To say that I was unprepared for my Kilimanjaro trek would be an understatement. I decided to forgo the recommended training for the climb believing that my [scarce] hours at the gym would suffice. Altitude sickness wouldn’t be a problem because I lived in Colorado for half of my life. I had an expensive North Face jacket that would surely keep me warm, and I used to camp out in the backyard so a week of tent living shouldn’t be a problem.
Obviously, I was very wrong. Turns out, I wasn’t just physically unprepared, but also emotionally. As lucky as I was to actually make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro, the trek could have been a lot easier if I had done my research. To save you from a little trouble and discomfort during your epic climb, I’ve constructed a list of things I wish I knew before I set out on the trip of a lifetime.
Five things I wish I knew before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro:
1. Altitude sickness is a bitch.
Great strides are made in order to properly acclimate you to the high altitude. One does not simply climb to the top of Kilimanjaro in one swift go. Your days on the climb will take you up the mountain and then down. It’s more like taking two steps forward and one step back. This gives you the right amount of time to get used to the thin air.
To be honest, the altitude didn’t affect me at all until summit day. I thought that I’d be waltzing up the top of the mountain. Barely thirty minutes into our trek to the summit I was keeled, over projectile vomiting everything in my system. I was also slightly delusional. So much so that when we reached the summit, I was convinced that my camera had died. I didn’t even bother to take it out of my backpack. Luckily, a few of my comrades snapped a few shots of me or else I’d have no proof that I actually made it. That leads me to my next piece of advice…
2. Make a list of things to remember at the summit.
Given the fact that most people will be suffering from some form altitude sickness, make sure that you make a list of all the things you’d like to accomplish if you make it to the top. Be sure to add “take photo” to the list. Chris actually lugged a bottle of Amarula to the summit with the hope that he’d be celebrating with those that made it to the top. Turns out it was all in vain. The toast that he had been planning for the previous six days was forgotten, as was the bottle that remained in his backpack until he was halfway down the mountain.
If there’s anything special or ceremonious that you’re planning for the summit, be sure to write it down so that you don’t forget in an altitude induced haze.
Scoff if you must, but hydration really is key. It may sound simple, but when you’re at base camp, freezing cold, and avoiding the long trek up to the “bathrooms”, you’ll be second guessing that fifth bottle of water. I honestly wish I would have hydrated more before summit day. I ended up spending the majority of the climb to the top vomiting every last ounce of liquid from my body. I tried to drink water every time we stopped (which was often) but I would end up feeling sick immediately after and it would all come up again. The last four hours of our climb I didn’t drink any water and the projectile vomiting stopped. With that knowledge, I would definitely hydrate as much as possible before the altitude sickness kicks in. You’ll thank me later.
4. Wet wipes are your best friend.
Eco friendly wet wipes are the key to happiness and cleanliness on the mountain. Want to take a shower? Grab a wet wipe. Run out of toilet paper? Grab a wet wipe. Want to clean a piece of fruit at breakfast? You guessed it, grab a wet wipe. No one looks very put-together after five days on the mountain, but wet wipes will at least keep you clean. If it’s good enough for a baby’s bottom, it’s good enough for me.
Unless you want to carry around a bag of your used wet wipes (gross), make sure they’re eco-friendly and will naturally dissolve once you’re finished. Clean yourself and clean the environment. Boom.
5. Tip your guide and porters.
Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but how many people would think to bring a wad of cash up the mountain? I didn’t bring one dime with me. What would I need money for? Imagine my embarrassment when we successfully made it down the mountain and everyone began tipping our guide and porters. Why didn’t I think of that? The man that had tirelessly navigated us to the top of the mountain and even held my hair as I violently vomited was looking at me semi-expectantly. The porter that had carried gallons of water, buckets of food, and my own backpack definitely deserved a tip- and a big one at that.
I hurriedly ran around the grounds asking everyone in my group for spare cash. Luckily, I was traveling with some geniuses who graciously lent me some money. While it was an afterthought for me, many of these guides and porters make a living and support their families from these tips. It is recommended that you tip your guide $15/day and your porters and cooks $12/day. This is recommended for groups so that the bigger the group the less you might end up paying. Either way, whether you’re trekking up with friends or doing it on your own, be sure to tip your guide.
Side note: If you have gear that you don’t plan on using again, leave it with your guide and porters. They’ll be happy to take it off you hands and will most likely use it on their next climb.