Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

22 10 2008

You can let me off here, please.                         (Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania)

In 2001, I found myself atop Mount Kilimanjaro less than an hour after leaving the ground. Granted I was actually in an airliner on my way from Zanzibar to Nairobi, but it was still an impressive achievement.


Each year, thousands of people attempt to reach the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain and while most succeed, there are sadly always a few who go home disappointed. Although not a climb that requires any mountaineering experience or technical skill, summitting Mount Kilimanjaro should never be underestimated.


If your ambition is to reach the snows and beyond, there are a few things you should consider.


1)                 Choose a reliable company. There are many stories of guides racing clients up the mountain as quickly as possible until they become tired and sick and voluntarily quit. The trek ends prematurely, everyone returns to base and the operator pockets 5-days of money for 2 days of work.  Be very selective when deciding with whom to climb the mountain: this could well be your one and only chance! Do not be tempted by the lowest price: draw on the expertise of a reputable agent; solicit recommendations or check references. A large part of the success of your attempt lies with your guide and porters.


2)                 There are a number of routes up Kilimanjaro. Consult with your agent or the operator you choose and decide which route best suits you. The Marangu Route is the most popular, often the quickest and generally the least expensive….but it’s also the busiest. Machame is arguably the most visually stunning. Rongai is the most remote of the main routes and is the one that attracts the least number of climbers thereby making it the most quiet. Choose whether you want to maximise your chance of success or the quality of your experience and select your route appropriately.


3)                 Get fit. You don’t have to be superhuman to conquer Kilimanjaro, but you do need to be in good general shape. You don’t do Kili to get into shape, but preparing to do Kili certainly should get you into reasonable shape! Go for long walks or cycle rides, use the stairs in your home or office, head to the gym. Increase your stamina. Most people only get one chance to tackle Kilimanjaro so make sure you are properly prepared.


4)                 Maximise your chances. You’ve got yourself into decent shape. You’ve picked the operator that you feel will best assist you. You’ve chosen your route. You’ve bought decent equipment including hiking boots with ankle support…and you’ve broken them in before leaving. Arrive in Africa several days beforehand to overcome any jet-lag and to ensure that enroute delays don’t scupper your chances before you even arrive. If offered, purchase an extra day on the mountain to assist wth altitude acclimatisation. Do everything you can to make this happen.


5)                 Enjoy it! Climbing Kilimanjaro is about more than just reaching the summit. It’s about experiencing the varied vegetation and terrain from the lush tropical forests near the base, to the icy glacier at the summit. It’s about the views, the wildlife, the fresh air, the crisp mornings, the spectacular sunsets and the silent nights. You never know whether altitude sickness will afflict you even if you’ve never been afflicted before, so enjoy every moment. Be philosophical is bad weather ends your chances. Know when to turn around and call it a day and don’t be devastated if you don’t reach the top. Enjoy every single moment of the trek, do your best and have no regrets later.



Climbing Kilimanjaro is truly a once in a lifetime experience. With proper preparation there’s no reason why you can’t stand on top of Africa.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan




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