CLIMBING KILIMANJARO

Climbing kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Everything you Need to Know about Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro Routes: which one to take?

You’ll also need to decide what route you want to take up the mountain.

There are 7 routes on Kilimanjaro, and not all of these are created equal. In terms of acclimatization, longer routes have a much better success rate.

Other considerations are: how busy the route is, how scenic it is, whether you sleep in a tent or in huts. Whether you take the Western Breach or the Barranco Wall. Do you want a day or night time summit attempt?

Surprisingly, many people still believe that Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Kenya. While it is possible that this belief has come about because many Kenya guide books or promotional posters show what is perhaps the best long distance view of Kilimanjaro taken from within the relatively nearby Amboseli National Park in Kenya, on the northern side of Kilimanjaro, nonetheless the entire park boundary that demarcates the mountain’s official edges does indeed lie within Tanzania.

So, Kilimanjaro is definitely in Tanzania, not Kenya!

Mount Kilimanjaro is climable at any time of the year. However, the best time of year for climbing is January through mid-March and mid-June through October.

Climbing Kilimanjaro Starting Dates:

Our hike starting dates are totally flexible as per your requirements, even for individuals – we can schedule the start of your hike on any day of the year! For unforeseen circumstances and on request, we are flexible regarding the change of your hiking dates (subject to availability, reasonable notice given and route chosen).

– Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) is easily assessable with direct flights on KLM, Qatar, Turkish and Ethiopian Airlines.

DO YOU KNOW WHICH ROUTE TO TAKE FOR YOUR CLIMBING KILIMANJARO?

KIAFRICA  ADVENTURE will explain the differences between the routes and help you decide which is the best for you.

MARANGU ROUTE:

Only choose the Marangu route if you are on a tight budget, and if so, do the 6 day route which includes an acclimatization day. Or if you are on a budget and are confident in your ability to acclimatize and/or you have done a pre-acclimatization trek up Mt Meru or similar The Marangu route is the cheapest route on Kilimanjaro. It is oldest route to the Summit, and the only one where you sleep in huts instead of tents. Marangu uses the same route on the descent, so during busy periods it can get quite crowded.

If you are on a budget, then the Marangu route can be an option. Many people are sold the idea that it’s an “easy” route, being only 5 days (you can opt to do it in 6 days and have an extra acclimatization day).

The idea of a 5 day hike seems a lot easier than an 8-10 day hike. But that doesn’t take into account the effects of altitude.

One of the reasons why the summit success rate on the Marangu route is only around 45% is because there is not enough time for acclimatization. For climbers confident in their ability to acclimatize and wanting a shorter hike to the summit, this is worth considering.

For those who are less experienced at altitude and want a less crowded, more scenic adventure, and who are not on a tight budget, should opt for one of the longer routes.

The longer routes have a much better acclimatization schedule and as such a better chance of achieving summit success. Since Marangu uses huts for accommodation, less porters are required per climber, as there is not the need for a full camp to be carried up the mountain. This also brings the cost down.

The Summit attempt is always made at night from Kibo Hut (the “basecamp”), there is no option for a daytime ascent.

Personally I prefer to leave camp in the morning for the summit attempt or in  the middle of the night!

That the Marangu route provides accommodation in huts, might sound preferable to sleeping in a tent. Do bear in mind that the huts sleep 6-10 people in dormitory-style bunk beds. It’s not a luxury safari camp with crisp linen and hot running water!

MACHAME ROUTE:

The Machame route is a far better option than the Marangu route in terms of scenery and acclimatization protocol. It’s a busy route, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty.

If you cannot afford the high-priced Lemosho route, then this is a very good option. Some say it’s more “difficult” than the Marangu route, simply because the hiking days are longer. But the summit success is much higher, owing to the extra acclimatization.

In recent years, the Machame route has gained in popularity, and more climbers use this route than the Marangu route.

The Machame route has a much better acclimatization schedule, and has a much higher success rate than Marangu. As it has become more competitive, it has also become cheaper.

The scenery is spectacular. The vistas and views will take your breath away. The hiking can be tough with the relatively long days, but you will gain a lot in terms of acclimatization.

Lack of good acclimatization is the main reason most trekkers do not make the summit. On the Machame route, you can take a 6 or 7 day option, the extra day can be valuable for your acclimatization.

You will sleep in tents, there is no hut accommodation on this route which means you will need to choose your operator carefully. The last thing you want at the end of a day’s hiking is an old and leaky tent!

This route usually involves leaving at midnight to make your summit attempt from Barafu Camp. Those who do not like the idea of walking after dark might want to consider the Lemosho Route.

Many of the operators who use Lemosho, provide an option for leaving for the summit first thing in the morning. If this is an important factor, it’s worth asking your chosen operator if you can use the Machame route in conjunction with a daytime summit push.

It’s also possible to scale the Western Breach to the summit from Arrow Glacier Camp.

Merging with the Lemosho and Shira routes near the Lava Tower, Machame takes you up the Barranco Wall, which contrary to many scaremongering articles, is a tough, but not at all technical scramble.

The Machame route uses a different route on the descent, which keeps the trails less busy than the Marangu which uses the same route to descend as to ascend.

LEMOSHO ROUTE:

Use this route (or the Northern Circuits) if you are not on a tight budget and want a real mountain adventure as opposed to a “get to the summit (if you can) as fast as possible”. You will have an amazing experience. I also recommend doing a morning summit push, rather than leaving at midnight from Barafu Camp.

