Few experiences can compete with standing on top of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. After climbing several days in a row, you will find yourself gazing at a whole continent six kilometers below. No wonder it’s an adventure that is on the bucketlist of so many people.
It was the main reason why I signed myself up for a Kilimanjaro climb, six years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Climbing Kilimanjaro was my first real adventure making that I was unexperienced and learnt valuable lessons along the way. Things I wish I had known before starting my climb.
Yes, I did summit the Roof of Africa and succeeded in obtaining my place in the 50% of trekkers that actually make it. It brisked up my ambitions to climb the world’s highest mountains ever since, including Mont Blanc, Elbrus and Aconcagua.
Here are a few valuable tips to know before you start your Kilimanjaro climbing expedition.
Planning your climb
Before you start preparing for your next adventure, there are three decisions to be made:
- When will I start the climb?
- What route will I follow?
- What trekking agency will I use?
When to climb Kilimanjaro
The best periods to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is during the driest months of the year. The dry seasons in Tanzania are usually from January to mid March and from June till October.
What route should you take?
There are several climbing routes up Kilimanjaro. They all vary in length and difficulty so it’s an important decision to make. All routes require camping along the way, except for the Marangu route which is the most popular route chosen.
- Marangu route 5-6 days
- Machame route 6-7 days
- Rongai 5-6 days
- Shira 6-8 days
- Lemosho 7-8 days
I chose the Marangu route with the extra acclimatisation day. If I could do things over, I would opt for the Machame route instead.
My advice is if you don’t mind camping, take the Machame route and the maximum number of days as this helps you acclimatizing to the altitude. If this is your first trekking at high altitudes, choose the Marangu route (6 days) instead.
Selecting a trekking organisation
Mount Kilimanjaro is protected by the Kilimanjaro National Park. You can only climb Kilimanjaro with a registered guide/trekking agency. A good climb operator will supply guides, a cook, porters, food, water, and camping equipment if you are camping.
I booked with African Spoonbill Tours and can only recommend them!
How to Prepare for you Kilimanjaro Adventure
Book your flights
The closest airport to Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO), situated half way between Arusha and Moshi. Moshi is the place where most climbers stay before starting their climb and provides great views on the mountain.
Organising your visa
You need a visa to enter Tanzania and a passport that’s valid for at least another 6 months. You can buy your visa upon arrival in Tanzania.
Getting your vaccinations
A yellow fever certificate is the only obliged vaccination you need before entering Tanzania. However, vaccinations against tetanus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B are well recommended as well. If you combine your climb with a safari, it is advised to take anti-malaria medication as well.
Getting into shape
Climbing Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa is sometimes wrongly advertised as a simple hike up. However, it is a physically and mentally demanding endeavor and should not be underestimated, no matter how many people climb Kilimanjaro each year.
It’s true that all routes require no mountaineering skills, specialised equipment or even previous climbing experience. Still, climbing Kili is more than just a trekking. Altitude sickness can set in above 3,000 metres – sometimes with serious consequences – and there’s no prior indication as to who might suffer from it.
How to train for Kilimanjaro?
The best way to prepare yourself for climbing Kilimanjaro is by hiking. I started my training from scratch by running, combining it with long day hikes. To be fair, I kinda overtrained (if there is such a thing) by running half marathons and walking 100 kilometer in 24 hours (Dodentocht).
It should suffice to have a solid hiking stamina in which you are able to hike 8 hours uphill with a daypack.
How to deal with altitude sickness?
There is no way to prepare yourself against altitude sickness. At that time, I used Diamox which is often advised. But I would advise against it as I believe it has more negative aspects than positive ones. I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness, but later climbs would learn me that I have a natural ability for dealing with high altitudes and I acclimatize easily.
The only things you can do is lots of drinking (as this gets rid of head aches that are often mistaken for altitude sickness) and climbing slow (Polé, polé as you will hear often on the mountain). For this reason, choosing a longer itinerary might be your highest chance of success.
Pack for your trip
A common mistake climbers make is packing too much. I was one of them. Eventhough porters can carry a duffelbag with personal belongings, we still carried a heavy backpack with (too much stuff and snacks), making our expedition harder than needed to be. Check out the gear list and stick to it! Camping equipment will be provided by your trekking service.
- A good quality sleeping bag is essential
- Several layers of clothes (prepare for 30 degrees Celsius and -20 degrees as well)
- Hiking boots (broken into!)
- Camel back and thermos
- Suncream (lots of them!)
A more detailed gear list will be provided by your trekking service.
What to expect during the climb
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a tough and strenuous undertaking that should not be taken lightly. Anyone attempting to reach the Roof of Africa should be in good physical fitness and have experience of multi day trekking or walking trips prior to undertaking a Kilimanjaro climb. Most days involve 4 – 7 hours of walking at altitude and the summit day is very strenuous with most people walking for between 14 – 18 hours. Even for fit people the effects of altitude can make the climb very tough.
During the first days you will hike in African temperatures (30 degrees Celsius +), but as you get higher, temperatures will drop quickly. Be prepared for a summit (night) climb with temperatures well below freezing level.
When it comes to the altitude, listen to your body. Altitude sickness is not just an inconvenience but can prove to be deadly if no measures are taken. Headaches are the first symptoms, only to be followed by nausea and vomiting. In this case, descending is the only option to avoid HAPE and HACE.
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Top tips in a nutshell
- Choose the right route
- Train hard
- Be mentally prepared
- Get the right gear
- Go slow
- Use suncream
- Find friends to share the experience with