Photography by Jesse Kow
Imagine standing on the rooftop of Africa, gazing down over a sea of clouds, with the knowledge that you have just climbed a mountain! It’s an incredible feeling, but there are a few things you should know if you want to make it to the peak…
Mount Kilimanjaro is...
There are multiple paths that will get you from the bottom to the top, and you can choose how many days you want to spend. There are two things to consider here: firstly, your own stamina; secondly, your ability to adapt to the altitude. The longer you walk, the more tired you get, but the better you will acclimate. We originally booked for a nine day path, following the Lemosho and Northern Circuit Routes, allowing us plenty of time to acclimate. However, we decided to combine our final two descent days into one, and ended up finishing in eight. By day four we were getting a little tired, and by the time we got down we were totally destroyed, but none of us were marathon runners. In fact, three of us hadn’t done any exercise in over a month while we drove around Africa. Cruelly, the summit looks pretty benign as you approach, and it’s not until the actual summit day that you realize how steep and huge the top part is. Make sure to pack with your feet in mind - anti chafing cream, blister patches, moleskin… all are essential. Another thing to think about is your energy levels. Our guides basically force fed us at every meal (we managed to come down heavier than when we went up), but you might want to bring your own snacks, sweets and trail mix. Gatorade powder or electrolytes are also a good thing to pack, as they’re hard to come by in Moshi, but you can buy the rest the day before your trek.
Altitude sickness comes in many forms - nausea, headaches, weakness, dizziness, trouble breathing, lack of sleep - and everyone in our group felt at least one of them, especially on summit day. Oh, summit day… Make sure you ask your doctor to recommend a medication you can take to combat the altitude (you’ll also need malaria medication for Moshi), and bring extra ibuprofen, anti-nausea tablets, melatonin (if you have taken it before). The first Swahili phrase you’ll learn is “pole pole”, which means “slowly, slowly”: take it seriously, as letting your body acclimate gradually is the best way to avoid severe altitude symptoms. If you can, I would recommend doing one of the longer hikes - the more days you’re on the mountain, the easier it is to adjust.
We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather during our climb (only one day of cloud cover, missing a snow storm on the summit by an hour, and only seeing rain in the last two hours of our descent), but it is a high alpine environment and the temperature can shift at a moment’s notice. On our second night, it dropped below zero degrees celsius (and stayed there most nights), but then we had blue skies at the summit. Best advice is to be prepared for anything - bring snow gear, rain gear, and warm weather hiking gear. Extra pairs of socks, hand and toe warmers, a balaclava or scarf, a warm hat, gloves, and many base layers, should be your priority when packing. Most companies will rent snow pants or walking gear if you don’t have your own, but it might not fit very well (my pants were a men’s large). Also, bring an extra pair of sunglasses in case you break yours!
We went with a wonderful company, Jiwe Adventures, which was recommended to us by a friend. They were one of the more affordable options, and the guides, porters and manager were all professional, attentive and knowledgeable, but it was still not a cheap vacation. You also need to factor in the tips for the guides and porters because, even though tipping is billed as “suggested”, but it really isn’t optional. Those guys are carrying your stuff, cooking your food, packing and unpacking your gear, and keeping you alive on the mountain, so make sure you check your company’s recommendation before you go.
We paid roughly
Main Guide: $20 per day
Assistant Guide: $12 – $15 per day
Cook: $12 -$15 per day
Porter: $5 – $10 per day
If you have questions about the treatment or employment of porters on Kilimanjaro, check out the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, a not for profit organization aiming to ensure fair work practices and safe treatment of porters in the National Park.
5. Worth it.
Was it easy? No. Was if fun? Sometimes it was great fun (make sure you choose a good group to go with as you’ll be spending a LOT of time together), and other times it got boring (it is a lot of walking after all (make sure to download as many audio books, podcasts and playlists as possible beforehand). Was it worth it, to feel that sense of accomplishment at the summit? Absolutely.