So you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
I don’t blame you. Having done it 9 times now, I can tell you that a Kilimanjaro trip is up there in terms of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
But if you think you can just rock up and scale it, think again.
At just under 6000m in elevation, Kilimanjaro is the world’s highest “free-standing mountain”.
What does “free-standing” mean? Well, unlike Everest, Kilimanjaro isn’t part of a mountain range – it’s a standalone structure, which is actually a giant stratovolcano, with three separate cones – Shira, Marenzi and Kibo.
(Don’t panic though, both Shira and Marenzi are extinct from a volcanic perspective, and the last major eruption was 360,000 years ago!)
Where is Mount Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro is located right in the middle of the imaginatively titled Kilimanjaro National Park in the United Republic of Tanzania.
And let me tell you, the scenery is absolutely stunning.
It’s home to multiple rare and protected animal species as well as plant life that you’ll find in precious few other places in the world – it’d be worth a visit even if you weren’t climbing the mountain!
How far is it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro?
The highest point of Kilimanjaro is Uhuru Peak, located on the edge of Kibo’s crater.
Generally the peak is known as “The Summit” – that’s what a lot of the guides will call it – and it’s 5,895m above sea level.
When should you climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
There’s no set time when you must attempt to scale Kilimanjaro, but there are certainly some more popular times than others.
The two most popular trekking seasons are December to March and June to October, for the simple reason that the temperature at the mountain’s base is between 25°C and 30°C. This is far more comfortable than other months of the year.
However, one thing to bear in mind:
For every 200m you climb, the temperature will drop by roughly 1°C, so whatever time of year you go, the Summit will be pretty cold!
What should you bring?
You’re looking at a temperature of around 25-30°C in the lower regions, but it’s pretty cold up top. It’s vital that you’ve got clothing to suit a big range of temperature – layers, layers, layers!
First things first: walking boots.
These are not optional. Whether you go for a lightweight synthetic boot or a more traditional leather one, the key is that they are sturdy and supportive.
Oh, and one more thing on the boots front: please don’t buy a pair and then turn up in Tanzania without wearing them in – that’s the fastest way to get blisters and ruin your trip!
As I mentioned before, when it comes to clothing, layers are the crucial thing. Generally I recommend four separate layers (not including your pants!):
- Comfortable underwear
- Thermals (ideally Merino lambs wool)
- Fleece (warmth rating of 300) and trekking trousers
- Soft-shell Jacket
- Downfilled jacket and hard-shell waterpoorf trousers
What else should you bring?
If you’re a seasoned climber you’ll have various extras that you always pack, and that’s absolutely fine – I’ll just remind you that you are trekking up one of the highest mountains in the world and you’ll have a weight limit of what the porters will carry for you!
When it comes to clothing, boots and all the extras I’ll just offer you one important piece of advice: buy cheap, buy twice.
You might think you can save some money by skimping on some items, but trust me, it won’t be worth it in the long run. If you’re worried about the cost of everything, then give me a shout – email@example.com – as I may be able to help
It’s vital to maintain good hygiene practices – the very worst thing you can do is get ill while you’re trying to scale Kilimanjaro!
At a minimum I’d suggest antibacterial gel, diarrhoea pills, water purification tablets and baby wipes.
You may also need to bring your malaria medication, and you’ll also need to make sure that you’ve got all the relevant vaccinations before you leave your country of origin.
What will you eat while you climb Kilimanjaro?
I’m not just saying this because I like food: eating frequently and properly will make a HUGE difference to your ability to successfully scale Kilimanjaro.
Eat poorly, or not often enough, and you won’t have the energy you need.
While you’re trekking, your porters will go on ahead to ensure you’re getting your three meals a day.
Breakfast is generally an energy-packed porridge, with eggs and sausages to follow – make sure you fuel up for the morning!
The lunch you have will depend on your tour operator – some operators will do a hot lunch, which’ll usually be a stew or soup with lots of bread, but other operators just do a cold option.
Dinner is generally three courses – something to look forward to during the day!
The best thing about the food is that you just don’t have to worry about it – the porters go on ahead, setting up the ‘conference tent’ where they’ll cook and you’ll eat your meal, together with your fellow climbers.
What about sleep?
