Mt. Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak at 19,341 feet, and the tallest free-standing mountain in the World. Nonetheless, no technical climbing skills are required to reach its summit. Trekkers who are reasonably fit and very well prepared can reach the summit in a matter of days and with only rudimentary knowledge and equipment.
Because of this, thousands of climbers have been led to underestimate Kilimanjaro. They may look upon climbing it as merely a week long hike, leading them to not adequately prepare for the trek. The reality is that a successful summit of Kilimanjaro typically requires months of preparation. The better a trekker’s physical and mental preparations are the better chance they have of succeeding.
There are several different routes up Kilimanjaro, with varying lengths and durations. Marangu is the most popular, mainly because it is the easiest and there are Mountain huts built at the overnight stops meaning that camping equipment is not required. The Machame route is reputed to have the most beautiful and varied scenery, giving the trekker the best cross-section of terrains and showing what Kilimanjaro has to offer. Another increasingly popular route is the Rongai. Both these last two routes require you to have your own camping equipment and supplies. It’s a good idea on all the routes to allow yourself an additional day or two within your itinerary, allowing your body to acclimatize to the altitude. It is this altitude, and the fatigue it brings, that tends to defeat many trekkers.
Peak Physical Condition
The trek up Kilimanjaro begins months in advance with a program of physical fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is particularly necessary, and many trekkers choose hill and trail running, stair climbing, running, race walking and long hikes with backpacks weighing about 35 pounds to build their endurance. Of course, no trekker should begin a physical fitness program without first consulting with a physician to ensure that their body is able to stand up to the strain of the training regimen.
It’s wise to schedule a series of moderately challenging hikes in the weeks before the climb up Kilimanjaro. These could be day hikes, but it is advisable to fit in at least one or two overnight hikes. In addition to providing necessary conditioning, these should also be enjoyable experiences.
Much of the secret to a successful trek on Kilimanjaro is being mentally prepared for the challenge. Be prepared to maintain a positive mind-set, but it’s important to not let that positive outlook slip into arrogance. Visualization prior to beginning the trek in which the climber envisions various scenarios and how they should be handled can be valuable. Just as valuable to success on Kilimanjaro are remaining aware of the trekker’s surroundings and mental attitude throughout the trek. This awareness helps to prevent illness and injury.
Finding the Right Guide
Climbers are not allowed to trek Kilimanjaro alone. Instead, they are required to have a professional guide with them at all times. Additionally, many climbers may also choose to make the journey with porters and a cook. Guide companies can be found in the region surrounding Kilimanjaro, but competent guides can actually be found throughout the world. Some guides have scheduled expeditions on which prospective climbers can reserve space. Alternatively, some guides allow the trekkers to schedule the journey and make themselves available for that time. Generally, January, February and September provide warmer weather that is relatively cloud free, allowing for some of the best climbing experiences.
Finding the right guide is essential as they each offer individualized levels of service. A seasoned trekker may want a guide that provides only minimum services, allowing the climber to take care of many of the details themselves. On the other hand, some climbers opt for guide services that arrange everything from flights into Tanzania to a flight home after the climb.
Which guide is the right one is largely up to the personal preference of the trekker. However, it is important to inquire about the guide’s success rate and their climbing philosophy. A slow and steady approach is generally the most productive and the least dangerous.
Get the Gear
Some equipment, like boots, must be purchased. Other items may make sense to rent. Either way, the gear has the power to make or break the expedition. The most important gear is a solid pair of boots with high rubber content soles, ankle support and padding and leather uppers. Boots should be waterproof, and it’s a great idea for the climber to add an extra layer of cushioning with insoles.
Socks are also important. Ragg wool, acrylic and polypropylene are the materials of choice, and the climber should pack a few extra pairs just in case of misadventure. A headlamp makes pre-dawn and twilight climbing a possibility. Trekking poles are also highly recommended. They make the ascent somewhat less strenuous and help take the pressure off of the knees during the descent.
Odds and Ends
It pays to be prepared for altitude sickness with a medication like Diamox. Most experienced climbers recommend taking it before symptoms begin. Also, an anti-inflammatory can help enormously with painful knees during the descent.
By making appropriate physical and mental preparations, hiring a competent guide and acquiring the right gear, the summit of Kilimanjaro becomes a reachable goal for trekkers.