Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania stands at 19,341 feet or 5,895 meters. It is considered the highest peak in Africa, and it is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. Aside from that, Mount Kilimanjaro is also the world’s tallest walkable mountain. However, to reach the summit, you must pass through five distinct climate zones from the rainforest to the alpine desert, then the glacial Arctic. It is possible to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro even if you’re just a beginner climber and have no proper mountaineering training. Still, you should have the correct gears and equipment before climbing it. That’s why in this article, we are going to give you a guide in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro so that you will be prepared for your climb.
Find a Tour Guide
Experts say that only about 65 percent of climbers can reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. However, your chances will increase if you have the right tour operator with you to guide you on your climb. You must have a tour operator with you when you climb, but if you don’t have enough budget for that, you can still find some independent guides for a slightly lower price. But organized tours can offer you a better climbing experience and a better back-up in case there is an emergency. To avoid getting low-end tour guides, make sure that you check the reviews and success rates before booking your tour.
Pick the Right Date and Time
Even if it’s possible to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro all year round, some months are more comfortable compared to others. If you looked at the Tanzanian weather patterns, it would show that the two optimum seasons for climbing or trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro is from January to March and from June to October. This is because the weather between January to March tends to be more relaxed and the routes are less crowded. On the other hand, June to October dates tend to be a little bit busier, but you can expect warm and pleasant days. Take note that it is best to avoid the wetter months of April, May, and November. We suggest that you will wear and bring warm clothing with you no matter the time and date you pick to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Prepare for Your Climb
Even if climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro doesn’t require any mountaineering training, you will still need a reasonable level of fitness if you want to go a long way on Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you are aware that you lack some kind of exercise, we suggest that you work out and work on your stamina months before your hike. You can also do some practice hikes for you to be able to break in your new hiking boots to minimize the chance of blisters and boost your stamina and strength. Take note that exertion at altitude can affect your body in several different ways. That is why we suggest that you go through a medical check-up before your trip. Always remember that even the most basic ailment such as cough and colds can significantly affect your body at 18,000 feet.
Choose your Route
There are a total of seven main routes that you can take if you want to climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Each course is different when it comes to difficulty, scenic beauty, and traffic. That is why choosing the right route that you take is part of the planning process. The total time of your hike will depend on which direction you pick with hikes taking anywhere between five to ten days. The routes that have the highest success rates are those who ascend at a gradual rate but takes a little longer to climb. These routes allow a climber to adjust to the change of altitude. We listed down the paths and their difficulties, so you will have an idea on which route suits you the best.
- Machame Route – Also known as the Whiskey route, the Machame route is the most popular choice for adventurous climbers. However, this route can get quite crowded, and it tends to have a bottleneck effect in the rainforest section. The Machame route is steeper but more scenic, and you can expect a better success rate with this route. Take note that you might take a total of six days to complete if you take the Machame route.
- Marangu Route – Also called the Coca-Cola route, the Marangu route is the original route on the way up to Mt. Kilimanjaro. Traditionally, it is considered as the most accessible route because it has a gradual slope along with communal sleeping huts, which are located in several strategic locations along the way. If you take this route, it will take you about five days to complete. However, success rates for these routes are quite low, and expert climbers do not recommend this route because this is the least scenic but most crowded route.
- Lemosho Route – This route is one of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s newer routes. The Lemosho route is highly recommended by several trusted tour operators. Compared to Marangu and Machame, this route entertains fewer crowns, and it stands out because you can witness unparalleled scenery along with panoramic views from all sides of Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you’re going to choose this route, it will take you about six to nine days to complete. This route gives you plenty of time to adapt, and it gives you a higher success rate at reaching the summit.
- Northern Circuit Route– If you have plenty of time to spare, then you should consider taking this route. This route is one of the newest courses in Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it takes about nine days to complete. This is because you virtually circumnavigate the mountain, which is why this is the longest route when it comes to time and distance traveled. The extra days you will get to spend at mid-altitude will give your body plenty of time to adjust to the altitude, which means it can lead to an excellent summit success rate. The Northern Circuit is also the most remote route, but it offers you a magnificent scenery such as elevated views of Kenya,
- Rongai Route – This route is the only route that approaches from the north side of Mt. Kilimanjaro and near the Kenyan border. The Rongai route sees few climbers, and it is the best route if you are climbing during a rainy season because the mountain’s north side experiences the least precipitation. However, there is not much scenery that you can enjoy compared to other routes, and you will have to take the crowded Marangu route on your way down. The Rongai route will take you up to six to seven days to complete.
- Shira Route –This route is on the west side of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it is almost the same as the Lemosho route. The only difference is that instead of the climbers starting the trek at the Londonrossi Gate, they are transported by a vehicle to the Shira gate, which is at 11,800 feet or 3,600 meters. This means that even if you get to skip the initial section of the climb, you will have to deal with a greater risk of altitude sickness because of the high starting point. This route will take you about seven to ten days to complete.
- Umbwe Route – This route is considered to be the most challenging. This is only recommended for experienced climbers who have the ability to adapt quickly. Taking the Umbwe route will take about a minimum of six days to complete the climb. Still, it involves difficult and steep slopes along with a rapid ascent profile. You will mostly make your summit bid under cover of darkness. That is why the Umbwe route has a low success rate. On the other hand, this route is less crowded, and it offers the most visually impressive display.
When going on a hike in locations such as Mt. Kilimanjaro, you need to packing light but making sure that you have everything that you will ever need. Remember that layers are essential because Mt. Kilimanjaro has a diverse climate. You will also need proper sun protection for lower reaches and warm clothes when you reach the summit. Remember to bring a good quality sleeping bag along with a basic first aid kit. Find out beforehand if it is possible to rent equipment on-site so that you will know what other stuff you should bring. Make sure that you also bring spare batteries for your camera along with photocopies of relevant documents such as your insurance documents and passports. Also, bring extra cash for tipping your tour guide and your porter. This is because they will help you carry about 30 pounds or fifteen kilos of your personal gear for you.
Make Sure You Get Acclimatized
Altitude sickness is one of the main reasons why climbers fail to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The best way to acclimatize your body to the mountain’s extreme altitude is to choose a route that ascends slowly. Make sure you bring certain medications such as ibuprofen and Diamox because they can help lessen the effects of altitude sickness. Also, remember to keep yourself hydrated, especially with purified water, because it is also an essential part to help you along the way. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, even those who are physically fit and have enough training. That’s why it is also essential for you to be able to recognize your symptoms such as nausea, headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness. Make sure that you are well-informed on the effects of altitude sickness and be prepared to descend if needed. Take note that the most severe form of altitude sickness can be fatal. That is why it is also essential to know your limits and do not attempt to push them if you cannot. When it comes to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, slow and steady is always the key.