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7 success tips for summiting Mt Kilimanjaro

When I tell people how many times I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, the first thing they ask is if I’m crazy. The next is, “what’s your secret to success?”

Here’s my 7 tips to ensure you enjoy a successful journey on Kilimanjaro. 

 
1. UP! UP! UP! DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!

The best way to train is to strap on the boots and get outside – simulate what you will be doing for 5 – 8 days during your trek. The muscles you use when hiking are different to those you use running or at the gym, particularly those used when walking down-hill.So get out there and walk up and DOWN as many hills and stairs as you can.

As a guide, you want to comfortably exercise at a high intensity for 45 – 60 continuous minutes (running or a gym class) or be able to walk for 4 – 6 continuous hours.

It is also important to build strength in your legs, core and shoulders so say hello to squats, lunges, push-ups, mountain climbers and sit-ups – they’re your new best friend. Don’t forget a little stretching or yoga to keep the muscles lose and minimise the risk of injury.

2. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE COLD

While day temperatures may be 20 degrees Celsius, night temperatures are often below 0 and can drop as as low as -25 degrees Celsius on summit night (with wind chill). Warm trekking equipment is absolutely critical to ensuring you are comfortable when trekking Kilimanjaro. 

Hiking gear, particularly warm gear, can be expensive so rather than purchasing everything, think about borrowing it from a friend or hiring it when you get to Moshi, the town closest to Kilimanjaro. For a full packing list and packing video, including a list of items that are essential to purchase and bring with you click here.  

It is also important to note that female hikers often suffer more from the cold than male hikers. Hand and/or feet warmers are a good idea. As is a good pair of thermals (full body, feet and sleeping bag liner). 

 3. BE A TURTLE

“Pole Pole” (slowly in Swahili) is your new mantra. Keeping your heart rate low is critical to ensuring your body can operate on limited oxygen. As you ascend, there is less oxygen to breath and giving your body time to acclimatise by ascending slowly is the key. This means both walking slowly and allowing enough days for your body to produce the extra red blood cells needed to survive. The best advice I can give, choose AT LEAST a 7 day trek and be the last in to camp every day.

Rapid ascent is the main contributor to altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro and every year 3 – 7 people die. Don’t be one of them; take your time, enjoy the journey!

4. JOURNEY NOT DESTINATION

Kili is lot more than the “Highest Free Standing Mountain In The World”. Over your trek, you’ll pass through 5 difference climate zones, from lush rainforest to Arctic glaciers, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

The 30 minutes on the summit might be your ultimate goal but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. You don’t have a right to think about the summit until you safely reach base camp. Before then, one foot in front of the other and take it all in, absorb everything; enjoy the lack of wifi and the freedom of the wilderness. 

5. SIPPY! SIPPY!

Water intake is crucial to ensure you do not become dehydrated at altitude. At a minimum you should aim to drink 3 – 4 litres every day. Remember, if your pee is not a perfect Champagne colour, you’re dehydrated and are at a higher risk of altitude sickness. 

6. GET HIGH – GO LOW

One of the best ways to acclimatise is to walk to a higher altitude than you camp. Most days your guides will offer to take you on a short acclimatisation stroll. I highly recommend you go.

7. SAFETY OVER SUMMIT

Kilimanjaro is a mountain that should be respected. If you do not allow enough time to acclimatise, you are very likely to experience some or all of the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). These symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping dizziness and fatigue. The good news is AMS will not kill you.

The bad news is, if you continue to ascend after you have AMS, you are at a higher risk of developing High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (excess fluid around the brain) or High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (excess fluid around the lungs). Both HACE and HAPE can kill you – and quickly.

Of the 35,000+ people who climb Kilimanjaro each year, approximately 1,000 are evacuated – most because of altitude sickness. 

It is important to acclimatise both before and during your climb. I highly recommend you:

  1. Arriving in Tanzania at least 3 – 4 days before your trek. This will give your body time to recover from your transit, adjust to a new climate and acclimatise to an altitude of approximately 1,500m (for the Aussies – this is 67% of Kosciusko, our highest peak and considerably higher than the 1 – 100m altitude you are used to).
  2. Select a trek that is AT LEAST 7 days. Statistics indicate that people trekking Kilimanjaro over 8 days are more than 3 times more likely to summit than those attempting a 5 day summit. More importantly, they are less likely to develop HACE or HAPE and show less severe (if any) symptoms of AMS. 

Every year 3 – 7 people die climbing Kilimanjaro because they don’t listen to their body and to the advice of their guides. Kilimanjaro is just a mountain, you can try again another day. You can’t if you are dead.

 

Want more helpful tips – read 20 Essential Kilimanjaro tips.

About the author

Nate is an writer, adventurer and keynote speaker with a serious case of Locational A.D.D. With experience, travelling, living & volunteering around the world, including in developing countries such as Cambodia, Tanzania and Kenya, Nate is determined to do whatever it takes to make education accessible to every child in the world.

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