How to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
At 19,341 feet / 5,895 meters, the snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest peak in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It is also the highest mountain in the world to hike, and what a hike it is. To get to the top, it is necessary to traverse five different climatic zones, ranging from the rainforest to the alpine desert and finally to the glacial Arctic. While it is possible to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without any specific mountaineering training or equipment, reaching the top of the Roof of Africa is not an easy task.
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Source: Erik Conover
Find a Tour Operator
Experts estimate that only 65% of climbers make it to the top of Kilimanjaro, but your chances are significantly increased if you choose the right operator. Climbing Kilimanjaro with a guide is mandatory, and although you can find independent guides at slightly cheaper prices, organized tours offer a better experience and better support in case of an emergency. Operators range from top-notch to negligent, so it's important to be selective and prioritize safety over cost. Thomson Treks is a respected trader with a success rate of over 98%.
Tip: Avoid budget airlines and be sure to check airline ratings and success rates before making a decision.
Schedule your trip
It is possible to climb Mount Kilimanjaro all year round, but some months are clearly more comfortable than others. Tanzania's weather patterns mean that there are two major seasons for hiking on Kilimanjaro: January to March and June to October. Between January and March, the weather is cooler and the routes are less traveled. The mountain is busiest from June to October (because the season coincides with the northern hemisphere summer holidays), but the days are warm and pleasant. It is best to avoid the more humid months of April, May, and November, while warm clothing on top is needed throughout the year.
Tip: Book ahead of peak season trips with the safest climbing conditions.
Get ready for success
While mountaineering training is not necessary, a reasonable level of fitness goes a long way on Kilimanjaro. If you have any deficiencies in this department, you will want to improve your stamina in the months leading up to your trip. Hands-on hikes also allow you to put on your new hiking boots, minimizing the chance of debilitating blisters. Straining at altitude can affect the body in different ways, so it is a good idea to get a medical check-up before departure. Even the most basic illnesses can make your life miserable at 18,000 feet.
Tip: comprehensive travel insurance is essential. Make sure your plan includes coverage for medical treatment and emergency helicopter evacuation.
Choose your route
There are seven main routes to Kilimanjaro. Each varies in terms of difficulty, traffic, and scenic beauty; And choosing the right one for you is a key part of the planning process. The times depend on the route you choose, with walks of five to ten days. The routes with the highest success rate are those that take the longest and ascend at a gradual pace, allowing climbers to acclimate to the change in altitude.
Also known as the Coca-Cola route, Marangu is the classic Kilimanjaro route. Traditionally considered the easiest, with a gradual incline and common sleeping cabins located at strategic locations along the trail. The climb takes a minimum of five days, although the success rates for this time period are low. Despite its reputation, Marangu is not recommended by experts because it is the busiest and least scenic of the Kilimanjaro routes.
Machame, or the whiskey route, was inaugurated as a tougher alternative to Marangu and has now replaced the old Kili route as the most popular option for adventurous climbers. It can also be crowded, especially at the bottlenecks in the rainforest section. It is steeper and more scenic than Marangu and has a better success rate. You will need at least six days to climb Machame, although seven is preferable. It is the most accessible route Thomson Treks offers.
As one of the newer routes on the mountain, Lemosho is highly recommended by trusted operators like Thomson and Ultimate Kilimanjaro. It sees far fewer crowds than Marangu and Machame and stands out for its incomparable scenery with panoramic views from all sides of the mountain. This route takes a minimum of six days, although eight to nine days is recommended. Plenty of time to acclimatize and an offer during the day to meet up to explain Lemosho's high success rate.
Those with plenty of time to spare should consider the Northern Circuit. Kili's most recent route takes nine days and practically circumnavigates the mountain, making it the longest option in terms of time and distance traveled. The extra days spent at mid-altitude allow for great acclimatization, which in turn leads to a very good maximum success rate. This is also the most remote route, with magnificent scenery, including elevated views of neighboring Kenya.
Rongai is the only route to approach Kilimanjaro from the north, near the Kenyan border. It sees relatively few climbers and is a particularly good option if you decide to travel during the rainy season, as the mountain's north face has less rainfall. Disadvantages include the fact that the landscape is not as varied as some of the other routes and that the descent takes you along the busy Marangu route. Rongai takes six to seven days to complete.
The Shira route approaches the mountain from the west and is almost identical to the Lemosho route. The only difference is that instead of starting the hike at the Londorossi Gate, the climbers are transported by vehicles to the Shira Gate at 3600 meters. This allows you to skip the start section of the climb, but also puts you at higher risk for altitude sickness due to the relatively high starting point. This trip lasts between seven and ten days.
As Kili's most challenging route, Umbwe is only recommended for experienced climbers who are confident in their ability to acclimatize quickly. It takes at least six days and involves steep and difficult slopes with a rapid ascent profile. You will also bid for the dome under cover of darkness. Because of this, Umbwe has a low success rate. However, it is also one of the less crowded and visually impressive routes.
Tip: Allow time for a longer hike to maximize your chances of reaching the top.
It's important to find the balance between lightweight packaging and making sure you have everything you need. Layers are crucial given the diversity of Kilimanjaro's climate. You will need sun protection for the bottom and warm clothing for the summit. A good quality sleeping bag is essential, as well as a basic first-aid kit (the operator must provide more complete safety equipment, including oxygen and a defibrillator). Equipment can be rented on-site, although quality and fit vary widely. Remember to bring spare batteries for your camera and photocopies of your passport/insurance documents.
Tip: Be sure to bring money to tip the guide and porter, who will carry up to 15kg of your personal gear for you.
Altitude sickness is the main reason for unsuccessful attempts to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. The best way to acclimatize to the extreme altitude of the mountain is to choose a route that gradually ascends, taking six days or more. Certain medications (such as Diamox and ibuprofen) can help lessen the effects of altitude sickness, while hydration (preferably with purified water) is also important. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of their training or physical condition, and as such you must be able to recognize the symptoms. These include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Read the effects ahead of time and be prepared to descend if necessary, remembering that the most severe form of altitude sickness can be fatal.
Tip: Learn your limits and don't try to push yourself. When it comes to Kilimanjaro, slow and steady really win the race.
Budget for your trip
A hike on Kilimanjaro can cost between $ 2,400 and $ 8,000 + per person. This fee must include camping, food, guides, park fees, and transportation to and from the mountain. You need to make sure your food is decent, that your guides and porters are well cared for and trained, and that you get a good night's sleep. Although the shorter routes are cheaper, your chances of reaching the top are significantly reduced due to poor acclimatization. If you choose a "good deal", make sure your guides and porters are well equipped to handle emergencies.
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