(Last update: 15/01/2023)
Many mountain lovers are a little scared of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, due to the long trekking and the high altitude.
“It is difficult? How long does it take? How much does it cost? What should I pack? Is it dangerous?” are some of the many questions I’ve often heard (and I’ve asked myself) around the trekking to the top of this marvellous African mountain.
I reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, 5895 meters, around the end of 1016. Half of my questions have found answers only during the climb. Here I try to shortly answer some of yours.
1. Is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro difficult? *
Kilimanjaro is considered an easy climb compared with other famous mountains, because it doesn’t need technical skills nor tools. It is therefor very popular among hikers, backpackers and mountain lovers in general.
Nonetheless, “easy” and “difficult” are very personal terms.
I would say it id achievable for generally healthy people, able to walk for many hours in a raw and without knees, feet or legs issues.
2. Do I have to train before climbing? How? For how long? *
Good preparation is very important, even essential, for any intense physical activity.
“How” to train, though, depends on each person body condition.
Generally speaking, walking often and for long time is the starting point. If possible, chose uphill routes and at high altitudes.
I’m no expert whatsoever, so I’ll simply state what my personal experience is been. Given the fact that at that time I was living in one of the flattest country in Europe, I took 3 steps to improve my training.
First, 2-3 months before the climb, I started going to the gym twice per week walking on those sad treadmills at their maximum incline percentage. Speed is very much not important, focus on the distance, the time and the incline. Second, I took the habit of doing some 10 minutes high speed “step” exercises using the first 2 steps of my house staircase. And third, I walked every single time I could: going to work, shopping, to town, in the forest…. I’ve saved a lot of bus tickets! During this entire time, I managed only one single hike on a “real” mountain path, around 2000-2500 meters high.
3. How long does climbing Mount Kilimanjaro take?
The full trekking can be done in 4-10 days.
There are 7 routes to reach the summit and in this post “Climbing the Kilimanjaro: how to choose the best route” I describe each and every one of them, comparing and highlighting pro and cons. They differ from each other in length, difficulty, sleeping accommodation, landscape… There’s no better choice in absolute terms, it all depends on your own preparation, how many days you want to invest in the trekking, your budget and each climber personal preferences.
4. How much does climbing Mount Kilimanjaro cost?
It is surely not cheap!
I would say there are two approaches to book the climb (which is mandatory to do!): you can ask your local travel agency / tour operator or be very patience, bargain hard and deal directly with an agency in Tanzania.
The first option is the easiest, obviously. There are plenty of agencies that sell this kind of holiday. They will contact their own favourite Tanzanian agency (the ones of the second option) to provide you the proper package at a higher price. A quick research will show you that American agency are mysteriously more expensive than any other.
Option two: contact the agencies that actually gives you the real service, the ones in Tanzania. They always offer a very similar to each other base service (guides, gear, porters…) to which you can add pretty much any kind of extra: walk in tent to eat all together, chairs, private toilet (!!!)….
Rumors say that one of the main difference in price comes from the salaries paid to their men climbing with you: guides, porters and cooks. No one will tell you if they earn more or less than their colleague, so it’s impossible to know if this is actually true. however, it is important to know that ON TOP of the money you pay to the agency, there’s a not-mandatory-but-extreamely-unpolite-not-to-give tip expected by the team at the end of the climb. Take a look at those guys faces when you give the tip and you’ll easily figure out how much that boost their “real” salary!
Prices also change depending on the route chosen, number of climbers per group and days needed. I heard of people that paid my same climb 3000$ more than myself. An American guy I met on my last climbing day had a team of 19 just for himself. I can’t even think how much he had to pay!
5. What should I pack?
Most agencies offer basically whatever you might need for the trekking, for free or for a price.
Bringing along a lot of stuff it’s not a smart choice, but the good news is that there will be these amazing guys walking up with you all the time: the porters. They carry all it’s needed for the climb: tents, food, sleeping-bags, kitchen tools, rubbish, extra chairs or other stuff you might have paid for plus, of course, your own possession.
This doesn’t mean you should feel free to bring along your entire wardrobe! Just don’t freak out thinking about a minimalist packing list. If you have too much, you can leave it at the agency before starting your trekking.
What you actually really need and you should not ask the agency to provide it for you, are basic common sense things. I’ve listed them in this article. Here I give you a summery of my packing list:
- good quality trekking boots already broke in.
- layered clothing for various temperatures: from warm weather at the beginning of the hike, to freezing cold of the nights and the last 1000 meters. Don’t forget it might rain too! So, pack rain jacket, gloves, hat, good socks, but also t-shirts and shorts or light pants.
- hat/ bandana /hair band: not for women only… and for bald people too! The sun, the cold, the wind and the rain can we really, really annoying!
- sun cream (it’s essential unless you’re already well tanned. I managed to burn the only part mostly uncovered: nose and HANDS!)
- if you have electronics with you, I suggest a small solar panel to recharge (to lend generously to those that work for you!)
- head light for the nights and the summit night walk
- water bottles or hydration packs for at least 2-3 liters of water.
- classics toilette gear of your need, especially wipes. There’s no running water and having a shower is not an option, so don’t over pack make up and silly things: I can assure you that after a week in these conditions, no one will notice if your make up is not perfectly done!
6. What will I eat? Will there be running water?
For every group of climbers, there’s always a cook. Don’t expect fancy dinner, but you’ll be provided with warm meals and some pick nick bags. The average menu contains rice, soups, bread, eggs, chicken, sausages, biscuits and fruits. Coffee and tea multiple times per day and often a surprising pop corn bawl at the end of your climbing day! Some agencies can provide vegetarian meals but you’ll have to request those well in advance.
Drinking water is provided every morning and every evening at the camp. The porters go fetch it at some stream or source close by and boil it for you. Ask the agency for details and bring your own tablets to purity it if you don’t trust the answer.
You’ll also receive a basin of water twice per day to wash yourself. It’s not much, but keep in mind that your porters have to carry that water for you to wash. Barafu Camp in particular has no close by water source: after the porters have brought all the gear to the camp, they have to trail back, get it and walk up once more. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a tough job!
7. Where will I sleep?
Marangu Route is the only one offering huts. On all the other routes, you’ll be sleeping in a tent under the stars. Quite charming.
8. When is the best season to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
You can climb all year round. The coldest months are July August and September and you might find snow on your way at high altitude. The warmest months are January and February. I suggest to avoid rainy season, because walking under the rain is not fun, obviously, and also because the paths and the camping areas fill up with mud. These months are November and, even more, April and May.
The best choice is then one of the dry seasons: from June to October, the colder months, and from December to March, the warmer ones.
9. What is the “Acute Mountain Sickness”? *
The Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the health effect caused by a lack of adaptation of the human body to low amount oxygen at high altitudes. It can show up around 2500 metres with headache, nausea, insomnia, extreme tiredness and dizziness. Ignoring these first symptoms can lead to serious consequences.
The guides are used to check out for those first signs and, if necessary, intervene bringing the climber to a lower altitude.
The best way to avoid AMS is to climb slowly and get used to the lack of oxygen.
For more information, ask your doctor (or be a millennial and read Wikipedia).
10. Is climbing Kilimanjaro dangerous? *
Unless the climber is extremely distracted or does something fairly stupid, I would say that no, it’s not dangerous. Said that, you can easily break your leg or fall and hurt yourself in your own house.
The percentage of success, meaning reaching the top of Kilimanjaro at 5895 metres, is about 70% of all climbers (the official data are difficult to get. For commercial reasons, agencies prefer to focus on successes than on failures!). Most of the people quit because of a mild mountain sickness or a generic lack of physical strength.
Ask here in the comment and I’ll try to integrate other interesting questions as soon as I can!
I’m no doctor, guide, geographer or personal trainer.
The opinions expressed in this post should not be taken in higher consideration than professionals’ indications and suggestions.