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It is the trek, that is the climber’s first reason for setting out to Kilimanjaro, because it is a journey from the equator to the arctic, an incredible transition. There are very few places on earth that take you through so many sublime changes in scenery and mood and it is all conveniently packaged into one week’s walk with a short flight to Tanzania. The climb is so accessible that there is no need for special climbing skills or equipment, and there is no other peak in the world that offers the climate zones and views that Kili does.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is the ultimate adventure for anyone who loves the great outdoors and the natural challenge of trekking up to the top of a 5895 meter volcanic mountain in just a week. And to top it all, the mountain is in one of the world’s most beautiful settings, among the lush, green rainforests of East Africa. After trekking through the rainforest, the various ecosystems mean the climber is taken through a beautiful alpine desert and finally into a moonscape to reach the twin summit of Kibo, the slightly lower Uhuru peak, and the crater.

1.1. Overview of Mount Kilimanjaro

Standing alone at 5,895 metres (19,341 feet), Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. It consists of three cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Kibo is the largest and is the only cone that is dormant; it will erupt again in the future. Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano that began forming a million years ago, when lava spilled from the Rift Valley zone. Two of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, were built by lava from Kibo. The last major eruption from Kibo occurred 360,000 years ago. In the last 200 years, the volcano has become dormant and has no recent volcanic activity. The mountain has been built up so high that it is now sitting in the troposphere and nearly touches the bottom of the atmosphere. Glaciers and snow are found on the highest parts of the mountain; they have continued to shrink and in 100 years might not be visible. The most recent summit of volcanic ash was only 200 years ago, and the highest peak, Kibo, is believed to have been an estimated 4,500 years ago. Step by step, the volcano has built up the mountain we see now, with Uhuru Peak as the highest point. Uhuru did not exist until a recent expedition in 1889.

1.2. Why climb Kilimanjaro?

In “Ultimate guide to climbing Kilimanjaro,” why climb Kilimanjaro is a very important section, given that without a clear rationale for the attempt, the desire to continue would not be there. Climbing Kilimanjaro is no mean feat and people from all walks of life, with varying levels of fitness undertake the task. For the vast majority, a climb of Kilimanjaro is a personal goal, and is often part of raising money for a charity. It is a milestone often used to mark a significant birthday or life event. You will never meet so many people with the same aim than when you take on Kilimanjaro. Just by summiting, you can achieve that goal. Aged from 10 to 80, successful climbers have celebrated on the top in their own ways, perhaps the oldest being a 92-year-old gentleman in 2014. The rest of the reasons why people climbed Kilimanjaro are as varied as the climbers themselves. For some, it is a chance to get away from the pressures of modern life and get back to nature. The mountain is an attraction because of its beauty and being a conservation area, where every step taken is above the clouds; it is the hike of a lifetime. It is quite possible to die without being truly alive, and many climbers feel more alive on the slopes of Kilimanjaro than they do in their five/six-day working week. One of the main attractions of Kilimanjaro is the challenge. It is no easy task, but the sense of achievement felt at the top cannot be equaled. In a world where there is always another rung on the career ladder, another goal or target, another deadline, people climb Kilimanjaro for its definitive sense of a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a victory against the modern-day epitome of never-ending work and unachieved targets.

1.3. Physical and mental preparation

Physical preparation will need to begin a few months before the actual trek. If you are not normally very physically active, you will need to start increasing your fitness level. The fitter you are, the higher your chances of reaching the summit. The aim of the game is to build an aerobic base for which you can build specific fitness upon. Activities such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling are all good for aerobic conditioning. It is also important for you to take extended walks in the boots that you will be wearing on the climb, as this will help toughen your feet and prevent blisters. An important part of physical training is training with the clothes and equipment you will be using on the mountain. This is because Kilimanjaro is cold and you will need to be familiar with the gear you will be using. High-intensity interval training is also very beneficial, as it simulates the short burst walking you will be doing on summit night. This type of training will increase your lactate threshold and make walking the mountain more “comfortable” on the body. Always consult with your local physician before undertaking any fitness programs.

It is important to realize that climbing Kilimanjaro is tough and exhilarating at the same time. Even for the most experienced climber, Mount Kilimanjaro poses a formidable challenge and individuals should not underestimate what is involved. Kilimanjaro is not an extremely technical climb; however, the altitudes and the time constraints on some of the shorter routes can be physically very tough. The main thing that one needs to prepare for is the mental aptitude to keep going even when the body does not feel like it wants to. Mental preparations are as important as physical preparations when it comes to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. You will have to stay focused and have a positive attitude, as this will greatly help with things such as altitude acclimatization and the general enjoyment of the climb.

