Climbing Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro scores high on countless ultimate to-do lists. Reaching the summit feels like being on top of Africa, with the whole continent lying at your feet. And best of all: most people reach the crater rim with no more than the right clothing, a humble attitude and a good measure of will power.

Africa’s snow-capped giant bursts out of the savannah to an almost haughty 5,895 metres. Mount Kilimanjaro is a stratovolcano and therefore boasts three peaks: Kibo (5,895 metres), Mawenzi (5,149 metres) and the Shira plateau (3,962 metres). Today, the volcano is still partly active. Don’t expect any display from Shira and Mawenzi – both collapsed over a million years ago but sleeping beauty Kibo is still capable of some action. During the past century its cone has been seen smoking and expelling ominous rumbling noises from deep down its core.


Tips to climb kilimanjaro successfully

choosing approaching route


Training

Most days climbing Kilimanjaro are no worse than an average day hiking at home. There are though a number of factors that make this a really tough challenge.

First, you will be hiking for at least 7 days continuously. This puts a big strain on all your muscles and joints.

Second, as you climb, the oxygen content in the air drops rapidly. This means that with every breath you are getting less and less power. At the summit each breath has about half the amount of oxygen that you would normally have.

Third, although most days are not overly difficult, summit night is extremely hard with an ascent of over 1500m, a descent of nearly 3000m and between 16-18 hours walking on average. TO be successful you need to be in the best physical condition of your life. We have detailed advice on training to climb Kilimanjaro. The key factors are cardio- strength, muscle strength in the legs and flexibility. If at all possible try to get out and do some long days hiking at least twice in the weeks before your climb. And don't forget that the biggest difference between those who summit successfully and those who turn back is often just mental tenacity.

Staying well hydrated and eating plenty

Each day as you climb Kilimanjaro you will burn about 4000 calories. This is almost double your normal intake. On summit night you will burn well over 6000 calories. And as mountaineers say, you need to fuel the climb! So even if you have lost your appetite because of the effects of altitude you have to keep eating. Our menus are designed to be varied and really tasty but even if you don't feel hungry you must eat. Before you travel to Tanzania find a number of snacks that you really enjoy. Bring a good and varied supply. Even if you love Mars Bars you can find that when you are faced with your third in a night they are not quite so appetising.

And drinking plenty is even more important than eating. In the cold, dry air it is very easy to become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration are very similar to altitude sickness. It is not uncommon for someone to descend and then find that all they needed was lots of water. You will be given 2 litres of water daily. There will also be unlimited amounts of hot drinks at breakfast and dinner. You must ensure that you keep drinking. As a good guide, if your pee is yellow you are under-hydrated and need to drink more. Try to look after yourself on Kilimanjaro in such way.

Good equipment

Good equipment starts with your feet. Do not turn up for your climb in a shiny new pair of boots. Make sure your boots are well worn in and are comfortable. After your feet make sure you are looking after your head. On the lower slopes you will need something that provides good sun protection. For summit night you need a really warm beanie or even balaclava. These can double up as a nightcap on really cold nights.

Finally, think about clothing layers. The daily temperature variation can be as much as 35c. The best way of coping with this is with layering rather than relying on one single jacket. Also, we strongly recommend gaiters and mittens. Kilimanjaro is very dusty and a boot full of dust is very uncomfortable. And we have not found a pair of gloves that are really warm enough for summit night so make sure to pack mittens or over-mittens.

Other critical items are a 4 season sleeping bag, trekking poles for the descent, a head torch for the night climb, a comfortable day pack and lots and lots of high factor sunscreen. We recommend the next packing list for climbing Kilimanjaro that you can review right now!

Careful acclimatisation

The single biggest reason why people fail to summit is because they have not acclimatised well. We have lots of information on acclimatisation how to avoid altitude sickness but there are three key points to remember. First is go slowly. No matter how fit you are, if you go too quickly the risk of getting altitude sickness goes up. You will always hear our guides advising "Pole Pole", swahili for slowly, slowly. As a good measure of your speed, if you cannot manage a conversation comfortably you are going fast.

Second is hydration, the really serious problems caused by altitude are due to changes in pressure. This happens badly in the lungs where fluid from your blood leaks into your lungs giving pneumonia like symptoms. It also happens in your skull where fluid moves from your brain into the gap between the brain and the skull causing pressure headaches. If you are poorly hydrated you will increase the risk that this becomes a problem.

