Quick Practical Tips and Advice for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

This is a guest post by Timothy Kirigha, our great friend and editor of an equally good travel blog about Africa- www.african-safari-information.com. After you read through, please remember to check out our 7 days Kilimanjaro climbing package (via Machame Route) at our main business website.

The Kibo summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

(Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

Many online guides on Mt Kilimanjaro mention that, despite the mountain being the tallest in Africa, it is relatively easy to climb. You may find this surprising, but it is true, Kilimanjaro is a walkers’ mountain. You can trek all the way to Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest summit, without using any special mountaineering equipment, even if you have no previous mountain climbing experience.

But, much as it considered an easy climb, you would only underrate the challenge the mountain gives you at your own risk. I climbed the mountain once, and I know it takes a lot of mental endurance to make it to the top. You can read about my experience at my blog here.

Based on personal experience and what I have gathered elsewhere, below are some practical tips to help you enjoy your climb and increase your chances of making it to the roof of Africa.

1. Physical fitness:
You don’t have to be super fit, but it’d help if you did some aerobic exercises and endurance training for a few weeks before the actual climb. These will help you cope with some of the main challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro, such as the long treks and the thin air (as a result of the altitude). Simple exercises like steep-terrain hiking, distance cycling, and running for example, can help build your endurance and stamina for the climb.

2. Appropriate gear:
It is important to travel light when climbing the mountain, but some gear/equipment are essential and a must-carry. The basics include a warm sleeping bag, comfortable hiking shoes, warm clothing (preferably that which you can put on or remove in layers), balaclavas and a pair of gloves (you don’t want to get frostbite), a water bottle (you’ll take lots of water), and good quality sunglasses (the ice-glare is not good for your naked eyes). A walking stick would also be handy for the climb, more so for the descent.

For a more comprehensive list of the appropriate gear to carry, see this website.

3. Take time to acclimatize:
Of course, all good tour operators have itineraries that allows you time to acclimatize with the high altitudes. Respect that decision, it is for your best interest.

4. Have a healthy respect for Kili:
You may have conquered other mountains before, but don’t underestimate Kilimanjaro even if they tell you it is an easy climb. I have heard of tales of experienced climbers failing to make it to the top. I remember during our summit night (from Kibo hut to Uhuru Peak), a few of my more able and more fit colleagues were boldly singing on their way up past William’s point, as if it was just another walk in the park. Sadly, many never got beyond Gilman’s point. That said however, you should also bear in mind that millions of other amateurs have conquered it, and you too can make it to the top if you take it at a respectful pace.

5. Take it “pole pole”:
That is swahili for saying “slowly at your own pace”. You should not feel pressurized to go faster than your body feels comfortable. Listen to your body, only you can tell how far you can push it. Take the mountain at your own pace. I may have taken more than two hours between William’s point and Gilman’s point, but I made to Uhuru peak while still strong.

6. While at it, sip a lot of water:
Besides the obvious need for staying hydrated, I believe taking lots of water while climbing Kilimanjaro has some medical importance. I can’t remember the specifics, but our instructors mentioned something to that effect when they were talking about acute mountain sickness (AMS) and other altitude-related complications. But I know for sure it really helped me during the climb.

7. Eat well, more so on summit night:
The reason is obvious; You need a lot of energy for the final push to Uhuru peak. I remember having a sickish feeling and a non-existent appetite on summit night. Yet I had to take some unpalatable soup and a slice of bread for the energy. I had also been instructed to carry some sweets (candy) in my pockets to eat on the way up (for the sugar). I am not sure how healthy this is, but it makes sense, and it may have helped.

8. Resist the temptation to rest for too long:
Trust me, you will experience extreme fatigue on your way up especially on the summit night. Rest briefly if you must, but as much as possible, resist the temptation to lie down for too long (if at all). For one thing, the temperatures are very low, immobility can make you to cool down to an extent that you no longer have the energy to push any further (a layman’s opinion).

9. Take time to enjoy your conquest:
When you get to the top, you may feel too exhausted and want to start the descent immediately. But, hey, you’ve just conquered Africa, relish the moments. Sign the guest book if you can, take some photos, enjoy the beauty, take it all in, it is an experience of a life time. Of course there is a limit to how long you can stay there, with the low temperatures, thin air, and all. But enjoy it as much as you can.

10. On your way down, avoid letting go:
I am not very sure about the other routes, but on the Rongai route, from Gilman’s point to William’s point, you can easily let go and slide down (as if skiing) on the steep sandy slopes. No matter how strong the temptation, don’t do it, it is dangerous, and potentially fatal. There are rocks and cliffs where you can break your neck if you fall.

11. Share your experience with others:
If you maintain a blog, let the world know of your conquest. Share your photos with all who care to know. Brag about it, be proud. After all, Kilimanjaro is not for the fainthearted.

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