If you’re on this website, you’re already making the most important decision that will improve your chances of reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Choosing a quality outfitter, such as Peak Planet, is the start of a successful trip. Selecting the right route makes a big difference as well. In general, the more days you spend on the mountain, the better your body acclimates to the elevation, and the better your odds of reaching the summit.
Once you’ve booked your trip, you’ll want to know what else you can do to achieve your goal. An entire article could be written about each of these, but let’s narrow it down to things you can do before your trip and things to do during your trip.
Before the Climb
1. Fine Tune Your Physical Conditioning
You do not have to be a top athlete to summit Kilimanjaro, but you will have a more enjoyable trip, and be more likely to reach the summit, if you are relatively fit. Choose workouts that simulate the activity you will be doing, which is walking all day. Focus on increasing the duration of the activity rather than increasing speed.
If most of your workouts are in a gym, try to get out hiking or walking over uneven ground whenever possible. If you live in the city, book some weekend hiking trips in the months prior to your departure and find a hotel or stadium in your town with lots of stairs.
Be sure to include training for downhill as well as uphill. Hiking down steep hills requires different muscles than hiking up hill. If you do all of your training on a stair-stepper or inclined treadmill, you have only trained for half of the trip. Having stood on the top of Kilimanjaro myself, I can tell you that coming back down safely is more important than making it to the top!
2. Do a Gear Check
If you’ve been hiking as part of your training, you should already have several pieces of gear you will need. The most important is a pair of comfortable, well broken-in hiking boots. You will also want a variety of clothing for hiking in sun, rain, and extreme cold. Other basics like sunglasses, a hat, and a bandana can go a long way toward protecting you from the elements.
It is really important to go through Peak Planet’s gear list and make sure you have the required kit. The last thing you want to is to be cold, wet or needlessly uncomfortable because you didn’t come properly equipped.
Some items are available for rent from Peak Planet. If you do not have an expedition quality down parka, it would be prudent to rent rather than buy. You can also rent trekking poles, sleeping bags and Altox Personal Oxygen.
3. Get The Right Medicine
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor prior to engaging in new types of activity. While you’re at your doctor’s office, ask what travel medications you should have on hand. Or visit a travel clinic.
There are medications that help the body acclimate to increasing elevations, as well as treat symptoms caused by altitude sickness. Catching a cold on the plane or eating something disagreeable prior to starting your trip could end your chances of making the summit. Consider bringing medications to treat things such as sinus infections and an antibiotic that treats food borne illnesses. Depending on the time of year, and where you will be before and after your trip, you may need medications to protect against malaria.
Peak Planet suggests acquiring Diamox, Ciprofloxacin, Ibuprofen, an anti-malarial, and an anti-diarrhea medication.
During the Climb
4. Don’t Overexert Yourself
All of the porters and guides on the mountain will tell you “Pole, pole” which translates to “Slowly, slowly.” Your body needs time to adjust to lower oxygen in the atmosphere that comes with the increase in elevation. It does that best if you maintain a slow, easy, steady pace.
Sometimes very athletic individuals are less likely to reach the summit because their competitive spirit takes over and they walk too fast. This is one of the most common mistakes. Let the guides set the pace.
In your training, focus on long and slow sessions rather than short and fast training sessions. High altitude trekking is a low intensity but lengthy endeavor. Be the tortoise, not the hare. And remember, there is nothing else you need to do each day but walk to the next camp, so just slow down and enjoy it.
5. Stay Nourished on the Climb
It’s easy to eat and drink less at high altitudes. The elevation can cause a loss of appetite, as can altitude sickness. Additionally, the hydration needs of your body increase at elevation. Drinking four or more liters of water per day, in addition to eating well balanced, regular meals, will give your body the nutrients and hydration it needs to get you to the top.
You might sit down in the dining tent and can’t bear the thought of eating. Eat anyways. Do your best to take in food even if you feel full. Definitely do not skip meals. You’ll only get weaker. The calorie requirement for climbing every day, acclimatizing, and recuperating is enormous. You want to make sure you can keep your energy levels up.
Peak Planet recommends packing two one-liter water bottles along with a two- or three-liter hydration bladder. Additionally, bring some drink mix and your favorite snacks to supplement your meals.
6. Listen to Your Guides
Peak Planet’s mountain guides have led many, many clients to the summit. They want you to make it too and they know what works. When they say go slow, you go slow. When they say to stop and rest, you stop and rest (and eat and drink).
It’s up to you to also listen to your own body. If you start experiencing a headache, upset stomach, blister, or joint pain that is getting worse, say something to your guides. The sooner you can get on top of a symptom while it is still mild, the better chance you have of resolving it.
At the end of the day, know that a successful trip cannot be defined solely by whether or not you make it to the top of the mountain. You can do everything right and still twist an ankle, get sick, or succumb to the physical challenge. Success is measured in the joy of the journey itself, not the destination. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, enjoy every step of the way, and you might just find yourself standing on top of the highest point in Africa.