There are a few different variations to the Lemosho Route, so check with your chosen operator which one they are using. Some spend two nights in the Shira Caldera at Shira Camp 1 and Shira Camp 2. Others go directly from Shira 1 to Barranco Camp. Some go from Shira 1 to Moir Camp and then onto Barranco Camp.

In our opinion, the Lemosho Route is the best route on Kilimanjaro.  for good reason! It’s a longer route, allowing for better acclimatization and giving a higher probability of summit success.

It takes you through the most beautiful and scenic parts of the mountain, and is not as busy as some of the other – cheaper – routes.

This route is not offered by the budget operators, so it keeps foot traffic lower but there is less competitiveness in the pricing. If you are not strapped for cash and want an amazing experience on the mountain, the Lemosho route should definitely be strong contender.

The forests to the west side of the mountain – where the Lemosho route begins – are undoubtedly the most beautiful and pristine, it’s possible to see evidence of game here.

Although you are unlikely to spot any animals, only a few years ago, trekkers were accompanied by armed rangers in case of close encounters!

The terrain is much less well-trodden than the Machame/Marangu routes, and the days can be long. The huge bonus is that the length of the trek allows very comprehensive acclimatization.

And really, acclimatization is the difference between making it to the summit or not. If you are fit enough to attempt Kilimanjaro at all, then acclimatization is the main barrier between success and failure.

The Lemosho route gives you the opportunity to acclimatize properly before your final push to the Summit. There are two possible summit routes to take: the usual one, via Barafu Camp, or the more dangerous and seldom-offered Western Breach.

For the purposes of this, I will assume you are taking the Barafu route. Some operators will offer a morning hike to the summit, with others, you start at midnight and arrive at the crater rim at dawn.

NORTHERN CIRCUITS ROUTE:

if budget is not the primary concern for you, then your choice of routes up the mountain should really be between the Northern Circuit and the Lemosho route. These two routes are wonderfully scenic, and much less well-trodden than the more popular routes. I also advise a day time summit attempt and if you can handle it, a night at Crater Camp.

Taking advantage of the untrodden paths, the Northern Circuits (sometimes called “Kili 360”) route is one of the latest offerings on Kilimanjaro. This route takes you through some spectacular scenery, through largely-untouched parts of the mountain.

Being a longer trek, the acclimatization schedule is good, giving you an excellent chance of reaching the summit. Taking in the best of Kilimanjaro and avoiding the crowds, this route is worthy of consideration.

It’s more expensive than the more popular routes, owing to less competition from budget operators, but worth it if a more tranquil and ‘wilderness’ trek is what you are looking for.

All accommodation is in tents, there is no Hut accommodation on this route.

Beginning on the same path as the Lemosho route, the forests to the west side of the mountain are undoubtedly the most beautiful and pristine, it’s possible to see evidence of game here. Although you are unlikely to spot any animals, only a few years ago, trekkers were accompanied by armed rangers in case of close encounters!

The terrain is much less well-trodden than the Machame/Marangu routes, and the days can be long. The huge bonus is that the length of the trek allows very comprehensive acclimatization. And really, acclimatization is the difference between making it to the summit or not. If you are fit enough to attempt Kilimanjaro at all, then acclimatization is the main barrier between success and failure.

RONGAI ROUTE:

Rongai is an excellent route, provided you opt for the 7 or 8 day trek. 6 days at a push, but don’t bother trying to do it in 5 days, unless you are very confident of your acclimatization. Or if you have already climbed Mt Meru so have a certain amount of “preacclimatization”. In my opinion, it’s not as picturesque as the Lemosho route, but that’s only a matter of opinion. Many people feel it’s the “best” route!

The Rongai route used to the be the route to take if you wanted a quieter experience than the longer-standing and popular Marangu and Machame routes. These days, it is used by more and more operators so it’s getting busier, and the price is coming down. But don’t let that put you off.

Starting on the Northern side of the mountain, the Rongai route is often said to be a fairly “easy” route to the summit.

There are less steep hiking days, which for some can be seen as an advantage, but then the last day’s summit push can seem even worse! In this area there is generally less rainfall, so it’s possible to avoid the muddy trails through the rainforest on some of the other routes.

This route starts in open, part-cultivated countryside, rather than the Montagne forest of the southern and western slopes. Most operators offer 5-8 day hikes on this route.

The temptation to do a short trek should be avoided, as the extra days are crucial for acclimatization. Unlike some of the longer routes, the more gentle slopes give little opportunity for going to a higher altitude and then descending to camp.

That said, Rongai route has excellent summit success rates, and is an interesting and picturesque way to the summit. Although you do not get to hike through the rainforest on the way up, you will be descending via the Marangu route, so at least you will see it on the way down.

The vegetation is somewhat different on this route, though most of the usual heath and moorland species abound, particularly if you do take the longer route and camp at Mawenzi Tarn. The lobellias, senecios and red hot poker are all there.

Depending on your operator, there may be some differences in where you camp. Some stop at Simba Camp for the first night, others go to Rongai First Cave.

Either way, there is little difference in terms of difficulty or the length of hiking each day.

The hike to the summit is done at night – starting at midnight from either Kibo Hut (which follows the same as the Marangu route) or School Hut which is located slightly higher up the mountain.

UMBWE ROUTE:

For most ‘normal’ trekkers, there is no real need to consider this route. It’s very tough, and if attempted too quickly, has a poor acclimatization protocol.

If you’ve got those legs of steel, are confident of your ability to acclimatize and want a route with dramatic scenery and a real physical challenge – go for it!

Hailed as the most difficult route up the mountain – and when coupled with the Western Breach summit attempt – Umbwe route is certainly the most “straight up”.

