Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking for a good challenge, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has been attracting adventure-seeking lovers for well over a century. At 5,895 metres (19,341 feet), it’s the tallest peak in Africa and the largest freestanding mountain in the world.
Just about every ecosystem on the planet can be found on Kilimanjaro, including rainforests, moorland, alpine desert, and even ice caps, making it a truly unique hiking experience. A lot of planning and preparation has to go into a Kilimanjaro climb. Below is a guide to help you get started so you can ensure a successful climb to the summit.
Best Time to Go
The first thing you’ll have to choose is when you want to do your climb. There are 2 climbing seasons on Kilimanjaro, January – March and June – October. The latter part of the year tends to be the busiest time on the mountain because the days are drier and the nights are warmer. January to March is still a good time to climb Kilimanjaro, especially if you want less the crowds, but be prepared for chillier nights and potential snow at the summit.
What Route Should You Take?
There are 7 routes to choose from to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Umbwe, and the Northern Circuit Route. Each route has their pros and cons and offer differing levels of difficulty, length on the mountain, scenery, and traffic. Marangu is the oldest and most well-established route, but it’s also the busiest and least appealing in terms of scenery. The Northern Circuit Route is the newest and one of the least trekked routes on Kilimanjaro. It takes the longest to reach the summit, but has the highest success rate amongst climbers. A quick internet search will find lots of sites breaking each route down to help you make your choice. My personal opinion would be to choose a route that takes at least 7 or 8 days to complete. You’ll spend less time hiking each day and have a longer amount of time to acclimatize to the altitude, giving you the greatest chance of summiting.
Choosing the Right Tour Company
Selecting a tour company to lead you up Kilimanjaro will be your most important decision. There are so many to choose from it can make your head spin! There are a number of factors you should consider when selecting a tour company. Here are some questions to ask: How long have they been operating on Kilimanjaro? What is the maximum size of their groups? How many guides and porters accompany you on your trek? Should an emergency occur, what medical checks and evacuation plans do they have in place? What reviews do they have from people who have climbed Kilimanjaro with them? Generally, you should opt for a company that is well reputed, treats their guides and porters exceptionally well, and has an excellent track record. Don’t make your decision purely on cost.
Once you’ve determined when, what route, and who will be guiding you up Kilimanjaro, it’s time to start training. If you’re generally an active person, 6-months is enough time to get ready for your climb. If you don’t regularly go to the gym or get physical activity, you’ll want to start at least a year before you’re planning to do your climb. Start small and work up week after week. Spinning, hiking, walking on a treadmill on an incline, and even the using the Stairmaster are all great cardio-based exercises. Incorporating strength-training exercises with weights into your workouts is also a great idea so you can have the strength and stamina to be hiking on Kilimanjaro for consecutive days. As you near your climb date, try working out wearing a backpack with about 10-15lbs in it to get used to hiking with a day pack, and skip the escalators and elevators in lieu of the stairs.
What to Pack
You don’t need to pack very much for your Kilimanjaro climb but you will need to ensure you pack the right things so you can have a comfortable climb. There are many great sites online that break down what to pack, but some of the essentials include comfortable hiking shoes with ankle support (make sure you break them in before the climb), a moisture-wicking layer, an insulation layer, and an outer-shell layer. You’ll need a down-filled jacket and a wool hat, scarf and gloves for your summit climb. You’ll also need a change of clothes when you reach camp everyday (which will double as your sleeping attire), a sleeping bag with a minimum temperature between 0-10F, sunscreen, toothbrush, toothpaste, a big supply of wet wipes, and hiking poles (if you prefer). A set of earplugs are also a good idea to pack in case you have a few snorers in your group. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a variety of energy boosting snacks including protein bars, nuts, and chocolate. Just about all tour groups have porters who will carry up to 15kg of your things (everything that’s not in your daypack), so rest assured that you won’t have to carry all that up yourself.
What to Expect on the Mountain
Every day on the mountain is different. As you slowly make your way up to the summit you’ll pass through various ecosystems, sleep in a new spot every night, and contend with cold nights and possible side-effects from the altitude. Your days will generally start the moment the sun comes up. And depending on the route you take, you’ll spend anywhere from 5-8 hours hiking each day. Warm meals will fill you up in the mornings and after your day of hiking. Each day you’ll get closer and closer to the summit climb. Sleep can be difficult on the mountain, especially with uneven terrain and the altitude, but try to rest whenever you can and don’t forget to do some stretches after each hiking day. The push to the summit usually happens at night. You’ll set off around midnight and hike until the sun comes up. This is the hardest part of the climb as you’ll be hiking in the dark and through the night. Avoid looking at your watch and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. ‘Pole pole’, slowly slowly, as the Tanzanian guides say. You’ll get a second wind the moment that first ray of sunlight streams across the horizon, and before you know it you’ll be celebrating at Uhuru Peak!