Ever wished you knew and missed out on some important things before doing something? Well, I climbed Kilimanjaro and I could have kicked myself for not knowing these important things. I visited Eastern Africa, and climbing Kilimanjaro was the highlight of my trip there. I successfully ascended Mount Kilimanjaro and gained a wealth of knowledge in the process.
I made this to let people know what to expect while on (and after leaving) the mountain. I want to talk about a few things right now, both big and tiny, that I wish I had known before climbing Kilimanjaro. It’s interesting because while some of them were things I already understood, I didn’t expect them to be as severe as they were! Please feel free to take lessons from me, whether it be slipping into an unreasonably frigid sleeping bag or getting lips that severely crack.
The 15 important things I wish I had understood before climbing Kilimanjaro are listed below:
1. The climb is not as hard or technical as you think
Because it is one of the Seven Summits, Africa’s highest peak, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, many people decide to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The six more peaks are spread across Asia, South America, North America, Europe, Oceania, and Antarctica. These climbs are usually exceedingly difficult and need much training. How Difficult is it to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro, then? While scaling Kilimanjaro does need a lot of physical stamina and power, climbers as young as 12 years old may achieve it. You can conquer Africa’s highest peak after a few months of training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
2. Footwear is underrated
Make sure to purchase and try on the proper hiking boots before attempting Kilimanjaro. This includes socks in addition to shoes.
Each person has unique feet. To find what works for you, try a few different socks and shoe combinations. After only a few hours or days of hiking, the last thing you want is aching and blistered feet. Particularly given that you will remain on the mountain for a few more days. That can make your ascent too difficult.
What works for me is a combination of Thorlo light hikers and Injinji original toe socks. I tried the Injinji hiking socks, but the thick cloth bunches up around the toes and they are extremely thick.
Although some people swear by Smartwool socks, I immediately get hot areas when wearing them. Other companies exist as well, like Darn Tough and REI. Everyone has different feet, so hike before climbing Kilimanjaro to find out what works for you.
For footwear, we advise a lightweight hiking shoe for clear days, even in the jungle. There are several manufacturers of hiking footwear, like Las Sportiva, Adidas, Soloman, Keen, and Merrell, to mention just a few. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable.
We advise a more conventional hiking shoe for summit nights, rainy days, and snowy conditions. One with Goretex that is higher, similar to a mid-height hiking boot. It needs to be weather-resistant and tall enough to cross water and snow.
Put on gaiters to further prevent moisture, dirt, and debris from entering.
Wear your shoes and socks, or whichever combination you decide to go with, throughout a number of hikes totaling many kilometers before your trip to Tanzania. Before climbing the mountain, break them in so your feet are as comfy as possible.
3. Prepare for the cold and wet days
Since I chose to climb Kilimanjaro in May, a transitional month between the high and low seasons, there was a lot more rain than I had anticipated. I had both a rain jacket and rain trousers packed, yet I was always damp. The group that you climb with (porters, a guide, an assistant guide, a cook, etc.) is there to support you. You will rely on your team members with their mountain knowledge and equipment, including the tarps they carry up the mountain to make sure that none of your bags get wet, whether or not you believe you need the extra aid.
Even though Kilimanjaro is in Africa and near to the equator, it is nevertheless freezing as you ascend to close to 20,000 feet. I had no idea how incredibly cold it would be until I started the ascent of the mountain. Even though I had two pairs of socks, an additional layer of thermals, a fleece shirt, and a thick cap to keep me warm, I still wished I had more layers. Knowing the optimal seasons to climb Kilimanjaro (January through March and June through October) and bringing the appropriate equipment can help you keep dry and warm when the rain and cold weather arrive.
I anticipated that the campgrounds at the summit of Kilimanjaro would be chilly, if not freezing, but I didn’t really anticipate how chilly every camp would be! Even our first camp, which was located in a region of rainforest close to the mountain’s foot, was quite chilly. Even while it seems logical that it won’t be too warm at night because this camp is 2,895 m (9,498 ft) above sea level, I was shocked.
The fact that you frequently hike the Kilimanjaro rainforest part in a T-shirt and shorts and that it may become rather hot (and muggy) throughout the day further contributes to the incorrect expectation. Even the lower camps, though, get chilly after sundown, so you want to curl up in your thermal sleeping bag.
4. Pack the Right Gear & Bring a Headlamp + Extra Batteries
It’s crucial to bring the appropriate equipment when climbing Kilimanjaro (as noted in the point above). Since there won’t be any electricity at camp, it’s crucial to get ready for dim lighting conditions. Your eating area and bathroom will be close to where you sleep whether you are camping or staying in the huts. This may be quite challenging in the dark if you don’t have a headlamp or other means of lighting the route in front of you.
