return” at 5500-5600 m, which means that any emergency evacuation would require climbers to continue ascending to the summit before being able to descend. This route is recommended for experienced climbers only, with proper mountain climbing experience and knowledge of altitude sickness.


The Western Breach Route Experience

To access the Western Breach Route, climbers typically take the Machame, Shira, Lemosho, or Umbwe routes, which then lead to the Lava Tower Camp (4642 m). The following day is a short trek to the Arrow Glacier Camp (4871 m), where proper acclimatization can occur. The summit night starts around 2 am, with a steep and technical climb to reach the crater. From there, it is a short trek to the Crater Camp and then up to Uhuru Peak.


Safety and Preparations

As with any climb on Kilimanjaro, safety is of utmost importance. It is crucial to choose a reputable Kilimanjaro company with experienced guides and well-maintained equipment like Climbing Kilimanjaro. Climbers should also be physically and mentally prepared for the challenges of the Western Breach Route, which includes proper acclimatization and training.

In addition, climbers should also be prepared for extreme weather conditions, including low temperatures, high altitude, and potential snowfall. Proper Kilimanjaro clothing and gear are essential for a safe and successful climb.

Western Breach Route Is Closed Until Further Notice by Kilimanjaro National Park Authorities

A strong El Ninio current and a warm Indian Ocean surface temperature means high rains in Tanzania and this year the rain has been beyond measure. Some places have had a full year’s worth of rain in six weeks, and the effects are disastrous in many places.

Kilimanjaro has experienced torrential rainfall, and the Western Breach is quite literally eroding its way down the mountain. Massive runoff has created new gullies on the flank, and appears to be washing out the sediment that binds the rock together, disturbing the rock equilibrium.

And at the bottom of the route, rain water has carved new drainages, and there is a running, flowing river through the top of Arrow Glacier Camp where there has been no water for many decades.

So for the time being, we will remain cautious in observing and meanwhile we will use the detour to the Western Breach until further notice, just like we do at the moment. One just can’t tell the future. We will keep an eye on the situation and inform you.

FYI: Then, on 20 January 2024, the Tanzanian National Parks issued a memo: The climbing route to Uhuru Peak via the Western Breach has been temporarily closed following a preliminary inspection by the ministry of tourism.

Western Breach Closed

A Final Word of Caution

Regardless of the route chosen, it is important to remember the rule of “climb high, sleep low” to acclimatize properly and ensure safety at the extreme altitude. The Western Breach Route is a unique and challenging option for those seeking a thrilling adventure while scaling the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it is not without its dangers. Climbers must always be cautious and make informed decisions to have a successful and safe ascent.