2. Choosing the Right Route

For most people, getting to the summit is an irreplaceable experience. It is a rare opportunity to stand on the ‘roof of Africa’, with the world below and the shining, ice-capped dome of Kibo overhead. To compensate for the relative lack of physical hardship on the ascent, not to mention the deprivation from many of the more rugged and beautiful parts of the mountain, some climbers go straight from the gate to the summit. This is very inadvisable, as it is both undesirable from a health viewpoint as it is against the ethic of acclimatization, which is for the direct prevention of acute mountain sickness and the possible danger of high altitude cerebral oedema and pulmonary oedema. It is far safer and securer, and certainly more enjoyable to spend an additional day at either Horombo or the School huts, before attempting to reach the summit. This extra day is still not a guarantee of reaching the summit, and any well-conducted medical research into altitude and mountain sickness will advocate further acclimatization. Even at an altitude of 3700m, climbers may suffer a loss of all exercise ability due to lassitude, and it is usually only after spending a further night and day at this altitude that physical power will return.

2.1. Popular routes

Climbing Kilimanjaro across different routes varies vastly in difficulty, scenery, and the overall experience. The Lemosho and Shira routes from the west give you the best start in terms of acclimatization and a great chance of summiting. These routes also give you a good chance of sighting wildlife. Machame and Rongai are also good options. Though not as scenic, they do cross some beautiful areas and the Rongai route is a great option during the wetter months. The Marangu route can be done in 5 days which is not ideal. Though fully catered, it is often falsely considered the easy route because of its lower success rate in comparison to the Lemosho and Rongai routes. The ascent and descent are on the same trail aiding acclimatization, but the overall success rate at 60% is lower than the 80% for six or seven-day Marangu climbs and the 70% for the best Lemosho and Rongai routes. The Umbwe route is not recommended as it is the least favorable route with a very difficult summit night. The route is very steep, fast ascension to the Western Breach route up to Arrow Glacier. Although for those who like a true adventure, the Western Breach route can be arranged with tents for camping. Finally, the Mweka route is purely for descent.

2.1.1. Marangu Route

2.1.2. Machame Route

2.1.3. Lemosho Route

2.2. Factors to consider

Factors to consider are the cost and difficulty of a climb, route popularity, and the quality of the environment on the trails. The success rates of the various Kilimanjaro routes are very different. Some routes have very low success rates. This is primarily because the route simply climbs too high too fast, increasing the risk of altitude sickness. Some routes are very long and a climber will need to spend many extra days on the mountain which can be very expensive. All of these factors should be weighed when choosing a route. Route popularity is another factor to consider. Marangu route is the most popular route on the mountain, and thus is known as the “tourist route”. This route is the least expensive, but also the least scenic and least adventurous. If you choose this route you will likely be exposed to more crowds than other routes. By contrast, the Rongai route is the least popular route. It is a remote route on the mountain and as a result the quality of the trails and the environment are very high. This route is a bit more expensive, but is still a reasonable option because of its moderate length and success rate.

3. Essential Gear and Equipment

The climate zones encountered when climbing Kilimanjaro will range from hot and arid to frozen and wet. Therefore, the correct clothing is essential and it is best to ‘layer’ clothing so it can be adjusted to suit the outdoor temperature, climate and your level of activity. The most important concept to understand is that the mountain can be wet and cold, regardless of the altitude. Additionally, poor weather and nighttime conditions may mean wear every item of clothing you have brought. Travel light on the mountain is not the best policy because you may not have enough gear to stay warm. The following information will show you what is required; this is based on a planned 7-day trek. On the 8-day trek, you need to simply add additional changes of clothing.

3.1. Clothing and footwear 3.2. Sleeping gear 3.3. Climbing accessories

3.1. Clothing and footwear

Layering is the key to comfort in varied conditions. It is best to stick with wicking materials, as it will keep you dry and comfortable. Begin with a moisture-wicking synthetic liner sock. Thin wool socks are a great second layer. Make sure that your boots are large enough to accommodate the sock layers. Your outer sock should be a thick wool sock. Make sure that you do your boot shopping after acquiring the gear, so you ensure a proper fit. Now for your pants, you will want to have a light pair and a heavier pair. On summit day, you will want to wear the light pair of pants with a quick-dry hiking pant over them. For your upper body, a light t-shirt and a breathing wicking t-shirt is essential. On top of that, a light long-sleeved shirt. The previous layer is simply for wicking purposes and there is no need to retain that layer when you warm up. For the outer layer, a breathable insulating layer is what you need. This could be a sweater or a light fleece shirt. On summit day, you will want to bring a heavier insulating layer and possibly a down vest. The last layer must be a fully waterproof, windproof jacket. Your legs and your upper body have similar layering methods due to the similar types of weather you will be enduring.