5. Tipping is Optional (but a tradition)
Tipping is regarded as courteous in many cultures but is not always a custom. Tipping is a little different when climbing Kilimanjaro. A cook, a team of porters, a lead guide, and an assistant guide make up the party that transports you up the mountain (anywhere from 5-10 depending on your group size). The success of your summit depends greatly on your Kilimanjaro Guide & Team, who will ensure that you follow the necessary measures with regard to what you eat, when you sleep, and how much you climb each day. How much should I tip my guide and porters on Mount Kilimanjaro is a recurring question.
Typically, gratuities for the head guide range from $15 to $20 per day, for the assistant guides and chefs from $10 to $15 per day, and for the porters from $5 to $10 per day (for a total of around $100 every night you are on the mountain*). Your climbing team will assemble for a “tipping ceremony” at the conclusion of your ascent, during which they will perform traditional songs and dances and hand you an envelope (or something similar) to tip them. On Kilimanjaro, it’s crucial to tipping your guides and porters since by doing so, you’re directly supporting their families and neighborhood.
*This advice is for the group as a whole, not for the individual.
6. Be open-minded about Huts/Tents, Sponge Baths, and Squat Toilets
You will either be staying in huts (on the Marangu route) or tents depending on which Kilimanjaro route you ascend (on every other route). One of the porters would meet me at the entrance of my hut (or tent) each morning and evening of my climb with a small bucket of warm water and a towel. “It’s the washy-washy time!” I really enjoyed the kind gesture of giving me a bath or shower every morning, and I started to look forward to the warm water I could use to wash my face, arms, legs, and any other area of my body that required some tender loving care. Be prepared for where you will sleep while on the mountain. Because it was so chilly most mornings and evenings, I only washed my hands and face.
7. Go Slow (pole pole), steady, and stay hydrated
The word “Pole-Pole” is one of the most often used on the mountain (pronounced Puh – o – leh, Puh – o – leh). This means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili, the indigenous tongue. Pace yourself when ascending a 10- to the 20-thousand-foot mountain. Your body will receive more oxygen if you move more slowly, which will improve your ability to acclimate. You must consume enough water in order to successfully summit; I always had a full water bottle and a supply of healthy food in my rucksack to do my best to prevent altitude sickness (AMS)
8. Prevent AMS, Train & Take Diamox before you climb
A typical treatment for “mountain sickness” or altitude sickness is Diamox. I know that this drug substantially aided me during my ascent, despite the fact that I am not a doctor. While climbing Kilimanjaro, there are various strategies to avoid altitude sickness, and for me, having Diamox on hand was the greatest thing I could have done. I began taking Diamox a few days prior to the climb and continued to do so all the way up the mountain until I descended. This relieved the headaches, exhaustion, and shortness of breath that so many other passengers reported as soon as we ascended over 10,000 feet.
Before taking any medicine to combat altitude sickness when climbing Kilimanjaro, make sure to check with your doctor. I made it to the mountain’s top, albeit it was still physically taxing, and showed no symptoms of altitude sickness.
9. You will find it hard to sleep
At the conclusion of each day’s hiking on Kilimanjaro, you’re exhausted. Therefore, it would be logical for you to expect that you will quickly go to sleep after cuddling up in your sleeping bag. However, it might be challenging to fall asleep at a high altitude. Low oxygen levels at high altitudes can have a variety of effects on sleep, including insomnia, agitation, disrupted sleep, and vivid nightmares.
The best course of action is to be ready for something to occur so that you don’t stress and are also psychologically ready for it.
It is a pure delight to enter your cozy two-sleeper tent after a long day of hiking.
Don’t use sleeping pills.
Some individuals may believe that using sleeping drugs would help them combat insomnia brought on by being at an altitude. However, sleeping medicines stop your breathing. On Kilimanjaro, where the air is already rather thin, you shouldn’t do this. So, even if it might occasionally be challenging to fall asleep on Kilimanjaro, please resist the urge to use sleeping drugs. Instead, make an effort to embrace it as a part of the journey.
10. Learn to speak some Swahili
The native tongue in Tanzania is Swahili, which you may have acquired from seeing The Lion King as a youngster. Making friends with your climbing group might be facilitated by learning some of the local Swahili language. Here are a few of the terms that I discovered to be most helpful or enjoyable when scaling the mountain; they don’t take much time to learn!
- Simba – Lion / King
- Rafiki – Friend
- Hakuna Matata – No Worries!
