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Tuesday
Sep062011

Tanzania: Climbing Kilimanjaro

It might sound clichéd, but you really do get a 'high' from standing on the Roof of Africa, on the snowy summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, all challenging, exhausting 5895 meters of it.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the whole African continent is a huge physical challenge, and not one to be undertaken lightly, but it is one that is perfectly within the grasp of anyone who is reasonably fit, has the basic equipment (boots, gear etc – more on that below), and – above all – is mentally strong.

Even though we all refer to “climbing Kilimanjaro”, it is not a technical climb, but rather a high altitude trek.  Even so, you need to be aware that climbing up to 5895 meters will take its toll on you.  You will be cold, you may well be snowed upon, you will be dog-tired, you will almost certainly have a rotten headache from the altitude – but you will be rewarded by the most breathtaking view of the sun rising over Africa – a view that will stay with you forever.

So what does it take to tackle this iconic mountain?  Let’s take it in reverse order:

The equipment bit is the easy part

There are any number of kit-lists available online or at specialized outdoor shops, but by and large, the most important things are good rain gear, strong comfortable boots, and hiking poles. 

You will need lightweight clothes for the rain forest through which you climb at the start.  You will need layers of warmer clothing, which you add, as you tramp ever upwards.  A sleeping bag, snacks, spare camera batteries, a good head torch, spare socks – but all of these are of no avail if your boots are uncomfortable/leak/pinch/are not broken in. 

You cannot skimp on your hiking boots, nor must you skimp on breaking them in.  Wear them and break them in, until they feel comfortable long before you climb.  They will be your best friends for six tough days.

Next in importance is your physical fitness 

Eighty-year-olds climb Kili, so it is perfectly doable by most people.  You do need, however, a modicum of fitness.  Walk for months before your trip, climb as many flights of stairs as you can – walk, walk, walk, because that will be your physical mainstay during your climb.  Kili involves hours of walking every day, with a day-pack, often in the rain, so you need to know that you can, indeed, walk for hours. When you start training, begin with attainable distances, gradually increasing the kilometers each week.  Then start carrying your day pack, with at least 5 or 6 kg weight, so that not only are you used to walking with weight, but also that your pack is comfortable, too.

The final thing needed

The mental strength to keep going – especially at the end.  The higher you climb, the thinner the air.  Your lungs seem unable to take in enough air, you will be walking in the dark – in order to be on the summit as day breaks, remember – and those last few hours of harsh, steep, jagged terrain will need every ounce of mental toughness.

So be focused, and never, ever forget the Kili mantra 'pole pole' – take it slowly, slowly.  The slower you walk the better.

And, not wishing to seem defeatist, you also need one last thing in your mental make-up.  You need to know if you are beaten.  And accept it. If your climbing guide tells you to turn back, you must. 

The guides and porters who accompany you up the mountain are the real stars.  They carry your bags, they pitch your tents, they cook your food, they hold your hand and bully – no, cajole – you up those last few kilometers – and they know Kili like the back of their hand.  

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Reader Comments (4)

The mental strength to keep going – especially at the end. The higher you climb, the thinner the air. Your lungs seem unable to take in enough air, you will be walking in the dark .
October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
the most breathtaking view of the sun rising over Africa – a view that will stay with you forever.

You are totally right, I dee it in 1972, nearly 40 years ago!!!
December 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrédéric
I fell in love with Tanzania from the moment that we arrived. My wife and I went on a luxury safari holiday to Tanzania and were forever in awe of Mount Kilimanjaro and I am happy to state that this year my wife and I shall be returning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for the very first time!
January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTanzania safaris
I love the fact that this is such a tough climb but that anyone can do it.
I am going with a mixed group of friends, almost all of whom are on their first Kilimanjaro trips and some of whom are over the age of 50.

We have been training for months and we are all raring to go. We know that the last bit is going to be tough but the guys who have done it before have told us that we still won't be fully prepared for it until we get there. Your blog does a good job of getting us ready and I can't wait to start walking and feel that African sun on my back. It's going to be great, even when it's not so great at times
July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKilimanjaro trips

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