Climbing Kilimanjaro

If you find this guide useful, you can download the PDF for only $3: Climbing Kilimanjaro Guide

climbing_kilimanjaro

 

Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895m)

 

Mt Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano located in Tanzania, just south of the Kenyan border. It holds the title of the largest freestanding mountain in the world, rising abruptly out of the flat plains that surround this giant monolith. It consists of 3 volcanic cones, the largest (and most commonly climbed) is ‘Kibo’, what many confuse to be Kilimanjaro itself.

It was first Climbed by German Hans Meyer in 1889 after 3 attempts. One stat that will probably blow the mind of anyone who’s climbed Kili; the speed record for fastest ascent/descent is 6 hours and 42 minutes, held by mountain guide Karl Egloff. The youngest to climb was American Keats Boyd, who reached the summit at the grand old age of 7.

The name Kilimanjaro and its origins are completely unknown, the local Wachagga people don’t even have a name for it. The main peak ‘Uhuru’, commonly mistaken for Kilimanjaro itself, was named after the Swahili word for ‘freedom’ soon after Tanzania gained independence.

 

There are 5 climatic zones you will encounter on a typical route up Kilimanjaro, spanning roughly 1,000m each;

Cultivated Zone(800m-1800m)- Due to the high annual rainfall and run-off rivers, this is used as farmland. There are a number of villages scattered around the base of the mountain, producing bananas and some of Africa’s best coffee.

Forest (1800m-2800m)- This is where most climbers begin there ascent. Again receiving high rainfall, this has given rise to a diverse array of flora and even fauna, although getting the chance to see any wildlife can be rare. Your best bet of seeing baboons, blue monkeys, elephants and buffalo are on the more remote routes such as Rongai.

Heather & Moorland (2800m-4000m)- Vegetation starts to thin out dramatically and a  large array of wildflowers can be viewed in this climatic zone at certain times of the year. The sun becomes much harsher and the strong U.V exposure can make climbing vary uncomfortable for those without the proper protection. This may also be the first time you spot the main peaks of Uhuru and Mawenzi rising up in front of you.

Highland Desert (4000m-5000m)- One of the strangest regions you may ever encounter, it truly is a desert, receiving less than 200ml of rainfall annually. There is little plantlife and the area is strewn with remnants of the volcanic activity that once took place here.

Arctic (5000m-5895m)- Arctic conditions in Africa? Once you make it up the steep scree path to the volcanic rim you will encounter the famous glaciers on top of Mt Kilimanjaro. These are vanishing rapidly and it is thought they may be gone altogether in 30 years. Truly a spectacular site, a once in a lifetime spectacle for many who make it this far.

A frozen leopard was found on the summit ridge as immortalised in Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro. What it was doing there can only be guessed at, potential food sources had stopped over a vertical kilometre below. There have been reports of other local animals ascending high on Kilimanjaro, none which tops that impressive feat however.

Recommended Reading 

 

The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Ernest HemmingwayDSCN0456

Kilimanjaro: The trekkers guide to Africas highest mountain: Henry Stedman

Africa: A Biography of the Continent: John Reader

The Tree Where Man Was Born: Peter Matthiessen

Key Phrases to Learn

 

English is pretty prevalent in the region so you shouldn’t have too much trouble but it wouldn’t hurt to know a few words of the local Swahili dialect. At least you’ll be able to understand the guides when they’re talking to you..

Swahili_language

Swahili is the national language of the highlighted region above.

