24 Insider Tips for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
I stood on top of the world!
At least that’s how I felt when I successfully climbed to the “Roof of Africa” in October 2012. I always knew I had a positive attitude, but it took seven days of climbing 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level (without a shower) through five different temperate climates to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro—the highest free-standing mountain in the world—for me to realize just how mentally strong I could be.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro pushes you to limits you didn’t know existed within you. It teaches you gratitude and shows you the bare necessities that you need to survive; that everything else is a privilege. It removes the clutter, drama and the excess noise and shows you how to be at peace with nature and yourself. It eliminates the outside world and connects you with your inner voice. While not much can survive at that altitude, the mountain shows you the meaning of life.
Climbing, much like life, is a mental state of mind over matter. Reaching the summit is an emotional experience. It humbles you. It empowers you. It is exhilarating, intensely emotional, and exhausting. Conquering the mountain taught me that I am mentally stronger than I ever thought possible and that if I want something badly enough, I can achieve it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
I spent seven days climbing the Machame Route, also known as the “Whiskey Route,” with three other girls. We chose this route because while it is the steepest, it is said to be the most scenic. By Kilimanjaro National Park law, a licensed tour operator is required to accompany climbers, so we chose Climbing Kilimanjaro. They provided three guides and 13 porters for our small group alone. While porters can carry up to 15 kg (35 lbs) of your luggage, you still must carry a daypack filled with essentials for the day. Climbing Kilimanjaro provided us with hot meals (hot food package highly recommended) and rental options for gear, which helped save me money and packing space.
Kilimanjaro National Park reports that only about 41% of trekkers reach the Uhuru summit annually. It is not the hike that’s impeding—it’s the drastically reduced levels of oxygen due to the extremely high altitude. More than 75% of trekkers will experience at least some form of mild altitude sickness.
The mountain changes you. Below are some tips and advice that are helpful to know before embarking on this life changing journey.
INSIDER TIPS & ADVICE
- While being physically capable certainly helps, climbing is about mental toughness — not just how physically fit you are or how much you trained.
- Stay positive.
- Having the right equipment makes the difficult trek a lot more conquerable.
- Go at your own pace. It is not a race or competition. POLÉ! POLÉ! (Slowly! Slowly!)
- On the second day, you will reach an altitude above the clouds. Clouds are cold and not as fluffy nor as fun as they appear from the warmth of the inside an airplane.
- Do take in the scenery, but don’t only focus on the end-goal in the distance. It is a tease to see the campsite ahead yet know you still have 4 hours remaining to arrival. Be like an elephant and focus on what is directly in front of you. Before you know it, you’ll reach your destination.
- To limit risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) it is best to find a guide that follows “climb high, sleep low” to help acclimate to the altitude.
- The more days in the trek, the more time you have to acclimate.
- Be prepared for climbing in extreme cold on summit night as temperatures can reach 0 degrees F (minus 18 C). There are ice glaciers at the top!
Did you know you go through five temperate climates in just a few days? Be ready with lots of layers and pack lightly for all seasons. Before leaving, test that you can actually wear your clothes over each other.
- Prepare to wear the same thing day after day and night after night. The air is thin and cold so you *probably* won’t sweat or smell like you normally would after a week without a shower at home.
- Don’t wear cotton! It does not dry at high altitudes and can chafe. Wear fabric that is breathable, synthetic, and moisture-wicking.
- Pack at least one complete hiking outfit, including a long sleeve shirt, hiking pants, underwear, hiking socks, and especially hiking boots. You can rent almost anything, but don’t want to risk blisters.
- Rent what you don’t need to own or schlep.
- Be prepared not to shower for a week. Get used to wet wipe baths and pop-a-squats behind rocks.
- Do you wear contacts? I was worried about this but had no problem taking them out every night. In fact, eyeglasses could be more difficult to deal with.
- Ladies (or men with long hair), I found putting my hair in pig-tail braids helped keep it cleaner and easier to maintain for a week sans shower.
- Get a toilet tent for the campsites. It is worth every penny—especially if you are a woman. Trust me.
- Pay for the climbing package that offers hot meals instead of box lunches. You’ll thank me at lunch on day one.
- Bring an iPod, but (in my personal opinion) save your battery for summit night. Music makes the long night climb much easier. Keep it close to your body to use body heat to prevent it from freezing and dying.
- Do not carry any water on the outside of your pack on summit night, it will freeze. Protect it with insulation or under clothing.
- Bring a camera that fits in your hip pockets of the daypack. You won’t want to stop and dig through the daypack; you want easy access on the go.
- Bring a journal and pen. It goes by in a blur and you’ll be grateful you documented your journey.
- Diamox is helpful but not mandatory to help combat altitude sickness. I took generic brand and had no symptoms of AMS. The only one in my group who got sick Summit night was the one who did not take Diamox. Downside: it is a diuretic.
Wondering what gear you’ll need for Kilimanjaro? Read Caryn’s follow-up lists on packing and renting»
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caryn Levy is a late 20-something working professional and hobby blogger who currently lives in Washington, DC. It was her lifelong dream to volunteer in Tanzania and she knew that she couldn’t leave without tackling Mount Kilimanjaro. She’s passionate about making a positive impact in other people’s lives and is on a quest for self discovery and spreading positivity and happiness. Caryn enjoys running and yoga and believes that traveling rejuvenates and resets the soul. Check out Caryn’s blog,thecleandiabetic.com or reach out to her on Twitter at @Caryn_Levy.
Have you climbed? What tips and advice would you add to the list? Please comment below.