My tour to East Africa was climaxed by a hike on Africa’s tallest peak mountain, the Kilimanjaro. Though I consider it to have been a success after reaching the giant’s top, I had a pick of lessons to take home. I came up with 10 things that I really wished I had found out before climbing this mountain.
Here they are:
Hiking Kilimanjaro is not that difficult as I thought
Kilimanjaro is among the highest mountain peaks in the world and the tallest in Africa. This makes it the target dream climb for most hikers. Other favorite pinnacles like those in Antarctica, Asia, South & North America, Oceania and Europe are a bit more challenging and the require thorough prior training .
Taking up Kilimanjaro will also demand some really good physical fitness training but the good thing is, with some few training months you will be good to go hiking. The recommended age for climbers is between ages 12- over 70 year old climbers.
Anticipate becoming wet and enduring some cold
My climb on Kilimanjaro happened in May, which is a mid-season month which rained so heavily, more than I had anticipated. Even with my rain coat and rain pants I was wet almost throughout the climb.
A guide team composed of a chef, a tour guide plus an assistant guide, porters, and several other will keep you company and give you any assistance during the climb. The team members will prove to be a necessity due to their expertise on the activity and on several mountain equipment. Remember Kilimanjaro is located along the equator that cuts across Africa.
This means that you are bound to feel cold because anytime you are 20000 feet high along the equator you are bound to feel really cold. How I wish I had expected this kind of cold because even with my pair of socks, a fleece top and an extra thermal layer, and my wooly hat, I was still freezing cold.
Make sure you consider climbing Kilimanjaro in the best recommended months, January, between March and June, and in October. Carry for yourself enough warm climbing attire to keep you warm all through the time.
Arm yourself with the right Gear and have a headlight with extra batteries
This is what you must not forget whenever you are packing to climb Kilimanjaro. The headlights will provide light for you when in camp since power grid does not reach up there. At night you will have to walk some few yards to answer a short call or to refresh which will still require you to use the headlight. The extra batteries are important for back up.
Expect some tipping requests
Though it is a rare practice, Tipping is sometimes considered a nice or kind gesture. This exercise is a bit different when climbing Kilimanjaro. Remember the team members I introduced above? Well these guys play a major role to ensure that your experience is a success. All the way from your eating, sleeping and each day’s expected climb. Tips for such worthy guys range from $15-$20 daily for the lead tour guide, $10-$15 for the deputy lead guide and the chef and $5-10 for every porter. This means on average you need to part with $100 for every night you spend on the mountain.
After the climb the team will gather together for some happy victory ceremony where they sing and dance local songs and dances. While they do so they will pass envelopes to you for the tipping. Considering tht you are helping their families and the local communities, it is worth the tip-off. The tip goes with a group and not a single person.
Brace yourself to live in a tent/hut, have sponge baths and squat latrines
The climbing route you choose to take will determine whether you’ll be staying in a tent (Marangu route) or in a hut for any other route. The guides will always help you out with warm water for your shower needs every morning and evening.
However, with the cold up the Kilimanjaro, you may end up never bathing your entire body. I remember I could just wash my face and hands every evening and morning. I could hot-wipe other marts of my body as I felt they needed.
Take a slow climb and take as much water as you can
Quite often you will hear the guides exclaiming ole-pole” which is a Swahili word for o slow’. It is important to take a slower pace whenever you hike heights of 10-20k feet. This will help you take up more oxygen and help you acclimatize better. You also want to hit your target, reaching the pinnacle point. A gulp of water all the way up and some snacks will help a great deal in keeping you from Altitude sickness (AMS)
Train enough and have Diamox before hiking
Diamox is a dose prescription for AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness). I tell you what, I am not a medic but this drug really did me good during the hike. While there are many other ways of preventing AMS, I strongly recommend Diamox because it worked for me.
It came in through for me especially with the headaches, fatigue and breathe shortage. However it’s advisable to consult your doctor about how to prevent AMS while climbing Kilimanjaro. I was lucky to summit Kilimanjaro AMS-free.
Take the Marangu route
Also known as the “Coca Cola” Route, it is the shortest way to hike Kilimanjaro in just a few days. Besides it is the only route you will have camping huts. You can also use the Machame Route if you want to have some adventurous experience.
Through this route you will have a good view of the Volcanos on Kilimanjaro. There are 5 more routes you can use. However if you ask me I consider the Machame Route to be more fun than the rest. I used Marangu Route due to some personal factors.
Be sure to learn a little Swahili
Am sure in your early days you watched the Lion-King. You might remember some Swahili from that childhood film. If not you might have to take time to learn so as to engage and mingle freely with your hiking crew.
These are a few of the ones I learnt, Just to get you started:
Rafiki – Friend
Mambo? – How are you?
Asante Sana- Thank you very much!
Though harsh, The Hike is worth it!
You’ll see the first days as weeks, but they are not as tough. You will experience different topographies here and there; some climbs, down hills and flats. A major uniqueness about this African giant is that climbing it will have let you go through 5 diverse climate zones: the Savannah/Jungle, the Heather & Moorland, Alpine Forest, Highland desert and the Arctic Tundra.
All these scenery zones come with beautiful experiences that will make your hike quite an accomplishment.
The success of hitting the summit of Kilimanjaro is embedded in three things, Enough Training, Packing the right gear and believing in the hiking crew.
Following these three things will see you reach Kilimanjaro’s pinnacle almost effortlessly.
As a way of relaxing and stretching your muscles back to norm, a Safari is the next thing I recommend you do after the one week climb on Kilimanjaro. There are several places you can visit like Serengeti Park or the Ngorongoro crater.