Nothing about this route is technical, but it’s very steep, in the first couple of days you will find yourself using tree roots to help haul yourself up the mountain!

Strong legs and the love of a challenge are essential. Owing to it’s difficulty you will often have the mountainside to yourself for the first two days, as most normal people are making their way up less physically demanding routes.

Later on Day 2, however, it changes as you will be at Barranco Camp with other climbers from Lemosho route and Machame route.

From Barranco, you will either take the Southern Circuit to the Summit via Barafu Camp (with Lemosho and Machame climbers) or you will head north to Lava Tower and onto Arrow Glacier from which to tackle the Western Breach.

The Umbwe route, coupled with the Western Breach is certainly the most challenging and direct way to the Summit.

For those who are experienced in the mountains, who are very fit and strong and want to make Kilimanjaro a more serious challenge, then this route certainly fits the bill!

If you are not going up the Western Breach, then I see no particular advantage to giving yourself the two unnecessarily tough days at the beginning, only to go onto the same route as the Lemosho and Machame.

However, it’s spectacular. As you haul out of the forest on Day 2, you will traverse a ridge with the most incredible views on Kilimanjaro. You are unlikely to see many – if any – other people on the first and second days hiking.

Operators offer this route as a 5, 6 or 7 day option.

Unless you are well-acclimatized already (from Mt Meru) or extremely confident of your acclimatization and very experienced in the mountains, you should not consider the 5 or 6 day route.

Go with the 7 day trek, you will still have the physical challenge but with a better chance of acclimatizing properly.

As I have said before, and will keep saying: if you are fit enough to even consider climbing Kilimanjaro then the main obstacle between you and the summit is acclimatization.

SHIRA ROUTE:

Why bother? Just book the Lemosho route. Unless you are short of time, want to see the western side of the mountain without the forest, and – crucially – have had experience at altitude and are confident of your ability to begin trekking at 3600m – quite a gain in elevation from Moshi or Arusha.

Let me save you some time: The Shira Route is the same as the Lemosho route, but starts at a higher elevation. Consider it if you are already acclimatized after climbing Mt Meru or Mt Kenya. If not, then read about the Lemosho Route instead!

Is the “Shira Route” even available any more? If your operator is offering you this route, do read on before clicking the “buy now” button.

Shira was the original route on the western side of the mountain before the Lemosho route was available. Setting off from Shira Gate, before Londorossi Gate was opened. Starting at 3,600m, you are taken to your starting point by 4WD vehicle along what is now used as the “rescue road”.

Starting your trek on the Shira Plateau, you miss the wonderful hike through the montane forest. Which on this side of the mountain is nothing short of spectacular.

Starting at the Shira Gate, you essentially follow the emergency road across the plateau to your first campsite. This takes you through the scrubby heath and moorland zone.

Apart from the first day, this route is exactly the same as Lemosho.Your first campsite will effectively be the same as your second campsite if you had taken the Lemosho route. You simply miss the first day’s hike and start higher up. I can’t see much advantage in this.

A major problem with this route is that it’s start point is around 3,600m. This is too high an altitude for all but the most experienced altitude trekkers. If you are well acclimatized – perhaps by climbing Mt Meru first – then you could consider using this route as it’s shorter than Lemosho.

But for the rest of us who want to acclimatize and not feel sick on the first day, I don’t recommend it. Most operators now offer the Lemosho route in place of this one.

Assuming you are fit enough to even attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, acclimatization is the biggest obstacle to a successful summit(1).

Every year, fitter, stronger people fail to reach the summit due to poor acclimatization. On the other hand, less fit, less strong people who are well-acclimatized are often successful.

Essentially by cutting out the first day’s hiking through the rainforest, you lose valuable acclimatization time, reducing your likelihood of reaching the summit.

But you also miss the experience of the rainforest. Part of the fascination of climbing Kilimanjaro is seeing the different climate zones and how they differ from one another.

Mostly this route is not offered any more, possibly some operators will offer it by request. Those that advertise the “Shira Route”, often actually start at Londorossi gate and follow the Lemosho route.

THE NOTORIOUS WESTERN BREACH:

Kilimanjaro’s Western Breach is notorious for being the most dangerous and difficult route to the summit.

The Western Breach actually describes the last part of your climb. Once you are at the bottom of the crater rim, at your “base camp” there are three main routes that take you to the top:

From Kibo Huts in the East, up to Gillman’s point on the crater rim.

From Barafu Camp in the South East to Stella Point on the crater rim

Via the Western Breach, from Arrow Glacier camp to an opening in the crater wall, straight into the crater. Strangely enough, this is located on the West side of the mountain.

The Western Breach is described by many as “the most difficult route”, “the most dangerous”, “too technical for most people”, “need mountaineering experience”. Enough to strike fear in the hearts of all but the most hardened climbers.

It’s tough. All routes to the summit are tough. Anyone who skips down the mountain proclaiming it to be “easy”, is either telling huge porky pies (lies) or spends most of their vacations high up in the Himalayas, doing more trekking than beer-drinking.

What are the advantages of the Western Breach:

It’s shorter than the routes via Gillman’s Point and Stella Point

It’s less crowded

You don’t have to go down it(!)

It makes you feel you are doing something a bit “above and beyond” the usual Kilimanjaro climb

It’s easier. BUT.

WHAT? What was that last point? It’s certainly NOT easier if you read most of the literature!

So let me qualify that statement.

It’s easier than the other two routes IF:

You are extremely well acclimatized

The training you did before you arrived at Kilimanjaro gave you legs of iron.

You don’t suffer from vertigo.

You have a healthy respect for what you are about to attempt, and you are aware of the very real danger of rock fall.

