Helpful tips to help plan your epic Kilimanjaro Climb
27 Jan 2019
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When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?
The weather patterns on and around Kilimanjaro closely follow the general weather patterns that affect the rest of Tanzania. There are two distinct times of the year which should be avoided for a Kilimanjaro climb and these are during the rainy season, which are between April and May, referred to as the 'long rains' and in November, referred to as the 'short rains'.. The long rains generally have longer and heavier precipitation.
The weather is one of the most important considerations, especially if you are not an experienced mountain climber and not used to the harsh conditions that can sometimes present themselves. Rain, sleet, ice and very low temperatures can severely affect your ability to function both physically and mentally. Therefore less experienced climbers should keep to the fair weather months during January - Feb and July - Oct. January and February are the hottest months in Tanzania with generally fewer clouds so the summit can be seen more of the time. Between end of June and end of October it is also a good time but it will be colder up the mountain.
Of-course the better months to climb the mountain do attract more climbers so there will be more traffic on the mountain. However if that is an issue for you then choose one of the newer, less frequented routes, such as Lemosho.
What gear will I need?
The most common mistake is for climbers to pack too much. You will need to be very selective when packing and bear in mind that the porters are limited to carrying 15 kgs.
All your gear should be packed in a duffel bag (50-90 litres) including your sleeping bag (which should be a '4 seasons' standard). The porters then put these into a waterproof bag with a roll top closure.
The essentials to bring are a sturdy pair of walking boots that support the ankles. Make sure they are already worn in, as many people splash out on a fancy new pair of boots before the trip and don't wear them in properly resulting in blisters and very sore feet after day 1. It can make the trip a miserable one for you and potentially prevent you from reaching the top. You would be better off with an older pair of boots that might not look so cool but are properly worn in and will get you to the top.
A good waterproof is essential as it can get very wet up the mountain especially through the rain forest. You want to avoid getting your underclothes wet before you move into the higher altitudes where it is significantly colder as it will reduce their ability to keep you warm.
An insulated jacket (either synthetic or down filled) and a fleece are essential items. Also under-garments should be made from moisture-wicking fabric which does not absorb water in the same way as natural fabrics. This keeps the garment dry and retains its insulating properties.
Waking poles are a very useful item to bring as they really help reduce the stress on your leg muscles by using the upper body muscles to assist with the walking motion. They also help with stability in rocky and infirm terrain such as you will encounter on Kilimanjaro.
Other smaller items that are useful to bring include hand sanitiser, as the washing facilities are basic and it is important to reduce the risk of a tummy bug, which will drain your body of energy and make you less less likely to reach the summit. Wet wipes are also useful to take for the same reason.
Sun cream and lip balm are essential items. The sun is much stronger at higher altitude and the reflecting properties of the white snow add to the strength of the suns impact on your skin. Use a high factor cream and a lip balm that is also a sun blocker.
This is not a complete kit list, which will be provided by Far & Wild prior to your trip.
Preparation for Kilimanjaro Climb
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is physically challenging, so some degree of fitness is required. The up-hill walk requires strong legs and general aerobic fitness is needed to carry essential oxygen around your body. A fit person is more likely to withstand the gruelling consecutive days of camping and walking for hours in cold and inclement weather conditions. Mental fitness is also important and a positive mental attitude and will to succeed will stave off the fatigue and negative thoughts.
The best form of exercise is simply to do lots of hiking, preferably in a mountain environment with lots of uphills, which will simulate climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Long day hikes are best as again this closely resembles what you will experience on the climb. If you are unable to get to the mountains or long trails regularly then you can train quite productively on a stair master machine as this will strengthen the muscles needed for uphill walking. This would need to be combined with extended long walks at the weekends.
You should start training for climbing Kilimanjaro at least two months prior to your departure.
If you've never hiked before, you should start with shorter time intervals, a slower pace, and no weight (in your day pack) and then gradually increase all of the above as your fitness level improves. Try to train three times a week, for at least one hour per session, at a minimum. Go on days for 4 to 6 hours with a 20 kg pack once you have built up your initial strength, and better to walk more slowly for longer periods than faster and shorter, as the walking on Kilimanjaro will be at a slow pace and more about endurance. It is also important to do some aerobic exercises such as running, cycling or swimming which will increase the aerobic capacity of your body.
Your longest walks and work outs should be between 2 and 4 weeks prior to your departure for Tanzania. The last two weeks reduce your training and for the final days stop all together to give your body time to recover before the climb.
It's important that during your training you wear the boots you intend to take with you on your trip and also carry the back pack you intent to take. This will minimise any sores to your feet and shoulders.
Lastly, physical training is just one part of getting in shape. Preparing mentally and eating a healthy diet are also important, as is getting a good amount of sleep.
How to prepare for the high altitude?
The effects of high altitude on the body can be serious and in some cases fatal, and differ from one person to the next. It's not always related to fitness levels. I have met super fit guys running up the trail to the Annapurna base camp in the Himalayas who all got very sick due to the altitude.
There is little you can do prior to coming to Tanzania to help you with this unless you happen to live somewhere like the Swiss Alps.
The best way to avoid any issues is to ensure you acclimatize properly and this means doing a route that takes no less than 6 days - more days is better. Some routes you will find advertised do it in 5, but these are not recommended. If you have more time you could arrive in Tanzania a few days before your trek and hike up to Mt Meru which is a stunningly beautiful trek through the lush bush of Arusha National Park before getting onto the mountain. There is plenty of wildlife in the park including elephants, lions, leopard, giraffe etc so it's a great opportunity to see the incredible wildlife of Tanzania whilst in the country.
You will be briefed by your guide about the symptoms of altitude sickness and it is important to listen carefully and heed their words. If you show any signs of the symptoms, or you see any of your co-climbers showing signs you must inform the guide immediately and reduce altitude.
Should I get a medical examination?
It is advisable to see a doctor before you go and inform them of your intentions to climb Kilimanjaro. If you are on any medications they may not work at higher altitudes or if you have a pre-existing medical condition you need to know if the climb and the altitude is going to be a problem.
It is best to seek this advice before you book and commit to an expensive holiday.
A final note
To climb Kilimanjaro is no walk in the park and will push you and challenge you both mentally and physically, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. It should be considered carefully and the training and preparations should be taken seriously which will make reaching the summit all the more rewarding.