Kilimanjaro Climbing Tips, Gear Recommendations, and What to Expect
Things You Need to Know Before You Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
At 19,341 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the fourth highest of the seven summits. It takes five to eight days at gruelling altitudes to make it to the summit and back.
To climb Mount Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime opportunity. People travel from all over the world to stand on top of the Roof of Africa. Being properly prepared to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is the key to a successful summit attempt. A lack of camping and climbing experience shouldn't stop you from taking on this mountain.
Choosing your route
There are seven routes from which one can climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
The Machame, Umbwe and Marangu routes approach the summit from the South. The Rongai route which starts from the North East is dryer than the other routes and therefore a little less scenic. Because it is slightly out of the way the route is never overcrowded.
Some people start their climb from the East using the Lemosho and Shira route. Both are very scenic and beautiful.
The newest route is the Northern Circuit, which is also the longest route. The Northern Circuit provides lots of opportunity to acclimatize and hence success rates are high on this route.
Hence, a shorter route is not necessarily a better route. Some are more scenic than others. Some are more crowded than others. Some are more challenging than others. And some are better for acclimatization to altitude.
Mental and Physical Preparation
It is important that your body is adequately prepared for the physical challenges of Mount Kilimanjaro. We have developed a fitness training program which will assist you in getting your body in shape for your Kilimanjaro summit expedition.
It is possible to summit Kilimanjaro successfully. Many before you have succeeded. This should be topmost in your mind when preparing for the summit attempt. You should always remain in a positive state of mind, but not overly arrogant. Try to anticipate various different scenarios, which you may possibly encounter on the mountain and try to work out the most suitable course of action, mentally by yourself or even as a group. Your mental stamina will, without a doubt, make the really difficult sections, like from Kibo to Uhuru or from Barafu to Uhuru, easier to complete. Remember if you are properly equipped, you have taken everything as indicated on the final checklist, you are physically prepared and have all the knowledge gained from this internet guide – you will be mentally confident for the physical part of Kilimanjaro.
This is one of the most important things to do before you even begin anything else, as the wrong gear will leave you uncomfortable and miserable.
Remember that you will be on the mountain for at least 5 or 6 days. You need to take enough clothing, especially socks to last for this period. Due to frequent rainfall as well as numerous streams on the routes, it is advisable to pack items individually in your bag. These individually packed items should be wrapped in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet in case of rain or of being accidentally dropped in a stream.
You will require the correct underwear, thermal hiking socks, gloves (preferably mittens), warm head protection, rain coat, sunglasses and sun protection cream. Also remember your hiking boots, hiking/running shoes (it is not necessary to walk with boots or climbers shoes until the last sections where scree and rocks are encountered), and very importantly, a walking stick / ski-pole. One of the most critical items of clothing is an outer jacket. You want it to perform the functions of keeping you warm, protect you at temperatures of as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius, keep the wind out and yet still “breath”. Try to avoid tight fitting clothing or underwear. This will hamper circulation, causing either cold or discomfort on the mountain. A balaclava is a must, as it will protect your face against cold, wind, sun and snow. Other clothing like shorts, sweaters and T-shirts are strongly recommended, especially during hiking on the lower slopes, when the day temperatures are still high.
The only way to ensure that you are dressed warmly is to follow the principal of wearing the correct clothing layers, starting from against the body. A common mistake made by climbers is to wear almost everything they have and to start off with cotton against the skin. Cotton absorbs moisture perfectly, and moisture trapped against the skin will result in a definite lowering of the body temperature, which could even lead to hypothermia. It is therefore very important to use proper thermal underwear with “wicking” properties (a fabric which has the ability to draw moisture away from the body) and thus enabling it to evaporate to the outside. The middle layer should provide the insulation and a product like polar fleece will be adequate in this regard. The outer layer should be windproof, waterproof and breathable. Products like Ventex, Goretex or Jeantex offer these properties. Short of altitude and physical exertion, cold is one of the most serious obstacles when attempting to summit Kilimanjaro. After securing your booking with us, you’ll receive a comprehensive document, to guide you through the steps of purchasing the correct gear.
Acclimitization on Kilimanjaro
Given enough time the body adapts to changes in altitude. Some people experience worse altitude sickness symptoms than others.