- Nala – gift
- Asante Sana – Thank you!
- Jambo – Hello!
- Mambo – How are you!
- Pole Pole (the most common word on the mountain) – Slowly, slowly
11. Summit night is demanding – But Worth It in the end!
The initial days of the Kilimanjaro ascent are long but not very challenging. The terrain is continuously shifting, varying from straight plains to inclining slopes and even some descents. Another distinctive feature of climbing Kilimanjaro is passing through 5 distinct climate zones, including the Arctic Desert, Highland Desert, Heather & Moorland, Savannah & Jungle, and Alpine Forest. The first three climate zones are lovely, picturesque, and less challenging than the last two. At 15,000 feet, when you arrive in the Highland Desert, the ascent becomes more challenging. The atmosphere is colder, the ground is steeper.
Your crew will awaken on the last day of the ascent around midnight to be ready to ascend up the volcano’s slope in order to reach Gilman’s summit in time for sunrise (4-6 hour climb). I recall taking my summit night one step at a time, stopping for a much-needed breather in between each one. Before I knew it, I had reached both Gilman’s Peak and Uhuru’s Peak (Uhuru is Kilimanjaro’s highest peak)!
It takes three things—training for Mount Kilimanjaro, packing the proper equipment, and having faith in your climbing team—to have a successful experience and summit Mount Kilimanjaro.
Bonus: One of the finest ways to relax your muscles after a demanding week of trekking is to go on a safari once you finish your climb. We advise doing a safari in Tanzania to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.
12. The trail conditions will be hard on your skin and lips
When it comes to safeguarding my lips from the elements, I’ve never really paid much attention to them. I don’t even believe I’ve ever used a balm with an SPF factor before. And I’m positive that I never gave wind protection any attention before climbing Kilimanjaro. But gosh, I’ll now be warning everyone about the necessity to protect them — and your skin — when you climb Kilimanjaro!
The significance of protecting your lips
On summit day, the wind and cold destroyed my lips. My lips received a pounding that I was unaware of at the time, but the swelling and numbness were very noticeable the following day.
They were incredibly painful and began to peel and break over the next few days.
I could have easily prevented the discomfort if I had cared to adequately protect my lips. Therefore, I would counsel anyone getting ready to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to consistently use an SPF lip balm while hiking. Finally, on summit day, when the wind and cold are at their most intense, cover your lips with your balaclava. You won’t regret it, I promise!
Take care of your skin.
On Kilimanjaro, skin dries out considerably; naturally, some people’s skin dries out more than others. This is a consequence of the chilly, dry weather that prevails at the summit of the mountain. So be sure to pack some powerful moisturizer. Because they are the areas of your body you can give a good soapy scrub during “washy washy,” as well as the fact that they are the most exposed, your hands and face in particular require the extra moisture.
13. You need to pee all the time
Trekkers up Mount Kilimanjaro should consume three liters or more of water each day. This will keep you well hydrated and help you avoid (as well as cope with) altitude sickness.
I don’t drink nearly enough water, which is normally a very awful habit of mine. I thus considered the three-liter or more requirement to be quite a challenge for me. But I was pleasantly pleased. I was continually drinking the first several days of the walk since I was lower in the rainforest and consequently, it was warmer. In reality, I finished the water in my CamelBak and had to switch to my water bottle. Great! But with all that drinking, there were countless bathroom stops.
The need to urinate more frequently than normal is another negative effect of being at a high altitude, in addition to all the other hydration occurring on the mountain. When you combine the two, you just need to urinate frequently.
Public and private toilets on Kilimanjaro.
You can pee either in camp or behind a rock when climbing Kilimanjaro. With bathrooms, camp is the nicer alternative for a bathroom break. A private restroom tent should be offered as well; these are preferable to public restrooms since they are cleaner. (If you’re walking the Marangu route, there isn’t any camping; instead, you stay in shelters and use shared restrooms.)
While camp is a nicer location to use the restroom, you can’t possibly go the full day without using the path. You just locate a rock or shrub to duck behind in such circumstances.
Advice for ladies
Ladies, you might want to think about taking a Shewee or other urination equipment for your Kilimanjaro trek. With these, you can urinate while standing. They also eliminate the need to remove your pants, which is a benefit when it’s freezing outside, and the less exposed skin, the better! Advice for women climbing Kilimanjaro goes into great length on these issues.
Clean all garbage
Leave no trace is the park’s guiding principle. Due to this, tour companies must transport all rubbish down the mountain. If they don’t, they risk getting into trouble.
Our contribution to leaving no trace as hikers entails not leaving any toilet paper on the path. not buried even. Pack little bags for this reason since you must transport your garbage to camp where you may dispose of it in the trash container.
