It's the tallest free-standing mountain in the world located 325km from the equator.
The mountain defies logic with its glaciated peak.
I will be honest with you, it won't be easy to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
You will sleep on the rocky bottom in a cold tent for days. You are not in reach of the luxury that you have at home (what does a decent toilet look like again?). Your smart phone battery will drain quickly as the temperature is dropping. As you climb higher the altitude sickness kicks in and the headache gets stronger towards the top. Muscles of which you didn't know the existence suddenly feel sore. The climb to the top will be done at night, and you will have to focus on each step you take.
Have you got what it takes to endure all of this? It is certainly worth it! In return for your efforts, you will be able to indulge in the beautiful scenery along the way. Landscapes are ever changing, from the rain forest in the beginning of the hike towards the white glaciers on the top of the mountain. When you finally set foot on the top, with a height of 5895 meters, you will be overwhelmed by the stunning view and the world will suddenly feel very small.
Have a closer look at our day-by-day experience of the climb: Link to the Kilimanjaro blog
And check out our aftermovie! Kilimanjaro aftermovie
It is the highest free standing mountain in the world and the highest mountain of Africa. It's one of the seven summits which makes it an iconic and legendary mountain.
The top of the mountain is called Uhuru peak. There are 2 wooden signboards on the top that indicate the height and congratulate you for having reached the summit.
Where is it located?
The mountain is located on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. Its location is so close to the equator that this region does not suffer under the extremes of summer and winter weather. Instead, it has dry and wet seasons.
When should you go?
The best time to climb this majestic mountain is during the warmest and driest months. This is also when most people take the challenge, so it's usually more more busy.
The chances of a successful climb to the summit increase significantly with dry weather. Rain, mud, snow and ice can make the trail dangerous and it will be difficult to keep the body warm on the higher parts of the mountain.
The warmest period of the year is from January to mid-March. The sky will be clear in the morning and evening, but clouds may appear during the day along with some rain showers. The first rain season starts at the end of March, ending early June. Visibility during that time of the year will be low due to mist and heavy clouds. July and August are a bit colder, with September and October being characterised by more moderate weather conditions. A second rain season starts in November, lasting till the end of December. The sky will be clear, however, in the morning and evening.The table below shows a list of the relative temperature, precipitation, cloudiness and crowds during the calendar months.
Some people prefer to climb to the top during the full moon. The last part of the climb, being one of the hardest and steepest parts, starts around midnight and takes you up to the summit of Kilimanjaro in about 7 hours. Climbing on difficult terrain while it's pitch black is not easy and can be quite dangerous. The light of the (full) moon can be a real help here.
How to get there:
The most common way to get to Tanzania is by plane. It is best to fly into Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. You could choose to save some money and fly into Dar es Salaam Airport in Tanzania or Nairobi Airport in Kenya and subsequently taking the bus to Kilimanjaro, but note that you will lose some valuable time. Taking a bus in Tanzania or Kenya could sound like quite an experience, but travelling for 10 hours just to get to your starting point might not be the best way to start your journey.
How to prepare:
Prior to their attempt, some people choose to prepare themselves with a very hard training regime, consisting of cross-training, biking, swimming, weight training,... However, the only thing I would recommend to do is hiking. After all, that is exactly what you will be doing on the mountain. Ideally, you go for some hikes on uneven terrain in the hills and mountains, packed with a backpack, to get your body used to the physical challenges. Some extended walks in the weekend can also help. You should start your training two months prior to your departure.
Another challenge on Mount Kilimanjaro is the high altitute. There aren't really any preparations that you can do in advance to adjust to the altitute faster or better. The ability to adapt to the changing oxigen percentage in the air is genetically determined. Physical training, however, is proven to help your body acclimatize. Gaining hight too fast without letting the body adapt, will result in altitude sickness. Most climbers get mild headaches. Other suffer vomiting and struggle with their digestive system. Taking Diamox pills and drinking lots of water (3 to 4 liters of water every day) can help you to acclimatize.
You definitely need the yellow fever vaccination. Don't forget to bring your certificate, you will need to show it at the border. Apart from this mandatory vaccination, it could be advisable to get vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B, Rabies and Typhoid. Malaria tablets aren't needed above 2000m, but I would recommend you to keep taking them during your trip anyway.
Altitude sickness can be avoided by allowing the body to acclimatize, but I can also recommend to buy some Diamox, which will speed up the process.
What gear to bring:
First of all, do not overpack and only take the essentials with you. Try not to go above 15kg. This will require some thinking ahead, as you will encounter both very hot conditions and extremely cold conditions (35°c at the foot of the mountain and -15°c at the top).
Essentials to bring:
- A proper backpack with decent back support.
- Decent hiking boots that are waterproof (they should provide support for your ankles).
- Socks of different thicknesses are needed during the climb to the top (warm weather to freezing cold).
