Kilimanjaro is often underestimated. It is a high mountain and deserves respect. It is not advisable to climb the mountain in less than 7 days; 8 or more is much better.
All routes are 5 or 6 days, but this is the minimum time, not the recommended time.
The problem is that park fees and other costs like food and porters are paid per day on the mountain. This is for many people a reason to climb the mountain in only 6 days, sometimes in 5.
But it is quite silly to spend sometimes a few thousand dollars on a trip (mostly the airline tickets are much more expensive than our expedition costs) and then try to save a bit over a hundred dollars by cutting the trip short.
Yes, some people have climbed Kilimanjaro in just 5 days. But this means 3,5 days up to the summit of 5895m/19340 feet as you go down in 1.5 days! Most people do NOT make the summit on the 5 days climb, regardless of what some companies might say. Many might reach the crater rim (Gillman's point) and will either be on Diamox, or will feel so bad that they cannot continue to the real summit. They certainly will not enjoy their climb. If you have climbed Kilimanjaro, you should have a feeling of pride, accomplishment and joy, not survival. There is even a special 'summit' certificate for those who did not make it to teh real summit...
Altitude sickness is lethal, and you play with your life by ascending so fast, it does not matter that most routes are non-technical, altitude sickness does not dicriminate between climbers and hikers.
The success rates are roughly the same for all operators. This might surprise you but the only thing that will make a real difference is the length of the trip.
Do not believe summit success % from companies unless explained in detail. No-one can check them and they are defined different ways.
Of course you need to be able to hike on easy angled terrain for several hours with a daypack. But that you will have to do with every company. On Kili the only thing that really matters is the time you spend on the mountain. Every day longer will improve your chances. It is not a technical mountain and even overweight people will summit in 9 or 10 days. Even very fit people will not in 4 or 5 days.
The past years our summit success has been 97-98%. In detail: 97+% of ALL climbers have summited. Some operators claim similar numbers but count only the groups where at least one member has summited. We count all climbers separately, our high number is because we have great guides and our average trip length is more than 8 days on the mountain; we refuse to do 5 or 6 days trips.
Western Breach, sleeping in the crater:
The Western Breach Variation of the Umbwe, Lemosho and Machame routes has been closed for several years now, after some serious accidents due to melting ice and rockfall. But there is a different route which offers an opportunity to spend a night on the crater floor, with many advantages:
- you sleep next to one of the last glaciers, and can explore the crater
- you ascend the steepest and hardest part during the day before. On other routes, you do this at night, so in the dark.
- Summit day therefore starts relatively late, just an hour or so before sunrise.
- You can even summit first, even quite late in the day (and be alone) and sleep in the Crater after summiting.
But the disadvantage is of course the altitude at which you spend the night, about 5750m / 18865 feet. This is really high and therefore an 9 or more day trip is strongly recommended unless you live at high alttude or are acclimatised from a previous trip. We won't organise a Crater camp for trips of 8 days or shorter.
Note that even if we do plan it, the guide will always be the one that deceides if the team is acclimatised enough to actually sleep in the Crater.
Conclusion & recommendation
The most important thing about a Kilimanjaro climb is that it should be safe and that you should enjoy it. Why rush on one of the most beautiful places on earth and feel bad if you can easily enjoy it much more and have a bigger chance of summiting?
Spend a little more and climb in 7 or more days, with 8-10 days recommended. Only silly people will look down on you if you did summit, enjoyed it and felt great by spending 2 more days than others might have.
It is much more expensive to have to come back to climb again. And rushing to altitude is life-threatening, so saving hundred bucks might cost you much more in the end.