You have an excellent guide who knows the route – which is not one single route, and not a well-cut path.

You have availed yourself of all available literature regarding the elevated risk you are taking by using this route.

If – and only if – the above points apply to you, then it is in fact easier. It’s much shorter, so you spend 4 hours climbing instead of the long 7-8 hour slog through the scree. The endless switchbacks can be tedious, the views are amazing (if you can stomach the exposure).

Did I mention legs of steel? It’s very steep, so if you have spent a lot of your training making sure you’ve got thighs that would make Serena Williams proud, this route might be considered.

It’s an extremely steep rock face, very much the “straight up” route. Once you get beyond a certain point, evacuation is impossible – in order to go down, you have to go up and through the crater over to the other side.

What are the disadvantages?

Very tiring, hard hike on a very steep rock face.

You may need to wear a helmet and be roped in with your other climbers/guide

CRATER CAMP: AFRICA ’s HIGHEST CAMP!

18,700 ft, 5700 metres. The highest camp on Kilimanjaro. The highest camp in Africa. A camp situated in what is commonly called the “extreme altitude” zone. A camp that is one of the most beautiful and spectacular – and dangerous – that most people will ever see.

Amongst the black volcanic rocks tower enormous glaciers, ever moving, ever retreating, glistening in the sunshine. The sound of huge cracks as a massive wall of ice adjusts it’s position ever so slightly.

The chances are, you’ll see no one else here. Nothing growing, no animal life. The thin mountain air and sub-zero temperatures are inhospitable to life of any sort.

To get here, you have to scale the highest mountain in Africa, and then descend from it’s rim into the crater, at the centre. As you explore an area as familiar as walking on the moon, sometimes a faint whiff of sulphur can be detected, as the central Ash Pit belches out it’s gases.

A reminder that Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano.

Standing above the clouds, looking down on the world, all the comforts of home stripped away, most problems seem trivial. Up here it’s about survival. Staying warm, adapting to the altitude, and enjoying the majesty of this great mountain.

A night at Crater Camp is something you will remember for the rest of your life. Hopefully for all the right reasons. It’s tough here. As the sun sets, it’s a stark reminder that we are sleeping only meters from a huge freezing glacier.

With only a tent, our clothes and sleeping bag as protection. An emergency up here can lead to tragedy. With the rocks of the crater rim towering above us, we feel very small. Very insignificant. But very alive.

I felt almost ‘high’ from the effects of hypoxia, taking in this incredible scenery. Exploring the glaciers, walking on the crisp volcanic earth and watching the sun set over the Western Breach.

Sleeping in Crater Camp, an offering not made by most operators on Kilimanjaro, requires that you are very well acclimatized. This won’t happen on the shorter routes. For climbers showing effects of altitude sickness on the ascent to the summit, sleeping at this height can be catastrophic.

Headaches and nausea are standard procedure for your night in this camp. Sleeping is tricky, jolting awake from the lack of available oxygen for normal breathing.

It’s exhilarating. It’s not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for anyone who feels unwell at the crater rim.

WHICH CLIMBING KILIMANJARO ROUTE TO CHOOSE?
To put it very simply, there are longer routes, meaning the number of days you spend on the trek, which are more expensive, but there is a higher chance of reaching the top, thanks to better acclimatization. Of course, shorter routes are cheaper and are suitable for those who want to save time, money, or have experience with alpine hiking and already know how their body responds to high altitudes. The question of which route is easier and which is harder is not the right answer. None of the routes are easy. We also recommend everyone to come to Tanzania at least 2 to 3 days before the start of the ascent. We are all tired after a long flight and it is advisable to give the body time to regenerate and acclimatize before climbing to Kilimanjaro for several days.

You can choose one of 6 routes for the ascent: Marangu , Machame , Lemosho , Shira , Rongai or Umbwe . There are also 2 circuits, northern and southern, which are the most time and money consuming and are used by very few people. If you choose Marangu or Rongai, you will descend through the Marangu gate, the remaining routes end at the Mweka gate.

The most popular route is currently Machame(Whiskey route) and just behind it Marangu (Coca cola route). https://kiafricaadventure.com/kilimanjaro-routes-overview/

GEAR & KIT LIST FOR CLIMBING KILIMANJARO

You will also need particular gear – or “kit”. Showing up in a pair of flip-flops and two pairs of shorts won’t cover it.
We’ve got you covered with an in-depth guide to what you need to pack for Kilimanjaro here. From tropical heat to frozen tundra, you will pass through different climate zones as you make your ascent. Being adequately prepared is essential. You also have to keep in mind that your porter will carry your gear and his own.
For this reason, most operators require that you keep your kit to 30lb/15kg. Anything over and above this, you will need to carry in your daypack.

FITNESS & PHYSICAL PREPARATION FOR CLIMBING KILIMANJARO
Having climbed Kilimanjaro several times over the years, we know that a lot of people have questions about Fitness preparation for a climb of this sort.
Whilst Kilimanjaro is described as “easy”, in comparison to other mountains of a similar size, this is because there is no technical skill required to reach the summit.
However, a long, often hard slog at altitude does require preparation, both physical and mental.
You do not have to be a world-class athlete to successfully climb Kilimanjaro, but a suitable level of strength and fitness is a good idea.
Fitness will not help with acclimatization, but it will help make your climb less arduous. A good level of fitness will give you the “fuel in the tank” for the last push to the summit, which is a long day over some difficult terrain.

Read more about fitness for Kilimanjaro and the trekking summits here, and a guide to uphill hiking preparation here.

