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7 Tips for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

by Globetrooper Lauren | 22 Responses
Climb Mt Kilimanjaro

It’s become quite the celebrity challenge, but don’t let that put you off. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro tests your endurance, fitness and comfort levels.

Many believe that the required strength and fitness for the climb are out of reach, but this just isn’t true. Sure it’s a mountain, but it doesn’t require any technical mountaineering skills, just one foot after the other.

I climbed ‘Kili’ in 2008 and now have dreams of the Inca Trail, Aconcagua and Denali. However, there are a few things that I wasn’t prepared for. Here are 7 somewhat unusual tips that will help prepare you.

1. Break-in Boots with Insoles

I recommend to wear-in a good pair of boots before the climb. But no matter how much training you do, after walking 4 to 10 hours a day for 7 days straight, the soles of your feet will feel like burnt marshmallows.

I walked no more than 5kms in my boots before I took off for Tanzania (most people would think that’s insane) but my feet were fine, except when I had to beg Todd for his insoles on day five. Moulded insoles give your feet more support and help prevent pain and tingles from long hikes. I highly recommend fitting a pair into your boots before the hike.

2. Pack Light but for All Conditions

Instead of forking out a lot of money for new gear, you can rent most of your kit from your tour guide. I hired a down jacket, walking poles and gaiters, since I wouldn’t use them again regularly enough to justify the cost. But make sure you’re equipped for all weather conditions, as you’ll certainly encounter all four seasons.

Mt Kilimanjaro Porter

Packing light is also a big deal for your porters. They will overtake you each and every day on the mountain balancing your stuff on their head regardless of how much you bring. But this eventually leads to a guilt-trip, and that’s no fun at all.

3. Take Diamox, Your Best Frenemy

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, it doesn’t necessarily depend on your fitness or health. It helps to take Diamox tablets on your second or third day on the mountain, even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms. But beware: you will need to visit the ‘hole in the ground’ a lot more often than usual (for number ones, not twos).

On my first day taking these whopper-sized pills, I had to scramble out of the tent at least 10 times during the night (no exaggeration). So it’s best to have an action plan and easy access to your clothes, shoes, torch and toilet paper before you go to sleep. Because when you need to go, it’s no time to scurry around the tent looking for misplaced items.

4. Take a Pack of Cards

Cards won’t be on your kit list, but they’re a must. On the mountain, you’ll want to sleep after a hard day’s walk, but card games with your climbing buddies are much more entertaining.

There are lots of people to invite too: your guide, your assistant guide, your cook, your assistant cook… and your soiree of 10+ porters. It’s a great way to get to know them, their stories, and their culture, as well as learning new card tricks to test on unsuspecting victims back home.

5. Know that Porters Love Coca-Cola

After walking for days to reach the highest camp, Barafu (4,600 m), all you’ll feel like doing is relaxing with a cold beer. And you can do just that! If you’re feeling generous and want to give some love to the porters, you can buy a whole round like I did.

Mt

Coming from Australia, where everyone loves a good brew, I thought they’d be brawling over the suds. But it’s lucky I bought half Coca-Cola too, because I soon found out the that the porters weren’t really keen on beer. So when in doubt, err on the side of Coke.

6. Don’t Fear the Kili Belly

Most people warn you against eating sliced fruit, salads, and anything else uncooked. But after burning 4,000+ calories a day on the mountain, you need all the replenishment you can get.

When you’re back down in the city of Arusha, get out and try the local produce. Basically anything that you can see being cooked should be fine to munch, and whole pieces of fruit (that you cut up yourself) will really hit the spot (look for pineapple).

7. Prepare for the Descent

Summit day is the killer, and I’m not talking about that final climb up. Sure getting to the summit is tough, but the steep drop down the mountain afterwards is the real test. Think about it, you take 5 days to get to the summit but only 2 days to get down.

When the lubricating fluid in your knees runs dry, walking down a mountain can become very painful. On the Machame route, you cover a distance of 30kms on the Summit day alone and more than 2/3 of this is on the descent. I recommend packing anti-inflammatory meds for your knees since they act as your main shock absorbers on the way down.

Mt Kilimanjaro Summit

If you have ever thought about making the climb, now is the time to do it. The glaciers on the top of the mountain are slowly disappearing.

Above all else, I want to recommend my guides, Joshua and Frank from Team Kilimanjaro, as they made the whole adventure seem like a walk in the park. They serenaded, whistled, and made jokes, all the way to the summit at 5,895 metres… the Roof of Africa.

This post is my first article for the MatadorU Travel Writing Program.

All images by Globetrooper.

Posted in Adventure Travel, Tanzania | July 11th, 2010

22 Responses to 7 Tips for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

  1. I’ve learnt to love the mountain since I’ve taken up photography. I don’t know if I will ever get to Mt. Kilimanjaro, but that is a good set of tips which I will come back to when I do. And thanks for the Diamox heads up! My friend and I got some for emergency trekking in Shangrila, China but fortuantely never had to use it. I love the happy picture at the top!! Congratulations, Lauren! for the climb and this great article. :)

    • Thanks Lilliane, yeah those Diamox tablets are something else. They definitely had a part in getting us to the top, but I remember that first night of taking them being pretty bad.