On Kilimanjaro, you don’t even need to hear a waterfall to feel the urge to urinate; further up, you need to urinate constantly!
Just before going to bed, take a pee
During my walk, I frequently discovered that as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag and began to get cozy, I would then have a severe urge to urinate. Normally, I would just jump and skip to the bathroom in my pajamas, but up on the mountain, it’s a genuine operation. This is particularly true as you ascend because the shortage of oxygen causes you to become breathless performing even the slightest duties. And going back outside into the chilly air – ugh! Before you cuddle up in your bag, spare yourself the stress and use the restroom!
14. The water in your hydration pack freezes on summit day
I have never used a hydration pack before this trip. To be entirely honest, I initially believed that they were a product of lazy individuals who were dissatisfied with the water bottle’s perfectly acceptable H2O supply. HOW MISTAKEN I WAS!
I can confidently state that one of my most valued pieces of gear the whole journey was my hydration pack (I used a CamelBak). Sincerely, I think that without it, my experience would have been much different—or maybe worse. Why? two primary causes:-
- My CamelBak has a three-liter water capacity. This is the daily recommended quantity of water to consume (at least).
I could simply keep track of how much water I consumed each day because it was all kept in one location. Additionally, I didn’t have to hassle with several water bottles.
- It’s quite practical. I didn’t have to ask a companion to fetch my water bottle for me or stow my bag down an arm to find it while I was walking. Given the additional inconvenience, I’m also confident that I would have drunk a lot less water if I had only had water bottles. You are far more likely to take a drink or two of water anytime the notion occurs since the hose and its mouthpiece are so accessible.
When your water bottle freezes
The hydration pack’s sole drawback is that your water freezes when it gets colder than freezing. The water in the hose freezes first, followed by the water within the pack. There’s nothing worse than hauling around a ton of ice that won’t make you thirsty! Occasionally (in exceptional circumstances), the freezing process might also lead to the mouthpiece of your hose breaking.
On Kilimanjaro, summit day is the only time to think about the possibility of the water in your hydration pack freezing over. The water in your bag won’t freeze on the other days since it isn’t cold enough.
But since you start your hike at midnight and ascend into an arctic zone on summit day, your water doesn’t have a chance. Combined whammy
You must consequently rely on your water bottle on summit day.
These days, hydration packs are integrated into many backpacks.
How to carry a water bottle at night when summiting
As mentioned in our Kilimanjaro packing list, you should tuck a full 1-liter water bottle deep within your daypack on the summit day. The water in the bottle will freeze if you keep it in your daypack or jacket pocket.
You must make sure the bottle is securely tied and maintained upside down in addition to remaining inside your luggage. Water freezes from the top down, thus the purpose for turning it upside down. This will prevent the water at the end of the bottle that you wish to drink from freezing, even if the cold begins to reach it (which it may).
15. You feel uneasy when high up the mountain
I was aware that it’s typical to have some high-altitude symptoms like headaches or nausea before beginning the Kilimanjaro climb. But I didn’t anticipate feeling uneasy for as long as I did. Basically, being high on a mountain makes you feel less than optimum.
Each person experiences the effects of altitude at a different moment, and symptoms might, of course, vary. Generally speaking, about 3,000 meters above sea level, you can start to feel the effects of altitude.
Kilimanjaro is largely mental; it requires self-belief and perseverance even when you’re not at your best.
Feeling uneasy vs altitude sickness
A hazardous condition called altitude sickness may compel you to leave the mountain as soon as possible in order to recuperate. However, feeling a little weird due to high altitude is a different matter; you can still function despite it. Your trek guide’s role is to know the difference. This is why it’s so crucial that you express your feelings to your trek leader.
Be honest and transparent with your guides about how you’re feeling at all times. They are there to take care of you and are educated to distinguish between altitude sickness symptoms and high altitude symptoms.
It is their responsibility to keep track of your health, therefore always, always let your trek leaders know how you are feeling.
Mentally psych yourself up
Preparing oneself for feeling bad while perched high on the mountain is the finest piece of advice. You will undoubtedly experience something, whether it be a headache, mild nausea, or anything else. You won’t be scared if you go knowing that this is likely to happen and that it’s quite normal. And hopefully, you’ve already made up your mind to push through.
Also keep in mind that even the slightest actions, which you wouldn’t give a second thought to on a typical day, may be rather taxing at altitude. Because of the decreased oxygen in the air, it might be difficult to enter or exit your tent, for instance. Therefore, simply be careful to go gently; don’t rush!