And third is consider taking Diamox. This is a drug that is proven to help the body acclimatise to altitude faster. It is not a cure though and you can still get ill taking it. For most people though it is a safe way to reduce the risk of getting ill. You will need to see your doctor to obtain a prescription for Diamox. He can assess you personally for suitability.


kilimanjaro route plan

What to consider when planning your route:

NUMBER OF DAYS TO TREK

You’ll likely only climb Kilimanjaro once, so you may as well do it ‘right’. The best way to do this is choosing a trek which allows enough acclimatization time to reach the summit safely. The single most important factor for reaching the summit or not depends on the number of days you take. The park minimum is 5-days – that’s 3.5 days to the summit. Only about 50% of those on 5-day climbs reach the summit. Of the roughly 50 climbers we take up the mountain each year, we average six days. We regularly run eight and nine day treks which include the experience of camping next to the glacier at Crater Camp. The results are dramatic when comparing the ratio of summit success rates to the number of days on the mountain.

The average summit success rates are:

· 5 days: 65%

· 6 days: 75%

· 7 days: just over 80%

· 8 days: 90%

· 9 days+: over 95%.

It makes a significant impact on summit success rates to take extra days.


choosing approaching route

There are 7 initial approach routes, described here below counter-clockwise from west to east:

· Lemosho GladesStarting from a remote trailhead and ascending through forest and heather for two days to reach the western edge of the great Shira plateau. This route continues up either the Northern Circuit, Western Breach or the Machame/Southern Circuit route. Done via the Southern Circuit (most common), it’s the longest route to choose on Kilimanjaro, and takes 7 or more days. It’s best done via the Northern Circuit in 9 or more days, offering a complete traverse from West to East over Kilimanjaro. The road to get to the Lemosho trailhead is seasonally quite tricky (in the rainy seasons Apr/May and Nov/Dec), so much so that in wet weather vehicles often cannot reach the trailhead and climbers begin the trek on a muddy 4×4 track. This route can be busy in peak times, especially on weekend start-dates. The first camp is very small, so it can feel crowded with a few groups and all the porters there.

· Shira /Morum Barrier RouteThis route starts high (over 12,000’/ 3,500m) but on longer climbs offers the chance of easy/gentle hiking from the start of the climb, as well as avoiding other tourists, especially when choosing the remote northern circuit route. Although a start from Morum Barrier Gate offers the choice to continue on the Southern Circuit, Northern Circuit or Western Breach, it’s best done via the Northern circuit in 8 or more days. This route is used for our 8-day group trek via the Northern circuit. We prefer this route over all others, for its’ wilderness character and low foot-traffic.

· Machame Route by far the most popular route and busiest route overall, usually done in 6 or 7 days via southern circuit and finally ascending to the summit via the east facing Mweka (Barafu Camp) route to the crater rim at Stella Point. It’s also quite scenic and rugged. Best done in 7 days. Very difficult to do in 6 days.

· Umbwe RouteThe shortest and most direct way to Kilimanjaro’s summit, this route is the most challenging, both in terms of terrain and grade. This route is best done via the Western Breach, in 6 or 7 days, but can continue on the Machame/Southern circuit route too.


· Marangu RouteCalled the ‘Coca Cola’ Route, this is the original hut route, starting at the southeast and passing through thick forest, heather and moorland before crossing the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo, then up to Gillman’s point before skirting around the south crater rim to Uhuru Peak. Pre-booking and deposits are required on this route (to reserve the huts). From 5+ days, best done in 6 days.


· Rongai Route An approach from the dry northeast (Kenya side), up to the flanks of Mawenzi (the most easterly of Kilimanjaro’s three volcanoes) then on into the great expanse of the barren saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo, and finally up to the summit via the Marangu Route. From 5+ days, but best done in 6 days. The descent route on Rongai is the Marangu Route, which makes for a longer last day than other camping routes.

. The Northern Circuit Route - The Northern Circuit Route is the longest route on Kilimanjaro, a nine day trip initially ascending Lemosho route on the western side of the mountain up onto the Shira Plateau before reaching the Lava Tower, then heading north and circumnavigating the main summit massif in a clockwise direction and joining up with the Rongai route. The summit is then climbed from the eastern side of the mountain and the descent is straight down via the southern Mweka route.