3.2. Sleeping gear

It is not recommended to bring along an inflatable mattress as it simply becomes another item which needs inflation at altitude and can be damaged.

The following items are essential for sleeping comfort: – A sleeping bag rated up to at least -10°C. We provide -12°C rated down sleeping bags. – Earplugs…believe it or not but the sound of the wind can keep people awake! – Headlamp for reading etc. – Pee bottle – which can save a trip to the toilet tent in the middle of a very cold night.

The temperature can range anywhere from 90 degrees to well below freezing at night. It is essential to have a good night’s sleep whilst on the mountain and for this we provide 3-4″ foam mattresses; however, many climbers prefer to bring their own self-inflating mattress. We also provide a mess tent for eating in and well as mini dining tents for the rest of the climb; chairs and table. This is to increase the level of comfort for everyone whilst on the mountain.

3.3. Climbing accessories

Losing 3-5 litres of water a day through heavy breathing and to a much lesser extent, urination, as your body reacts to the altitude, can leave the body seriously dehydrated. Sweating can be profuse and though you might not feel it so much in the cool air of the mountain, the strength of the sun can lead to severe sunburn. All this can take place whilst the temperature at the snow line can be 0°C and lower. So it is clear that you are going to expose your body to a real mixture of conditions. In your defence, there are things you can do to protect yourself and the right equipment will help you to help yourself.

Though it is not a technical climb, Mount Kilimanjaro is a serious undertaking and does present certain challenges. One of the most significant of these is the dramatic changes in climate and temperature that occur as you ascend. If you are unprepared for these, you are going to have a less than enjoyable time. It is vital that you are not only equipped with the right gear, but also that you know how to use it. Your guides will be invaluable in this regard, so when we talk about gear and its function, this is something for you to bear in mind. Good gear can be a very worthwhile investment.

4. Training and Fitness

Cardiovascular exercises are essential to improving your body’s oxygen consumption. It is your aerobic capacity that will determine the pace at which you travel – it has been proven that the more aerobically fit climbers managed higher ascent success rates than the less fit climbers. Aerobic exercise includes walking, running, cycling, and swimming – anything that gets the heart and lungs working. Aim to do at least 30 minutes at a time for at least 4 days a week. The fittest Kili climbers should be doing 45-60 minutes of aerobic activity 5-7 days a week. So get out those trainers and start pounding the streets in preparation for Kili. It will make a major difference to your climb. Imagine being the only one in your group to reach the top!

Training and preparation for your Kilimanjaro climb should be taken into serious consideration if you are to reach the summit. It is the most challenging adventure on foot that many people will be faced with. To best prepare yourself for the physical requirements of climbing Kili, it is important that you follow a sensible fitness training regime. A top level of fitness is not necessary, but the fitter you are, the easier you will handle the physical demands of the mountain. The majority of people will reach the summit with the right attitude and taking the climb slowly, but the fitter you are, the better and quicker are your body’s responses to the reduced oxygen pressure encountered at higher altitudes. Aerobic fitness is the most beneficial to have when climbing Kili. This is the body’s ability to utilize oxygen efficiently; the higher you go, the less oxygen there is in the atmosphere. High altitude is also not a place to increase your level of fitness – it only increases your chances of suffering from acute mountain sickness. Get fit before you go!

4.1. Cardiovascular exercises

Cardiovascular exercises are the most important to improving your fitness level, maximizing your oxygen capacity, and reducing the likelihood of AMS (acute mountain sickness) on Kilimanjaro. There are many ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness including running, cycling, and swimming. With any type of CV training, the two most important factors to consider are the intensity of the training and how specific the training is to the actual activity. Taking up a new sport may be fun, but the fitness gains will not be as high as doing an activity which is specific to the muscles used in mountaineering, and the lungs will have a decreased training effect if the intensity is not high enough. Duration for cardio training can be increased as the mountain gets closer, and a good way to increase general fitness is to do longer duration activities (3-6 hours) taking one day a week. However, the best way to increase your climbing fitness for trekking is to do specific activities for a long duration. This is especially important with conditioning leg muscles and toughening the feet for the long days on the mountain. A good way to prepare for this is with a day hike in the mountains with a pack on. Aim for 6-8 hours uphill and downhill. The grade of the terrain is not as important as the overall duration.

