Adventure Travel – Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro
Mt Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s signature mountain’s and high on the list for many hikers. Fueled by the mystique of the Hemingway story, the diversity of climate zones, active glaciers at the peak, and ease of accessibility, Kilimanjaro draws thousands of hikers each year. At 19,343 feet above sea level it is a test, but one that most people can accomplish with good planning and preparation.
If you have some experience hiking, then you probably have most of the equipment you will need. However, weather conditions on Kilimanjaro can be extreme. To make sure you have the proper gear for the trip, your tour operator should have a list of minimum equipment you should bring. Be sure to follow their recommendations closely. A good sleeping bag, layers of clothing and comfortable boots are essential
The first task is picking a Tour Operator. The Tanzanian Park Service requires the use of a local company for guides and porters. The Tour Operator will coordinate all the details with the local company, so you can focus on enjoying your time in country. The range of amenities available is as varied as your budget. You can choose anything from having just a guide and carrying all of your own food and equipment to a full expedition with great food, dining tents, and portable toilets. With that decision made, now preparation begins for your trek.
The biggest challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro is the altitude. There is very little you can do to prepare for altitude except be at altitude. Since most of us live near sea level, you should do your best to get into shape. Climbing Kilimanjaro is an extended trek rather than a technical mountaineering experience. The gradient is usually shallow but it is an uphill walk that will last 7 or 8 days. The summit day is the steepest and much more difficult because of the extreme altitude.
Aerobic training helps you build the stamina necessary to use your muscles efficiently. Don’t confuse being able to run 10 miles on the weekend with being ready for this climb. It is advisable to train by walking long distances on consecutive days. If possible, do it in the same boots you will be using on Kilimanjaro so they are properly broken in. This preparation not only increases your chances of making it to the summit, it also will increase your comfort level in the process. If you live near any mountains or hills, even a minor elevation gain will help you prepare. If you belong to a fitness club, then the stair master, elliptical, or bike is always good. Weight training is not important. Unless it’s already part of your training regimen, there is no special requirement to start lifting.
One of the largest factors in acclimatizing is drinking enough water – you must drink 4 to 5 liters of water a day. A general rule is if you aren’t going to the bathroom every two hours then you are not drinking enough water. It is highly recommended to use a bladder in your day pack, so you can keep sipping water along the trail. It is much better to intake water constantly vs “tanking up” at a break in the trail. Water is readily available in camp. The guides will boil it to purify it for drinking.
Another factor in your favor is the slow pace of hiking which improves acclimatization. You will constantly hear pole pole (pronounced poley poley) which is Swahili for slowly slowly. So if you get plenty of sleep, drink water, eat at every meal, and walk slowly, you greatly increase your odds of making it to summit. Most outfitters will have a guide who will go at the slowest person’s pace so everybody has a chance to summit.
You will carry only a daypack with your rain gear, warmer outer layers, lunch, camera, snacks, and water. The porters carry everything else. In other words, you don’t need to train for carrying a heavy pack yourself. Consider a daypack that is waterproof or buy a waterproof cover. The same is true for your gear – waterproof or a pack cover. A porter will carry your equipment bag with your sleeping bag and extra clothing. A backpack is not required as they may carry it on their head or in a canvas bag.
A few more tips:
- The weather on Kilimanjaro can change from perfect to bad and back again within a short time, even during the best seasons.
- The mountain is often covered in clouds during the middle of the day, and yet clear in the morning and at sunset.
- Be prepared with rain gear (jacket, pants, gaiters) and boots that can handle mud. Trekking poles are also recommended.
- As you gain altitude, it gets cold. While hiking you will generate heat so dress in layers and have warm, fleece and a wind proof outer layer. Inner layers should be synthetic to wick away moisture form your body.
- The porters work incredibly hard so bring cash to tip them at the end of the trek – 10% of the cost of the trip is normal. You may reward someone individually for service above and beyond, but still maintain the main tip amount as that will be pooled together for distribution. Donations of gear and clothing are also welcome, but not lieu of cash.
- Consider adding a safari to your trip – it is a incredible experience to see the wild animals. Or, take a couple of days at the beach in Zanzibar for an experience of Arabic, African, and European cultures while sitting on white beaches and swimming in the warm water of the Indian Ocean.
Standing on the summit with your fellow trekkers is an incredible experience. You are at the roof of Africa and can celebrate a tremendous achievement. Let me know if you have any further questions.