Travel: Mount Kilimanjaro

Summit Day

In January 2018, my wife Tej and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid (at least since my mum climbed it when I was 16) and I’m really happy I was finally able to make it up the mountain.  Kilimanjaro is the largest free-standing mountain (not surrounded by a range) in the world and the tallest peak in Africa. Uhuru peak, the summit, is very high at 19,000 feet / 5900m.

I’m writing this to document my own experience and make it easy to share with friends. I’ve already shared some of my research with at least 3 people who’ve ended up doing a similar trip and all had a great experience.

Preparation

In preparation for the trip, the most important things to do are to reach a base level of physical fitness and to get good gear. The weather can be severe and the last thing you want on a tough day is to have the wrong equipment and make your day even harder.

A German guy on the mountain said to me on the mountain:

‘There is no such thing as bad conditions, only bad equipment’

In terms of gear for the trip, I put together this spreadsheet inventory with everything you need for the trip. I would go through it line by line and make sure you bring everything that is a must have. I pulled this gear list together from the following sources:

A couple of high level points:

  • Ski gear: I used my ski gear and it worked out great – merino wool base layers, insulation mid layers and waterproof outer layers are exactly what you need.
  • Snacks: Bring some tasty snacks – e.g. dried mango, nuts, chocolate, energy gels (especially good). As you get higher you will lose your appetite and snacks come in really handy as small energy bombs.
  • Wipes: This is how we ‘showered’ every day before changing and getting in our sleeping bags.
  • Leisure: I’d suggest bring a kindle and some cards to pass the time at camp.

In terms of training, the hike is not super physically challenging so I’d work on your general fitness and walk on a stair master or at incline a few times a week if you’re worried about it.

Operator and route selection

Tour Operator

We considered a number of tour operators including Zara Tours, Monkey Adventures, Popote and Kilimanjaro Brothers. We narrowed it down to Kilimanjaro Brothers and Popote and chose Popote in the end because they were better priced and still seemed to have a first class operation. I highly recommend Popote, they were great and we were really happy with the service they provided.

Tipping

Tipping can be a very stressful time for folks at the end of the trip, but it does not have to be. You build a bond with the people you helped you up the mountain and it’s a nice moment to appreciate them. I made this spreadsheet with the amounts we tipped each person (in 2018) on our trip in case it’s helpful for others. Make sure you bring cash and USD is probably the easiest.

We ended up sponsoring guide training for our ‘waiter’ who is now a guide with Popote as we really liked him and wanted to do something small to help.

Route

We ended up picking the 7 day / 6 night Lemosho route which was wonderful. The other option we considered was the 6 day / 5 night Machame route but ultimately decided to go for the longer more picturesque route to help us get better used to the altitude and increase our chances of summiting. We also figured that 1 day extra was not a big sacrifice given the time and long travel invested into the climb. I would not recommend any longer than 7 days though – by the last day we were pretty excited to get off the mountain.

Time of the year

There are two main seasons for climbing Kilimanjaro. January-March are the ‘warm’ (it was still -15C when we summited) but slightly wetter months and August-October are the colder and dryer months. I don’t think it really matters too much which block you choose.

Climb experience

The climb is a great out and back experience and we really enjoyed spending time with our guides and each other and enjoying the changing terrain as we made it up the mountain. Overall it was easy/moderate difficulty except the ‘Summit Day’ which is challenging.

On ‘Summit Day’, we started the ascent at midnight so it’s dark almost the whole way to the summit which we reached around 630am. It’s a demanding day mentally and physically because of how much you walk (50k steps walked, 3k vertical feet up and 6k feet down), the altitude (dizziness, nausea) and the cold (-15C and windy). Both Tej and I had moments where we felt like we would not make it but we helped each other through it – most of the actual difficulty on summit day is mental but you’re rewarded with all the endorphins when you make it to the top.

Here are some photos of our trip:

Day 1: On the way to the start of the climb with our crew
Day 3: Lava Tower (altitude acclimatization)
Day 4: Climbing the Great Barranco,Wall
Day 5: Our tent in Barafu Camp just before the summit day
Cheesy Summit Day Photo – a must!

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