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What to expect when you climb Kilimanjaro?

One of Kilimanjaro’s main drawbacks is that you do not have to be a mountain climber to conquer it. You can be a secretary, farmer, Grade 10 learner, pensioner, or professional runner. Whoever you are, you do not need a single piece of mountain climbing equipment or any prior climbing experience to summit the highest mountain in Africa. With good hiking boots and determination, you can make it to the top. But that’s by no means to say climbing this astonishing natural wonder will be a walk in the park. It is a grueling climb under often trying weather conditions, on uneven terrain while being exposed to the elements. But we can assure you that the sense of achievement and the view from the summit will be well worth all the hard work. In the meantime, here’s what to expect along the way.

Arriving You will be welcomed at the small Kilimanjaro International Airport by Kilimanjaro-Experience drivers who take you to your hotel. There will be a thorough pre-climbing briefing by one of our operations managers or climbing coordinator and Kilimanjaro-Experience’s team will check your gear to see whether you are sufficiently equipped with what you have or if you need to rent anything from us. Arriving at least a day before the climb will ensure enough time for the briefing, getting equipment in order, and a good night’s sleep.

Your group There are scheduled group departures every month, and scheduled departures on the Lemosho route every other Thursday. Kilimanjaro Destinations also offers treks on other days of the week, for private or larger groups, or for tailor-made routes. A ‘scheduled departure’ is a confirmed departure date for a specific route with, on average, between five and ten people. This is the most economical option and also a good way to meet and bond with new people. If you want to be on your own — just you and a partner or your family—it is best to book a private departure. Then you trek in your own time and will not be mixed with other hikers. You might want to book a trip up to Kilimanjaro for a company, as a team-building adventure, or for charity or fund-raising purposes. We would arrange this as a private tour. Your group can consist of a minimum of one person up to groups of 5 to 20. Kilimanjaro Destinations offers scheduled group departures for Marangu, Lemosho, and Machame routes and can guide private groups on any of the other routes.

On the mountain There are no hotels on Mount Kilimanjaro. There are no cable cars to the top, no paved paths, and no running water. For people who have no camping experience, it might be a new adventure to sleep in tents on sleeping mats and in sleeping bags. Only on the Marangu route will you stay in fixed huts. However, the other routes are camping routes and porters will set up the tents before you arrive at the next campsite. In fact, porters carry the bulk of the heavy stuff, not only tents. There are no taps or flush toilets. It can be wild and wonderful to wash your face in a pan of warm water, ‘bath’ with wet wipes, and keep your balance at the long drop toilets. You can expect severe variations in temperature. Be prepared for hot and humid conditions in the forests and for below-freezing conditions, ice rain, and wind at higher altitudes. You should wear thermal underwear and hiking boots, warm thick gloves, and good-quality, thermal socks.

In total, you will pass through five different climate zones on the mountain, including lush rainforest, low moorland, alpine desert, and the famous arctic summit. Kilimanjaro is feted for its incredible biodiversity. Some routes up to the summit are more remote and less frequented, but the most popular routes can be busy and you will certainly see other groups along the way and at camp. Having said that, it’s a big mountain and it never feels too crowded. Your body might do strange things. The altitude will put stress on all your systems and you might doubt your sanity in attempting this stupendous daring exercise. It might be too cold to change clothes or wash. Your head might hurt on summit night and your lungs will yearn for oxygen or a cigarette. You will have to walk very slowly, keeping a slow rhythm. “Pole pole”, slowly slowly, as they say here in Tanzania. This will be your mountain mantra. Breathe and carry on. Slowly. It will be worth it.

Sleeping We recommend bringing your own sleeping bag, though they can be rented from us if necessary. We ensure our bags are washed (and dried) after each trip. If you bring your own sleeping bag make sure it is suitable for temperatures of -12°C or less or bring an inner for extra warmth. Sturdy three-person tents and sleeping mats are supplied and included in our rate. We use the three-person tents for two people only so as to allow plenty of space for your gear and a good night’s sleep after a long day. Porters will set up the tents and you will arrive at your overnight stop with the tents ready. Kilimanjaro Destinations use mostly SALEWA tents.

Eating and drinking Porters and cooks carry all catering supplies and food. You can bring your own snacks. This is advised to help combat fatigue and symptoms of altitude sickness. High-sugar, high-fat, and high-energy snacks are best, such as chocolate bars, energy bars, peanuts, and biscuits. We recommend you bring at least two snacks for each day spent on the mountain. You will eat well. All meals are catered for by cooks and porters who carry utensils, pots, food, and gear. You will drink well. Porters will fetch water from streams whereafter it is filtered and boiled to purify and served as tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. You will have to drink at least three liters of water a day to stay hydrated enough to reduce symptoms of altitude sickness. Cold drinking water for the day will also be provided by the porters each morning. For breakfast, you will be served eggs, sausages, porridge, and bread. Extras include jam, peanut butter, and margarine. Lunch is usually a packed affair including a boiled egg, a sandwich or roll, a piece of chicken, biscuits, fresh fruit, and a carton of juice. Supper is a hot meal consisting of soup, meat, vegetables, starch, and fruit. We provide a mess tent with a table, chairs, and proper cutlery. We don’t serve alcohol but every meal is accompanied by tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Vegetarians and those with food allergies can be catered for with advance notice; we can cater also to Kosher and Halaal diets. A designated waiter and his assistant will cater to all your needs at meal times.

Ablutions There are no showers on Kilimanjaro and the water in the streams is refreshingly cold. Each morning and evening you will be provided with some warm water to wash your face and hands. The toilets are very basic. These ‘long drop’ toilets are housed in wooden structures at each campsite. On private departures on camping routes, mobile toilets are included in the cost. Toilet paper and wet wipes are essential for personal hygiene.

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