 

  • Hello = Jambo / hujambo / Salama
  • How are you? = Habari gani
  • Goodbye = Kwa heri / Kwa herini (more than one peson)
  • Goodnight = Lala salama
  • Thank you = Asante
  • Thank you very much = Asante sana
  • Please = Tafadhali
  • OK = Sawa
  • Excuse me = Samahani
  • Friend = Rafiki
  • Today = leo
  • Tomorrow = kesho
  • Yesterday = jana
  • I’d like = nataka …
  • Food = chakula
  • Water = maji
  • Meat = nyama
  • Chicken = nyama kuku
  • Fish = sumaki
  • Animal = wanyama
  • Lion= Simba
  • *Slowly= Pole Pole (A favourite phrase when hiking on Kilimanjaro)
  • Headache = umwa kichwa
  • Diarrhoea = harisha/endesha
  • Vomiting = tapika
  • Medicine = dawa
  • I’m sick = mimi ni mgonjwa
  • I need a doctor = nataka kuona daktari
  • It hurts here = naumwa hapa

Before the Climb

Getting There

 

There are several ways to get to Moshi, the town that sits at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro;

-Fly direct to Kilimanjaro (JRO). Flights direct from Amsterdam, Nairobi and several other ports throughout Africa.

 

-Bus Via Dar Es Salaam. Departs daily. The ride takes 7-8 hours and costs approximately $20. *You may want to splash out and buy 2 seats if you’re a larger person. The seats are pretty tiny.

 

-Shuttle Via Nairobi. Crosses the Tanzanian border (which can be a mad-house). A host of different companies to choose from, all roughly the same price. The ride takes around 7 hours and costs around $40 one-way. Recommended companies are:

Riverside Shuttles (Depart 8:15 & 1:45 daily. Cost $40 one-way)

Marangu Shuttles (Depart 8 & 2 daily. Cost $35 one-way)

 

Visa

You can apply for a Tanzanian visa on arrival, either at the airport or border crossing if you are arriving from Kenya. Fees are $100 for U.S passport holders and $50 for basically everyone else. Make sure to bring a completed visa application form with you (can be downloaded from your local embassy website) and the exact amount in cash.

Technically, you are supposed to have proof of yellow fever inoculations in order to receive the visa. I believe this is fairly lax however (they never asked to see mine..lucky, because I didn’t have any!)

 

When to Climb

Technically you can trek up Mt Kilimanjaro year-round and most guided services (particularly local) will be happy to do the same. There are certainly periods that are more recommended than others, some guides shutting down over the less popular ones. Your choice will depend on whether you are happy with sharing the experience with a number of other climbers, or whether you wish to avoid crowds and put up with the conditions that drive them away.

The recommended (peak) climbing seasons correlate to the ‘dry seasons’, which run from January-March and June-October. For the most part, these months receive less rain than the rest of the year, the main deterrent for most prospective hikers. Other factors such as visibility and cold also play a factor in most people’s decision. Check the table below to see the inverse relationship between crowds and rainfall.

 

MONTH RAINFALL TEMPERATURE CROWDS
January Medium Warm High
February Medium Warm High
March High Moderate Low
April High Moderate Low
May High Moderate Low
June Medium Cold Medium
July Medium Cold High
August Low Cold High
September Low Moderate High
October Low Moderate Medium
November High Moderate Low
December Medium Moderate Medium

Choosing a Route

None of the other summits provide the plethora of routes available to novice climbers as on Kilimanjaro. There are predominantly 6 key routes on offer, certain guide operations may have a ‘unique’ option, although it tends to be a slight variant on one of those listed below.. From the landscape & wildlife, to crowds and acclimatisation factors, each of these offers a different experience and perspective on your traverse up Kilimanjaro.

*Most guides and other experienced trekkers recommend at least 7 days to ensure you are fully acclimatised and don’t succumb to altitude sickness on the way up.

 

Below are the Kilimanjaro success rates as reported by Kilimanjaro National Park(2006):

  • All climbers, all routes                   45%
  • All climbers, all 5 day routes         27%
  • All climbers, all 6 day routes        44%
  • All climbers, all 7 days routes       64%
  • All climbers, all 8 day routes        85%

 

Mt_Kilimanjaro_porters

 

Marangu (5-6 days)

The most popular Trek on Kilimanjaro (often termed the ‘coca-cola’ route) it is the oldest and most well-established, offering huts at each of the 3 camps along the way. Due to it’s popularity and the relative ‘comfort’ provided by the huts, it is usually full of other trekkers no matter what season you go (it is also used as the descent route from several others such as Rongai).

It’s generally seen as the ‘easiest’ due to the gentle slope that gradually works its way towards the summit. It is also the quickest, not only being closest to the township, but also because it is generally done in 5-6 days. This has a downside however, in that it offers less chance of acclimatisation, resulting in a lower summit success rate than some of the longer routes. This may also be influenced by a larger number of unfit and unprepared climbers choosing this option.

Pros

-Cheapest

-‘Easiest’ (least physically demanding slope)

-Dormitory style Huts (particularly useful during rainy season)

Cons

-Poor acclimatisation

-Crowded

-Packed accommodation w/poor sanitation

-Not the most diverse scenery

 

Machame (6-7 days)

Known as the ‘whiskey route’ (as opposed to the easier ‘coca cola’ offered by Marangu) it is the second, if not now the most popular route up the mountain. It is well known as one of the most beautiful routes, offering a variety of landscape visages, flora and fauna on the ascent, as well as on the descent down the Mweka route.

It is harder than Marangu, being steeper with longer days. Recommended to those who are pretty confident of their condition and ability to handle long days and fairly quick acclimatisation.

Pros

-Beautiful scenery

-Cost-effective 6 day option

Cons

-High crowds

-Physically harder

 

Shira (6-7 days)

Like the more popular Lemosho route, Shira kicks off on the western side of the mountains. It starts off as a 4wd track, with the option to drive right up to a starting elevation of 3,600m. This allows for the possibility of a shorter trek but often means problems with acclimatisation from day 1. From camp 2, it merges with the Machame route and also descends down Mweka. One of the less utilised routes, it means there are far less crowds

Pros

  • Less crowded
  • Great scenery

Cons

  • Altitude problems
  • More expensive

 

Lemosho (7-8 days)

One of the newer routes on the mountain and highly recommended from most guides and operators due a couple of key factors. Firstly, it requires a minimum of 7 days, meaning a slow & gradual ascent; great for acclimatisation. For this reason, it has the highest summit success rate out of any of the main options. Secondly, it is regarded as one of, if not the most scenic route on Kilimanjaro. Beginning in remote, wildlife filled rainforest, Lemosho slowly works up the west side of the mountain before descending south, offering great panoramic views of the mountain. However due to it’s location on the west side & the length of the trek, it is likely the most expensive option (probably another reason why guide operators love it).

Pros

  • High chance of summit success (due to acclimatisation)
  • Beautiful & diverse scenery
  • Less crowded (mostly during first 2 days)

Cons

  • Can be physically demanding (due to terrain and length of trek)
  • More expensive

 

Rongai (6-7 days)

Rongai is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, meaning a long drive from Moshi to get to the starting point. On the positive side, this has traditionally meant far fewer crowds, although that is starting to change. Still classed as more of a wilderness route, Rongai is also seen as one of, if not the easiest option, a fairly gentle slope for the duration up to Kibo hut, where it joins Marangu for the final summit push.

Pros

  • The northern side sees less precipitation
  • Easy climb
  • Less crowded
  • High summit success rate (due to ease and ‘climb high-sleep low’ dynamic)

Cons

  • Seen as less scenic
  • More expensive than other 6-day options

 

Mt_kilimanjaro_view

 

Umbwe (6-7 days)

Approaching from the south side of the mountain, Ubwe is viewed as the hardest route, usually attracting more experienced climbers seeking a challenge. Most guide operators recommend avoiding it after a rockfall killed 3 climber in 2006, but still list it as an option for those wanting to access the Western Breach, a dangerous approach requiring scrambling and a great deal of exposure.

Pros

  • Spectacular views
  • Far fewer climbers

Cons

  • Very physically demanding
  • Poor Acclimatisation (takes 2 days to get to the same point as day 3 on Machame)

 

Choosing a Guide

 

International or local?

Out of any of the 7 Summits, Kilimanjaro has by far the most options for choosing a guide. There are a truly incredible array of services to choose from, both locally operated and large international companies. Whichever you choose is a personal decision and dependent on the level of comfort you want on your trip. Generally, the foreign-run guide services provide extra comfort and a few additional perks to the local guides, such as a portable chemical toilet, newer equipment etc..

These of course, come with a price and international services tend to charge a lot more, sometimes double the amount of those operating at the base of the mountain. If you are looking for a comfortable but basic service that provides everything you need to get you to the top at a reasonable price, you will do fine going with a local service such as one of the ones listed below.

* The Kilimanjaro Porter Assitance Project (KPAP) is a good feature to look out for, indicating that the guide takes good care of there porters and provides adequate pay and conditions. They are after all, going to be looking after you so it is nice to know they aren’t being taken advantage of.

 

Standard Inclusions for guided services (any additional services, or standard services which are not included, will get a mention in the guide reviews below.)

– Park Fees

– Transfer to & from hotel from Kilimanjaro airport

– Hotel accommodation 1 night before and 1 night after climb

– Transport to and from trailhead

– All support staff on route (guides, porters & cooks)

– All food and water on the mountain.

– Tents

– Emergency oxygen supply

 

Out of the hundreds of expeditions operating on Mt Kilimanjaro, it can be a royal pain the ass narrowing it down to the 1 which best suits your needs. I’ve listed several guide services below, from all different price ranges and included a little info about what they offer and what sets them apart. These services have consistently received high reviews and ratings on various sites on the web. I’ve linked to their own websites so you can do a little more research and choose one which best suits your needs.

 

International Guide Services

  • Price est: $2375 for 6 day Rongai, $3,025 for 8 day Lemosho
  • Member of Kilimanjaro’s Porter Assistance Project (KPAP)
  • Includes portable toilet tent

 

  • Prices est: $2,316 for 6 day Rongai, $2,952 for 8 day Lemosho
  • Offer ‘lite’ options for climbers who want to be more self-sufficient (at a reduced cost)
  • 707 mountain staff, offers a huge range of options and flexibility

 

  • Cost est: $2,230 for 7 day Machame, $2,490 for 8 day Lemosho
  • Welcome package w/journal, tips etc.. (nice perk)
  • Portable chemical toilets

 

Local Guide Services

  • Price est:$1,778 for Rongai 6 day, $2,468 for Lemosho 8 day (8 person group)
  • Doesn’t include accommodation before & after climb

 

  • Price est: $1575 for 6 day Rongai, $1,999 for 8 day Lemosho
  • Provide Sleeping bag, trekking poles & other necessary gear such as down jacket, water bottles etc.. at no extra cost
  • Twice a day health check up (pulse & oxygen monitoring)

 

  • Price est: To be determined..

 

*If you’re willing to take a bit of a risk and save yourself a few dollars, you can always book in the town of Moshi itself. Not only is this a far cheaper option, you can meet and talk to the crew before you climb with them, always an advantage. There is always the risk of not finding someone suitable when you intend to go, but most are fairly flexible.

Mt_kilimanjaro_crash

 

Training & Preparation

 

Physical Training

The object of this training program is to ensure you can handle trekking for multiple hours a day for several days in a row over relatively steep terrain.

 

Training Routine

*Note- This routine below assumes you have a decent base level of fitness, as it starts 4 months out from the expedition. You should have been doing some moderate physical activity at least 3-4x per week prior to commencing this. If not, spend 2 months prior building up to training 4 days a week and get comfortable with that proposition.

#Climbing/hiking at altitude will be the best possible type of training. The below program assumes you live at sea level and don’t have access to any significant elevation gain.

 

Example Training Schedule
4 MONTHS OUT 3 MONTHS OUT 2 MONTHS OUT 1 MONTH OUT
MON STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH
TUE CARDIO: 40m CARDIO: 50m CARDIO: 1 hour CARDIO: 1:15
WED OFF OFF OFF OFF
THUR STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH END STRENGTH END
FRI CARDIO: 40m CARDIO: 50m CARDIO: 1 hour OFF
SAT OFF HIKING: 3 hours HIKING: 4 hours HIKING: 5 hours
SUN OFF OFF OFF HIKING: 5 hours

 

Strength– Weight training focused around the key muscles used in a Kilimanjaro climb. The primary areas are quads, calves, back and core. You won’t be carrying a lot of weight in your pack but back and core strength will help with balance and improve power generated through the hips and legs. Look to add reps or weight to each exercise every time you’re in the gym. Keep workouts to an hour or less.

Sample Strength Workout

Squats- 3 x 12-15

Step Ups- 3 x 12-15

Pullups- 2 sets max reps

S/S

Dips- 2 sets max reps

Rows- 2 x 10-12

S/S

DB Press- 2 x 10-12

Ab Circuit- 3 sets

Fitball Planks- 1:00

Fitball Bridges- 1:00

Med Ball Double Crunch- 20

Russian Twists- 50

Cardio– Cardio is your aerobic fitness, your bodies ability to effectively utilise oxygen taken in. At altitude, the oxygen levels available for the body to absorb are a great deal less than at sea level. As such, it is necessary to get your heart and lungs in adequate condition to handle the rigours of altitude upto 5,895m and trekking uphill for 6-7 consecutive days.

The best form of cardio you can do (besides hiking up mountains) is on stairs or a stairmaster at the gym. Alternate between running up and down and using a 10kg pack.

For variety, incorporate running and swimming to keep it enjoyable and prevent boredom.

 

Hiking– Aimed at getting you accustomed to trekking for multiple hours a day over varying terrain. Ideally this will be amongst mountainous terrain at altitude, however not everyone lives in close proximity to such landscape in which case a hilly path will do. If even that is hard to find, try a beach (walk up and down sand dunes along the way).

Mt_Climbing_kilimanjaro_sunrise

The oldest person ever to summit Mt Kilimanjaro was 87-year-old Frenchman Valtee Daniel. There goes your excuse..

Itinerary

 

Below are sample but fairly standard itineraries most trekking guides will use. Some may differ slightly and longer/shorter duration climbs will likely alter where you will stay and how far you ascend/descend.

 

Sample Itinerary

Day Marangu 6-Day Machame 7-day Rongai Lemosho
1 Arrive in Moshi Arrive in Moshi Arrive in Moshi Arrive in Moshi
2 Start: Moshi->Moshi Gate->MandaraElevation: 1,400m->2,699mDistance:10km (6 miles) Start: Moshi->Machame Gate->Machame CampElevation: 1,400m->2,979mDistance:13km (6 miles) Start: Moshi->Rongai Gate->Simba CampElevation: 1,400m->2,750mDistance: 9km ( Start: Moshi->Londorossi Gate->Mti MkwubaElevation: 1,400m->2,895mDistance: 6km (4 miles)
3 Start: Mandara->HoromboElevation: 2,699m->3,699mDistance: 13km (8 miles) Start:Machame Camp->Shira PlateauElevation: 2,979m->3,787mDistance:8km (5 miles) Start:Simba Camp->Kikelewa campElevation: 2,750m->3,600mDistance: 17km ( Start:Mt Mkwuba->Shira Camp 1Elevation: 2,895m->3,505mDistance: 8km (
4 Rest Day Start:Shira Plateau->Barranco CampElevation: 3,787m->3,856mDistance: 11km (7 miles) Start:Kikelewa Camp->Mawenzi CampElevation: 3,600m->4,330mDistance: 7km Start:Shira Camp 1-Moir HutElevation: 3,505m->4,200mDistance: 11km (7 miles)
5 Start:Horombo->Kibo HutElevation: 3,699m->4,699mDistance: 13km (8 miles) Start:Barranco Camp-> Karanga CampElevation: 3,856m->3,978mDistance: 5km (3 miles) Start:Mawenzi Camp->Kibo HutElevation: 4,330m->4,695mDistance: 8km ( Start:Moir Hut->Lava Tower->Barranco CampElevation: 4,200->4,630m->3,976mDistance: 10km (6 miles)
6 Start:Kibo Hut->Summit-> Horombo HutElevation: 4,699m->5,895m-> 3,699mDistance: 23km (14 miles) Start:Karanga Camp->Barafu CampElevation: 3,978m->4,633mDistance: 5km (3 miles) Start: Kibo Hut->Summit-> Horombo HutElevation: 4,695m->5,895m-> 3,690mDistance: 23km (14 miles) StartBarranco Camp->Karanga CampElevation: 3,976m->3,995mDistance: 5km (3 miles)
7 Start:Horombo Hut->Marangu GateElevation: 3,699m->1,900mDistance: 23km (14 miles) Start:Barafu Camp->Summit-> Horombo HutElevation: 4,699m->5,895m-> 3,699mDistance: 23km (14 miles) StartHorombo Hut->Marangu GateElevation:3,690m->1,400mDistance23km (14 miles) Start: Karanga Camp->Barafu CampElevation: 3,995m->4,673mDistance: 4km (2 miles)
8 Depart Moshi Start:Horombo Hut->Marangu GateElevation: 3,699m->1,900mDistance: 23km (14 miles) Depart Moshi StartBarafu Camp->Summit->Mweka CampElevation: 4,673m->5,895m->3,068mDistance: 19km (10 miles)
9  Party Depart Moshi  Party Start:Mweka Camp->Mweka GateElevation: 3,o068m->1,640mDistance: 10km (6 miles)
10  Party  Party  Party Depart Moshi

 

 

Required Gear List

 

*Sourced from Ultimate Kilimanjaro

 Clothing

– Waterproof Jacket, breathable with hood
– Insulated Jacket, synthetic or down
– Soft Jacket, fleece or soft-shell
– Long Sleeve Shirt, light-weight, moisture-wicking fabric
– Short Sleeve Shirt, light-weight, moisture-wicking fabric
– Waterproof Pants, breathable (side-zipper recommended)
– Hiking Pants (convertible to shorts recommended)
– Fleece Pants
– Shorts (optional)
– Long Underwear (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
– Underwear, briefs (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
– Sport Bra (women)

Headwear
– Brimmed Hat, for sun protection
– Knit Hat, for warmth
– Balaclava, for face coverage (optional)
– Bandana (optional)

Hand Wear
– Gloves, warm (waterproof recommended)
– Glove Liners, thin, synthetic, worn under gloves for added warmth (optional)

Footwear
– Hiking Boots, warm, waterproof, broken-in, with spare laces
– Gym Shoes, to wear at camp (optional)
– Socks, thick, wool or synthetic
– Sock Liners, tight, thin, synthetic, worn under socks to prevent blisters (optional)
– Gaiters, waterproof (optional)

Accessories
– Sunglasses or Goggles
– Backpack Cover, waterproof (optional)
– Poncho, during rainy season (optional)
– Water Bottle (Nalgene, 32 oz.)
– Water Bladder (Camelbak type, 2-3 liters)
– Towel, lightweight, quick-dry (optional)
– Pee Bottle, to avoid leaving tent at night (recommended)
Stuff Sacks or Plastic Bags, various sizes, to keep gear dry and separate

Equipment
– Sleeping Bag, warm, four seasons
– Sleeping Bag Liner, for added warmth (optional)
– Trekking Poles (recommended)
– Head lamp, with extra batteries
– Duffel bag, for porters to carry your equipment
– Daypack, for you to carry your personal gear

Other
-Toiletries
-Prescriptions
-Sunscreen
-Lip Balm
-Insect Repellent, containing DEET
-First Aid Kit
-Hand Sanitizer
-Toilet Paper
-Wet Wipes (recommended)
-Snacks, light-weight, high calorie, high energy (optional)
-Pencil and Notebook, miniature, for trip log (optional)
-Camera, with extra batteries (optional)

Paperwork
-Trip Receipt
-Passport
-Visa (available at JRO)
-Immunization Papers
-Insurance Documents