ALTITUDE & ACCLIMATIZATION
Note: consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any hike or climb. Nothing in this article, or in any of the information it contains is designed to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any condition. Please consult your healthcare professional before making any changes to your current lifestyle.
Standing at 19,340ft above sea-level, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Actually comprising of three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano.

Anyone trekking to the Ash Pit (Reusch Crater), can smell the sulphur. The heat prevents ice from forming and occasionally fumaroles escape. It is possible to visit the Ash Pit, usually after a daytime summit attempt and a night spent in the Crater.

Trekking at altitude brings with it a unique set of challenges. Acclimatization is unique to each individual and fitness level has nothing to do with it.

The term “acclimatization” refers to the physiological changes that the body needs to go through in order to adapt to a low-oxygen environment.

Typically at sea level, the air we breathe consists of 20-21% Oxygen. The air at the summit of Kilimanjaro contains the same amount.

What changes is the Barometric pressure – Air pressure – meaning that as the pressure of the air goes down as we climb higher, the available oxygen to breathe in becomes gradually less. At the summit of Kilimanjaro there is approximately 49% less oxygen available in each breath we take than at sea level(2).

Oxygen fuels all our bodily processes. With a decrease in air pressure, resultant decrease in Oxygen, combined with dehydration and cold, getting ill at altitude is a very real problem.

Acclimatization is a progressive process, allowing time for the body to adapt to the changes. For this reason, a longer trekking route is the safest and most successful option.

For the geeks amongst us, it can be fascinating to see the physiological changes taking place as the body adapts to the high altitude.

The main reason why so many people fail to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro is being insufficiently acclimatized to the Kilimanjaro altitude. Standing at 19,341ft above sea-level, Kilimanjaro’s summit falls into the “extreme altitude” category.

Owing to the lack of technical skill necessary to reach the summit, Kilimanjaro has become popular with inexperienced climbers. Coupled with cheap, fly-by-night operators and short treks this can be a deadly combination.

The main point to note is that in order to acclimatize, your body needs TIME. Otherwise you will get sick and have to turn back forfeiting your summit attempt. Or, even worse, you need to be evacuated to hospital.

There is a good reason why the longer routes on Kilimanjaro have a better success rate. They build in enough time for you to rest and acclimatize, giving you the best chance of reaching the summit safely. And without having to suffer the horrible effects of altitude sickness.

People who have a high tolerance for discomfort can be at risk because they push themselves even when they don’t feel well. Of course, a slight headache at altitude can be quite normal.

A result of dehydration, perhaps. You don’t need to be paranoid about it, but you do need to recognize it. And feel comfortable that the guide you are climbing with is keeping a watch on the whole team.

The drug, Diamox, is often recommended by operators, as it can help with acclimatization. The major advantage of using Diamox is that it won’t mask the symptoms of AMS. If you are ascending too rapidly, you’ll still get sick. But Diamox can assist the acclimatization process. It’s a matter of choice whether you decide to take it.

EFFECTS OF CLIMBING KILIMANJARO ALTITUDE

Kilimanjaro’s slopes span three altitude categories:

High Altitude 1500 – 3500m, 5000 – 11,500ft

Very High Altitude 3500 – 5500m, 11,500 – 18,000ft

Extreme Altitude 5500m, 18,000ft and above

As we get higher up, the barometric pressure of the air around us decreases. The oxygen contained in the air is the same as at sea level (20.9%). Owing to the decreased air pressure, for any volume of air, there are less molecules of oxygen present. So with every breath, you inhale less oxygen molecules than at sea-level.

At the summit of Kilimanjaro there is 49% less oxygen available than at sea-level.

Typically, your blood’s oxygen saturation is between 95-99%. This is known as SpO2 (Saturation point -Oxygen), as measured by a pulse oximeter (those things they clip on your finger when you are in hospital). As you climb higher, the lower available oxygen will cause your SpO2 to reduce. At the summit it can get as low as 70%, which would be an emergency at sea-level!

Your body doesn’t like reduced oxygen saturation, so it will deploy various efforts to increase it. It is these compensatory changes that the body makes to adapt to the lower-oxygen – ”hypoxic” – environment that is known as “acclimatization” (or “acclimation”).

 ACCLIMATIZATION

Some of the main compensatory changes are as follows:

These you may notice from the first day:

Deeper, more rapid breathing.

Increased pulse rate, even at rest.

Increased blood pressure.

These go on behind the scenes, if your body is given enough time to make the necessary physiological changes (1):

Increased production of hemoglobin (where oxygen is carried in the blood cell).

Increased erythropoietin (hormone secreted by the kidneys to increase red blood cell production).

Reduction of plasma volume making blood “thicker” and increasing the risk of dehydration.

Increased kidney function to excrete excess bicarbonate ions as a result of pH (acid/alkali balance) of the blood changing.

These changes cannot happen over night. Your body needs time.

This is why the best summit success rates are had on the longer routes. More importantly than a successful summit, taking a longer route decreases your chances of Acute Mountain Sickness.

Quite simply, the longer it takes to get to the top, the more time your body has to make the changes necessary to operate optimally in the extreme altitude conditions.

Altitude Sickness – Acute Mountain Sickness – can kill you. Most of the deaths on Kilimanjaro are from complications arising from altitude sickness. Continuing higher when your body has failed to adapt to a lower elevation is nothing short of suicidal.

Some people seem to acclimatize very well. It has nothing to do with fitness levels, gender or age. Apart from taking Diamox – which is not a “magic bullet” – to aid acclimatization, there is nothing you can do to speed up the process.