  2. Dear Lauren,
    It was our pleasure and privilege to assist you on your climb and many congratulations for the feat you achieved on the mountain.
    Many thanks for these great tips, especially the importance of having a pair of well worn-in boots. While each climber has their own personal experience on the mountain, all of the tips you have given can potentially apply to every climber at some time through the duration of their climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. Despite all the concerns that people can have about climbing the mountain, as long as they approach it as you did, with the right frame of mind, this can help them overcome many of the ‘obstacles’ that they will come across as climbing the mountain is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
    I can confirm that your climb support team of guides, cook and porters enjoyed climbing with you and appreciated your relationship with them.
    Our teams have a friendly and encouraging approach to helping people to climb Kili, as you evidenced.
    We wish you the very best for your climbing/trekker challenges in the future.
    David @ Team Kilimanjaro

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for your comment. The information on your website alone was enough for us to book, so extensive and relevant. I hope I can encourage others to take up the challenge and climb Kilimanjaro.

  3. Hey!
    Great article and tips! While I was reading this, I found that these can relate to also climbing to base camp of Everest. We did that about 2 years ago and most of the things you mentioned were the same!

    • You’ve done EBC!! I would love to do it, especially the World Expeditions one this November with Robin Esrock, but the cost is a bit out of reach at the moment. Will search your blog for your Everest experience now :)

  4. Great post, lots of useful information I would never have thought about! You’ve really established yourself as an authority on t he subject. Plus you’ve peaked my interest in climbing Kili.

    • Sweet, I’m glad I can give you something to think about. It is an adventure of a lifetime! You will not regret it, although maybe you’ll curse me for then wanting to climb higher and higher.

  5. There are two camps when it comes to Diamox. One says to use it in advance like you did to hopefully prevent issues from arising. The other says to only use it when necessary and you are beginning to have symptoms.

    The issue with the first is that if taking it in advance doesn’t help, there is no plan B. The issue with the second is that those with time constraints may lose out.

    Each high altitude climb for me (including Kili & nearby Mt Meru in Tanzania) has been based with the second option in mind, and the professional climbers I know have the same feelings. I’d suggest each potential climber or high altitude trekker speak with knowledgeable and experienced guides about it before taking diamox. Your doctors back home may not know much about it. I even had to tell my doctor what dosage I would need to be taking if I needed it.

    • Hi Dustin, we found these two opinions as well. But the issue we found with the latter is that Diamox takes time. If you’re half way up on summit day and start to feel the effects of altitude sickness, taking Diamox then and there isn’t going to help for at least a few hours, maybe even a day.
      Taking Diamox in advance or not, the only remedy is to head back down to lower ground. I do agree on speaking with a professional climber about taking Diamox before your trip though, as doctors have their own specialisations etc. Or even talk with your guide or tour operator.

  6. Great tips Lauren!
    I’ve always wanted to climb Kili so now I’ll be prepared. I always think coming down the mountain is much harder because of the strain on your knees- man it can get tough!

    • Thanks Caz, I didn’t even think about coming down! All I was focused on was making it to the top. But it’s like they say on all Everest films, the summit is only half way.

  7. Great tips here ! Very helpful and useful !

    Would love to climb up Mt Kilimanjaro someday, have a list of mountain ranges to visit !

    JH
    http://www.photojournalist-tgh.tv

  8. hi lauren, chanced upon your thorntree post which brought me here. i’m looking to climb kili in jan 2011 with a friend and these are definitely useful tips i will bear in mind.

    i’ve a question: did you go on a 6D or 7D trek on the machame route? my friend and i are under 25 years old and reasonably fit; i’ve run 2 marathons this year and he climbed long’s peak in colorado. but i know that this isn’t an accurate gauge for determining whether you’ll get altitude sickness so i’m a little worried and if you have any tips on that do share. thanks!

    • Hi Kate,

      We did a 7 day trek on Machame, as you have a higher chance of making it to the summit with the extra day of acclimatisation.
      Wow, TWO marathons, you shouldn’t have any physical problems getting to the top. But yes, you just don’t know who’s going to get hit with altitude sickness. I recommend taking Diamox or another altitude sickness tablet, I mean why not? Sure it could give you a few little side effects, but they’re not that bad. And if it can help in getting you to the top, I don’t see the negatives to it.

    • Hey Kate,
      If you want to know a bit more about altitude sickness, check out Todd’s post http://globetrooper.com/notes/the-effects-of-altitude-in-a-nutshell/

  9. Mount Kilimanjaro is more than just a Mountain.

    In Mount Kilimanjaro, you can climb, or do walking safaris.

    Machame is considered the route with scenery, beautiful environment and success climbing adventure among other kilimanjaro trekking routes.

  10. Hi Lauren,
    My son and I are heading over to do a 7 day Machame trek with Team Kilimanjaro in Dec 2011. Living on the East Coast of Australia at a mere 160m above sea level I was certainly having concerns with Altitude sickness.
    After reading through your tips I feel much more confident and really looking forward to the trip.
    How did you go carrying water on Summit day. I’ve been told that water bladders tend to freeze and they need to be carried close to your body to prevent this from occurring.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Paul,
      I don’t remember if our water bladders froze, I think it’s mainly the hose you need to keep inside your pack. But you won’t drink much of it anyway, your guides will surprise you with something else.
      Make sure you take extra batteries for your camera as they drain really, really quickly from the cold, and wear them close to your body for the summit hike.
      Good luck for the climb!

  11. Many thanks for all the tips, we are climbing March 2012. Looking so forward to the challenge.

  12. I enjoyed reading all the tips for a successful climb to the top of Kili. I am climbing in Jan 2013 with my 18 year old daughter and well I had heard already about many of your tips I always like to reassured. My biggest concern is physcial fitness as I kow that there is very little I can do to prepare for altitude sickness.

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