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Climbing Kilimanjaro: Need To Know Facts

April 26, 2013

Ready to stand tall upon Africa’s highest peak? We’ll help you understand what to anticipate, the best of many possible routes, and what separates those that summit from those that don’t.

Each year, roughly fifteen thousand people attempt to reach the top of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro at a skyscraping 19,341 feet in elevation. Of those that begin the long journey, only about 40% actually reach their goal.
Source: MSNBC

The trek up usually takes about seven days with the attempt to summit Kilimanjaro often made on the sixth day at midnight. Climbers often begin the summit trek at midnight in order to reach the rim of crater by sunrise where awe-inspiring views are not unusual in the dawning light. The early hour also improves safety because the loose gravel is generally frozen making the climbing noticeably easier.

Kilimanjaro Weather, Equipment, & Planning

Being sufficiently prepared for the climb includes quality cold-weather gear along with proper-fitting books, ample water supply and nutrient-dense foods. While the temperatures on Kilimanjaro don’t fluctuate widely because of its proximity to the equator, there is a significant drop in temperature as you gain elevation with temps at the summit ranging from 0 to -15 fahrenheit.

climb mount kilimanjaroJanuary, February and September tend to be the best months for making the climb but, due to the often favorable weather conditions, those can also be the busiest months. Between March and June, the area experienced its heaviest rains so plan accordingly. In general, Kilimanjaro is not considered to be a destination for rock climbers due to the highly fragmented rock.

The hiker in reasonably good condition can anticipate a successful summit if they pace themselves appropriately. Be prepared for shifting conditions as the mountain’s massive size means that Kilimanjaro creates its own weather systems which are exceptionally unpredictable.

Climbing To The Summit of  Kilimanjaro

The hike on the day of summit takes between five and seven hours with the use of headlamps unless you’re lucky enough to ascend under the glow of the full moon. Descending back to the rest stop at Barafu adds another four hours to the effort.

While not known for being an especially technical climb, the sheer height of “Mount Kili” as it’s often called, can lead many climbers to experience altitude sickness; the best prevention for which includes staying well hydrated and walking very slowly to allow your body enough time to acclimatise to the elevation. That’s particularly true if you live at sea level. Some mountaineers bring a medicine called acetazolamide but taking a full seven days to complete the ascent is the better remedy for minimizing altitude sickness.

Jon Garside of the British Mountaineering Council once said “You have got to walk so incredibly slowly; imagine an arthritic 90-year-old walking backwards – that’s probably too fast”. Rushing your way can lead to headaches, digestive difficulties and, in some cases, vomiting. It’s estimated that as many as seventy percent of climbers encounter some symptoms of altitude sickness so avoid the impulse to take the long gradients too quickly.

Going All The Way

Some professional guides have lead expeditions up Kilimanjaro taking the Lemosho trail and achieving a 95% success rates. That approach involves a seven-day ascent and a four-day descent from Mt. Kili.  One of the more touristy routes is called Marangu route and then there’s the scenic route named Machame which affords gorgeous vistas and abundant vegetation.

While the Lemosho trail usually takes longer, you’ll experience dramatic westerly views, intensely beautiful gorges and a diversity of microclimates including alpine deserts and densely covered forests. No matter which one of the half dozen trails you might choose to climb Kilimanjaro, all require as much mental determination as they do physical endurance.

Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes

The popularity of Kilimanjaro has lead commercial interests to add certain creature comforts you might not expect to find including comfortable sleeping huts along with food and drinks to supply the crowds of mountaineers. The more heavily touristed Marangu route offers huts that include electricity, cooking facilities, and even bathrooms.

It may add to your peace of mind that many of the camps along Mt. Kilimanjaro do provide some lesser facilities as well as staffed ranger stations equipped for rescue. Do understand however that you’re still in a remote part of Africa meaning that rescue operations may be as simple as being taken down the mountain in a modified wheelbarrow if you become incapacitated by altitude sickness.

The effects of sleeping on the ground for many nights in a row leave many tourists unprepared for the fatigue and resulting struggle they may encounter in their final effort to summit. Still, the wondrous views and myriad landscapes, including the moon-like rim of the one of the world’s largest sleeping volcanoes, will provide memories that last a lifetime.

Kilimanjaro Route Name Degree of
Difficulty
Days Required Success
Rate
Route
Features
Machame High – permit required Seven Highest – popular and often busy spectacular scenery
Marangu Lowest Six Lower – less time to acclimatize beautiful yet crowded
Shira- Lemosho Lower Eight High – recommended very scenic / uncrowded
Rongai High – difficult       final summit Six Good least scenic / uncrowded
Umbwe Highest –
rapid ascent
Six Lower beautiful forest / uncrowded
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