Explorers Connect

How To....Climb Kilimanjaro

How-toJames Hipkiss

Kilimanjaro is a unique mountain, unlike no other I have climbed - it receives an incredible amount of media attention, both good and bad, and is climbed by all types of people all year round. It is achievable with little or no mountaineering experience and provides, to most people, one of the best experiences of their lives.

It will open your eyes, change the way you think, make you believe in yourself, inspire and motivate you to believe and give you a huge sense of achievement. The worlds highest free standing mountain attracts 1000's of trekkers every year, and they all have the same aim - to watch the sun rise across Tanzania whilst standing on the 'Roof of Africa' at 5895m. But with so much information available online, and too many providers to choose from, where do you start on your Kilimanjaro adventure? PLANNING KILIMANJARO At the start of your Kilimanjaro expedition you need to ask a few basic questions. When can I go and is there a best time to climb? How much does it cost? Who can I go with? Firstly, you can climb Kilimanjaro all year round. However, the dry seasons are best and can provide calm clear blue skies and sensational sunsets, whereas in the rainy season heavy down pours can turn the paths into muddy quagmires.

Because of this the dry seasons are much busier. That said Kilimanjaro is a big mountain and these weather patterns can always change, but being free standing it doesn't generate 'mountain range' weather and therefore is generally the weather is more settled for longer periods at a time. The dry seasons are July - October and January - March. - How many days does the climb take? Most providers will have itineraries for 6, 7 or 8 days, and occasionally 5 or 10 days - but how many is necessary? I believe that for most people a 7 day route is enough. If you have the time and money or perhaps are slightly older or more concerned with altitude then I would high recommend choosing an 8 day itinerary. On the other hand if you are fit and strong and want to push yourself you might find 6 days suits you - but remember fitness does not make a difference to your acclimatisation to the altitude. If you choose a 7 day itinerary, with a few days for travelling etc then you are looking at a 10 day round trip. - How fit do I need to be?

Over the years I have seen all shapes and sizes on Kilimanjaro, but I would say the same to anyone going on a trek to altitude - get as fit as you can. The fitter you are the less each day will take out of you and the faster you can recover before the next day starts. Overall youll suffer less and enjoy the experience more. - Which route should I take? There are 5 main routes to choose from Rongia, Marangu, Umbwe, Machame and Lomosho/Shira Plataeu. None provide any particular technical difficulties other than the Western breach variation (which can be added to Machame or Lomosho/Shira routes) which involved scrambling. The Rongai is quiet and remote but a little baron, where as the Machame route is more scenic but busier. Marangu is the most direct and the only route where you can stay in huts.

The Lomosho is fast becoming a favourite for 8 day itineraries. - Do you want to sign up to a Western company or directly to an African company? The vast majority of people who climb Kilimanjaro each year sign into a larger group with a Western (UK) company who provide everything for around 2500 (GBP). A Western company will cost more - but you will get a lot more - and most of the time a Western expedition leader will lead the expedition. An African company will provide the exact same service but without the Western support and Western based leader. - Do you want to be part of a team of strangers, climb on your own or as a small team of friends?

Being part of a group can be a lot of fun and can make the whole experience much more enjoyable and memorable, it is also cheaper than having a small private expedition. However going on your own or in a small group of people you know takes away the stress of not knowing any of the team and worrying about walking fast enough and holding people back. - What will it cost? Kilimanjaro is a reasonably expensive climb but very good value for money. A lot of the costs incurred are from the National Park permits and go back into the country and its National Parks. Costs vary hugely from company to company so you need to check the small print for what is included and what is not. For example: How many days are you on the mountain? Are tents and sleeping bags included, or do you need to provide your own? Do you get a UK guide? Is there a UK based training weekend included? Does the company bring high altitude safety equipment up the mountain (Oxygen and Gamo Bag)? Do they carry a private toilet on the mountain?

