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10 Things You Need to Know for Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro Like a Pro

Insider Guides Hiking Backpacking
by Stephanie Gupana Mar 28, 2018

Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Approximately 25,000 people attempt the 19,341-foot climb every year. If you’re also hoping to embark on this adventure, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Carefully consider the route options.

The route you choose will undoubtedly be one of the toughest decisions you make when preparing for this hike. There are seven major routes used to climb Kilimanjaro: Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Northern Circuit, and Umbwe. To find the best route for you, consider the minimum days to complete the hike (the probability of successfully reaching the top is much higher for longer hikes than for shorter hikes), level of difficulty, foot traffic, time to acclimate to the altitude, and scenery. There is no “best” route up the mountain. It depends entirely on you.

2. Get the low-down on your guides.

Your guides and porters are the superheroes that will lead you up to the summit, cook for you, set up camp, sing to you, monitor your health, and become a memorable piece of your journey. More importantly, guides should be certified world-class experts on the mountain who abide by high safety standards. Ensure that the group you choose has a high degree of expertise and professionalism. Inquire what the summit success rate of the climbing group looking into before you pick a team to lead you to the “Roof of Africa.”

3. Choose trekking groups that ensure fair and ethical treatment of their crew.

Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) raises public awareness regarding the proper treatment of guide teams on Kilimanjaro. At no cost to the climbing company, the group voluntarily participates with KPAP’s monitoring of the treatment practices related to the crew. This includes following minimum wages for the crew, cooks, and guides; providing the crew with three meals a day; providing proper gear; providing appropriate sleeping space and accommodations; and more. Unfortunately, exploitation happens right under the noses of climbers hoping to achieve their bucket list dream and they might not realize it. Do your research and find out if the climbing group you’re choosing follows KPAP standards. Will you likely have to pay a bit more to climb with a group that follows KPAP ethical standards? Yes. But ethically, this is incredibly important. If you want to do this climb on a budget, look for other areas to cut down costs.

4. Arrive a few days early.

You know when the airline loses your luggage and it really sucks? Well, it sucks WAY more when you are about to climb to the highest point in Africa. Arriving in Tanzania a few days early should buy you some buffer time to deal with luggage issues. If this isn’t a possibility, you can minimize luggage risks in other ways:

  • Consider renting gear to save luggage space (sleeping bag, trekking poles, etc.)
  • Carry on as much as you can (especially important pieces of gear that you might not feel comfortable renting like your daypack, toiletries, underwear, socks, etc. )
  • Wear your hiking boots on the plane.
  • Be mindful of how many airline connections you have in your journey, and try to stick with the same airline throughout the connections if possible.

5. Know your climbing season, but be prepared for all weather possibilities.

You may decide to climb during dry season and anticipate hot, (very) sunny days. Regardless of the season, make sure you’re prepared. The mountain can be a fickle beast; it may rain every day and then blizzard on your summit and you’ll think to yourself, “Dry season my ass!” You just never know. So pack for all possible weather scenarios. You will not regret bringing extra rain gear or another warm layer.

6. Bring snacks!

Altitude can play tricks on your appetite. Your cooks will feed you seriously well — they might even make a cake at 14,000 ft — but the altitude may make you feel not hungry at all some days, and it isn’t safe to skip out on meals. When you’re preparing for the trip, don’t overlook the well-loved snacks you turn to for comfort. Energy bars, chocolate, gummy bears, crackers, whatever you want. Bring snacks and bring as much as you can.

7. Drink enough water.

Every morning you’ll get your hydration bladder and a water bottle filled before you begin the day’s hike. It’s in your best interest to drink at least 2-3 liters of that water, if not all of it. Dehydration is a key contributor to altitude sickness and it’ll leave you with a pounding heading and extreme nausea. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, take sips of water as you ascent.

8. The summit night is hell.

Without a doubt, summit night is the hardest night of all. You’ll look to the sky and see a trail of headlamps and think, “Just up there! It’s just up there!” You’ll climb (and climb, and climb…) and in the distance, you’ll see a sign. “We’re here! We’ve made it!” Well, not quite yet. There are two milestones on summit night and the first celebration will be at Stella Point (18,652 ft). You have about an hour or so to go until you hit the summit, Uhuru Peak (19,341 ft). Determination will be the guiding force to get you to the top. Keep going. You’ve made it this far.

9. It is crowded at the Roof of Africa.

Reaching the “Roof of Africa” is an amazing feat and should be celebrated — and, of course, documented. If you summit the highest free-standing mountain in the world, you’ll need to get a photo next to the famous Uhuru Peak sign. But you’ll have to have a bit of patience as it can get quite crowded with everyone else waiting to get their photo taken, too. When it’s your turn quickly get in there, strike a pose, make way for the next person, and begin your descent.

10. You might get sick on the way down.

It took about a week to make it up to the summit but the descent will be significantly less time. On your way down, especially right as you leave Uhuru Peak, you may feel like you’re getting ill. This is normal. After all, your body is descending quite rapidly compared to the long, daunting ascent. If this happens to you, communicate with your guide and they’ll make sure your health concerns are addressed.

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