10. Choose the Route and Season carefully
There are seven established routes to the summit, but most climbers pick among three. The Rongai route takes six to seven days and approaches the mountain from the east. Compared to the other two, this route lacks the scenic factor. The Machame Route charges up the southern flank of the peak in six to seven days and has good views of the mountain. The Lemosho Route is a scenic journey up the long western ridge of the mountain and relatively new, lasting from seven to nine days and has a high success rate. Remember, fewer than half the climbers who attempt a five-day ascent successfully make the summit, so choose wisely.
There are two rainy seasons on Kilimanjaro – March through to end of May and November through to February. The south is wetter than the northern slopes, making the Rongai route a favourite during the rainy months. Typically rain is less prevalent above 3,000m, which means you are only likely to experience rain on Day 1. You may, however, experience snow and sleet on the upper reaches of the mountain
9. Choose operator providing private toilet tent
Always choose a tour operator who provides you with a zippered, waterproof, and portable bathroom tent – a convenience that people do not realize how important it is until they camp on the mountain. Having a private group toilet can sometimes make or break your experience. Otherwise, you are stuck with the scant shelter of volcanic outcroppings, and the old hole-in-the-floor wooden outhouses that are scattered around each trail camp.
8. Weigh your bags
The general rule on the mountain is that no porter should have a load of more than 15 kg (33 pounds) per porter. It’s a rule strictly enforced. Your bags will put on a scale when you arrive and on each time the porter leaves the camp on the mountain. Therefore, pack well and light and your bag should not be more than 15kgs or you will have to pay for an extra porter. The rule is in force to protect the porters from being forced to carry too much. Your daily usables, camera, etc, can be carried in your day bag. Try to keep the day bag under 5kgs. Most operators will provide you with a list of items to pack with you for the trek, you would be wise to follow their advise.
You do not have to be “super fit” to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Of course, having a good level of health and fitness is important but you do not need to be an experienced ultramarathon runner to climb it. In fact, many fit people struggle to reach the summit because they exert themselves too much during the early stages of the trek and therefore don’t give themselves enough time to acclimatize during the ascent. On Kilimanjaro, you will be trekking approx. 5-7 hours a day (summit day is a lot longer). Preparing for these treks through practice hikes in your home country is a great way to build up your fitness level or through cardiovascular exercises at the gym, such as running and cycling. Only the summit day will truly test your fitness – both physical and mental.
6. Take time to acclimatize
Acclimatizing well to the mountain and the high altitude is like getting a key to the door. “Pole pole” (pronounced po-lay po-lay) is a Swahili phrase meaning “slowly slowly,” and you will hear these words repeated throughout your journey. You will be quite surprised with the slow pace set by the guides but Slow and steady should be your mantra on the mountain.
It is always wise to add an extra day to the climb and choose a route which follows the ‘walk high, sleep low’ formula. If you climb too fast and exert yourself at high altitude, then your body will have difficulty in adjusting to the thin air and low oxygen leading to altitude sickness.
5. Water on Kilimanjaro
Water is critical on the mountain and helps with the acclimatization. Every day you will be given 2-3 litres from your guides and you should aim to finish it by the time you reach your camp. Dehydration is a key cause of AMS so make sure you remain hydrated. Not being well hydrated will also result in headaches, something you don’t want on the last day. So hydrate up!
You should probably buy some flavoring or energy tablets to your water to make it more palatable.
4. Respect the mountain
Never take the mountain lightly. The walk up the mountain is demanding and at high altitude, it gets even more difficult. Don’t forget you are climbing from almost sea level to 5900m above sea level. This is the highest free standing mountain in the world!! It requires determination and effort to get to the top and across the exposed mountainside, you may encounter wind, rain, snow, and scorching sun. Guided tours make for a safer trek, but this is still a challenging endeavour that is not to be taken lightly. Only about 60 percent of climbers are able to successfully summit the peak. Keep that in mind when you are preparing for the trek, as this will help ensure that you are one of them.
3. Kilimanjaro Guides and Porters
The Kilimanjaro guides and porters are your greatest asset on the mountain. Most guides and porters are locals who speak Swahili. The Guides usually have a good command of the English language, so communication should not be an issue. Typically, every climbing group has at least 1 guide, and each climber has three porters. Porters carry all gear, tents, cooking supplies and water. Over the course of your climb, you will learn to respect these guys – each porter carries approx. 15 kg of kit on their back and still comfortably “overtake” you every day!!
Keep at least USD 250-300 per person in the group for the tips to guides, kitchen crew and porters. Good companies have a protocol and tipping ceremony on the last day of camping.
Getting to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro has a lot to do with determination. There will likely be a point during the summit attempt where you might feel like giving up – typically around Stella Point or Gilman’s Point. You might be feeling awfully sick and/or exhausted. At that lowest point, it is important that you remain determined to get to the top – one step at a time! However, your determination must not supersede your health. Monitor AMS symptoms closely and talk to your Guides if you feel something is wrong. More often than not, these can be easily resolved, but ONLY if you communicate it to your Guides.