Destination: Kilimanjaro!

Getting Started

Perhaps you’ve booked your trip already or you are considering climbing Kilimanjaro, either way, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got everything you need to know about your upcoming climb. From fitness, to gear & kit, handy hints & tips and important information about trekking at altitude.

Preparing for your big adventure should be fun! After all, it’s the journey, right? Your journey begins long before you arrive at the gate to Kilimanjaro National Park. It starts with you making the decision to climb Africa’s highest peak.

It continues through your preparation before you arrive in Tanzania. Then your days on the mountain, living what you have prepared for, culminating in a successful summit and the feeling of having achieved something epic!

1

Choosing a Tour Operator

Kilimanjaro camping

At Altitude Treks, we are not associated with any travel agency or tour operator on the mountain. 

Choosing who you entrust your safety and comfort to is an important decision.

We suggest you do a lot of due diligence before you part with your hard-earned cash.

To help you make an informed decision we have an article dedicated to the questions you should be asking and the considerations to keep in mind.

2

What Route to Take?

Kilimanjaro summit success

You’ll also need to decide what route you want to take up the mountain.

There are 7 routes on Kilimanjaro, and not all of these are created equal. In terms of acclimatization, longer routes have a much better success rate.

The standard Marangu route (or “Coca-cola route”) has a relatively low success rate due to the short timeframe allowed from gate to summit.

Other considerations are how busy the route is, and how scenic the day-to-day hiking is.

Whether you sleep in a tent or in huts. Whether you undertake the Western Breach or the Barranco Wall. Do you want a day or night time summit attempt? It’s all here.

We have in-depth looks at each of the available routes on Kilimanjaro here:

3

Gear & Kit List

You will also need particular gear – or “kit”. Showing up in a pair of flip-flops and two pairs of shorts won’t cover it.

From tropical heat to frozen tundra, you will pass through different climate zones as you make your ascent.

We have got a comprehensive kit list and some recommendations for you. 

Being adequately prepared is essential. You also have to keep in mind that your porter will carry your gear and his own.

For this reason, most operators require that you keep your kit to 30lb/15kg. Anything over and above this, you will need to carry in your daypack.

4

Fitness & Physical Preparation

Fitness for Kilimanjaro

Having climbed Kilimanjaro several times over the years, we know that a lot of people have questions about Fitness preparation for a climb of this sort.

Whilst Kilimanjaro is described as “easy”, in comparison to other mountains of a similar size, this is because there is no technical skill required to reach the summit.

However, a long, often hard slog at altitude does require preparation, both physical and mental.

You do not have to be a world-class triathlete to successfully climb Kilimanjaro, but a suitable level of strength and fitness is a good idea.

Fitness will not help with acclimatization, but it will help make your climb less arduous. A good level of fitness will give you the “fuel in the tank” for the last push to the summit, which is a long day over some difficult terrain.

5

Altitude & Acclimatization

Acclimatization

Standing at 19,340ft above sea-level, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Actually comprising of three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano.

Anyone trekking to the Ash Pit (Reusch Crater), can smell the sulphur. The heat prevents ice from forming and occasionally fumaroles escape. It is possible to visit the Ash Pit, usually after a daytime summit attempt and a night spent in the Crater.

Trekking at altitude brings with it a unique set of challenges. Acclimatization is unique to each individual and fitness level has nothing to do with it.

The term “acclimatization”(1) refers to the physiological changes that the body needs to go through in order to adapt to a low-oxygen environment.

Typically at sea level, the air we breathe consists of 20-21% Oxygen. The air at the summit of Kilimanjaro contains the same amount.

What changes is the Barometric pressure – Air pressure – meaning that as the pressure of the air goes down as we climb higher, the available oxygen to breathe in becomes gradually less. At the summit of Kilimanjaro there is approximately 49% less oxygen available in each breath we take than at sea level(2).

Oxygen fuels all our bodily processes. With a decrease in air pressure, resultant decrease in Oxygen, combined with dehydration and cold, getting ill at altitude is a very real problem.

Acclimatization is a progressive process, allowing time for the body to adapt to the changes. For this reason, a longer trekking route is the safest and most successful option. 

For the geeks amongst us, it can be fascinating to see the physiological changes taking place as the body adapts to the high altitude.

6

Weather

We all want to know what the weather will be like, don’t we? First up, it’ll be cold. Very cold. On your first day hiking through the tropical forest, sweating it out, you’ll be forgiven for cursing me. By day 2-3, you’ll be happy you heeded the advice to buy that nice warm sleeping bag!

One thing that can make a trek pretty miserable is a lot of rain. You can pretty much guarantee you’ll get at least some rain on the trail, though mostly in the lower elevations.

Being a mountain, and a big one, Kilimanjaro has it’s own micro-climate. The best times to climb are usually January to March and June to October as there is usually the least rain during these times. However, it is possible to climb at other times of the year but April, May and November have the most rainfall.

It should be noted that the June to October climbing season is often the busiest, and the January to March season is the coldest. There is a good chance if you are climbing in January that you will have snow on your summit day/night!

7

What to Expect

What’s the food like? What’s it like sleeping in a tent? What does an average day comprise? How much walking do I actually do each day? Where do I go to the bathroom?

There are so many questions, and we are doing our best to answer each and every one of them!

Obviously things like “food” are dependent on the operator you choose to lead your trek. However, many aspects of mountain life are similar, so you should find many of your answers here.

Here’s a Kilimanjaro Diary that gives a detailed day to day account of the trek. Obviously each person has their own particular experiences with the mountain. But it can be interesting to hear anecdotal evidence from other climbers about the adventure.


You might also like: