Kilimanjaro Tips for a Successful Trip
This section offers some important advice to ensure a successful climb.
A combination of these tips and a good fitness program will most likely ensure that you are successful on the mountain. Probably the most important aspect to remember is never to underestimate the journey you are about to embark on!
While we’re sure that you know the importance of drinking enough water, we can’t stress enough that drinking at least 3-4 liters every day is essential if you’re to avoid dehydration. If at all possible - aim for 6 -7 liters.
Keeping your body properly hydrated is one of the key factors to making the summit. Fluid intake improves circulation and most other bodily functions. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty, as thirst is not an accurate indicator of proper fluid intake. Just keep drinking!
Dehydration is very dangerous, but diarrhea is even worse - so ensure you drink clean water during your climb to help avoid any nasty side effects. We do not recommend drink water directly from nearby streams.
Ask about water options for your climb. Generally you will fill your water bottles prior to departure for the first day. After that water is obtained on the trail, where it is boiled prior to use. Each evening your water bottles will be filled with hot/warm water (which can be nice in a cold sleeping bag). They should be cool by morning for use during the day. You may wish to consider taking either a water filter, one of the high tech water purifier such as an MSR MIOX purifier, or purification tablets. We would also recommend taking some powered drinks as sometimes purified water may not have the taste you like.
For an extra cost to cover additional porters bottled water may be available. If this is something that you are interested in, please let us know and we would be happy to discuss this option.
"Walk high - sleep low" - this is the golden rule to acclimatize properly - remember it and practice it. Almost all routes offer an extra day for acclimatization. Taking this extra day increases your chances of making the summit by as much as 40%. While an extra day adds to the expense, we highly recommend that you take this as a necessary precaution.
To combat the effects of mild altitude sickness, you may wish to consider taking Diamox. It is widely used and works by causing the body to breathe more deeply during sleep. This is a personal preference of ours - which we have found it to work well.
If you plan to take any medication during your climb, you must consult your doctor prior to departure. The effects of medications may vary with altitude and stress.
The best way to counter the effects of altitude sickness is to prepare your body by taking a short hike to a higher altitude on your acclimatization day. Once you’ve been higher up, you should return to your overnight camp (lower altitude) where you will spend the night. In this way your system gets used to the difference in oxygen levels without the stress of having to adjust immediately and without rest.
The only time you won’t want to do this is if you already have any symptoms of altitude sickness!
Your guide will set the pace and your initial reaction will be that things are going too slowly - pace is a critical factor on all routes and you need to trust your guide on this - this is very important especially during your first climbing days.
It is best to shuffle along, allowing your knees to gently cushion each pace - "Pole pole" is the Swahili phrase of the day and it means “go slowly”. You will hear this over and over from your guide.
There is really no need to rush, so no matter how good you may feel, just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. You will have plenty of time to make each days hike.
Often the very fit “athletic” hiker has more problems than the “little old lady” because they feel the need to “charge up the mountain”. Listen to your guide and follow the pace he sets for you.
5 - 6 Kilograms may sound like nothing but you should aim to keep this as the maximum weight of your daypack. Your guide can help you decide what items are important to take each day. You most likely will not have access to your duffle until the evening as the porters usually go ahead. Make sure you have rain gear and something warmer as the temperature can cool off in the afternoon.
Weight is most important on your summit night - carry only the essentials as you are going to need all your strength for climbing. On summit night you will already be feeling the exhausting effects of the thin air so remember the porters are there for a reason - they will carry all your additional gear for you.
Duffle Bag Packing
Remember that you will be on the mountain for almost a week. Conditions are frequently wet, so waterproofing is essential - packing items individually in plastic is highly recommended. Be sure to pack enough clothing, especially socks.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or altitude sickness as it’s more commonly known, affects most first time climbers to some extent. While common, it should not be taken lightly as it can be lethal if not treated immediately. As one ascends to higher altitudes the air pressure decreases - making it much more difficult to obtain enough oxygen through breathing. This factor, combined with the exertion of constantly climbing, takes its toll on your body.
The first symptom of AMS is usually a headache that won’t go away, even after taking a headache tablet. (If you don’t feel better after one tablet - you probably have AMS and it is better not to keep on taking more, as these can have other negative effects on your body). Make sure to report your symptoms to your guide as he is trained in the management of this condition and will advise you accordingly.
Other symptoms of AMS include nausea and dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, changed breathing pattern at night, disturbed sleep and increased urination.
The acclimatization day definitely helps to prepare your body, but we suggest that you read up on the condition before hand and to take the necessary precautions
The lower slopes of Kilimanjaro fall within a malaria region and we recommend that you use prophylactics to counter the effects. Consult your doctor about which prophylactics to obtain as there are a wide variety of products available on the market. We recommend that you avoid Larium as it sometimes has nasty side effects.
What (and How) to Pack
Your climb up the mountain will take you through various climate conditions, from tropical to desert to arctic - so you need to pack accordingly. Make sure to take enough clothing and in particular - socks (you’ll feet will thank you). The conditions can get very wet and it is essential to waterproof your belongings. Pack individual items in plastic bags, and place a large plastic bag inside your pack as extra protection. This should keep you protected from the rain and the possibility of an unplanned ‘dip’ in a stream.
• Body and Legs
During your climb you’ll experience various weather conditions including rain, wind and very low temperatures (-25 degrees C is not uncommon). You’ll need a top quality outer jacket and trousers to use as your shell to protect you from these and to keep you dry and protected. Gore-Tex works well, these jackets/trousers are expensive but well worth the money - as they can be used in virtually any conditions because of their breathing properties.
Synthetic thermal underwear such as polypropylene is essential as it wicks moisture away from your body and keep you dry and warm. Whatever you do - make sure you avoid cotton underwear at all costs. Cotton absorbs body moisture and because of the sub zero temperatures, the moisture trapped by the cotton against your skin can get very cold and lower your body temperature to dangerous levels (see the layering section below).
If your shell is not waterproof make sure to pack a good quality waterproof raincoat and trousers. There are few things as unpleasant as hiking with drenched clothes chafing away at your skin. Also, if you are wet you will get cold!
While climbing at high altitudes, it is imperative that you keep your hands warm and mobile. We suggest thermal mittens as they keep your hands dry and cosy. With blood being shunted to your legs for hiking your hands may get cold with gloves - mittens work better.
On an extended hike such as this you feet are extremely important. You need to take proper care of them or they could spoil you entire trip.
As we mentioned above, take lots of socks. Thermal hiking socks have been designed for extreme conditions and are your best bet. Take several different thicknesses. Your will need added warmth as you gain altitude.
You’ll need good quality hiking boots for the final stages of your climb but running or hiking shoes are fine for most of the way when you’re still on firmer ground. If however, you are prone to ankle injuries, better stick to boots. Make sure any shoes you plan to wear on your trip are properly worn in before you get on the mountain - blisters are the last thing you’ll want to deal with!
During your hike pay close attention to your feet. It is best to wash them with soap and water every day and keep them warm and dry. If you are prone to “sweaty” feet you may wish to pack some foot powder.
If you notice ANY problems developing with your feet, make sure to inform your guide so that they can deal with it before it becomes a major problem. Early recognition and treatment is the key.
While not the most flattering item of clothing - a balaclava can become your most prized possession during your climb. Not only will it protect you face from the elements, but as an added bonus you can also use it as a beanie on milder days.
In the cold windy environment you may wish to consider moisturizing creams AND don’t forget your sunscreen.
It has been proven that the most body heat is lost through the head. So if you want to stay warm, make sure to pack warm head protection like woolen hats or beanies. The hats with the earflaps work really well (and give you that cool ‘explorer’ look). You may also wish to sleep with a beanie cap.
Dressing in Layers
During your first day you won’t have to worry about the cold as you pass through a really warm area - shorts, t-shirts and sweaters are ideal for these lower slope hikes. But once you reach the first camp you’ll need to make sure that you are completely insulated against the cold - the secret lies in layering. Make sure to start off with loose fitting thermal underwear with wicking properties (this is essential!). These ensure that all moisture is drawn away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. Next you’ll need an insulating layer. Polar fleece is ideal as it keeps the warmth in and the cold out. And lastly an outer layer made of specially designed ‘element-proof’ fabric (Ventex, Goretex, Weathertite or Jeantex work well). These breathe well and keep you protected from wind, water and subzero temperatures.
• Ski or trekking poles
You may think that you’re in top shape, but once you reach the final stages of the climb you’ll realize why man designed escalators. Walking for hours on end puts a great deal of stress on your knee joints and the additional weight of your backpack increases it even more. The only solution to this problem is to carry a ski pole or two. These wonderful ‘tools’ reduce the pressure on your knees by a noticeable degree and are especially helpful in the muddier regions on the lower slopes and on the spree (volcanic ash) slopes higher up where it becomes harder to keep your foothold. These are available to rent on your trip or you can bring your own.
This is another essential item - when you leave camp at midnight for your final ascent to the summit you will be facing the most challenging part of your climb - you will need to keep your hands free, so forget about hand held torches. These clever devices run on batteries so make sure to replace old ones with a fresh batch on the night of your descent, as the cold severely reduces any battery life (this goes for your camera batteries as well). Consider carrying extra batteries and a replacement light bulb.
• Thermal flask
As the summit climb takes place at night it is especially cold and you will need to have a thermal flask to keep your drinking water from freezing.
One item you really can’t go without is your thermal flask. Your final climb towards the summit takes place at night and the extremely low temperatures will cause any bottled water or Camelback hydration system to freeze solid. A thermal flask will keep your water liquid to ensure you stay hydrated.
If you are using a Camelback, remove the hydration unit and carry your thermal flask for your summit bid.
Snacks such as energy bars, dried fruit and nuts are ideal to replace the energy your body burns while climbing. Make sure you pack enough to last you the entire trip. Your guide may have some available for you. If you should wind up with extra, your porters always appreciate them.
• Moist wipes
Because some of the camps don’t have water for washing purposes, it is a good idea to include some moist wipes in your pack.
Good quality sunglasses with UV protection will keep your eyes safe from the bright glare of the sun and the snow (and hide the effects of a bad night’s sleep).
This is a must as you’ll be spending 5-6 days outdoors. Go for the water/sweat proof type that lasts for several hours. You’ll find these in sports and outdoor shops.
Your Kili climb is a once in a life time experience and most people will want to capture and preserve the highlights of their expedition on film. The picture of you on the summit will be the most memorable as it presents your triumph over one of the world’s greatest difficulties - so you need to take all the necessary precautions to make sure your equipment will operate under the extreme conditions.
Most cameras work in cold conditions, provided they are kept dry as any form of moisture, including condensation, will freeze instantly in sub zero conditions. The most common mistake climbers make is to keep their cameras inside their jackets - this causes the camera to warm up and condensation forms as soon as the camera is exposed to extreme cold. This condensation then freezes, causing your camera to stop functioning.
If possible carry backup batteries on summit night as the cold temperatures will deplete them quite quickly.
Always take more pictures than necessary - sometimes it is so cold you cannot hold the camera steady and your pictures may be very disappointing. A good idea is to take a small lightweight tripod to improve picture quality in these icy cold and sometimes poorly lit conditions.
A polarizer or neutral density filter is recommended as is slide film rather than print. Bring your own film as it can be expensive and hard to find in Tanzania.
You will most probably reach the summit just before sunrise when the lighting isn’t ideal. To accommodate these conditions, we suggest ASA 200 film. Once the sun is up and the surrounds are better lit, ASA 100 or 200 will work well.
For digital equipment it is wise to check with the manufacturer's specifications for temperature range (especially battery life), water-tightness and general hardiness.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with the camera functions before your trip, as the cold conditions don’t really allow for mistakes or looking up effects in the manual.