Top tips on reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro

Posted by Joel Crossland     Posted on 02/11/2016

Kilimanjaro and elephant

 

So far, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro 6 times. I guess the question most people ask is ‘Why?’ I first climbed the mountain in 2000, just myself and my guide, Robinson and a couple of porters. Being young, fit and enthusiastic, the pace up the mountain was fast, in hindsight much too fast. Although we made it to the summit, and well before sunrise, it felt more like a physical challenge rather than what someone would do for enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was amazing and there are many things I will never forget. The light from the full moon sparking off the ice crystals in the freshly fallen snow as we pushed for the summit and standing high above the clouds watching the sunrise from Uhuru Peak were breathtaking, but the effects of the altitude at various stages of the climb left me feeling ill and at times with a headache so strong I could do nothing but sleep. As I walked down on the final day I turned around to see the clouds clearing away and I could see the summit, so clear, so calm, so peaceful and something inside said “why are you down here and not up there?”

I returned home full of energy, amazed by the Kilimanjaro experience and wanted to share it with everyone, I just felt it was something everyone had to experience in their lives. All the negatives forgotten, the feeling the altitude gives you as your body adjusts to something totally alien to it, the wet weather at times, the ice cold nights, the difficulty sleeping as you get higher, the bitter coldness of the final night’s ascent and lack of photographs to remember it all by. However, the memories remain and the energising feeling of conquering the mountain overrides everything else.

A couple of years down the line I was approached by a group of people who wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, but it came with a condition. “We will only go if you come with us.” How can you turn an offer like this down. A chance to do something you enjoyed so much the first time but this time not only with friends to share it with, but armed with knowledge to make the experience better, easier and even more enjoyable than the first time.  This climb was a real eye opener, it was the same time of year as my first climb, the weather similar most of the way up. We avoided the showers in the late afternoon and everything was going well. On the final push for the summit the mountain, however, had different ideas, the wind picked up and the sleet started to fall. It was cold. Seriously cold. And motivation in the group dropped, yet we all pushed on to the summit and when we reached it the clouds cleared and Kilimanjaro revealed itself at its most beautiful.  Four more climbs followed, and although every time has been very different, the fact that everyone in the groups has been well prepared has meant we have had tremendous success and enjoyment on Kilimanjaro.

Below is a list of little things that might make your life a little more comfortable when climbing Kilimanjaro.

Go Slowly – it is not a race

The Mountain is not going anywhere and once you arrive at your camp there is not much to do. Take your time during the day, enjoy the scenery, take photos and stop as much as you want. The slower you ascend the easier you will acclimatise.

Break your boots in

Buy your climbing boots before you go and be sure to break them in. Blisters can be one of the things that will stop you reaching the summit.

Pack all your clothes in Plastic Bags

I have found freezer bags the best thing to use. I then put those inside bin liners to be extra safe.  The only problem is freezer bags can be fiddly to keep opening and closing. Consider packing each bag by day, e.g. underwear, socks, T-shirt in one bag. Then once it is open you will not need to close it again.  I cannot emphasise the importance of keeping your kit dry. On one climb we experienced such bad rain that if any ones kit had got soaked they would not have been able to carry on.

Wet wipes

It might sound silly but there are no shower facilities on the mountain. Wet wipes are ideal for making you feel cleaner and fresher.

Anti Bacterial Hand Gel

Perfect to use before eating to help prevent stomach bugs.

Altitude

It is unlikely you will climb to the top of Kilimanjaro without feeling the effects of altitude. Be honest and open with those around you. Don’t try to hide from the fact that you are feeling it. If it gets worse tell someone, it is better to be honest and not make it to the summit than cause yourself serious problems from pushing too hard. Drink a lot, altitude is a diuretic, drawing water out of your body. I like to take Asprin as this helps thin the blood which helps transport oxygen around your body. Some people chose to take the acclimatisation drug Diamox, but it is best to speak to your doctor about this.

Food

The food you get on the mountain is great, however, if you are not feeling well a little taste of home can be very comforting. It could be your favourite cuppa soup, chocolates, jelly sweets etc. Jelly sweets are ideal for energy on your final push to the summit. They are easy to eat and do not freeze like chocolate.

Cameras

Big SLR Cameras are great, however, they can freeze up when you are at the summit. Small digital cameras seem to do well though. Carry them in your inside jacket pocket to keep them warm. You don’t want to miss out on the amazing photo opportunities

Essential Kit

I am not going to outline all the kit you need but just one or 2 things that will make you more comfortable.

Raincoat and trousers – It is easy to think that a cheap raincoat and trousers will suffice and to an extent they will. However, at the bottom of the mountain, when it is warm, you can get just as wet from the condensation that forms inside them as you would if you were not wearing them. Consider something breathable like Gore-Tex. Raincoats and trousers usually pack up small and are great for keeping the wind off too.
Rucksack with Hydration – It is very easy to say just use bottles. However, stopping to take them out or carrying them in your hand when the weather is cold or bad does not really happen. In order to help you stay more hydrated and give yourself a better chance of acclimatising a hydration compatible rucksack is great.

 

Snood – A scarf will never really stay in place. A Snood is, for me, one of the best bits of kit to keep you warm on the way to the summit.
Hat which covers your ears – For the summit attempt you will need a good hat which also covers your ears, some jackets have great hoods which help keep the cold out.

 

Sunscreen – Although it is cold on top you are close to the sun. Make sure you take a good sunscreen and put it on when you are or on your way down from the summit. You will not regret it. Don’t forget about your lips either.

 

Hand Cream – Laugh all you want but the dry air really dries out your hands and can give you sores especially around your nails.

Last but not least, you are probably thinking of the best way to pack when you are limited to 15kgs. Start at the summit, your thick jacket, number of under garments etc.  As long as you have that you will be fine. Almost everything else is an added extra to help you feel fresh and more comfortable lower down the mountain.

Ready to go?

Somak Holidays specialise in Kilimanjaro climbs – click here for more information.