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4 Must-Knows Before You Go Climbing Kilimanjaro

Illustration for article titled 4 Must-Knows Before You Go Climbing Kilimanjaro

Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller were the first people to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1889. Today, reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro is a bucket list item for the fearless thrill seekers from all over the world. In fact, it’s often seen as a great ‘starter mountain’ as people of differing fitness levels and climbing experience have successfully made the climb.


Just don’t make the mistake of underestimating this challenge. You’re still climbing the tallest mountain in Africa. Many have gotten sick or injured during the attempt as I learned during my prep research.

What else do you need to know if you want to conquer Kilimanjaro? The next four things.


1. Understand The Effects Of Altitude

A bad bout of AMS, also known as mountain sickness or altitude sickness can ruin your trip up the mountain. Fortunately, there is a medication that you can take to stave off the worst of this. Ask your doctor about a prescription for diamox. This is a diuretic made specifically for altitude sickness.


Just be sure to manage your expectations appropriately. Even if you take the medication and other precautions, you’ll probably get at least one headache. Counteract this by staying hydrated. Some people also take a bit of low dose aspirin each morning to counteract blood thickening at high altitudes. Finally, Ibuprofen is a good choice if you get a headache, and to deal with sore and stiff muscles from intense hikes.

Finally, know when to get help. While you can climb through most headaches, but extreme pain is not normal. If you cannot keep food and drink down, become confused, or have difficulty walking, get medical help. Be alert for these symptoms in other climbers as well.


2. Know The Length of The Climb And How Steep it Will Be

There are seven routes up Kilimanjaro. Each of them is different with regard to the length and intensity of the climb. The routes are:

  • Machame - High traffic, great scenery, high level of difficulty, 7 days climbing time.
  • Northern - Very low traffic, excellent scenery, high level of difficulty, 9 days climbing time.
  • Lemosho - Medium traffic, excellent scenery, high level of difficulty, 8 days climbing time.
  • Umbwe - Very low traffic, very good scenery, very high level of difficulty, 7 days climbing time.
  • Rongai - Low traffic, very good scenery, medium level of difficulty, 7 days climbing time.
  • Shira - Medium traffic, excellent scenery, high level of difficulty, 7 days climbing time.
  • Marangu - High traffic, good scenery, medium level of difficulty, six days climbing time.

The vast majority of climbers use the Machame and Marangu routes. In fact, the Marangu is known as the Coca Cola Route. It has sleeping dorms along the way, and has the most gradual slope. The Umbwe is the steepest route.

Some climbers will try to reach the summit in fewer days than listed above. According to Climbing Kilimanjaro, this is generally a bad idea for novice climbers. You need to leave yourself adequate time to acclimate to the altitude, get enough rest, and deal with any minor injuries you may suffer along the way. This is an activity in which even a small blister can quickly become catastrophic.


Another important point to consider is your starting point. Some routes begin at higher altitudes. This can seem encouraging at first. In reality, it means that your body has less time to acclimate to the change in elevation.

3. Pack The Appropriate Gear to Take

There are many important pieces of gear that you will need for your trip up Kilimanjaro. Let’s start with the most important. You need trekking boots. They should be of good quality. They must be waterproof. You should also break them in before you leave for your trip. This is not a climb you can make in walking shoes, no matter how nice they are.


Your next article of clothing to consider is a down jacket. It should be well-fitted, and capable of keeping you warm in intensely cold temperatures. If you are unsure of what to buy, get some advice from your guide. It gets very cold on the mountain. Summit night will be the most intense.

Next, consider purchasing and bringing two different types of water bottles. First, a hands free water carrier allows you to drink freely without having to stop and open a container. Consider CamelBak or other similar brand that makes hydration packs, belts, and reservoirs. These work well during the first days of your hike.


As you get higher up the mountain, the temperature will drop, and your water pack will freeze quickly. This is when a Nalgene water bottle will come in handy. These are insulated enough to prevent freezing.

Here are some other essentials:

  • Neck Warmer
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Think Comfortable Gloves
  • Trekking Poles
  • Electrolytes in Gels or Powders
  • Camera
  • Battery Packs
  • TP
  • First Aid Kit
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Sunglasses or Goggles
  • Beanie Hat
  • Rainproof Jacket
  • Rainproof Pants
  • Snacks

Snacks should be high in calories, and provide you with lots of energy. They should also be lightweight. As you prepare for your journey, you should eat lightly and get into shape. During your journey, your concern should be getting in as many calories in the most efficient way possible. Chocolate, dried fruit, nut butters, string cheese, granola bars, protein bars, and jerky are very common snacks for climbing.


4. Get Into Shape Before You Go

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to successfully climb Kilimanjaro. Still, there is a basic level of fitness you should have. You’ll also enjoy the experience more if you are in good shape. Start training before you go. Your training should consist of two components.


Aerobic Training

To train aerobically, you’ll need to take part in exercises that get your heart rate up and increase your respiration. This includes cycling, jogging, walking, using an elliptical trainer, and climbing stairs. This will help you build endurance, and allow your body to use oxygen more efficiently.


Strength Training

You’ll need a strong core and legs for this activity. Here, strength training does not need to be intensive weight training. Instead, start with calisthenics. Do lunges, squats, and sit ups. Add dumbbells and kettlebells to tone your muscles.


Finally, don’t forget distance hiking. You should try at least two, all-day hikes before you go. Ideally these will be done on two sequential days. This is a great time to get your shoes broken in. Be sure to look for some intensely challenging hiking trails.

Climbing Kilimanjaro should be an enjoyable experience. Many describe it as life changing. Preparation is the key to a great trip up the mountain. Refer to the four tips above, before you pack your bags.

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