In my opinion, it is important for everyone who attempts Kilimanjaro to do so with an operator who monitors your condition closely. Checking your SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation), your lung sounds (to identify problems early) and use a checklist of how you feel. This should be done once a day at least.

ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS

Acute Mountain Sickness is the result of climbing to a higher altitude quicker than your body is able to adapt to it. Symptoms can start from around 8,000ft in some people, and in others at around 11,000 ft.

Symptoms of AMS (2)

MILD ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS:

Symptoms mild altitude sickness can be like a hangover.

Lethargy

Nausea

Mild headache

Slight loss of appetite

Mild dizziness

Mild cough

Provided you have no abnormal lung sounds and a good blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2), mild symptoms should normalize after some hours rest. Communication is key – your guides need to be kept up to date with how you feel, and you should not go higher whilst you still have symptoms.

MODERATE AMS:

Deterioration of all the above symptoms

Headache worsening

Nausea and vomiting

Increased dizziness

Shortness of breath

Loss of appetite and inability to eat

Very weak and lethargic

Coughing

At this point, you should descend immediately to the elevation where you last felt “well”. Remaining at this lower altitude until your symptoms normalize, only then should you even consider going higher.

If you continue to climb higher with Moderate AMS, you put yourself at risk of needing to be evacuated from the mountain – and worse – you risk your life.

Traveling with a reputable operator, you will not be allowed to get to this point. If you do, then get down that mountain as fast as you are able! Spending some time in a Gamow bag (Portable Altitude Chamber) can be effective to reduce symptoms before making the descent. Under no circumstances should you climb higher after using the Gamow bag.

SEVERE AMS:

If you somehow managed to ignore the symptoms of moderate AMS, and have deteriorated to the point where you have Severe AMS, then your only hope for your life is to descend as quickly as possible.

Increased shortness of breath

Decreased coordination (ataxia)

Inability to walk

Hallucination and inability to communicate properly

Increased coughing and fluid on the lungs

If you are suffering from severe AMS, it’s very possible that you will not be able to walk down the mountain and an evacuation will be necessary. You probably won’t even know how ill you actually are.

This is where you rely on your guides and team-mates. Keeping an eye on each other, noting if people have symptoms that they seem unaware of. Any reputable operator will have been monitoring your condition long before it gets to this point.

There are two devastating results of severe mountain sickness, HAPE and HACE.

HIGH ALTITUDE PULMONARY EDEMA (HAPE)

For many years, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (3) was incorrectly diagnosed as “pneumonia” in various reports of healthy young men dying after a few days at high altitude.

In most cases, some symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness have preceded the onset of HAPE. Though in some cases it can appear without prior symptoms.

Pulmonary Edema is where fluid builds up in and around the lungs, preventing oxygen from being absorbed and making breathing difficult.

Symptoms of HAPE include:

Productive cough, with blood or mucus

Gurgling lung sounds

Blue lips from lack of oxygen

Extreme fatigue

Tight chest, difficulty breathing

Confusion, lack of coordination

If you are at altitude and have the feeling that you may have a chest infection, assume it is HAPE until proved otherwise.

Symptoms can go from bad to worse very rapidly. Blood oxygen levels will drop, causing the brain to be starved of oxygen. This can lead to the onset of HACE. If oxygen is available it should be given, and descent should be immediate. Waiting around to “see if he/she feels better” will almost certainly result in death.

Descent is the only option, which is further made difficult as exertion can exacerbate HAPE. The shortness of breath and lack of oxygen can make the person unable to walk. For this condition, an evacuation is essential. It is important to get off the mountain and get medical attention immediately.

HIGH ALTITUDE CEREBRAL EDEMA (HACE)

High Altitude Cerebral Edema(4), characterised by a crashing headache that will not go away is the result of a buildup of fluid on and around the brain. The onset can be rapid, and once again, immediate descent is essential.

Symptoms of HACE include:

Confusion and disorientation

Hallucinations

Lack of coordination

Inability to walk

Irrational behaviour (as though the person is drunk)

Severe headache

Coma

Because HACE affects the brain, the person suffering may not know how ill they really are. Treatment with oxygen and a Portable Altitude Chamber whilst preparations are made for immediate descent can help.

Nothing will treat the onset of HACE whilst remaining at altitude. The only option is to go down and seek medical attention immediately.

MOST, IF NOT ALL SYMPTOMS OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS ARE AS A RESULT OF ASCENDING TOO QUICKLY TO A HIGH ALTITUDE.(5)

Tips to Stay Safe & Comfortable:

Opt for a longer route, the longer the better.

Do not use cigarettes, sleeping pills or alcohol on the mountain. If you have a headache and need to take a pain-killer, tell your guide.

Choose an operator with robust safety procedures, well trained guides that know how to monitor you and recognize the signs of developing altitude sickness

Communicate with your guides and fellow team-mates, do not “tough it out” if you are feeling unwell.

Keep well hydrated, drinking 3-4 liters of water per day.

Go slowly! This is not a race, and the slower you go, the more your body is able to acclimatize.

For extra safety, choose an operator that carries oxygen canisters and a Portable Altitude Chamber.

If your chosen operator does not carry a pulse oximeter, take one with you – and learn how to use it to monitor your blood oxygen levels.

Consider using Diamox, as recommended by many operators.

ALTITUDE AND PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

Most companies will require a medical form to be filled in prior to being accepted on a trek. This gives them the opportunity to review any current medical conditions you may have and refer you back to your doctor for final acceptance.

If you do suffer from any medical conditions, even if they are well-controlled, it’s worth going to see your doctor or healthcare professional to inquire whether or not it is safe to go to altitude.

