A part of the Seven-Summits Expedition, where mountaineering enthusiasts take the challenge to conquer all the highest seven peaks spread across the seven continents, Mt. Kilimanjaro, at the elevation of 5,895 meters (19,340 feet), is the trophy of Africa.
The stratovolcanic mountain, surrounded by the hot and dry terrains of Tanzania, is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The tallest snowy peak in the entire Africa is popular among mountaineering enthusiasts all over the world; regarded as a straight trek-up mountain peak, it draws hundreds of climbers every year.
Due to its almost non-existential technical segments and route that doesn’t demand any mountaineering skillset, this trekking peak is considered to be one of the easy peaks in the 5,000-er segment. However, don’t be fooled by its relatively lower elevation points compared to the gigantic 8,000-ers; it is, in fact, one of the most difficult mountaineering expeditions in the world.
The successful rate of Mt. Kilimanjaro expeditions is approximately around 45%- 50%; it would be a mistake to underestimate this fascinating freestanding mountain towering over Tanzania’s safari region. Here are a few facts and tips about this expedition; what I wish I knew before climbing Kilimanjaro.
1. Mt. Kilimanjaro climbing isn’t technical
If it’s your first adventure on the highest peak of Africa, you might think that you will need to bring mountaineering tools like ice axes, harnesses, or ropes. But rest assured, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a ‘walk-up’ mountain peak that can be conquered without the use of any mountaineering skills and equipment.
In comparison to the other six peaks of the ‘seven peak summit’ in Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Antarctica, and Oceania are very technical and require physical preparation along with a sufficient amount of mountaineering experience, Mt. Kilimanjaro climbing is just a straight-up hike. If this mountain expedition was on sea level, it would receive 1 out of 5 difficulty level; only its’ significant elevation points make this adventure difficult.
2. Every camp on the mountain is cold
Although hiking on the mountain just up ahead safari grazelands in Africa may not seem like much of a threat for cold, unlike the adventure on the Himalayas covered in snow. But that’s where most of the trekkers fail properly accumulate the true weather condition enroute to the summit of the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Africa may be a warm continent, but every camp on the mountain is cold.
Even from the first camp near the rainforest region, which sits at approximately around 2,895 meters, you will start to feel cold.
The day hikes will be warm in the company of the sun; however, the night on the slopes of the highest mountain in Africa sees the temperature drop below freezing point. Depending on the month of your visit, you might have to prepare for unfavorable conditions like rain and snowfall too.
So, make sure to pack extra layers and the right type of clothing for the adventure. Although we can predict the weather conditions depending on the seasons of the year, mountain at this level of elevation have their own weather pattern and will not be consistent.
3. Sleeping at the camps is definitely not easy
You might have assumed to fall asleep right away in your sleeping bag after a hard day’s trek. But, sleeping in the high-altitude region can be a little tricky due to the lack of oxygen you may feel restlessness and insomnia often. It would be best if you prepare mentally that it is going to be hard to fall asleep on the mountain rather than stress over it.
Furthermore, if you plan to tackle the issue by sleeping pills for proper rest, that isn’t a recommended action either. As you will already be at a significant altitude with low oxygen saturation level than the sea level, taking sleeping pills that suppress your respiratory system will certainly be a risky move.
You could use the military breathing method for falling asleep or any other techniques that will be handy; rather than worrying over it, take it as part of your experience; it will really be helpful.
4. No, you don’t do your business on the mountainside
If you are familiar with mountain expeditions, then you probably know how mountaineers take care of their business during the climbing. They dig holes on the snowy slopes and cover the hole with snow after they are done with their business.
But rest assured, there will be no hole-digging on your Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition. There are several toilet and bathroom options to make the adventure to the tallest mountain in Africa a comfortable experience. First of all, there are ‘long drop’ toilets at every campsite in the mountain, in these types of toilets there is a ceramic pad with an opening, and you do your business squatting over it.
Generally, these types of toilets are filthy and quite unpleasant due to openings that let the gas pass from down below. However, depending on your tour operator, you can also get private toilet tents with a plastic commode and water-based flushing system like regular toilets. Whereas for the short little toilet breaks, you can use the toilets at the campsite or go behind a rock or bush during.
P.S. Always go to the toilet before you tuck in your sleeping bag, even if you don’t feel like it’s needed, trust me on this one.
5. Food is better than what you would expect
Unlike the trekking and mountaineering expeditions on the Himalayas that have teahouses for accommodation and extensive sets of eatery menus at least halfway near the foothills of the mountains. You might expect the outdoor camping adventure on Kilimanjaro to rely mostly on dehydrated and packed food throughout the expedition.
However, that is not entirely true; depending on the tour operator and your package, you will be able to enjoy fresh and tasty delicacies with a little bit of a spark of the Tanzanian culture during your adventure. Your chef and helpers will cook delicious and nutritious food for you using vegetables, grains, eggs, and meat.
Furthermore, you will also be able to relish the fruits and tasty snacks made by the chefs that will really make the exhilarating adventures on the tallest mountain in Africa feel like an exotic, luxurious vacation.
As the rations are brought to the base camps several times during the whole expedition, you can always expect the food to be plentiful and fresh. It is very crucial to stay well-nourished in this high altitude, as a well-energized body helps to prevent altitude sickness.
Plus, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, your operator will also cater to you with vegetarian and vegan options.
6. Physical and mental preparation for the adventure, take Diamox
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the primary reason which is why the successful climbing rate of Mt. Kilimanjaro is just around 45%- 50%. So, this factor is definitely something you shouldn’t underestimate if you are planning an adventure on the highest free-standing mountain.
You might have also heard that the more extended number of ascending days, the more probability of a successful summit. However, slacking off on the physical training part solely based on that reason will undoubtedly cost you the adventure.
Start training at least a few weeks prior to your adventure; focus on endurance and strength training as you will have to trek at least 5-6 hours on average on your Mt. Kilimanjaro expedition.
Practicing hiking on steep natural landscapes carrying a rucksack or backpack with significant weight will be a lot helpful during the real expedition. If you don’t have a suitable hiking destination near you, jogging or using treadmills for stamina and endurance build-up will also be relevant.
Also, remember that using Diamox helps to a certain extent to prevent altitude sickness; many climbers who regularly took this anti-AMS medication were able to avoid fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath during their expedition. But make sure to consult with your physician before using Diamox.
7. Tipping may be optional, but it is expected
When you are on an expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro, you will have at least 5-10 crew members, including expedition leaders, assistant guides, chefs, and helpers, depending on the size of the group.
Although it is not mandatory for you to tip your expedition team, remember that it is expected. Conquest of Mt. Kilimanjaro isn’t possible without the help of a larger group of individuals, so take it as a way of showing gratitude to these guys who made your adventure possible.
In general, the tipping range for the high-leveled members of the expedition team, like your expedition leader, is around $15- $20 a day. Similarly, it’s around $10- $15 for your chef and assistant guide and $5- $10 for each porter.
So, in total, you might have to roughly separate about $100 as tipping for every night you spend in the mountain. At the end of your expedition, your team will gather for the ‘tipping ceremony,’ where they will perform local songs and dances and provide you with envelopes for tipping.
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