Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, known as the roof of Africa, is Africa's tallest mountain standing at 19,344 feet (5,896 meters). Climbing Kili is said to be more difficult than reaching Everest basecamp, which is usually a two week undertaking ending at an altitude of 16404 feet (5,364 meters). Kilimanjaro, alternatively, is usually summited in 5 to 8 nights, depending on your route. With so little time to allow your body to adjust to the increase in height, the single most difficult and unpredictable challenge is the possibility of altitude sickness. Fatigue, headaches, illness, not to mention the freezing cold weather, and intense daily treks are some of the challenges incurred on the mountain.

Climbing Kili is trip for those who enjoy a challenge and crave adventure. There is no specific fitness level that one should aim for in order to be “Kili-ready,” but the ability to run a minimum of 3 miles without stopping is a good indication that you can handle the summit. If you do decide to it take on, there will be moments of struggle, but you can be sure you’ll be rewarded with an incredible feeling of accomplishment.

Dania, one of our Safari Specialists, climbed Kili in 2013 and wrote this post for us on her experience:

I remember, about 1 year ago, the feeling of doubt I had just before pressing the ‘send’ button on an email committing to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. My mind had wavered back on forth; I’m not particularly athletic and don’t have much experience hiking, so agreeing to climb Kili seemed daunting.

In the previous weeks I had asked fellow travelers about their experiences on Kili, and I got a lot of answers along the lines of, "it was the hardest thing I've ever done" or, "it was great, but I'll never do it again". You can understand my hesitation! My indecision, coupled with the fact that the internet café I used in Arusha was more often without power than with, meant that here I was 2 days prior to the departure date and only now confirming my spot! And no, I had not been training, which seemed to be everyone’s first question.

Despite my hesitation, a prickle of excitement surged through me each time I thought about it so I went ahead and hit send and two days later I was off!

The Hike

Two days, in Moshi, later I met my guide, my personal chef and five additional porters. I learned later that the more people there are in a group, the porter to climber ratio will decrease (slightly) but generally there are no fewer than 3 porters per person climbing.

Mohamed- guide from Zara My guide extraordinare Mohamed

I spent each night in a dome tent with a sleeping bag and sleeping pad but there are levels of luxury to match every traveler. Everything from huts, to dome tents and sleeping bags, to spacious walk-in tents with mattresses and duvets, are available depending on your preference and budget.

There seven routes you can take to the summit-Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira/Londorossi, Umbwe, Mweka and Rongai.

Kilimanjaro Routes

Each route is spectacular in its own way. Some are more challenging than others, some have fewer crowds, some are better suited for successful acclimatization, some take longer to summit, and some have a greater variation of ecosystems. I chose the Rongai route, a 5 night hike on the only route that starts from the Northern side of the mountain, very close to the border with Kenya.

What all those people who caused me to hesitate failed to mention was that aside from the demanding night of summit, the climb is not only bearable but (on Rongai in particular) there is no major climbing involved. The days often included only 4 or 5 hours of hiking and expert footing or major experience was not necessary which was a welcome surprise!

Day 1- Farmland on at the beginning of the Raongai route Day 1- Farmland on at the beginning of the Raongai route

The changing scenery and eco-systems was one of my favorite parts of the Rongai route from pine forests to low lying moorlands to dense jungle to mountain desert, that and turning around to take in the stunning views over Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo West parks. I also loved the opportunity for long conversations with my local guides about everything from the changing eco-systems we passed through to their lives and families.

A snack on the mountain A snack on the mountain. The food on the hike was fabulous. I even got a cake on the mountain, no idea how they did it!

The Summit

The summit day will give even the fittest traveler a run for their money. The day prior to the summit, you climb into your sleeping bag at 1 pm, directly after lunch, and are woken up at 11 pm for a quick snack of chai and biscuits before you begin your midnight departure to the summit. At this point it is already below freezing and for my trek, snow began falling about 30 minutes before our departure. Mohamed, my guide, reassured me that these snowfalls only last an hour or so. Four hours later when it had gone from a light sprinkle to a relentless blizzard we accepted the fact that it wasn't going to stop anytime soon.

The 10.5 hour climb in 3 degree weather is definitely one of the greatest challenges I've encountered. In that time I experienced a wide range of emotions; from feeling strong and powerful (this isn't so hard- why does everyone make such a big fuss about it?) to fear and defeat (I'll never make it to the top alive! I hate this mountain and everyone on it!!). The altitude catches up with you fast, making breathing at a regular pace almost impossible. The issue is that once you throw off your breathing feelings of dizziness and nausea follow close behind, so focusing on steady breathing suddenly becomes the most important thing in the world.

The summit in a blizzard!

The majority of the climb to the summit takes place in pitch black. Under normal circumstances you witness an incredible sunrise, but in my case the snow was so thick that when the sun came out the sky just changed from black to white. I didn't even know I had made it to the summit until the 'congratulations!' sign was only 20 feet away! There was no view whatsoever from the top, but I teared up all the same- I made it! It felt like a miracle.

Every day leading up to and after our summit day was clear, blue skies... go figure. Some seasons are more likely than others to experience certain weather patterns, and some routes are better at different times of year- this is all information we can happily provide to make sure you’re completely prepared.

It was truly an experience I will think back on fondly forever. It's an amazing feeling to know what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it (and when you have a team of 7 working for you).

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Kim Green