Like most brilliant ideas my decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was made in the pub (after a few beers). This wasn’t just any old pub though, this was a little beer shack in Moshi, Tanzania and the climb was going ahead in 72 hours.
My first tip for climbing Kilimanjaro – don’t get drunk 72 hours before.
I tagged onto a group of five other women that I had met on a charity project. For two weeks they had been preparing – I thought they were crazy, It was so cloudy that you couldn’t even seen Kilimanjaro. One day however someone pointed above the clouds, up somewhere near heaven, and I finally saw it for the first time.
I swear to god I was speechless; it’s a monster, a giant, breathtakingly beautiful, monster. I was hooked!
The next morning I hastily arranged payment through our charity in-house team at a cost of about £1,000. Considering that around £500 of this goes directly to the Kilimanjaro National Park then it’s very reasonable for a 5-night trip with food, accommodation, a guide and porters!
Climbing Kilimanjaro costs can vary wildly from £1,000 to £4,000+ depending on how many are in your group and the level of comfort you require.
Top Tip – Don’t go for the cheapest available tour. Low prices mean low quality equipment and trust me, you will regret it. The only other area that companies can cut costs is to pay porters less. These are the guys that lug all your stuff up the mountain and cook for you – by the end of the trip they will be your heroes.
After parting with the rest of my student loan we gathered to meet our guide. The girls had already decided on the Kilimanjaro Machame route so we just ran through an equipment list, dietary requirements and a brief itinerary. It’s all getting a bit real now. Only after the event did I get chance to look up the Kilimanjaro routes;
Machame Route –Known as The Whiskey route it takes 5/6 days and is rated high difficulty due to the long days and steep climbs. It has a different route up to the one down. Only down side? It’s pretty busy!
Northern Circuit – Newest route takes approximately 9 days and has the highest success rate because of lengthy acclimatisation time.
Marangu Route – Not a particularly scenic route. Takes 5 days and has the same route up and down. Popular in the wet season because the camps have huts.
Lemosho Route – Starts on the Northern circuit but only takes 6 days – high rate of success and not much traffic.
Shira Route – A 6-day trek starting from the West and following most of the Lemosho route. The Shira route starts at a higher point so less acclimatisation time makes it considerably more difficult.
Rongai Route – Approaching from the North for a 6-day trek. Less traffic and less scenic but the landscape is total wilderness.
Umbwe Route – Only for the hard-core (or suicidal). A 5-day VERY hard climb right up the face of the mountain. Exceptionally hard to acclimatise hence the low success rate. We met two guys who did it – Legends!
The two busiest routes are the Machame (45% of climbers) and the Marangu (40%). Personally I loved that our route was busy, all fellow climbers were supportive and there was great camaraderie between everyone.
Top Tip – Ask for vegetarian meals. Any meat taken on the trek will be un-refrigerated and not so great by day 5. We all went veggie, got plenty of calories and took a few energy bars just in case.
Okay so team meeting over and I needed to get kitted out, turns out shorts and trainers aren’t going to cut it. I went to ‘Glady’s’ hire shop in Moshi.
Top Tip – Don’t bother buying and transporting all your equipment. You can hire top of the range clothing for a bargain and hand it straight back to the shop, stinky and wet, at the end.
So, for £50-£70 I hired most of my Kilimanjaro packing list:
5. Gaiters – I never actually used these but others did and swore by them. Stops water dripping into your boots.
6. Down jacket – I laughed when I saw the massive ski jacket as I was sweating away in the African heat. It’s a lifesaver once you make the summit climb and it’s -10 though.
8. Walking poles – Essential!
10. Sleeping bag – All season down sleeping bag suitable for temperate below -10.
I hauled this back to the house and started packing with the addition of:
11. 2 x Leggings – Wore at night, under hiking pants on day 3 then on their own for both days of the descent.
12. Hiking trousers – Can be the same as waterproof trousers. Light and breathable for the first 2 days climb and could have used for descent too.
13. 3 x long sleeve tops – 1 to sleep in and 2 to layer.
14. 1 x T-shirt – For 1st and last day of climb.
16. 1 x Socks – For sleeping in and wearing around camp.
18. Sleeping bag liner – For extra warmth!
Some people took trainers to wear around camp in the evenings. I didn’t and don’t regret it.
Having packed the basics I went to see the doctor (a shack down an alley) to discuss altitude sickness. I warn you in advance, altitude sickness sucks and you will probably get a touch of it at some point (it’s well worth it though). Altitude sickness is the main reason people don’t reach the summit so I was prescribed altitude sickness pills and started taking them immediately.
Now for the final pack I got the following recommended items:
21. First aid kit.
22. Rehydration sachets – You are going to get dehydrated. Full stop.
23. Blister plasters – The same as above, it’s inevitable sorry.
25. Water purification tablets – All water is boiled by the porters so you should be fine. I still popped a cheeky tablet in every bottle just to be safe.
26. Wet wipes – So much easier than a towel and soap.
27. Girly hygiene products – Even if you aren’t due on your period the altitude plays havoc and you really don’t want to be caught short.
29. Lip balm – The wind really cracks your lips.
30. Insect repellent.
31. Portable toilet (disposable urinal). – Allows you to pee in the tent.
36. Sealing tape.
38. Rain poncho.
39. Extra camera battery – The cold drains your battery so fast at the peak so get a spare.
40. Tripod – For your camera to shoot sunrise and sunset.
42. Portable speaker.
43. Daypack. – To keep all the essentials with you.
As a last minute idea I set up a charity fundraising page. It’s a great opportunity to raise some money.
The Climb: It’s really happening, everyone is excited and nervous. The Machame Gate, entrance to the Kilimanjaro National Park, is a 45 minute drive from Moshi and en route we pick up our porters and supplies.
The climb was amazing. For 5 days we laughed, we sang, we sweated, we cried and we powered on. The scenery changes by the hour and by day 3 you feel like you are walking on a lunar landscape.
Top Tip – The porters boil all your water so if you ask them for a water bottle before bed then it’s still toasty hot and will keep you warm at night.
The summit night begins at midnight when you start the freezing 6-hour trek. The stars look close enough to touch. It’s exhausting, emotional and incredible. The sun rises and highlights the curve of the earth – you feel invigorated and push forward to the Peak.
Unfortunately one of our party was struck with severe altitude sickness and had to be raced down the mountain to hospital just after the summit. Despite that she still agrees that climbing Kilimanjaro was the best experience of her life.
We were all so invigorated after the summit that we practically skipped back down (despite our protesting knees). If it hadn’t been for the medical emergency we would have made it back to base-camp in one day. Instead we stopped for a final night at Mweka Camp.
I can’t stress how fantastic the whole experience was – book your flights now and just do it!
Photos by Kim Wilson and Shutterstock.