Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Preparing for Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro from the Air
We climbed Kilimanjaro in February 2008 and I had a kind of diary of it from the time but since I'm currently off my pins (or rather out of my shoes) I'm taking the time to diarise it and wing it up on here, it was a truly awesome experience.

In the lead up to the Kilimanjaro Trek it was essential to ensure that we were all properly prepared physically in order to maximise the chances of success of getting to Uhuru Peak - the summit and goal for any Kilimanjaro trek.

Organising the Trek

Aside physical preparation it is so essential to plan your trip properly in order to give you the best shot at it. For example by embarking on a 4 night trek statistically you only have a 27% chance of success of getting to the summit. With a 5 night trek your chances increase to 44% and with a 6 night trek your chances rise to a 64% chance of success, still not awesome odds. These are averages across the board although certain operators do give you a better chance of success than others.

Also by staying for 2 nights between arrival in Tanzania and departure on the trek instead of 1 you increase your chances by 5% and by staying for 3 nights (instead of 1) to flush out the jet lag your chances increase by 8%.

With this in mind we punted for the longest trek we could which was the 7 night Trek and we looked at going with the Shira route which ascends across the Shira plateau from the western side of Kilimanjaro.

African Walking Company through African Travel Resource
Choosing an operator

Geoffrey researched the operator and from speaking with a few he finally plumped for African Travel Resource who didn't come in as the cheapest but they came across really well and exceptionally professional which is key - especially when your life is potentially at stake.

Researching the operator is vitally important. This decision can make the difference of success or failure and without wanting to sound dramatic it has in cases been the difference of life and death, at the very least it can make what could potentially be a pleasurable experience into an endurance hell.

A lot of cheap and inexperienced companies don't have experienced cooks within their teams. Food is vital on any trek as it is this that gives your the calories it needs for the days exertion. It is vital that you consume food and if the chef is hopeless then you have little inclination to eat the inedible food he prepares and as a result you don't consume the calories you have to. That said if he cooks good food but the wrong food and the diet you have on the mountain is wrong, again you wont be fuelling your body as it requires. Good operators are aware of all these factors and cater for these needs accordingly. They are also aware of the need for good kitchen hygiene (as hard as it may be), the last thing climbers want is to succumb to a stomach bug due to poor hygiene. It has also been known that water has not been boiled sufficiently in order to save costs on fuel, this again can lead to stomach bugs. This is why it is so critically important to do the trek with a professional outfit.

Food aside, when it comes to the actual guides you are relying on them to guide you up and down the mountain safely and if at any time they sense that you are suffering excessively they may decide that you have gone far enough and that you've had your shot and that it's time to head back down. Ultimately 1 in 1000 people die on Kilimanjaro which is more than bungee jumping or freefall parachute jumping. Some guides can be more concerned with their pay rather than your comfort and safety and will lead you up the mountain quickly in order that they can get back down in time for their next pay packet. They may not have the training to spot those suffering from altitude sickness which could potentially be fatal as sufferers can become a bit delusional and don't think rationally which a single mindedness that can naturally come when you have a goal in mind.

Self preparation and training

From here, once we had decided on the route and operator it came to training and I was furiously battling with the cross trainer and the treadmill in the gym. This was in order to get my cardio fitness up so that there would be less demand on my body once we started getting to altitude. That aside though, at weekends I was trying to get as many hill miles under my belt as I could, if you don't exercise the muscles you are going to use you will experience the burn when it comes to the real thing, it is therefore crucial to be able to walk for hours on end for days back to back so that when you get to scaling Kilimanjaro you know that you're capable of having the stamina, especially for the final push to Uhuru. It is really important to go camping too so that you are used to sleeping in a sleeping bag in the cold, if you don't do this you may find it hard to sleep when it comes to the Trek itself and you need every minute of sleep you can get to recharge your batteries.


Lists of kit suggestions are available all over the web. Paramount though is footwear. It is key that you find a comfortable pair of boots and wear them in before you go. When you go wear your boots on the plane. You can't replace a pair of worn in boots, you can replace waterproofs or a first aid kit. This could make or break your trip.


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