A common one is asthma. Many people who have no current symptoms of asthma, but have suffered with it in the past can find it rears it’s head on the mountain. The combination of the dry, cold, dusty air and lack of oxygen can cause attacks.

If you rely on any medications, you should be sure to check with your doctor before attempting the climb. Also check for any interactions with your current medication if you decide to take Diamox.

WEATHER ON MOUNT KILIMANJARO

We all want to know what the weather will be like, don’t we? First up, it’ll be cold. Very cold. On your first day hiking through the tropical forest, sweating it out, you’ll be forgiven for cursing me. By day 2-3, you’ll be happy you heeded the advice to buy that nice warm sleeping bag!
One thing that can make a trek pretty miserable is a lot of rain. You can pretty much guarantee you’ll get at least some rain on the trail, though mostly in the lower elevations.
Being a mountain, and a big one, Kilimanjaro has it’s own micro-climate. The best times to climb are usually January to March and June to October as there is usually the least rain during these times.

However, it is possible to climb at other times of the year but April, May and November have the most rainfall.
It should be noted that the June to October climbing season is often the busiest, and the January to March season is the coldest. There is a good chance if you are climbing in January that you will have snow on your summit day/night!

How to make my trip extraordinary? 
Well, if you’re fit, and we do mean fit, mountain biking is now available as an option on Mt. Kilimanjaro, with either day trips on the Shira Plateau, or ascent/descent via the Marangu 4×4 access road. In order to do the full climb and descent you’d really need to be an expert mountain biker with serious technical skills, fitness and the right bike, but a descent only widens the field a little!

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING CLIMBING KILIMANJARO

What’s the food like? What’s it like sleeping in a tent? What does an average day comprise? How much walking do I actually do each day? Where do I go to the bathroom?

Questions? 

Have questions about what it’s like to climbing Kilimanjaro or what we’d recommend for you?  so For any medical issues, please seek advice from your Doctor or other healthcare professional.

Contact us for Mt Kilimanjaro and Safari  # 1 guide for further information and give yourself the best chance at reaching the Top of Africa.

Does an extra day help acclimatization?

Most guidebooks recommend that climbers spend an extra day during the Marangu route climb especially. This is very much a personal decision, but our statistics do not indicate any greater success rate amongst 6 day Marangu route climbers over 5 day climbers. More important for success is the overall approach to the climb, right from the start. That said, many people like an extra day spent on the ascent because it makes the whole climb more relaxed and gives an opportunity to go on some pleasant walks on the slopes of Mawenzi.

I’ve heard many horror stories about Kilimanjaro. How do I know that it’s safe to climb with you?

Our company has been sending people up Kilimanjaro , and we have enormous experience. We arrange climbs for around 50 climbers every year, and a number of us involved in the running of the mountain regularly so that our experience of conditions is always very recent. Our guides (numbering over 20 at the moment) only work for us, so we can be sure that our standards are consistent. In particular, you will not find yourself being harassed for tips by your crew during your climb.

If there is a problem on the mountain what are the rescue procedures?

The national park operates a rescue service, and the ranger stations at the huts and campsites around the mountain are linked to each other and to the park headquarters by radio. In the vast majority of emergency cases, the problem is altitude related and the solution is immediate descent to a lower altitude. Our mountain crew are all experienced at dealing with such cases and can bring climbers down to safe altitudes very quickly and without park assistance if it is not immediately available.

Is it possible to rent mountain equipment from the moshi?

We have a large stock of clothing, tents and sleeping bags. This is primarily for the free use of our fully equipped climbers but we also make equipment available for hire to hard way climbers where possible. In all cases, we encourage climbers to bring as much of their own warm clothing as possible. In particular, climbers should avoid having to hire or borrow boots.

I read in the Lonely Planet that the success rate on Kilimanjaro is less than thirty percent. Is this true and if so is there any reason for me to climb it knowing I won’t make it to the top?

Many people climb Kilimanjaro without knowing what they are letting themselves in for. Consequently they may be inadequately clothed and fed, and they therefore have a miserable and unsuccessful time. We make sure that you are properly informed and equipped, and our success rate to the crater rim is 87%. Our success rate to Uhuru peak is 70%. It should be noted that our climbers come from a very broad range of ages and abilities. However, we always stress that the main reason to climb Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) is to have a safe and enjoyable time. Reaching the summit is a bonus, but should never be seen as the sole aim of the climb.

How cold does it get on Kilimanjaro?

The temperature at the top of the mountain can vary widely. Sometimes it is only a degree or two below freezing, but visitors should be prepared for the possibility of temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius, perhaps in conjunction with a wind.

Can children climb Kilimanjaro?

The national park rules stipulate that the minimum age for climbing above 3000 metres is 10 years. This is because altitude sickness can affect children very quickly and dangerously.

What should I know about altitude sickness?

There are different types of altitude sickness. “Mild acute mountain sickness” is very common, and is not as frightening as its name suggests. The symptoms are headaches, nausea and vomiting, though not everyone suffers from all the symptoms. Normally, symptoms fade after a few hours, but if they do not a climber may need to turn back, since the condition cannot be allowed to develop. Any enjoyment to be had from the climb will have disappeared by now anyway. A much more serious type of altitude sickness is called oedema. This is a build-up of fluid in the body, and when the fluid collects in the lungs or the brain a serious condition develops which requires immediate action in the form of descent to a lower altitude, where recovery is usually miraculously fast. To acclimatise properly, a climber should not climb more than around 300 metres per day,but all ascents on Kilimanjaro are very much faster than that. The secret, therefore, is to make each day’s ascent as slow as possible.
During your pre-climb briefing, we describe altitude sickness to you in detail, and advise you how to cope with it. The most important thing is not to fear it, but to respect it and to know how to deal with it. Our guides have seen every condition that the mountain produces, and they will always know how to deal with problems.