A good African company will charge from around $1300 for a 6 day expedition, and these can be booked up almost the day before in either Moshi or Arusha and include just the mountain costs. A good UK company will charge anything from around 1500 upwards for a 6 day expedition (excluding flights). - Getting to Kilimanjaro Moshi Kilimanjaro is in Northern Tanzania and the nearest airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA). You can fly direct to here from Amsterdam with KLM or most African airlines go from London via Nairobi (Kenya) then down to KIA. At the base of Kilimanjaro, 45 minutes from KIA there are two main towns to base yourself, Moshi and Arusha.

Most trekkers stay in and around Moshi - a great little friendly market town with an incredible view of Kilimanjaro. There are also gear rental shops here, cafes, internet and supermarkets. DAY TO DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN On the mountain you will quickly fall into a daily routine, and this will be repeated with minor tweaks everyday. Your time on the mountain can be split into three sections: 1 - The park gate to high camp, 2 - Summit day, 3 - The descent. On a 7 day itinerary you will arrive at high camp on day 5, summit in the early morning of day 6 and be back in Moshi in the afternoon on day 7! Going down is much much quicker for a number of reasons - one of which is you take the 'descent route' called Mweke which is direct, short and fast - What speed do you walk at? Imagine a slow pace and then go a little bit slower! Trekking at altitude and particularly on Kilimanjaro is all about going slow and steady - it is defiantly the tortoise than wins this race.

Your body needs to make small adaptations to cope with the altitude and to give yourself the best chance you need to go slowly. - What do I carry? You will only have to carry a day pack. Your main pack will be portered by one of the crew who are part of your local team. This may feel awkward at first but its fine, for these guys on Kili its good work, and they have a great time on the mountain as well. The weight they can carry is carefully monitored by the park authorities and these regulations are taken seriously. If you want to carry all your own stuff then that is fine. You can even do all your own cooking too - but you will still have to have a guide, and probably a porter to carry your guides kit and some of the food for the trip etc. Not many people ever do this on Kilimanjaro. - Altitude symptoms Most trekkers will experience some form of discomfort from the altitude be it; poor sleep, lack of appetite, head aches and possibly vomiting. Carefully monitored and administered these can often be overcome and most people can continue but altitude must be taken seriously and if symptoms don't subside descent is the only answer.

Your guide should talk in detail to the team about altitude and the effects and symptoms. - Summit day Its dark at midnight so don't forget some spare batteries! Summit day is exciting and after an early dinner you will have been in your tents trying to sleep from around 18:00 23:00 before waking and dressing for the summit attempt. The team will be accompanied by a summit crew consisting of your western guide, local guide and assistant, and a few strong summit porters. These guys are incredible and without them many people would not reach the summit. Each of them have been on the mountain more times than they can keep track of and know exactly how you will be feeling and are ready to react at a split second. The team trek slowly through the night gaining altitude from 4800 to around 5500 when the sun begins to warm the horizon and the curvature of the Earth can be seen. With this added warmth and moral booster the team marches slow up to the crater rim to either Gilman or Stella point. From here it is an easy gradient around the rim for a further hour or so to the summit. As you turn the final corner and see the summit ahead the realisation that you have made it floods your body and a world of emotions comes crashing down.

Yes you don't feel great, yes you're tired, and yes you want to be at home in bed, but the sensation of standing on the summit of Kilimanjaro is second to none and no-one can ever take that away from you. - Medical Some western companies bring a doctor/expedition medic on the expedition also, and some don't, however the expedition leader should have a good understanding of high altitude medicine. This is a decision you would need to make as to whether you would like a doctor to be on the trip with you or not. FAQ - Will my mobile work on Kili? Mine does! Depends on your network and which route you do, but most routes you can get signal here and there.

You can call from just near the summit and get 3G network all the way up. A good idea is to take an old phone and buy a local sim card for $10 this will save you money if calling home, to receive is only pence instead of pounds. - Can anyone climb Kili?'