Thousands of people travel to Tanzania each year to take on the Mount Kilimanjaro trek.
Reaching the summit and standing at the highest point in Africa is an incredible achievement and a once in a lifetime journey that you will never forget.
To help you prepare for the climb we’ve asked Mark Whitman, author of Mount Kilimanjaro: Trekkers Guide to the Summit and the blogs, Climb Kilimanjaro Guide and Mountain IQ, to share his knowledge and tops tips for a successful climb. To find out more about Dig Deep's Kilimanjaro Challenges click here.
Many people successfully summit Mount Kilimanjaro every year, but that doesn't mean it should be taken lightly. If you want to make it to the top, proper preparation is key to ensuring a successful summit.
Here are the most important things to know before you trek Kilimanjaro.
Level of Fitness
One of the biggest misconceptions about trekking Kilimanjaro is that you have to be a super fit athlete to do it. This is simply not true. You can successfully complete the trek with an average level of fitness. In fact, being too fit can be to one’s detriment as it often results in going too fast early on the trek, which can lead to altitude sickness issues.
Although being an athlete is not required, a good level of fitness is of course important as is being in good health. The trek is long and challenging. You will be walking between 5 to 7 hours every day, and for even longer on summit night.
To prepare yourself for the strenuous trek, I recommend setting up a gym-training regime about 3-5 months before your trek. Focus on aerobic activities like running, cycling or swimming that help build your cardiovascular system. It is also a good idea to do some strength training for your legs and shoulders. By far the best form of training though is to get your boots on and do as many practice hikes before departing for Tanzania.
Clothing and Gear Requirements
Packing the right clothing and gear can make or break your Kilimanjaro trek. It gets very cold on Kilimanjaro, especially during the nights as you get higher up the mountain, so you will need to pack all the appropriate layers to ensure that you are comfortable and warm for the whole duration of the trek. Your layered clothing should consist of thermal base layers, trekking shirts, a fleece layer, an insulated or down jacket, and a waterproof hard shell jacket. You will also need a pair of lined trekking trousers to keep your legs warm during the summit push. A warm pair of gloves, thermal socks and a beanie or balaclava will also be needed for summit night. Remember your hands, feet and head will feel the cold the most so make sure you get good quality gear.
It goes without saying that hiking boots are essential to your success on Kilimanjaro – your feet are what get you up and down the mountain so make sure your boots are as comfortable as possible. The biggest mistake I see is people not wearing in their boots properly before the trek. This can result in painful blisters and a lot of discomfort.
In addition to the gear mentioned above the other critical item that you need to bring is a warm four-season sleeping bag. Make sure that the rating is for at least -10 degrees Celsius.
Weather and When To Go
You can book a trek up Kilimanjaro at any time of the year, but the best and most popular times to go are from January to March and from June to October. These months are when the weather is the clearest on the mountain, although the January-March season is colder and there is a good chance of snowfall at the summit.
June to October is the busiest and most popular trekking season. The Dig Deep Challenge is in August / September, which is a great time to trek Kilimanjaro.
Mountain Crew: Guides and Porters
The guides and porters that make up your Kilimanjaro support team are key to having a successful trek.
Porters carry all the necessary equipment, camping gear, food and water, as well as every trekker's main gear bag. They will set everything up for the camp every day and take it down when you move on. You will be amazed at how much they do each day to ensure you have an enjoyable trek.
The guides ensure the safety of the trekking team and will give advice and instruction throughout the whole trek. Make sure you listen to their advice as they have probably done the trek more than 100 times and know what they are talking about.
Food and Drink
It is very important that you drink plenty of fluids and eat well on the trek up Kilimanjaro. You will need all the energy you can muster so make sure you eat the food that is provided and carry snacks, like energy bars, to top up your energy levels as you walk. Every trekking team has a cook that will prepare three meals a day for you.
If you have any specific dietary requirements, make sure you let your team know in advance so the necessary preparations can be taken.
You should aim to drink at least 3/4 litres of water each day to ensure you stay hydrated and help prevent altitude sickness. Water will be provided to you and collected along the way by the porters. Your support team filter all water and then treat it will chlorine before serving it.
When trekking at high altitudes, it is very important that you give your body enough time to acclimatise. This is a process your body goes through to adjust to the difference in oxygen levels in the air at different altitudes. The higher you climb, the lower the levels of oxygen per breath. Your body needs time to adjust and compensate by producing more red blood cells.
If you ascend too quickly, you will be at risk of getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS or altitude sickness). The symptoms of AMS vary between mild and severe so if you start to experience any symptoms you should let your guide know immediately.
Mild to moderate symptoms of AMS include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. Severe AMS can result in the inability to walk, hallucinations, loss of mental capacities and fluid build-up in the lungs.
The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to choose a route that has a good acclimatisation profile and provides enough time to adjust to lower oxygen levels. My top picks are the longer versions of the Lemosho, Machame or Rongai routes, which all have good trek high, sleep low acclimatisation profiles. In addition to choosing a good route, make sure that you go slowly throughout the trek and drinks loads of fluids.
Summit night is the toughest part of your journey but it is also the most rewarding. On summit night you will be woken between 23:00 and 00:00 to start the tiring journey to the top of Kilimanjaro. At this high altitude, every single step is tough so go slow and stay motivated. The zigzagging path will lead you to the crater rim – either Stella Point (5,739 metres) or Gilman’s Point (5,681 metres), depending on your route. Don’t confuse these points with the summit though; there is still a good hour or two to go before reaching Uhuru Peak at 5,895 meters. Once here, you will have a little time to take incredible photos and simply enjoy your amazing accomplishment before heading back down.
Summit night takes between 5 and 7 hours up and another 5-7 hours down. It is a long and very challenging day so make sure you stay hydrated and go at a slow, steady pace.
Kilimanjaro is a challenging trek that takes a lot of determination and preparation. Reaching the summit is an incredible achievement and an unforgettable experience. Make sure you follow all of the tips above and listen to your guides so that you can enjoy your journey up Mount Kilimanjaro.
To find out more about Dig Deep's Kilimanjaro Challenges click here.