Understandably this is also known as the Grand Traverse or the 360 Route and offers the complete Kilimanjaro experience in terms of all the habitats and the views of the mountain from all sides. The longer journey has excellent acclimatisation and stunning scenery with views across the southern flanks, western forests, the northern plains to the Kenyan border and the arid eastern slopes. The paths are comparatively quiet and less used.


safety gear we provide on kili treks

· Oxygen for emergency use – For groups of 2-6, two kits (360L medical oxygen bottles, each with a regulator & 2 nasal canula masks) are provided. For 7 or more climbers, we provide 3 full O2 kits.


· Hyperbaric Chamber – a portable altitude chamber, for emergency use, carried on every trek.


· AED (Automated External Defibrillator) – optional on most treks, but included on treks with a night in Crater Camp.


· Stretcher / Litter – A fully rigid steel-framed litter on each trek.


· First-aid / Trauma & medicine kit – fully stocked as per Wilderness First Responder guidelines, with medicine instructions. Two first-aid kits are carried for groups of 9 or more.


· Pulse-oximeter – The head guide checks, evaluates and documents these numbers daily at dinner time, for each climber.


· VHF handheld radios – Three VHF radios carried on each trek, for quick comms between head and assistant guides at the back and front of the group, and the camp manager. An extra battery accompanies each radio.


· Mobile phones – carried by all guides, for daily communications with our base in Arusha.


· Satellite phone – carried at all times by the head guide, for use in emergencies (in areas with limited or poor mobile network). An extra battery accompanies each satellite phone. This allows us to make comms immediately, no matter where we are, during an emergency.


· Medical equipment porter stays with the group at all times, to ensure that the safety gear is always nearby and ready to employ. We send a second medical equipment porter with every group, allowing us to split oxygen and other redundant emergency supplies.


· A comprehensive safety briefing is performed by the head guide before the trek, covering expectations, risks, safety gear and proactive safety.


· Climbing helmets – for all climbers and staff (on Western Breach only).


· Climbing rope (50M x 10mm dynamic) for head guide to use for setting hand lines (on Western Breach only).


· Ice axes – carried by all guides, for cutting steps in snow (on Western Breach only).


Frequently asked questions

Rainfall at the foot (cm) │Kilimanjaro

The short answer is to either go between May and October, or December and March. You also can read lots more about the Kilimanjaro weather.

Simply put, Kilimanjaro has a long monsoon season in April and May, and a shorter monsoon season in November. During these periods there is a high probability of rain every day. Outside these periods the weather is mainly dry and clear.

Of course, most people want to climb when it is dry, so if you choose one of these two periods you can expect to meet a lot of other climbers. To mitigate this, choose one of the less popular routes. The Northern Circuit is a great choice at this time of year. If you want to climb when it is quieter, or during one of the rainy seasons, then look at the Rongai route. It lies in Kilimanjaro's rain shadow and is much drier all year round.


Mount Kilimanjaro Difficulty

For experienced climbers, Mount Kilimanjaro will take around 5 to 6 days to reach the top. But it is important to understand the while the trek is shorter than others, the length of the trek doesn’t mean it is any easier. In fact, Mount Kilimanjaro is incredibly difficult because of its short trek.

You ascend rapidly up the mountain, which means your body needs to acclimate to the changing conditions very quickly. Thus, can lead to acute mountain sickness and if you aren't prepared for that, you can have to turn back to get help.

How fit do you need to be to climb kilimanjaro?

We have helped lots of novice trekkers summit Kilimanjaro safely. You need to be fit enough for "weekend walking" and able to do 5-7 hours on your feet for two days back to back. Besides being fit though you will need to look after yourself all the way and have bucket loads of determination.

The best training to climb Kilimanjaro you can do is to get your boots on and cover as many miles as your can before your climb. If you follow this advice, most days will be pretty comfortable for you. However fit you are though, summit night is a very tough experience. You will be climbing for 8-10 hours and descending for 6 - 8 hours.

What training do you recommend to prepare for my climb?

We always answer this question by saying you should try and get out and do as much hill-walking as you can. Nothing prepares your body better for climbing Kilimanjaro than some weekends doing long walks of 7-8 hours.

