Things to know before climbing Kilimanjaro.
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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.
So there you have it. I sincerely hope that this posts saves you a little trouble on your next climb up Kilimanjaro. Maybe you’re experience to the summit will be slightly more enjoyable!
22 thoughts on “Things to know before climbing Kilimanjaro.”
Great tips. Was the trek harder than you expected? It’s one of my dreams to climb Kili when I get to Africa, but I’m slightly worried about my fitness level.
What an experience. Sounds intense! I want to hear more about that altitude sickness.
Good tips. I def want to do this one day. But I never prepare for anything. I am such a nature newbie, lol
I had no idea how rough this climb is on a person. I know that I’d be throwing up with every step. Wow! What an accomplishment for you both.
Yikes. You make me worry about my upcoming hike in Romania next month… Fortunately, not going THAT high but now I wonder if I am just as deluded as you say you were!! The tips you offer are great – especially the list of what one wants to do at the top once one gets there!
These are great tips! I’m not climbing Kilimanjaro this trip, but I do plan on climbing in the future. These are all things that I wouldn’t have thought of, especially tipping, but you are right. I will definitely keep this in mind for when I do go! 🙂
I wish I had eco-friendly wet wipes when I went on our desert safari in India. In fact, in India in general. LOL.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a little out of my travel comfort zone…so amazing that you did it! Hopefully plenty will see this list so they don’t forget all they want to do at the summit!
Very true indeed. Mr O went recently and said it wasn’t as hard as Everest base camp, but hard enough. Not a trip for me, I am afraid, but have a lot of respect for those who decide to embark on such adventures!
soo what we got out of this is that you’re seriously badass. we are positive we would have died–i could barely handle the elevation in colorado. great tips! for other people. we’ll meet everyone down at the bottom with that bottle of amarula you mentioned.
i think you’re right that people definitely underestimate altitude as taking a toll on our bodies, myself included. just going to Keystone, CO a couple of weeks ago wasn’t easy on this lady. great info here!! i’ll file it away 🙂
The wet wipes are a great tip for just about anywhere you go without running water. Also, I didn’t know you lived in Colorado half your life…which part?
I would love to climb Kili some day, but I’ll have to keep these tips in mind. I was fine with the altitude at Machu Picchu, but I guess that’s no guarantee I won’t be throwing up and delirious at the summit here!
GREAT tips! I’ve been living in flatland for a bit, but I used to hike. Nothing like this though!
Sorry to hear you had a tough trip up, but many will benefit from the useful information and from your experiences in this post.
Really great info. I attempted Kili a few years back but did not summit 🙁 But yes, hydrating is important. And altitude sickness can strike anyone, regardless of experience or fitness level. I also like that you mention donating used gear to the porters and guides. I did just that and they were most grateful.
Great tips indeed… I hear this is no easy trek, so congratulations for making it. So curious were you the only one who “struggled” so… or was nearly the entire trekking tribe affected by the altitude.
Also, great call with the Amarula toast… when I first tasted that African goodness my life changed, so happy I can find it in the states now.
stay adventurous, Craig
I would never think of the things on your list, so thanks for the ideas. I mean, even just remembering to bring cash for tips and having wet wipes will probably make all the difference in the world, although I’m sure someone would also be very happy to find they actually accomplished what they wanted to on the summit because of their amazing list. Your altitude sickness sounds terrible- did you feel very sick when you came back down the mountain as well from losing all your hydration?
I am planning climbing Kilimanjaro next year so just doing some research when I came across your article. Thanks so much for sharing this, I have taken note. Not looking forward to the altitude sickness (your camera story made me laugh), but atleast I’ll be prepared for it.
Its just a matter of getting well prepared and you will be ready to tackle the roof of Africa. Just recently February 25, 2013 Aaryan Bajaji at 8 years became the youngest to climb mount Kilimanjaro. how can you not try?
Great post, I have actually took notes, I’m going to Tanzania this winter for a while and this climb was on my bucket list forever! Thanks!
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