There is no correlation between susceptibility to altitude sickness and factors of gender, age, fitness ect.
To prepare for altitude it is important that you understand the symptoms associated with Acute Mountain Sickness. We highly recommend reading our article on acclimatisation which goes into much more detail on acute mountain sickness and the medications you can take to help prevent the onset of AMS.
The three key things to remember are:
1. Go slowly at all times, even on the lower reaches of the mountain
Do not exert yourself. You will hear the porters and guides say “Pole Pole”. This means ‘slow slow’ in Swahili. Make sure you listen and go slow
2. Drink load of fluids
Dehydration is a key cause of Acute Mountain Sickness. The more fluids you can drink the better. Daily recommended intake is 3 litres of water. You can add an energy supplement to the water to make it taste better and always remember to add purification tablets.
3. Climb high, sleep low
Climbing high, sleeping low allows your body to experience altitude for a short period before descending to sleep. On Kilimanjaro it is highly recommended to have an acclimatization day. Typically this happens on day 3 where you climb high (approx. 4,600m and sleep low approx. 3,900m)
You may also decide to take Diamox, which is a medication that helps prevent the onset of AMS.
Eating well on Kilimanjaro is key to your success – you’ll need the energy on summit night. Food is carried and prepared by your guiding team. Typically breakfast consists of tea / coffee, bread with spreads, porridge, sausage and eggs. Lunch usually includes soup, bread, a cooked stew or sandwiches. Dinner is similar to lunch.
Taking adequate snacks is important. Energy bars are a great idea. Plan to eat 3 a day.
One of the main symptoms of AMS is nausea and loss of appetite. If you experience these symptoms you must remember to try eat something to ensure that you have some energy reserves you can draw on during the summit. Eating a few biscuits helps!
Water on Kilimanjaro
Water is critical on the mountain.
On day one you will be given 2-3 litres from your guide. During the climb porters will be collecting water to replenish supplies.
You should aim to drink at least 3 litres of water a day. Dehydration is a key cause of AMS so make sure you remain hydrated. You can add an energy supplement to your water to make it more palatable.
Kilimanjaro Guides and Porters
The Kilimanjaro guides and porters are your greatest asset on the mountain. Most guides and porters are locals who speak Swahili. Guides usually have a good command of English.
Typically every climbing group has at least 1 guide, and each climber has three porters. Porters carry all gear, tents, cooking supplies and water. You will learn to respect these guys by the end of day one on your climb. – each porter carries approx. 20kg of kit on their back!!
Trekking is never easy and really takes a beating on some, both physically and mentally. Pace yourself to avoid any unnecessary anxiety about not being able to make it or getting ill. Stop a few times to breath in the fresh air and enjoy the stunning scenery around you. As well, when trekking Mount Kilimanjaro with a group you will find that it is much easier to enjoy yourself, especially in the evening when you stop to rest and sleep. At Wanyama African Safari, we offer a variety of guided treks up Mount Kilimanjaro and doing the trek with a group of other fun loving adventurists will truly add to the experience.
Other useful tips:
- Make sure all your clothes and sleeping bag are packed in plastic bag inside the duffel bag, to ensure they stay dry in the event of rain, even if your duffel bag is waterproof. Once something gets wet on the mountain it is difficult, even impossible to dry!
- Something good Vaseline or Vicks Vaporub are good on the summit attempt.
Moist air coming from your noise or on your lips will freeze and become very uncomfortable
- Sound travel at night and many people snore on Kilimanjaro – bring some ear plugs to sleep with.
- The trail is very dusty and sinus congestion is a problem with many hikers. Bring a good decongestant spray or tablet.
- Female hikers suffer more from the cold than male hikers. Hand / feet warmers are a good idea (or even a hot water bottle – hot water is available during meal times) and will help keep you warmer in the sleeping bag (minus temperatures to be encountered from the first night onwards)
- Travel with your most important gear as hand luggage – e.g. wear your hiking boots in the plane – missing luggage is a common problem.
- Bring some blister plasters, Vaseline and liner socks. If you start to get blisters it will help a lot.
- There is mobile reception on most of the mountain (except the first days on the Rongai route). If you bring your mobile, make sure you activate international roaming. Because you cannot recharge the battery, only have the phone on an hour or two daily.