For a more technical answer there are four aspects of fitness you need to work on.

  • First is pure cardio. As you ascend there is less and less oxygen in the air and this makes your cardio system work very hard. Prepare for this with any intense cardio exercise. We are big fans of High Intensity Interval Training where you work very hard for a short period and then rest.

  • Second is leg strength. Consecutive days climbing puts a lot of strain on the legs and specific leg exercises like squats work really well.

  • Third is stamina. On summit night you need to keep going and going. Try and do some longer exercises that require real stamina like a long ride or a really long day hill-walking.

  • And finally don't forget your flexibility as lots of injuries are caused by lack of flexibility. So both before your climb, and on it, remember your stretches. Read more detailed advice on training to climb Kilimanjaro.

What are the toilets like on kilimanjaro?

The public toilets on Kilimanjaro are horrible. Fortunately, we now provide private toilets on Kilimanjaro as standard on all climbs. This is a chemical toilet in a small tent. This is kept clean and hygienic by our crew. Lots better than the long drop public loos.

How well do you treat your crew? are you a member of kpap?

We treat all our crew and guides really well. This is recognised by KPAP ( the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program). You can see our most recent KPAP audit report.

KPAP do great work to ensure porters are treated fairly on the mountain. This is not just about wages, but food, clothing, tents and tipping policy. Sadly far too few Kilimanjaro operators are members of KPAP. We have been a leading member of KPAP since we started on Kilimanjaro. There is a KPAP porter on all our climbs to ensure that our treatment of porters always is up to high standards.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness (often just called AMS) is caused by climbing to altitudes where the air pressure is much reduced. There is a great little calculator here http://www.altitude.org/air_pressure.php which shows how this happens.

By the time you have reached the summit of Kilimanjaro air pressure is down to 49% of what it is at sea level. The first effect of this is that every lungful of air contains only half the amount of oxygen it would normally have. This make any physical exertion very hard work. Slowly, slowly is the key.

The second and most dangerous effects of low pressures are on the parts of the body where fluid and air meet. The two most important are in the skull and lungs. With low air pressure fluid gets into the lungs and the gap between the brain and the skull. In the lungs this causes something like pneumonia, where your lungs fill with water. In the brain it causes bad headaches. Both of these can become so bad they will kill you.

The good news is that we plan our ascents very carefully to minimise the risk of you getting AMS and have well tested emergency plans on how to prevent altitude sickness.

What is the difference between an open group climb and a private climb?

Private climbs to climb Kilimanjaro are your own personal tailor-made adventure. They give you total flexibility and the highest chance of success. Just choose your date, route and any of our tailor-made options. Perfect for a group of friends or a charity group. Or perhaps for a couple looking to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary. Upgrades to private climbs start from £100 per person depending on the size of the group.

If you want the company of others while you climb Kilimanjaro then an open group is perfect for you. Our group climbs run every week during the main climbing season from June - October and December - March. They are limited to a maximum of 12 climbers to make sure you get the best chance of summit success. Particularly popular are our open group full moon climbs which run every month.

What will the food be like?

The food our cooks prepare on Kilimanjaro is amazing. What they can create on a mountain is beyond belief and everybody raves about our food. This is really importantant as keeping yourself hydrated and ensuring you eat well is one of the most important factors in success. You can read more about our Kilimanjaro food. If you have special dietary requirements or are a vegetarian then just let us know when you book so that we can be sure to have a suitable menu planned.

How will i wash during my climb?

Every morning and evening you will be provided with a bowl of hot water for washing. As well as this we strongly recommend a good supply of baby wipes for cleaning hands during the day. Also when it gets very cold higher on the mountain you can get by with what we call a "pits and bits" wash for which a baby-wipe is perfect. Remember though that whatever you take up the mountain has to come down so you will need a waste bag to carry used wet wipes.

Are there any age restrictions on climbers?

Kilimanjaro Park Authority do not allow any climbers on the mountain younger than 12 years of age. There is no maximum - our oldest client who summited was 75. You should be aware though that we do not allow children younger than 16 to join an open group. This is primarily because we feel that for children under 16 we need to provide the more personalised care that is only available on a private trip. Also, we have sometimes had negative feedback from adults about having children on a climb with them.