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Want to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? Here's How

Here’s what you need to know before climbing Africa’s tallest peak.
It pays to be prepared when climbing Africa's highest peak. Photo: Shutterstock
Two years ago I climbed 5895 metres to the roof of Africa with no boots, no jacket and no idea.
Nestled on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, the goal for Mount Kilimanjaro trekkers is to reach ‘Uhuru Peak’ and watch the sun rise over the Serengeti National Park, home of The Lion King.

As it’s the world’s highest ‘walkable’ mountain (meaning you won’t need ice picks and ropes to reach the top) you definitely don’t need to practice trekking for months beforehand to conquer Africa’s highest peak.

However, you do need to know what to expect:
Mt Kilimanjaro is 5895m above sea level.
Mt Kilimanjaro is 5895m above sea level.

Altitude sickness will be your worst enemy

The real killer on the mountain is the altitude. During the trek you’ll pass from being at sea level to ‘high altitude’, to ‘very high altitude’ and briefly walk at ‘extreme altitude’.

For those who haven’t been altitude trekking before, it can be unsettling.

Whether you choose to take altitude sickness medication or not, your heart races, your head aches, you may feel dizzy and nauseous, sleep badly, lose your appetite and without a doubt, your breath will become short.

A good fix for this is to take an iPod. If you crank the volume to drown out the sound of your own breathing it makes it much easier to not concentrate on the fact you’re panting like a dog on a hot day.
The trick to avoiding accute altitude sickness is to listen to your body: ascend slowly and allow your body time to adjust to the new climate. It’s ok to take a rest day and it’s ok to descend for a little bit before continuing on with your climb.

You’ll need to pack sensibly and warmly

I climbed Kilimanjaro in runners and leather lace-ups with holes in them, so can confirm that you won’t need to spend hundreds on new hiking boots, unless it’s because you want to fit in with the other western tourists on the mountain (Lululemon would make a killing if they opened a store in Tanzania).

Either way, make sure your footwear is comfortable.

I also took a thick jacket, two thermal tops and a pair of running leggings.

This outfit was more than enough for the first few cold nights but for the final ascent to the peak it would have been really nice to have an extra pair of thermals and some waterproof pants.
For that last ascent, you should bring:
• Waterproof gloves
• A warm beanie
• Thick socks
• A metal water bottle (so it doesn’t freeze over)
• High-sugar snacks
• A head torch

Shorts, a t-shirt, a light jumper and a hat are all you need for the day treks.

You’ll also need a thermal sleeping bag and sunscreen.

Remember, Tanzania is in a malaria zone so if you’re on anti-malaria medication it’s likely that your skin will be more sensitive to UV.

Finally, someone else (a porter) is probably hauling a lot of your stuff up the mountain, so keep it light.

The last part will be the hardest

The trek starts in the rainforest (keep a look out for monkeys), passes through the sandy desert and finishes at the frozen peak.

The first few days are not too difficult so it is easy to rush ahead. But remember the mountain’s mantra is “slowly slowly” – you shouldn’t climb more than 1000m a day.

I won’t sugar coat it. The final climb is painful.

It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s long, it’s steep, it’s high and there’s no path for half of it.

You just have to keep reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how close you are to the finish line.

There is no better feeling than reaching the top of that mountain and realising that you are the king (or queen) of Africa.

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