One of the famed seven summits, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, with its Uhuru peak towering at an impressive 5,895 meters.
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano, and it has some exquisite glaciers which will feast your eyes with some out-of-this-world landscapes.
There is no guarantee that you will make it to the top, regardless of how young or fit you are. You may run marathons and not reach Uhuru peak, because of altitude. Acclimatization is a very important step of the process, and my recommendation is to go for the longer treks, as it increases your odds. Just have fun with it.
Success rate figures as published by the Kilimanjaro National Park estimate your chances are as follows:
- All climbers, 6 day routes 44%
- All climbers, 7 days routes 64%
- All climbers, 8 day routes 85%
We did our fair share of browsing, reading plenty around things like, you know, how doable it is exactly for the likes of us.
So if you're an inexperienced hiker looking to conquer Kili - or an experienced one looking for a few more extra tips -I'll be sharing my very personal experience in a condensed form: an honest picture of what climbing Kili meant for me.
And I'll throw in a lot of tips almost no one gives you before the trek. Stay with me.
Let's take some basic questions out of the way, in case you've landed on my blog before doing any previous research.
In a nutshell
- When is the best time to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
January-February and July through October are the recommended months. We went in September, and the weather was simply perfect. Clear skies with a touch of clouds just enough to occasionally cool off from the sun, and a bit of fog just enough to keep things interesting. I would strongly discourage attempting the climb during the rainy season, and our guides agreed.
- How many days should I take to climb?
I recommend the Lemosho route, which takes 8 days to complete. Lemosho is apparently the most scenic as well, and with most chances of successful ascent.
- How much will I be hiking ?
If you go for the Lemosho route, you will be hiking for a bit over 100 km.
- How steep is it really?
Every day is different, but doable. You'll start the trek at Londorossi Gate which sits at 2100 meters, and you'll work your way up to 5895m, with a daily altitude gain of between 500 and 1000 meters a day. Take into account the fact that you will be hiking high and sleeping low, to help in the acclimatization process.
- What sort of training should I be doing?
Anything you can squeeze in will do, really. For me that meant hikes of 2h or longer, for at least 3 times a week, combined with stair climbing - sets of 500 steps.
Hikes were not game-changing in my training schedule because of the mostly flat terrain in Belgium, but I still think they're more effective than running. Basically, train-walk as much as you can.
Choosing the right company
For us, choosing the right company for the trek was relatively easy, with Kandoo Adventures scoring high in the fight against unfair treatment of porters.
Unfair treatment of porters is unfortunately not uncommon on Kilimanjaro, with companies trying to make most profit on every buck you pay - at the expense of the people doing the actual work.
What we liked about Kandoo among other things is that they are an active partner of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), and they actually respect the regulations put in place relatively recently by the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), regulations that control things like maximum carried weight, minimum wage, etc.
Yes, it means you pay slightly more than average but once you're on the climb and you see the porters and what they endure, I assure you'll completely agree with me when I say it's worth it.
And, after returning from a successful ascent (fingers crossed to you all) , you can boast all you want about having climbed Kilimanjaro.
I am not saying I don't have critiques to their regard, but I will explain that later on.
Packing the right things
There are plenty of tutorials telling you what and how best to pack your bag for the Kili climb. Kandoo has a very comprehensive Before you climb section on the website, with most of the important information curated for you.
Don't over pack! If you're like me and you've never been on a hike like this before, you will tend to over pack. Don't think that all those extra clothes you think you need won't be adding up to the total weight, because they will.
Do listen to those How to pack tutorials on tips and tricks. It helps to think about the people who actually have to carry your stuff up the mountain. You will not be needing half of the stuff anyway and really, is having matching colors all that worth it.
To give you an idea of just how many things you'll end up using, if I were to do it all over again, I'd only pack for the week long trek enough to fit in my carry-on, and max 9 kg. I am not going to go through an entire What to Pack list, have a look on Kandoo's website as their list is pretty comprehensive.
I do want to emphasize on a few things I consider important :
Do bring a 2nd pair of trekking shoes ; we ended up not using our second pairs, but it is one of the most important things you bring with you and, at the very least, they give you the extra peace of mind when you're wearing them on that plane and worrying less whether your bag will reach its destination
Do bring some serious wind-and waterproof gloves or mittens. Crucial for the last leg of your journey up, which will most probably happen in the dead of night.
Do bring a pack of cards or whatever is easy enough to carry; it'll do wonders to your after-dinner entertainment. Someone in our group actually brought a frisbee!
Portable chargers. Definitely good to pack, but don't overdo it.. We had 2 battery chargers each 6,000 mAh, for 2 smartphones. Even with all the pictures & my occasional Spotify, I think we used just 1/2 of one. In a week. Just set your phone on airplane mode.
Rent trekking poles. An absolute must in my opinion, they help on the way up, and much, much more on the way down.
Dust protection! Do pack the following in your nécessaire: wet wipes (a 50 pc medium pack should be enough), thermal water spray, eye drops, SPF 50 sun-cream, lip balm . It's the little things..
Mini first aid kit. Better have yours.
Now, you may be wondering what's with the thermal water spray and eye drops.. this topic deserves a category on its own.
Dust alert! There is a lot of dust on Kilimanjaro
I was absolutely baffled that this hadn't come up in virtually none of the online resources we consulted! My travel companions shared my frustration. No one speaks of the Kilimanjaro dust, but I am committed to breaking that silence!