- Rain jacket and rain pants.
- Warm upper body clothing such as fleece jumpers and thermal underwear.
- Knitted hat, winter gloves, balaclava.
- Winter sleeping bag: do not bring your summer model but invest in a warmer sleeping bag.
- Sleeping pad: for both comfort and insulation).
- Water bladder: Drinking lots of water prevents altitude sickness. Note that dehydration happens faster on higher altitudes.
- Headlamp: you will climb to the top during night.
- Sunscreen and lip balm: you get sunburnt more easily on higher altitudes.
- Toilet paper, hand sanitizer.
- Extra batteries for your electronic gear: batteries drain extra fast in a cold environment.
For a full list of the gear that I took to the top of the mountain, you can check this blog post: LINK
Do I need a guide:
You can't climb the Kilimanjaro without a guide, this is the local law. Everyone needs to be accompanied by a guide and additional porters (at least 2 porters for each tourist). If you will perform the climb with a large group, you can easily end up with a crew of 40 people.
Porters can carry your bag if you want them to. They will also have to carry their own clothes, food for five to seven days, your tent, cooking supplies, water, ... It is quite confronting to see the countless porters with really old and bad gear (some don't even have decent shoes) hiking towards the top with a 20kg load on their back. It's not an easy job to do - also because porters are away from their family all the time - but it pays better compared to many other jobs. During my climb to the top I carried my own gear, because I'm used to do this when I hike solo anyway.
Which way up?
There are 6 routes up. Choosing which one you'll take depends on your preferences and experience. All routes are quite different from each other, as described below.
Marangu ("Coca-Cola") route:
This is considered the easiest way up.
The trail has a gradual slope and it is the only route that offers sleeping huts in dormitory style. The route has the least scenic variety of all the routes because the ascent and descent are done on the same path. Traditionally, this route takes you to the top in 5 days.
Although it is seen as the easiest route, it has the lowest success rate of all routes. The illusion of "easy" attracts a lot of untrained people who aren't fit enough to reach the top.
Machame ("Whiskey") Route:
This route is considered as one of the most difficult routes. It is also the longest trail towards the top. It's perfect for experienced hikers and backpackers.The minimum amount of days you'll spend to reach the top is 4, but considering its length, it's better to take 5 to 7 days. The landscapes on this trail are varied and beautiful. This is typically one of the busiest trails.
This trail starts in the west and meets up with the Machame rout at the Shira Plateau, from where they follow the same path to the top. In terms of scenery, the Lemosho Route is very comparable to the Machame route. Both lead you through the rain forest at the beginning of the trail.
This route is also simular to the Lemosho and Machame routes, but it starts higher up the mountain. The starting point is located on 3600m which can be a problem when it comes to acclimatization. Starting this high leaves your body no time to adapt to the circumstances, so Lemosho and Machame route could be considered as a better alternative.
This route is the newest one to the top of the Kilimanjaro. The trail follows the Lemosho route in the beginning, but instead of following the southern traverse, it approaches the mountain via the Northern Circuit. This route will take you more days (7 to 8 days), but this makes it easier to adapt to the height.
The Rongai route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the North, close to the Kenyan border. It's ideal for the people who want to do a more remote hike. If you want to perform the climb during the rain season, this route is the best one, since it has less precipitation compared to the other routes. The scenery, however, is not as varied and the terrain is less challenging than when taking the routes on the south and west side of the mountain.
This is not only the shortest route of all, it also had the steepest slopes. It is considered as the most challenging way to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Due to the quick ascent, your body doesn't have as much time to adapt to the height, unlike on the other trails. The traffic on this route is very low, just like the chances of making it to the top. Only experienced hikers who know that they acclimatize quickly should attempt this route.
All these routes merge at Stella point. From here on, there is only one way to the actual top of the mountain, the Uhuru peak. Stella point is marked with a wooden signpost, just like the ones you can find at the actual top.
The Stella point is situated 200 meters bellow the Uhuru peak, but the trail towards the actual top is still 2 kilometers long and it will take you around 45 minutes to reach it. The lack of oxygen combined with exhaustion makes this a spot where a lot of people give up and turn around.
Will you have what it takes to get to the top? Well, you are never entirely sure. The overall success rate is around 45%.
Your personal chances are getting better when you go for one of the longer routes. The more days you spend on the mountain, the better you will resist the altitude sickness. Acclimatization is very important, so give your body the time to adapt to the height.
Some climbers reach the top in 4 days, while other will need at least 7 days in order to acclimatize (the ultimate speed record is 6 hours and 56 minutes!). If you have experience in the mountains and know how you react ot height, it's easier to estimate your chances and you can choose a shorter route. If it's your first time above 4500 meter, you should go for one of the longer routes.
So, now you know what to expect when you climb the majestic mount Kilimanjaro.
Good luck and enjoy your trip!