Sleep is a vastly underrated and extremely important element of a successful trip to the Kilimanjaro summit – get a good night’s sleep each night and you’ll find it much easier to scale the Summit and enjoy the whole process.
The reverse is also true: fail to get enough sleep and everything becomes a lot harder.
With that in mind, ensure that you choose sleeping bags and sleeping mat that have the highest ‘comfort rating’ possible – You don’t want to be cold.
On most routes (apart from the Marangu route which has sleeping huts), you’ll be sleeping in high quality three-man tents. Don’t worry, they don’t squeeze three in – you’ll share with on other person.
How fit do you need to be?
You can’t just rock up having never even done a ramble in your life.
As with so many things: preparation is key.
Make sure you get out and about on walks closer to home – there are some ‘boot camp’ opportunities in the UK where you can start to build up your fitness before the big trip, and one important detail to note here: make sure you wear the boots you’re going to be doing the trek in – you’ll wear them in and get used to them at the same time.
Which routes can you take?
There are six potential routes; some harder than others. Here’s a brief summary of each option:
Marangu is highly popular, and if I’m honest it’s mostly because you don’t have to camp!
The sleeping huts seduce many, but the reality is that Marangu is not one of the easier routes. So do your own research before deciding.
The other thing to bear in mind is that you go down the same way you came up on the Marangu route. If you’d rather see different scenery on your descent, you’d be advised to choose a different one.
Personally I have also had great success rates on the Marangu route and feel the walking is easier, you just have less time to acclimatise. If you are going to climb the Marangu make sure you include the extra acclimatisation day within your trek.
Machame is pretty much as popular as Marangu and during peak season it’s pretty busy.
It’s a beautiful way to scale the mountain, and one of the benefits is that when you approach the Summit, you’ve got the option to get to top via Stella Point, but you can also attempt Western Breach if you want a bit more of a challenge.
Shira is one of the two routes that approach the Summit from the West, and as such it’s usually slightly longer than Marangu or Machame.
When you embark on the Shira route, you’ll spend the first day crossing the Plateau. There are several different ways of doing this, some taking more time than others.
Depending on the route you choose, you’ve got the option of stopping in to see sights like the Shira Cathedral (an amazing peak moulded from lava) as well as camping away from the main trail.
Once you get a certain way along the Shira trail it merges with Machame, so you’ll end up scaling the Summit the same way.
Lemosho also approaches the Summit from the West. While it takes slightly longer, it’s a very popular choice, with a good success rate.
Like the Shira, the Lemosho crosses the Plateau. Following that you’ll wend your away through a long stretch of forest, and eventually meets up with the Machame.
Rongai comes at the Summit from the North.
It’s steep and hard, which also makes it the least popular.
If Rongai is your route of choice then remember to account for an ‘acclimisation’ day. Here you’ll trek without ascending in order to acclimatise to the altitude.
If it’s African animals in their natural habitat that you’re after than Rongai is the route for you. The scenery on this route truly is stunning.
The way down takes you on the same route as the Marangu. This way you’ll get to see the other side of the mountain having scaled the peak.
Umbwe approaches the Summit from the South, and you’ll kick off with a couple of days of difficult trekking. Most people who know all the routes would regard the Umbwe as the most challenging.
Similarly, to the Rongai, you’ll need to factor in an acclimitisation day on the Umbwe route.
What about altitude sickness?
Good question. Altitude sickness has ruined many an attempt to scale Kilimanjaro, and it should never be underestimate. It can genuinely be fatal, so it’s not something to mess about with.
Here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with it:
- If you feel unwell, then you should automatically assume that it’s as a result of altitude sickness, and crucially, stop going up!
- Read one of my previous blogs on being prepared for Altitude.
When are you going then?
So there you go – my whistle-stop tour of the things you need to take into consideration when scaling Kili.
Here are my golden rules:
- You cannot over prepare – make a list and get everything crossed off.
- Get in good shape before attempting the climb
- Do your research, so you know what you’re in for
- Don’t skimp on resources
- Never underestimate altitude sickness
The truth is that Kilimanjaro trips are always the highlight of my calendar, and if you want to do it, I say “go for it!”. If you’d like to talk about the trips we run to Kili, just contact us or email me personally at Keith@thebucketlistcompany.co.uk