4.2. Strength training

If we define strength as the maximum force a muscle or muscle group can exert, we can say that the best way to improve this is through heavy weight training because this is the only form of exercise that enables you to make every strength gain specific to that movement. For example, if you do leg press at the gym, the force you exert to push the weight is similar to that used when walking uphill. The leg press is an isolated movement aimed specifically at various muscles in the leg, so any increase in strength gained there will transfer to better performance during uphill walking. This exercise can be duplicated using a backpack. Fill it with weights up to a load you’d use for the exercise and then walk up and down the stairs. This has the added bonus of duplicating an exercise in a specific environment. Step-up and box exercises should also be used and can duplicate the action of mounting large or steep steps on the mountain. If you have access to hills or mountains, then doing the real thing is also valuable. Remember to start off easy and gradually increase the difficulty of these exercises, or you will fatigue quickly due to the step being too steep. Step number is an important factor for all these types of exercises. Gradually increase it and difficulty as your strength gains until you reach your departure date. Step exercises may also be useful for the quadriceps muscle isometric strength endurance it requires, which is very specific to mountaineering. Isometric means that the muscle is contracting against a load with no movement in the angle of the joint, e.g. pushing against a wall, trying to lift an immovable object. Static “wall sits” with gradually increasing duration can be used to improve this.

The traditional bodybuilder’s approach, primarily exercising with weights for energy and muscle mass, probably isn’t the most effective way to train for a mountain trek. However, in the months leading up to your trek, a combination of weight training and bodyweight exercises is the most useful. Considered one of the key scientific principles of training is specificity. This means that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or a similar exercise.

4.3. Altitude acclimatization

Climbing to high altitude requires acclimatization – that is, you need to adapt to a reduced availability of oxygen at a given altitude. All of the risks of altitude sickness are significantly reduced once you have acclimatized to the current altitude. So ‘climb high, sleep low’ is the best strategy for acclimatization. This means you should take an acclimatization day where you climb to a higher altitude than the place where you spend the night before returning to sleep at a good lower altitude. Trekking poles are the single most useful piece of equipment for acclimatization. They reduce the energy cost of walking on the level and they take a load off the legs on descents. By using them on the ascent you also get an upper body workout and this is the best exercise for training for trekking. Prior to your climb, the best way to increase your VO2 max and therefore your fitness is to do some hard out anaerobic capacity training, and your next best option is high-intensity aerobic interval training. VO2 max is a measure of the maximum oxygen your body can utilize and is the defining measure of aerobic fitness. You can estimate your VO2 max using your maximum sustainable power running up a hill, cycling, or SkiMo walking. High-intensity interval training is where you exercise at close to your maximum intensity for short periods with a break in between each repetition. This training is an ideal precursor to anaerobic capacity training for people who are not used to hard exercise and for those engaging in sports with high injury risk and is excellent for increasing fitness at altitude. But what will make the most difference is your base level of aerobic fitness, and aerobic exercise is therefore the most logical way to train for a trek as this is the primary form of exercise used on the mountain. But despite this, 40-50% of athletes believe that strength training is the best way to increase their aerobic endurance.

5. Safety and Health

The safety and health of our clients are of the utmost importance to Tusker Trail. All of our guides are trained in first aid. In addition, first aid courses for our guides are held twice a year at the Tusker Trail base in Arusha. Any client suffering from altitude sickness, dehydration, hypothermia, hyperthermia or any injury will receive the best possible care. Our guides are trained to recognize symptoms and they will treat you immediately. Depending on the seriousness of the illness or injury, we will decide whether to evacuate you or to send you down in a self-evacuation with the help of porters. This decision will be made by your head guide and based on the severity of the situation, the location, and the ability of the client to safely and effectively descend without any further health risks. This is one reason why at Tusker we carry a satellite phone for every climb. In a case of an emergency evacuation, our guides can hold an immediate rescue from the NP authorities who also have a helicopter on 24-hour standby at the main gate to the NP. On the most rural parts of the route, you may see village life but there are no roads, only footpaths, and any evacuation would have to be done by foot. In the worst-case scenarios, rescue can be arranged from the park with donkeys being sent to carry the client to safety.

5.1. Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS) or high altitude sickness, is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at altitudes above 2,500 m (8,000 ft). It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres. Symptoms may be mild to severe and can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and the heart. High altitude can affect each person in a different way, regardless of previous experience at a high altitude. Symptoms can start to occur in some people at 1,500 metres (5,000 ft). While uncommon at altitudes of 2,400 metres or less, AMS can affect up to 50% of people at 3,000 metres (10,000 ft). AMS is the most benign of the three altitude-related syndromes, the other two are High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). These occur at altitude when AMS is left untreated and when there is a progression of illness. Both are a buildup of fluid either on the lungs or the brain and can be fatal. Symptoms of both HAPE and HACE can be difficult to distinguish from AMS. Any climber suffering from a consistent, severe headache, disorientation, or loss of coordination should be assumed to have HACE until proven otherwise.

