When my friend suggested we travel to Tanzania and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, it took me aback. The thought of doing so, never crossed my mind, despite my love of both hiking and international travel. I knew it was expensive and required a good deal of planning. At the same time, how could I say no? Excited about my willingness to commit to the journey, my travel companion happily took care of everything. I only needed to save money and mentally prepare.
I went into this experience knowing very little about trekking Mount Kilimanjaro. If you consider going on the same adventure, you might want to know these tips ahead of time:
You must climb with a guiding company.
Private, unassisted treks of the mountain are no longer allowed as of 1991. All hikers must be accompanied by a guide. Most climb with established companies that provide porters to assist with the transportation of gear and supplies. The rules of the Park are fairly strict. With the ever-growing popularity of the trek, they maintain organization and minimize destruction, littering and personal risk.
Some companies are committed to treating their employees fairly – some are not. There is no minimum wage in Tanzania and not all trekking companies pay their porters and other staff fairly. Often they do not even have proper gear or clothing. Do your research and choose a company that is endorsed by the KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project). KPAP is an independent organization formed to prevent staff mistreatment while on the mountain. We personally chose Ultimate Kilimanjaro, a widely known and respected company. They hire stellar guides, provide competitive pay for their employees, and offer a variety of route/length options.
There are many different route options and trek lengths. Do your research in order to decide what route and timeline fit your personal needs. There are seven different established routes up Mount Kilimanjaro and the treks vary from six to nine days long. Consider how much time you have, what features you want on your route, and maybe most importantly, how much time you need to acclimatize to the extreme altitude.
Understanding The Success Rate
The summit rate is fairly low – take your preparation and the climb itself seriously. The overall success rate is only 66%, and of course that percentage drops on the shorter treks. No matter how you train, altitude sickness is a formidable opponent. It’s not about the difficulty of the climb itself but the toll that the altitude takes on your body.
Regardless of which route you pick, base camp and summit day are the same for everyone. This is probably something that some of you know. For those who don’t, there is a base camp and everyone summits from that same camp. It is not an easy climb, no matter how fit you are. Mount Kilimanjaro is too often touted as an “easy” hike just because it does not require much technical skill. Even if that is true, the climb from Base Camp to summit is steep, very cold, and entirely at high altitude. I consider myself rather fit and well-prepared, and I took acclimatization medication – but I still struggled.
The altitude gets to you – be prepared. It’s no joke. Even if you take medication to aid you, it won’t negate the effects. It is definitely worth it, though – take the medication, and take it exactly as recommended by the prescription and by your guide team. Reputable companies require various health tests each day to make sure that you cope normally with the altitude. They take your well-being very seriously and so should you.
Slow And Steady
You might have to hike slower than you’d like, but there’s a purpose. If you are an experienced hiker, it’s rather maddening. I personally went on an 8-day trek because I wanted to make sure that I acclimatized well enough to summit. I went nuts hiking at the shuffling pace the guides required, but I know that they did it for a reason. They wanted me to summit as badly as I did, and it worked – it was tough but I made it!
The weather is unpredictable – it’s worth it to go during the recommended season. It’s not so much a matter of temperature difference as it is wet versus dry seasons. Yes, it is busier during peak weather, but go then anyway. It’s tough enough to summit a huge mountain that measures almost 20,000 feet tall. You don’t want to have to do it in sleet, hail, snow and rain. Follow advice and book for the drier times of year.
Summit Day – Mount Kilimanjaro
Summit Day kicks your butt. The inequality between the difficulty of summit day and all other trek days leading up to it surprised me. I knew that it was tough, but I struggled more than I expected. The altitude hit me and I felt like I’d fall asleep while walking – for hours straight. I forced my eyes open and barely kept myself hiking in a straight line. Make sure you have very professional, experienced guides that keep you going if you want to give up.
It will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Whatever you decide you need personally for your particular trip – definitely go. Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is an unforgettable journey and an accomplishment you forever remember with pride and happiness. I also recommend going with a group as opposed to privately – you’ll make lasting friendships, as I did. Focus, plan well, and train – then go show that mountain who’s boss.