Climbing Africa’s highest mountain is an epic adventure for those who are prepared to take on a physical and mental challenge. It’s a undertaking luring thousands of people every year. But before you sign up for one of Africa’s ultimate adventures, we’d like to prepare you for what to expect on the trek to Uhuru Peak.
Firstly, there are four vital points to be addressed:
- Choosing a reputable tour operator
- Preparing your body and mind
- The right gear
- On the climb
Choosing a reputable tour operator
In choosing a tour operator, you have to put your trust in their choice of guides and the support they have at their disposal while leading your journey. Most companies use either sub-contracted or permanently employed guides.
Most operators employ guides, porters and mountain staff on a subcontract basis, so you’ll only know who your guide is a few days before you arrive. The reason for this is that the hiring depends on which guides are available at the time.
A few companies employ permanent staff and look after them through both the low and peak seasons, but these tour operators are few and far between.
What happens if there’s an emergency?
Altitude affects climbers in different ways. Statistically, three out of 10 people will not reach the summit due to some form of altitude-related problem. When booking, it is vital to make sure that the company you choose has the necessary medical, logistical and evacuation support needed should trouble strike. There are only a few tour operators that equip each climbing party with oxygen, oximeters, first-aid kits, a neck brace, stethoscope, mobile phone, satellite phone, portable stretcher and other equipment on every climb – you want to make sure you’re embarking on your adventure with one of them.
Discover Africa can advise you about reliable tour operators.
Preparing your body and mind
Getting ready to climb Kilimanjaro is as important as choosing the right tour operator. As exhilarating as the experience is, the journey is a tough one. This ascent is not for couch potatoes.
Altitude training for a Kilimanjaro climb
There’s not much you can do to prepare for how you’ll respond to lack of oxygen at high altitude, unless, that is, you’re able to spend some time in high places, in a dive chamber, increasing your circulation or doing breath-hold training. Breath-hold training is useful for those who don’t have access to a dive chamber or an area of high altitude. The easiest way to condition your body to deal with the lack of oxygen is literally to take oxygen away, making underwater breath-hold exercises extremely effective for altitude training. Free-diving or regulated free-diving in a swimming pool will drastically increase your body’s oxygen distribution efficiency and help condition your brain not to react so dramatically when you reach the low-oxygen zone.
Never practise breath-hold exercises on your own. Always work in pairs, or at least have someone watching you.
It’s the day you’ve been waiting for, summit day, and quite possibly the hardest one you’ll have to face on your trek. Summit day is a 16- to 20-hour experience you’ll have to tackle after what has probably been a sleepless night and an empty stomach (because of your loss of appetite). You’ll set off at midnight, ascend more than 1,000 vertical metres and descend approximately a further 2,000 metres before returning to your overnight camp late in the afternoon. Preparing yourself mentally for this day is crucial if you are to cope with the amount of time needed to get to the top and the slowness of the pace.
The only way to prepare yourself mentally is to simulate the time it takes to summit. If you are up for the challenge, we’ll ensure that you are prepared to climb Kilimanjaro long before you even get to Tanzania.
The right gear
Even if you’ve chosen your tour operator and have successfully trained to climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll experience an extremely uncomfortable journey if you’re lacking the right gear. It is essential to be prepared for the worst weather conditions. In the main the climb up Kilimanjaro is cold, with temperatures on rare occasions dropping to -20°C (-4°F).
So, when getting dressed each day, you’ll need a minimum of three layers covering your entire body, although your feet, hands and face are obviously the most exposed. Your first layer needs to be tight, your second should provide thermal insulation and your outer layer should be a wind- and waterproof shell. If you’re lucky enough to encounter warmer weather, then you can simply shed a layer.
Talk to us about the gear you require. You don’t want to pack too much as someone else has to carry your bags.
On the climb
If you’ve carried out our suggestions successfully your chances reaching that distant Uhuru Peak have increased dramatically. Our final advice is to respect the altitude by following these tips:
- Maintain a slow, steady ascent
- For acclimatisation purposes, walk high and sleep low
- Drink as much water as possible throughout the climb
- Eat even though you have no appetite
- Manage your oxygen intake vs. consumption
Now that you have an idea of what you can expect from the journey, can we help you make your wish to climb Kilimanjaro a reality?