5.2. Hydration and nutrition

Nutrition during the trek is vital to maintaining the physical energy levels necessary for high altitude climbing. High carbohydrate intake is recommended for energy preservation. Easily digestible carbohydrates such as bread, rice, and potatoes are best. Unfortunately, loss of appetite is a common symptom at altitude. Make an effort to eat, as feeling full or bloated is better than trying to stockpile energy for the next day by having a large meal. High altitude climbers will burn three times as many calories compared to the same activity at sea level. It is recommended to increase your daily intake to 3000-4000 calories per day. Protein is also important for muscle maintenance and repair. Soy products and nuts are good sources of protein, however excessive protein intake is not recommended. Dietary fat should be kept at a minimum. High fat foods are slow to digest and can cause nausea and indigestion.

Hydration aids such as Gatorade or Powerade are beneficial due to the increase in electrolyte loss at higher altitudes, however they are not a replacement for water. To determine whether you are drinking enough, weigh yourself daily for a net loss of zero or a very small fluctuation in weight.

Hydration is extremely important for climbers. Water combines with energy to fuel your muscles. Dehydration leads to weakness and a severe loss of strength. Drinking plenty of fluids helps reduce the chance of developing acute mountain sickness under the assumption that you are properly acclimatized to the altitude. For most people, a more cautious intake of fluid is required for higher altitude acclimatization; at least 3-4 liters per day. Hotter conditions, physical exertion, and heavy packs will also increase the amount of fluids that you will need. Drinking enough fluids to urinate every two to four hours is a good sign that you are achieving adequate hydration. Dark yellow urine or going long periods without urinating are signs of dehydration.

5.3. First aid and emergency procedures

Guideline 1. Use a descriptive tone in your response. The effects of high altitude and cold are not to be underestimated. (High altitude begins at 2,500m). On a clear day at 3000m, the sun’s rays may feel intense, but the air temperature often hovers just above freezing. UV radiation is strong in the thin air, and fresh snow reflects 80% of it, roughly doubling your overall exposure. A sunburn at this level not only can ruin a trip, but loss of skin can affect the body’s ability to cope with high altitude. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can begin at 3000m and a large number of debilitating, and sometimes fatal altitude-related illnesses can occur. It is important to have the knowledge to prevent them, recognize them early, and treat them effectively. Any medical problems while on the mountain should be reported to your head guide immediately. This is what we recommend as a practical approach to first aid.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Itineraries

Nothing will make your Kilimanjaro trek more enjoyable and worthwhile than adequate preparation and a strong knowledge of the potential circumstances and schedule that you will be faced with during your hike. Use the following itineraries to best prepare yourself for the mental and physical demands of Kilimanjaro.

  1. 8-Day Lemosho Route Itinerary Summary:
    • Day 1: Arrival in Moshi, Tanzania.
    • Day 2: Transfer to Londorossi Gate, hike to Mti Mkubwa Camp.
    • Day 3: Trek through rainforest to Shira 1 Camp.
    • Day 4: Ascend to Shira 2 Camp, crossing the Shira Plateau.
    • Day 5: Hike to Barranco Camp, with views of Lava Tower.
    • Day 6: Traverse the Barranco Wall, trek to Karanga Camp.
    • Day 7: Ascend to Barafu Camp, preparing for summit.
    • Day 8: Summit attempt via Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, descend to Mweka Camp.
  2. 7-Day Machame Route Itinerary Summary:
    • Day 1: Arrival in Moshi, Tanzania.
    • Day 2: Transfer to Machame Gate, hike through rainforest to Machame Camp.
    • Day 3: Trek to Shira Camp, passing through moorland and heath.
    • Day 4: Ascend to Barranco Camp, traversing the Barranco Wall.
    • Day 5: Hike to Karanga Camp, with stunning views of the Southern Icefields.
    • Day 6: Ascend to Barafu Camp, preparing for summit push.
    • Day 7: Summit attempt via Stella Point and Uhuru Peak, descend to Mweka Camp.
  3. 7-Day Rongai Route Itinerary Summary:
    • Day 1: Arrival in Moshi, Tanzania.
    • Day 2: Transfer to Rongai Gate, trek through forest to Simba Camp.
    • Day 3: Continue ascent to Kikelewa Camp, passing through moorland.
    • Day 4: Hike to Mawenzi Tarn Camp, with views of Mawenzi Peak.
    • Day 5: Ascend to Kibo Hut, preparing for summit.
    • Day 6: Summit attempt via Gilman’s Point and Uhuru Peak, descend to Horombo Hut.
    • Day 7: Descend to Marangu Gate, transfer back to Moshi.
  4. 6-Day Marangu Route Itinerary Summary:
    • Day 1: Arrival in Moshi, Tanzania.
    • Day 2: Transfer to Marangu Gate, hike through rainforest to Mandara Hut.
    • Day 3: Continue ascent to Horombo Hut, passing through heath and moorland.
    • Day 4: Acclimatization day at Horombo Hut, optional hike to Zebra Rocks.
    • Day 5: Trek to Kibo Hut, with views of Mawenzi and the Saddle.
    • Day 6: Summit attempt via Gilman’s Point and Uhuru Peak, descend to Horombo Hut.

6.1. Day-by-day breakdown

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is truly epic, but it can also be truly grueling. For all the enjoyment you will get from standing at the “roof of Africa” on the Kili summit, you will likely experience a matching degree of discomfort from the exertion. Even if you are only going to reach the top, you still have to climb down! Spending many days on the mountain is the best way to assure a safe and enjoyable trek and give yourself the best chance at getting to the top. This itinerary will help you get the most out of a climb of Kilimanjaro and is suggested as the best way to realize the full experience. We understand that time and money may be factors preventing a longer trek, but if you are going to go through all the effort to come to Kilimanjaro and climb, let’s take the time to do it right. Most people put a ton of time and energy into preparing for their climb but don’t give enough thought into the itinerary itself. Think about what you are trying to achieve from your Kilimanjaro experience and choose the trek length that will give you the best chances of realizing that goal. Elevation acclimatization is the key to reaching the summit, and nothing beats time on the mountain for ensuring a successful acclimatization.

Day 1: Arrival and orientation

Day 2: Trek to Base Camp

Day 3: Acclimatization day

7. Summit Day

Summit Day is the climax of the entire expedition. The ascent begins around midnight with a hot beverage and further clothing. You begin the long cold walk to Uhuru Peak. The going is slow but sure, headlamps and moonlight making the snow ghostly white. Depending on the weather, the group will take the Crater route or go via Stella Point on the easier screes of the South-East valley. The altitude makes the going very difficult, and as such, the group should do whatever the guides instruct them. Often it becomes necessary for someone to return to camp early. We don’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily. Usually, it is the guides we send down early to prepare hot drinks for the tired and cold climbers who follow in their steps. On the steeper sections of scree, there are often snow drifts, and the magnificent isolation of the mountain and the unique experience of the nighttime ascent combine to produce a truly spiritual experience. After 6-7 hours of walking, the first of the sun’s rays will warm the rim of the crater, and the goal for now is not far off. From Uhuru, it is usually possible to see the glaciers if Kilimanjaro is not in one of its periodic white-out conditions.

7.1. Final ascent to Uhuru Peak

Your final ascent to Uhuru Peak actually begins as you leave the Kibo Hut to traverse the mountain in a southeast direction. While the hike up to the Hans Meyer Cave is considered to be the least difficult of the three summit day ascents, it is still very steep and extremely difficult for those who are not well acclimatized. The hike to the cave takes anywhere from a half an hour to an hour and a half. The path can be dusty or even muddy after a fresh rain and the average temperature is usually between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius. From the cave, continue on the path to the right, heading upwards in a southeasterly direction. After the cave, the trail is a series of switchbacks up steep scree slopes with a breathtaking view of the western icefields. The altitude makes the going very difficult, but upon reaching Gilman’s Point (5681m) on the crater rim, the trail levels off for the approach to Uhuru Peak. Folks who reach Gilman’s Point are allowed to say that they have summited Kilimanjaro as they will have completed the Crater Rim Circuit. Uhuru Peak lies a further 1-2 hours around the edge of the crater. This stretch is the most mentally and physically challenging on the entire route. The temperature is freezing, the wind is usually high, and the thin air makes even walking a few steps very difficult. A midnight departure for the summit would usually see you reach Gilman’s Point at around sunrise.

8. Celebrating Your Achievement

This is the most important part of the climb. Reaching Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa. This is the part that all the climbers dream of, this is the reason they are climbing Kilimanjaro. It is a moment you will never forget. Watching the sunrise over Mawenzi on a clear morning is absolutely incredible. First get your summit photos at Stella point, you are going to look a mess at Uhuru so get them there when you can still stand up! (Joke). Now move on to the main event. You should be at Stella point by the time the sun is up. This means you have about an hour to reach Uhuru. Never stopping and starting and keeping a good pace will get you there. If you are climbing Kilimanjaro using the Marangu Route, the hike to Uhuru is spread over two days so is a little easier. Beginners will find the last few hundred metres very tough due to the altitude. Keep it slow and steady and the hard work will pay off. Step on the top and give yourself a pat on the back, you’re now standing on the “Roof of Africa”. The views and photos that you get from here will stay with you forever. Enjoy your accomplishment. This is what you came for.

8.1. Reaching the summit

Head away from Kibo Hut in darkness, often in sub-zero temperatures. It can be difficult to find the motivation to leave the relative warmth of your sleeping bag, but the rewards of watching the sunrise over the crater and Mawenzi Peak from the summit will make the early start well worthwhile. Usually the first stage is to zigzag up scree, with a constant slope of around 30 degrees, to reach Hans Meyer’s Cave after about two hours. Another hour of climbing up the scree slope leads to the edge of the crater, and to the glaciated region. Here the surface usually freezes at night, allowing firmer footing, which makes walking in the early hours of the morning a more straightforward task. Follow the inner edge of the crater to reach Gilman’s Point on the crater rim. This is not the summit, but it is recognized as the most demanding section of the trek. The huge physical and mental effort that it has taken to reach this point is finally reaping dividends, and the views of the sun rising above the Mawenzi rocks is quite spectacular. Coming full circle from the climb nearly a week earlier, you will again notice how effective even slight height adjustments are on the local environment and prevailing vegetation.

8.2. Descending and returning to base

It is important that you set off one last time from the crater rim to the summit glaciers as the snow often softens, making it easier to travel in the early morning. Crater floor to Uhuru Peak is a 200m rise on loose scree with a guide rope from the Rees to the Ash Pit, then across to the Ratzel Glacier. This should take you about 30 minutes. From the summit, we will then descend to the Barafu huts site for a long break. On the way to Barafu, you may be able to see the elusive Kibo and Mawenzi Tarns in the distance. It should take 3-4 hours from the summit to Barafu. At the Barafu Huts, it is advised to take a 1-2 hour sleep in your tent without removing the day’s climbing gear as the further down you go, the colder it will get. This sleep will help to remove the effects of altitude and give you a little more energy for the final descent to Mweka Gate. On arrival at Barafu, time must be taken to thank the cook and porters as they will be giving you a traditional farewell ceremony and may be making a song about your time on the mountain. It can be quite moving! The final part of your journey is made on the Mweka trail, which is a particularly steep and difficult route down to the base of the mountain. You will arrive at Mweka Gate after around 3-5 hours of trekking through the rainforest. Awaiting you will be transport back to Kandoo’s Mweka Lodge where you can rest and recuperate after completing your climb of Kilimanjaro.

9. Post-Climb Recovery

When it’s all over, you’ll quickly realize the journey up Kilimanjaro was much more than just the week’s trek. Now you’ll face the coming down. The descending trail will vary depending on the route you chose and the physical condition and general health of your knees! During the descent, it is, once again, absolutely crucial to drink lots of water. By the time your trip has ended, you will have reached the lower parts of the mountain and accumulated memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. Back at the gate, tipping your porters, cooks, and guides is custom. The recommended tip is around $10 per day for guides, $8 per day for cooks, and $3-$5 per day for porters. So for a trip allowing for tip increases due to exceptional service, for a 10-day trip with 2 guides, 2 cooks, and 12 porters, a suggested tipping scheme would be $200 per guide, $160 per cook, and $360 split between the porters. When you (inevitably) arrive back at your hotel, a hot shower and long sleep will be miraculous. Now begins a tough period as you must leave the people, place, and time that was truly a personal journey of challenge and accomplishment. Coming down an African mountain, you think about the word “safari” that isn’t in reference to a trip into the Serengeti (which translated means “endless plains”), but to the Swahili term for “journey”. Your safari up Kilimanjaro was indeed an incredible journey. Once back at home, your journey will not be understood by many people. How could they possibly understand what you’ve experienced? Only those who’ve been to this special mountain will understand.

9.1. Rest and relaxation

Though it is tempting to return to Arusha and the comforts of the Keys Hotel, it is wiser to “rest up” in Horombo and avoid the long descent and re-ascent. This should be a time to relax and enjoy the mountain, reflecting on the experience of the previous days. A short hike to the Zebra Rocks is highly recommended in aiding acclimatization. The last water point on the Marangu Route is an hour and a half walk away, and the path to it is well-worn. If you have the energy, it is a good idea to visit Mawenzi Hut, also in the vicinity of the last water point. After resting at Horombo for a night or two, you will feel strong enough to make the trek down to the Marangu Gate. The final night on the mountain is usually spent at the hotel, celebrating the climb and giving out tips to the guides and porters. It is a good idea to finish any leftover food and drink, as the porters will be happy to take anything off your hands. In the morning it is best to sort through your gear and divide it into what you will keep and what you will leave to the porters. This is the time to give back any hired gear before it is too late. The last descent to the gate will take around 6 hours and is quite a bone-jarring affair, but there are some good views of the mountain and the bush. At the gate you will need to sign out with the park authorities, who will provide proof of your ascent which you can purchase as a memento of your climb.

9.2. Debriefing and reflection

Regardless of how successful your trip was, it is important that you try to learn from it. A good technique for this is the “good, better, best, and how” plan. Split a large piece of paper into four columns and write down all the things that happened on the trip in terms of the specific day (good or bad). Then, for each specific event, ask yourself, was there a better way for that to have happened? And can we do it better next time? This technique can be used not just for personal reflection but also for team and organizational reflection and planning. A more informal way of doing this is to sit in a team and have a bit of fun discussing “the most ridiculous moment on the trip” and try to learn something from it.

After your physical recovery, time should be set aside for mental and emotional recovery. A debriefing session can be a big help. This can be done in a guided manner with a counselor or just informally amongst yourselves as a team. While on the mountain, many of your feelings and emotions will have been suppressed because you have had to concentrate so hard on the task at hand. It is not uncommon for these feelings to manifest themselves in peculiar ways once you get down from the mountain. There are many ways to facilitate a debriefing session. You may want to express feelings through art, poetry, or storytelling or just talk about them. This should be a positive opportunity for personal growth and improved team dynamics.

10. Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, there are certain times of the year that are better than others to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Although the mountain can be climbed year-round, the best time of year for weather is generally late June through October. During the dry seasons, the mountain is more stable which means less rain, less snow, and a lower chance of mistakenly sliding off a slope. November is also an acceptable month to climb the mountain (if you don’t mind rain), but it is not recommended to climb Kili April through early June as this is the rainy season. When you have bad weather on Kilimanjaro, it generally means a lot of rain/snow on the first day, drizzle through the rest of the days, and then heavy rain/snow on the last day. Nobody wants to be all wet and cold while they are climbing a mountain, it is uncomfortable and harder to reach the summit in these conditions. While some visitors enjoy the beauty of the lush and the spectacular wild flowers, it can be a less desirable time to climb Kilimanjaro because the mountain is obscured by clouds and there are few other tourists. On the upside, the crowds will be smaller during the off-peak seasons.

10.1. What is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

What is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro? The best time to climb Kilimanjaro is during the dry season. There are two dry seasons in Tanzania, the main one being from the end of June to the end of October and the shorter one, which is less reliable, is from the beginning of January to the end of mid-March. Climbing can be arranged at any time of year, but the probability of success and the enjoyment of the climb are less during the rainy season. This is particularly true for the summit attempt when the chances of good visibility and a successful summit are greatly reduced. The driest and warmest conditions are from December to March, which is the best period for climbing Kilimanjaro. During the wetter months the mountain may still be climbed, with the dry northern side being a preferable location. However, it is important to be prepared for some rain during the climb and to make sure that the right equipment and clothing are taken to ensure warmth and comfort. On the northern side it is possible to do some climbs to high altitude in the wet season as an acclimatization exercise for a climb of Mt. Meru, as this mountain can be climbed throughout the year with an acceptable level of safety and enjoyment.

10.2. Can I climb Kilimanjaro without a guide?

Can I climb Kilimanjaro without a guide? The simple answer is no. Over the past three to four years, not a month has gone by without one climber being reported lost on Kilimanjaro. Some of these people have never been found. In almost all of these instances, the climbers were without a guide. Apart from the off chance of getting lost, climbers who attempt Kilimanjaro without a guide are risking their lives. In the high altitude mountain environment, people can sustain potentially fatal injuries or illness. This is because the human body is not designed to function above 3000 meters and altitude sickness can be life threatening. Usually, it is experienced mountain guides that are forced to call helicopters for injured climbers. Without a guide, who knows the symptoms of altitude sickness and other illnesses, your life is being risked. Medical evacuation on Kilimanjaro is very difficult and can take a very long time. Only with a qualified and registered guide can reduce your risk of something going wrong on Kilimanjaro. Guides are experienced in dealing with injury and illness and are much more prepared than the average climber. With a guide on Kilimanjaro, you are in safe hands.

10.3. What is the success rate of reaching the summit?

The overall success rate on Kilimanjaro is roughly 65% – varying slightly with the choice of route. You’re sure to have the best chance possible as Kandoo put the overall success rate on our climbs at around 95%. Success rates can be dramatically improved with the correct acclimatisation process and quality infrastructure including staff, food and medical evacuation coverage. We have outlined exactly how we will help you to achieve the best possible chance of reaching the summit. Success rates when using the Northern Circuit or Lemosho routes are around 80%. Rongai is about 70% and Machame, Marangu and Umbwe are about 60%. This is well worth considering when choosing a route. On summit night the success rate can be as high as 90% due to the quality of our summit support and what you have learned from this article.


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May 2, 2024
[…] summit. Studies have shown that the slower the ascent, the higher the success rate. Note: for those planning to climb Kilimanjaro, the Western Breach route has a very good acclimatization schedule because it approaches the […]

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