"Only Those who will Risk going too Far, Can possibly find out how Far they Can Go" - T.S. Elliot
All over the internet you will see Kilimanjaro is walk up and anyone can do it. Although it is a walk up and anyone can do it, don’t underestimate this mountain. It is high elevation, you need to have physical fitness, summit day is brutal and will humble you, and remember only about 50% of people make it to the top on their first attempt. We saw at least 4 or 5 helicopters evacuate people on summit day, several people turned around or were helped down the mountain, and one man in particular was being carried off the summit by two porters, which I have to admit messed with the mental strength of our group during our ascent.
Coming into this trip, we as a group, did a lot of research, but didn’t have many people to speak to directly to get some insights as to what advice to take and what to leave. So, we trained hard and brought everything that was recommended, as my motto in life has always been: “I’d rather have it and not need it, than need or want something and not have it.” With more experience that packing list can be whittled down to the essentials, but I am just not there yet, and decided to trust the Internet. Based on reviews we went with the company Climbing Kilimanjaro, they were also on the affordable side of spectrum, and from what I gathered all the companies eat the same food and sleep at the same camps, so what was that extra cost getting them.. I guess I’ll never know. The following highlights are based on questions I have been asked by several people offline picking my brain to help prepare them for their upcoming trip.
1. The most critical piece of advice I can offer is to KEEP EATING and DRINK WATER. Way more water than you would on an average day. People who started feeling the altitude stopped doing this and that was their demise, ultimately leading them to retreat down the mountain. Altitude makes you not want to drink or eat, but you just need to keep putting it in, even if it makes you sick. Don’t get stuck in the trap of “maybe it was something you ate or drank”. Tourism is the main income in Tanzania, so they make sure everything they give you is as safe as possible. People who got sick, as soon as they got below a certain elevation, felt completely normal almost instantly. Many people will get sick at the same elevation, so it’s easy to think it was something you ate.
Diamox - Take the Diamox if you doctor deems it safe for you, especially if you are from a low elevation. I almost didn’t take it, as living in Colorado I am pretty good with the altitude; but decided I put in all this money and all this effort to get here, I might as well give myself the best chance possible. A few started taking it once they were already sick, and it was just too late for the Diamox to do its thing.
Ginger and anti-diarrheals – I brought ginger chewable tablets, and I was handing those bitches out like candy to our group. Also, several needed the help of anti-diarrheals… bring them you’ll need them, or someone near you will.
Ibuprofen – Many people also suffered altitude headaches, and lots of Ibuprofen was getting tossed about.
Malaria – we all stopped this once we started taking the Diamox, as taking them together can upset your stomach, but this is a conversation for you and your doctor
Electrolytes – although not a medication, this is important to keep your health especially if you start getting ill. They serve lots of salty soup and fruit, so they are also getting you stuff you need with every meal.
3. Gear and Luggage
You don’t need mountaineering boots just a good pair of hikers. I saw 3 people wearing them near the summit. Although I have mountaineering boots, I did not bring them, as you do not need them for this mountain. Well, unless you have some special route planned that you intend to do some climbing. Mountaineering boots are heavy, inflexible, and really used if you need to wear Crampons, or plan to rock/ice climb… neither of which you will be doing on Kilimanjaro. We saw some world class mountaineers on that mountain and they were wearing damn near a tennis shoe.
We were all so focused on gear, but if you have what you need to sleep warm, wool things, and some good rain gear, you will be fine. We had 2 people whose luggage got lost in transit and between a few of us sharing equipment and the rental equipment from Climbing Kilimanjaro those people made it to the top with very little. That being said, fly to Tanzania a few days before your hike to give yourself time for lost luggage. I you don’t have the time to do this bring as many of your critical essentials in your carry-on as you can. Lock your checked bag. Also give yourself a few days after to relax before the long flight. I made the mistake of getting on the plane the day after hiking off the mountain, and I really regret that.
4. Money – Bring plenty of cash to tip. I went through $500 USD. This is compulsory as well as a huge part of their culture to show thanks. It took 37 porters, 4 assistant guides, 1 main guide, and 2 cooks to get 11 of us to the top. They make it possible for you so treat them as the essential piece of the equation that they are. They work hard, just think there are 2 people that were cleaning our little porta toilets and carrying them up the mountain, when more than half of the group were having bowel issues. We tipped those guys big.
5. Trust the Guides – These guys go to school for about a year and are certified guides. Our lead guide, Gipson, has summited this mountain over 250 times. They know what they are talking about, so if they tell you to hike slowly (POLE POLE) hike slowly. They are doing it for a reason, even if the tempo is brutally slow, you will realize on summit day what they were preparing you for.
6. Temperature – Lots of people have asked me how cold it was. I feel it is pretty relative to you and your experience. I don’t feel it ever got below 20 degrees F. For me that isn’t cold. I am from Wisconsin, currently live in Colorado, and enjoy winter camping. I found myself perfectly comfortable in my Nemo 0 degree bag and merino wool liner, wearing only a light set of wool long underwear. Others from warmer climates were very cold, wearing lots of clothes to bed, and putting hot Nalgene’s in the foot of their sleeping bags. I was overheating at night and found myself taking off my socks. Body heat is a personal game, so all I can say is be prepared for what you need as an individual.
Okie dokie. I feel that covers the information I found the most important from this trip, for those of you planning on going in the near future. My next article will tell the story, feelings, struggles, and joy of us up there. Thanks for joining