What is an anorak and what is a balaclava?

An anorak is a weatherproof jacket, such as Gore-tex and a balaclava is a woollen sock that fits over the head with slits for only the eyes and mouth.

How is cooking done on the mountain?

We use gas stoves also, especially for larger climbing parties.

Why are tents used on the Machame route although there appear to be huts on that route?

Although there are one or two metal shelters at each of the Machame route camps (and these shelters were referred to as “huts” by the Kilimanjaro Mountain Club which built them long ago), they are now used by national park rangers. Both you and your crew sleep in tents.

I’ve heard that many Kilimanjaro operators don’t care if their crew sleep out in the open. Do you provide tents for guides and porters on camping routes?

Yes, we do.

Do you pay wages to your guides and porters? I’ve heard that the only reward they get is the tip at the end of the climb, which is why so many climbers get hassled for tips.

Yes, we do pay them wages, and we pay well above the levels recommended by Kilimanjaro National Park. We also pay guides and porters immediately after each climb. We also provide our crews with food, fuel, and essential warm and waterproof clothing. Our crews all know that tips from climbers are discretionary. And even if you do want to give a tip, we always ask you not to do it on the mountain but back at the hotel or office|tour operator & chief guides after the climb is over. There, everything is relaxed and open.

How much should I tip my mountain guides and porters?

First of all, it is customary on Kilimanjaro to give a tip to guides and porters if pleased with the service they have given, although we stress that tipping is always discretionary. Climbers are advised to budget around $100 to $200 for this purpose – the larger the climbing party, the less each climber generally needs to contribute for tips. In particular, we urge climbers to give a tip to each crew member, and not just to give all the money to the guide and tell him to deal with it.  This can be unfair both to guide and crew. More guidance is given about mountain tipping in pre-climb briefings.

Do your guides speak English?

All of our guides speak sufficient English to be able to deal with emergency matters like altitude sickness.  None of them speak English so fluently that one could have a complex discussion regarding politics, for instance, but a number can chat fairly fluently about normal everyday topics.  There are other guides on the mountain who can speak really very good English, and posters to websites have sometimes compared our guides with these others.  The difference lies in attitude and experience.  We have always valued our guides more for the way they can deal with emergencies, and for how they can observe and gently encourage climbers to do their best than for how charming and chatty they are – indeed one climber commented to us about how put off she was by the “in your face” attitude, as she put it, of some of the other guides she had observed on the mountain. Where a good command of English on the guide’s part is very important to a climber, we allocate a guide who is more proficient in the language.

Why is the Marangu route called the “Coca Cola” route?  Is it really dirty and overcrowded?

There has been a lot of negative press about Marangu.  In our view, and we arrange treks on all the routes, it is very unfair.  This is the only route that uses huts rather than tents and some years ago there was a serious problem with overcrowding in the huts.  In those years the Machame route was much less frequented. But we think the main reason that operators (mostly from Arusha) – speak against the Marangu and boost the Machame is that the booking system for Marangu is demanding of operators’ time.  There is no booking system for Machame (nor the other camping routes).  You just show up at the Machame gate the first morning of the trek.  No one ever knows how many people will be on the trail until the gate closes for that day.  There is a daily quota of only about 70 climbers allowed to start on the Marangu route on any day (this is why booking is not always easy). There are many days in the season when there are many more climbers on the Machame route than on the Marangu. This is not in any way to denigrate the very beautiful Machame route.  But these are things to bear in mind when hearing the Marangu route described as the tourist, easy or Coca Cola route and the Machame as the scenic or the whisky route!  It is true that you will hear many people who have climbed Machame say that it is better than Marangu, and this is conveyed to many of the guide book writers.  But remember that the overwhelming majority of climbers only ever climb one route.  The chances are that the climbers who say this have never been on the Marangu route and are simply repeating what they have been told or have read.

How is the Marangu route different from the Machame route?

Physically, the Marangu and Machame routes are rather different.  The main force of Kibo’s volcanic activity occurred out towards the west (the Machame side) and so Machame is steeper – especially in the first day and a half – and more rugged than Marangu.  It is often considered more scenic because the views of Kibo are more impressive than from the south-east (the Marangu approach), but many consider the vegetation on day 2 of the Marangu route to be more attractive than anything seen on the western side.  As always with mountains, every route has its advantages and drawbacks.  The difficulty grading has Marangu as a 1, and Machame a 1+, so there’s not a great deal in it.

Your prices seem higher than others we’ve been able to find. Why is that?

The cheaper operators often cut costs in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Not paying their crew properly.  KIAfrica adventure is one of a handful of companies paying top rates to guides and porters.   We also provide food, fuel and essential warm and waterproof clothing to our crews, and they are not charged for that.
  • Overloading porters to cut down on numbers.
  • Not providing a sufficient number of guides to accompany a group to the summit.
  • Not providing sufficient tents for their guides and porters to sleep in on the mountain, forcing them all to cram together in tents.
  • Charging you extra for any equipment or clothing you lack and which you need to borrow.
  • Providing sub-standard or insufficient food and equipment.
  • Being unlicensed to conduct mountain climbs, and being part of the underground economy.
  • Cheating the national park by not paying the full amount of park entrance and camping fees.

There are operators in Arusha and Moshi who engage in some or all of the practices mentioned above.  We work hard to run what we think is a quality operation, giving value for money.

If you would like to arrange your climb or if you have any questions, please contact us.

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