Travel Tip: Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

In this blog post we will share our experience climbing Kilimanjaro and provide a few tips that we'd suggest you consider. First up if you are on the fence about it just do it. The experience was amazing and completely worth it. That said climbing Kili is not easy and isn't something you should really do on a whim which brings us to the first tip.

Tip 1: You will need to be in good shape. There is no way around it you are embarking on a multi day high altitude trip in a third world country. While it is completely achievable you can't really call it easy. I planned a year in advance and slowly built my training regime over that year and had no problem getting to the summit I did however see many people who were ill prepared and had to turn back or had to take an emergency evacuation. In terms of training you want to start slow and build to as close to the actual experience as you can. Obviously most people don't live near a mountain nearly as high as Kili so the best you can do is an overnight hike up the highest mountain you have locally. You won't likely get the experience of high altitude but at least you will know that you are ready to do a hard hike, camp over night and do another hard hike the next day.

Tip 2: Nothing can really prepare you for altitude. According to the guides and the research I did ahead of time a persons reaction to altitude has more to do with their genetics then their actual level of physical fitness. That is not to say physical fitness isn't important it is critical but it won't necessarily help if your body just isn't built for altitude. The experience of operating at altitude is different for everyone and for me it was very much like being a little tipsy at all times. I spent the time between Kosovo camp (our last camp site) and the summit just a little bit foggy. My only advice here is plan everything ahead of time so that you don't need to think too much in the last day or so. Having a bag that is easy to pack and no complex things to do is a great idea. Other then that listen to your guides they will look out for you and tell you when you need to sit down and have a tea.

Tip 3: Take your time. The one factor you can really control when it comes to altitude is how long you take to acclimatize on the way up. I took a 6.5 days to summit and 1.5 days to exit and that seemed like a very reasonable time period to me. Climbers on shorter trips have a noticeably higher failure and evacuation rate and honestly I would avoid any guide that even offered a route less then 5 days based on what I saw on the mountain. If they are willing to take shortcuts on your safety in planning the trip you should just avoid them entirely in my opinion.

Tip 4: The last thing you can do to handle the altitude is take various drugs like Diamox. I choose to take Diamox and had no really adverse reactions but everyone is different so I'd recommend you try it for a few days in the safety of your home country to confirm the side effects aren't too severe before you are sleeping on a mountain 1,000 miles from home.

Tip 5: Pick the right guides. If you ignore everything else in this post pay attention to this tip. Your guides are your safety system and will help get you home if anything goes wrong. I climbed with Climb Kili and would completely recommend them. They were friendly, professional and fun and I can attest that not all guide companies gave me that impression. When choosing a guide you are really looking at pictures and trying to make a judgement call. My pro tip here is to look at the equipment the porters are wearing in people's posted photos. Tanzania is a third world country and people will not necessarily have high end matching gear but if the guiding company takes the time to make sure all their porters have decent boots it is a solid hint that they will do other things correctly as well.

Tip 6: Be ready for a reality check. It might impact everyone differently but the experience of hiking into Kosovo camp and passing badly injured people being evacuated was a definite reality check for me. If you aren't comfortable that you will have the confidence to push on this might not be the trip for you. Some of the folks in my climbing group turned back not because of their own challenges but because of the anxiety caused by seeing others dealing with altitude sickness.

Tip 7: You will need insurance. No reputable guide will take you on the climb without proper evacuation insurance. The key thing to look for is high altitude evacuation coverage and medical evacuation from Tanzania to your home country. The one thing to keep in mind is that Kilimanjaro is a hike not a climb for insurance purposes. The difference is that on a climb you are using ropes while a hike doesn't require them and the insurance is correspondingly cheaper.

Tip 8: While you are there take the time to see the surrounding area. I made a massive trip out of it and visited Arusha for a couple days, did s week of Safari and then visited Zanzibar for a week. I would do all of it again and highly recommend you do the same. 

I hope this gave you some sense of what the trip was like. In conclusion I can't recommend it enough if you have questions feel free to reach out on Twitter or drop them in the comments.

BC