Adventure Africa Hiking Tanzania Travel

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: The Good, The Bad and The Basics

sunrise over mount kilimanjaro

As I caught my first glimpse of the morning sun surfacing through the clouds and shimmering off the icy peaks of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers, I knew it had all been worth it.

The years of dreaming about what it would feel like, the month of anticipation once it had been booked, the 6 days it took to climb through the various vegetation, and the 24 hours proceeding the summit had been almost unbearable. Then I saw it. I saw the majestic glaciers, glistening in the day’s first rays of sun, praising my hard work and endurance.

Suddenly something awoke inside of me, and my zombielike motions that kept me moving for seven hours kicked into full gear. My pace quickened, and determination took over. Every struggle I had ever endured, every hardship flashed before me. My fears, my regrets, my doubts, I saw them all in colors and sounds in the distance. Then they were gone, along with the pain in my wind-stricken face, the chill in my bones, and the little voice that almost convinced me to turn around.

I saw the sign supported by sturdy wooden posts that meant victory, and everything else faded away. My seven-year-dream of standing at the highest point in Africa was realized in a near sprint as my adrenaline surpassed exhaustion.

IMG_2424

Summiting Kilimanjaro was no easy feat. It is not an adventure for the faint of heart. I can say without hesitation that it is a journey worth taking and an experience you will cherish forever. That being said, it’s the kind of adventure you have to want, and I mean TRULY WANT. Determination is the only thing that will get you through the final stretch of the summit hike, when you are running on low fuel because you haven’t ate or slept properly in 24 hours and you are zigzagging up into the unknown darkness, with nothing but the moonlight and your headlamp to guide you.

Do not be intimidated though, climbing Kili is doable for the average person, despite what you might think or hear. In fact, aside from the 7-hour summit hike (beginning at midnight and stretching out until the most epic sunrise of your life), the whole trek is relatively easy (depending on the route you choose).

What you need to know about Mount Kilimanjaro:

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain; meaning that it basically starts at sea level and its mysterious crown of ice peaks past the clouds, reaching an impressive 19,340 feet/5895 meters!

This experience is much different than other sought after climbs, such as the famous and tallest summit, Mt. Everest, where the base camp starts essentially where Kili ends. In essence, it makes for a more diverse experience taking you through the rainforest to glaciers and everything in between. It also means that acclimating can be a little rough. Altitude sickness can be extremely serious, however Kilimanjaro has helipads all the way up to base camp in case there is an emergency.

How much will it cost and what company do I go with?

Cost: $1,000-4,000/person

For a truly wonderful and supportive team who will make the hard parts bearable while pushing you until the end, let Epa and the rest of the AfroKili  crew guide you up Kilimanjaro.

There are quite a few overpriced foreign companies on the web that I researched and considered before going with a friend of a friend. There are also cheaper locally run and operated tour companies that can be found in Moshi (the town closest to the Kilimanjaro entrance). However most of those companies don’t have websites and the best deals will require booking last minute in person in Moshi. Needless to say, if you don’t book your guide in advance, you will run the risk of missing out, unless your dates are extremely flexible.

My mom, me and our guide Epa

Picking a Route to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

There are seven routes and quite a few things to consider when differentiating which is best for you. Ultimate Kilimanjaro breaks them all down quite nicely based on difficulty, scenery, and traffic. I chose the 6-Day Marangu route based on length, cost, and success rates for reaching the summit. Basically, it is the cheapest, shortest, easiest route with the highest success rate. So depending on what your priorities are, it may or not be a good fit for you too. It is also important to keep in mind that the Marangu route is the only route that provides huts/cabins for sleeping, so if you want to truly rough it tent style, then this isn’t the route for you.

IMG_2349

Safety and Precautions

    • Insurance: I highly recommend getting a travel insurance plan, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. I personally purchased a standard plan through World Nomads. There are many other good companies, but world nomads is reasonably priced and covers things like medical evacuation and accidents that occur while trekking, which are important to look for in a plan.

 

  • Altitude Sickness: Purchase altitude sickness medicine and start taking it on Day 1 of your trek! This can be bought anywhere in Moshi and typically your guide will have it for you. I also highly recommend doing the extra day for acclimating to the altitude no matter which route you chose. You don’t want to travel across the world, and pay all that money just to get sick and not make it to summit.
  • Shoes: Shoes are important. A good pair of hiking boots is a necessary and worth while investment, not just for Kilimanjaro, but for life! Forever and always, I’m going to recommend REI, because quite frankly, you can’t top a lifetime guarantee!

Things to expect on Mount Kilimanjaro

  • If you choose a cheaper/locally run and operated company you will most likely have to pay a deposit via bank transfer or money wire. This seems sketchy, and isn’t something we are used to in the western world, but it is common practice in Tanzania. That being said, you should always research and read reviews for the company you chose to make sure they are legitimate. I can vouch for Epa and his company AfroKili, but I also felt skeptical and weary of paying by bank transfer at first, even though he was a friend of my coworker.
  • Tipping your guides/cooks/porters is standard protocol and expected. How much is really up to you and how pleased you are, but remember your life is in their hands and this is their livelihood. A simple method would be 10% of your whole trek and the lead guide can divide it out to the rest of the team. However, Climb Mount Kilimanjaro has a few other tips for tipping.
  • You might see some people throwing up, and you will probably throw up yourself. This is pretty normal, don’t be alarmed. Your guides are trained to know when your symptoms are serious and signs of true altitude sickness, and they will take care of you (mine force fed me energy gel packs, wouldn’t let me break for too long, and kept telling me “ten more minutes until we’re there”–I was thankful in the end).
  • You will see porters dressed for the beach carrying your heavy bags on their head, and your mind will be blown, and you will be put to shame.
  • Everyone on the mountain will say “pole pole” meaning “go slow/little by little,” and it will become your mantra whether you like it or not.
  • You can definitely expect to be in heaven when it comes to elaborate and delicious 3 course dinners and the perfect blend of traditional Tanzanian and American food. Also keep in mind that most guides can accomodate dietary restrictions and food allergies as long as you tell them in advance!

Other Recommendations: 

  • Layer, layer layer. It’s not necessary to purchase or bring a huge, heavy duty coat/gloves/pants if you don’t have them. You can rent them for relatively cheap in Moshi. However you will want need lots of layers for your summit hike (5 is the recommended amount-I wore 7 and felt wonderfully warm and comfortable).
  • pack your camera inside something warm, the extreme weather at the top has been known to deplete battery life in electronics, and you certainly don’t want to get to summit with a dead camera!
  • do a combined safari/kilimanjaro package with the same company to save money. I started at the Serengeti, and went through Ngoro Ngoro Crater and ended at Moshi/Kilimanjaro and I had zero complaints!
  • When you want to give up on the summit hike, count your steps, until eventually you go numb and tune out-this is a good thing!

But most importantly enjoy the delicious meals, the most epic views of your life and high five the person next to you when you reach the summit, because you made it to the highest point in Africa and that’s pretty damn cool!

11056896_10153371632446421_4548317962456125149_n
My mom and I after hiking the 35km to Uhuru Peak
Avatar

Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *