The iconic Kilimanjaro draws thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year, and that’s no surprise. Conquering a 19,341 foot high snow-capped mountain on the equator sounds absolutely awesome, and if Kilimanjaro is one of your goals for the near future, this guide is what you need. Before you make your final packing list for the Kilimanjaro climb, it’s worth knowing what to expect while scaling the Roof of Africa.
1. Be ready for dramatic weather changes
Towering at 19,341 feet above sea level, the majestic Kilimanjaro is tall enough to create its own weather systems. Monsoons that carry moisture from the ocean are interrupted by the mountain, which means high winds, heavy rains and snowfalls.
Since Kilimanjaro is located only 205 miles from the equator, it doesn’t experience wide temperature changes from season to season. Instead, the temperatures depend on the altitude and the time of day. During the ascent, the temperatures gradually drop as you go through the mountain’s five ecological zones. Get this: the average temperature at the base of the mountain is around 21 to 30°C and at the summit, the night time temperatures can range between -7 and -29°C. Also, no matter the altitude, it gets significantly colder when the sun goes down.
Although most Kilimanjaro climbs take place in the dry seasons (early December — early March, late June — late October), rain and snow are possible at any time of the year. All in all, you need to be equally ready for hot and sunny weather as well as chilly wind, rain, snow and freezing temperatures. So pack proper clothes and don’t forget about sunglasses, a warm head cover as well as a sun hat. Also, bring a good pair of waterproof hiking boots and a fresh pair of socks for each day on the mountain.
2. It’s a multi-day trip
Mount Kilimanjaro is technically a walk-up, the easiest one to scale from the Seven Summits. However, it takes seven days on average to reach its highest point — the Uhuru Peak. The main reason for a slow and steady ascent is to allow you to better adjust to the altitude. In fact, hikers who pick an 8 or 9-day route have a much stronger chance of summiting: the more time you spend on the mountain acclimatizing, the higher your chances of reaching the top. So get physically and mentally ready to spend five to nine days walking up the mountain, sleeping in the tent, taking a bath with a small bucket of water and wearing hiking boots most of the time.
3. Know about the altitude sickness
If you reside at sea level, your body is used to a certain concentration of oxygen in the air you breathe in. The concentration of oxygen gradually reduces when you’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro until it is about 40% less than sea level at its summit. This triggers certain responses from your body. The one you can feel is the increasing respiration rate, as our body tries to compensate for lower oxygen levels by taking more frequent and deeper breaths. In fact, our body undergoes a range of changes you might not feel, like producing bigger amounts of red blood cells and special enzymes that help partially replenish the oxygen supply. When our body isn’t able to compensate for the lack of oxygen any more, the symptoms of acute mountain sickness start to appear. They include throbbing headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness and inability to fall asleep at night. With proper acclimatization, the symptoms pass in a day, or less.
Apart from the above-mentioned acute mountain sickness, there exist two more types of altitude sickness: high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which are life threatening and require immediate medical attention.
The best thing to prevent mountain sickness is to choose a longer route, giving your body more time to acclimatise. What is more, you can achieve a smoother acclimatization transition if you sleep at lower altitudes than you have reached. These two things combined make perfect conditions for successful acclimatization. In fact, it’s the route you pick that really matters. Consider the Lemosho Route, chosen by the team at Follow Alice. The route takes nine days and the camps situated along it are strategically located in the lows of the trail, which enables “sleeping low and hiking high” for more efficient adaptation to high altitudes. Actually, this is one of the reasons why the Lemosho success rate is so impressive.
4. There is no Wi-Fi and electricity on Kilimanjaro
In Tanzania, Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t reliable even in small towns, say nothing of Kilimanjaro. You also need to know that cell service there is very spotty. During each day, you may have only one or two chances to make a call or send a text message. In case you need to use your phone, ask your guides for help. They have climbed Kilimanjaro multiple times and can tell you when and where you might be able to get a signal.
In addition, there is no electricity on the mountain, which means that you won’t have any opportunity to charge your phone or camera. To be able to keep in touch with your loved ones and take photos, stock up on enough portable external batteries to last the entire climb.
5. The summit night is really tough
In most cases, trek groups set off for their summit attempt at around midnight, which is, without any doubt, both a physical and mental challenge. Sometimes it’s called the summit day because the climb finishes late in the afternoon. During this time hikers trek up to the summit and then hike about half of the way back down the mountain, making this day the hardest of all, but the most rewarding too.
Starting the last part of the hike at night allows you to arrive back at the foot of the mountain at daytime. What is more, when you set off at midnight, you’ll be rewarded by a breathtaking sunrise almost at the top of Kilimanjaro.
Be ready that the summit night is bitterly cold, often with fierce wind. In addition, it’s the steepest part of the entire trek, and the hike typically takes 13 to 16 hours. Also, keep in mind that due to the extreme altitude, it can be difficult to breathe. To top it off, many hikers find it intimidating to hike in the darkness.
To wrap it up
A proper preparation means a lot for a successful Kilimanjaro climb. Packing appropriately and knowing what to expect will help you make your adventure trouble-free and more pleasant. We hope your Kilimanjaro climb will be a total success.