Are you a woman wondering if you should climb Kilimanjaro?
This article will address some hesitations that women may have when tackling Africa’s highest peak and why none should prevent you from following your dreams.
Climbing Kilimanjaro requires physical endurance and mental strength. It does not require a bunch of muscle or amazing foot speed.
Women have proven they can excel and can even surpass men in outdoor abilities. On Kilimanjaro, the percentage of climbers reaching the summit varies. But it depends on the route selection (longer routes have higher success rates), not by gender. This has been my experience during ten years of mountaineering. And this fact has been confirmed by the climb records at Peak Planet. Put in the time to train and be prepared for hiking at elevation, and you have as good a chance as anyone else summiting Kilimanjaro.
Yes, you can climb the mountain!
Safety is always a primary consideration, especially for women wanting to travel in a foreign country.
Booking your trip through a reputable company like Peak Planet is a must. Because of their attention to detail during all aspects of the trip, I personally felt very safe the entire time I was in Tanzania. I traveled with my sister. We were met at the airport by a professional driver and delivered to our pre-climb hotel. Every staff person we encountered was friendly, kind, and helpful. At the hotel we were comfortable and well cared for. After our climb, we booked a short safari through Peak Planet. The drivers, guides, and accommodations allowed us to feel completely safe the entire time.
What about feeling safe on the mountain itself? If you sign up for a group trip, you will be with six to twelve other like-minded guests. On our trip there were eight women and five men. In my experience with guided group climbs, I have found that there are usually as many women as men in the group. In addition to the other guests, there may even be females on staff. On my trip we had female porters and even a female guide. In short, you will be in the company of other climbers and the professional crew. They will quickly feel like extended family, looking out for one another on the mountain. The management at Peak Planet noted that there has not been even a single incident with regards to a female client’s safety on a trip in over 14 years of operating.
Are you concerned about privacy and going to the toilet on a mountain in a mixed group of people?
This should not be the thing that keeps you from having the adventure of a lifetime. Whatever you do, do not limit your fluid intake to avoid having use the toilet on the trail or during the night! Staying well hydrated is one of the best things you can do to prevent altitude sickness. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and expect to have to go to the toilet.
In camp, Peak Planet provides clean, comfortable, porta-potty type toilets that are set up in little tents for complete privacy. Inside are plastic toilets that are regularly emptied and cleaned by a special porter (tip him well!). You will appreciate that these private toilets are provided for every group when you get a whiff of the public toilets.
On the trail, some of the mid-day break areas have designated outhouse type toilets. However, when in the wilderness, there will be times when you have to go and there is no toilet nearby. Depending on what section of trail you’re on, there may be trees, or bushes, or large rocks to hide behind. Because everyone has to go, your group will come up with a plan that works for all members such as – guys go to the left, gals go to the right, and no one turns around until the last person says they’re done. Your guides experience this with new people every day. They will ensure that everyone’s privacy is respected.
If you are drinking the recommended 4-5 liters of fluid per day, expect to go to the toilet several times at night. Some people don’t mind getting up to use the toilet-tent and enjoy the view of a spectacular night sky. Others can’t stand the idea of getting out of that warm sleeping bag.
Men have it easy; they often bring an extra water bottle to pee in at night. If staying in the tent appeals to you, there are small, portable women’s urinals that allow you to aim a urine stream in the same way a guy does so that you can use a pee-bottle at night too. Several companies make these products: pStyle, Freshette, and GoGirl, are a few. Personally, I have never used one (I enjoy the view of the night sky) but I know women who do use them. My best advice is to practice with it at home first. You will want to be confident that you’re not going to have any leaks before using it in a dark tent.
Do you worry about getting too cold in these extreme conditions?
I get cold easily. But I found that by following the Peak Planet gear list I had all of the clothing and equipment I needed to stay warm. The list includes base layers, insulating layers, outer shell layers, warm insulated mittens, good quality socks, and a warm cap. These items will go a long way toward keeping you toasty during the trek. If you don’t already have an expedition weight down parka, consider renting one from Peak Planet to stay comfortable on the coldest days.
The nights on Kilimanjaro are chilly. I’m generally a cold sleeper (someone who finds themselves waking up feeling cold at night). But the foam pad and sleeping bag available through Peak Planet were plenty warm.
The sleeping pad is included in your basic trip cost. The sleeping bag is available for rent (totally worth it!). It has a comfort rating of zero degrees Fahrenheit.
If you plan to bring your own sleeping bag, make sure you understand the rating systems, as they can be confusing. There’s a survival rating and a comfort rating and those are different for men and women. Women tend to sleep colder than men. Unless your bag is specifically rated for women, the rating is often advertising the temperature at which a man could survive overnight. It’s easy to look at this rating and think, “I have a 20-degree bag and it’s going to get down to 20 degrees tonight, I should be fine.” But surviving is not the same as being comfortable. I have a 0-degree bag and it’s the one I choose to be comfortable if it’s going to get down to 30 degrees at night. So, don’t be misled by the sleeping bag rating system. You want a sleeping bag rated to 0-degrees or lower.
There are other ways to stay warm at night. My favorite tip is to put a pair of chemical hand-warmers between my liner socks and outer socks to keep my toes warm in the sleeping bag. You can bring a lightweight sleeping bag liner can add up to 10 degrees of warmth. Finally, you can also wear your hat, fleece jacket, fleece pants or down jacket as well if needed. It is nearly impossible to still be cold with the combination of hand warmers, cold weather apparel, down sleeping bag, foam sleeping pad and tent, even on the most extreme weather nights.
Here’s an extra tip: be sure to change into a clean set of base layer clothing when you arrive in camp at the end of the day. Clothes that you have sweated in will not keep you as warm as clean clothes, even if they feel dry.
If at any time you still feel unsure about your safety, privacy, or comfort, seek out one of the guides. They will do whatever they can to see that you are comfortable, happy, and have a successful climb.
This is a challenge that will demand your full effort. You should not have to waste precious energy feeling any hesitation just because you’re a woman. With Peak Planet, you can be confident that your safety, privacy, and comfort are taken care of. That leaves you free to have a great climb.