Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, which makes it a much-desired destination for adventure lovers. However, hiking there is far from a walk in the park. Therefore, if you want your journey to be not only successful but also safe, it’s crucial that you prepare adequately.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that just because Africa is warm, Mount Kilimanjaro will be the same. In reality, there are nights up there when temperatures fall below freezing. While hiking, you also need to be aware that you might experience altitude sickness at some point.
You simply cannot underestimate the importance of taking the right gear with you. So, before you check how hard is it to climb Kilimanjaro and prepare all the equipment, read on to learn more about the essential things you should know before setting out for the Kilimanjaro trek.
The best time to hike
To choose the right time to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, you need to consider two factors: low temperatures and rainy seasons. January to February or June to October periods are considered to be the most pleasant time to climb due to the fact that warmer temperatures and clear skies are most likely to occur in these months.
However, the good weather conditions bring most people, so keep in mind that the trails might get quite crowded. You can also try to schedule your hike for March or October, just before each of the two rainy seasons. This might be your best choice if you want to avoid both crowds and foul weather.
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Be careful when choosing your route
There are seven climbing routes that can lead you to the summit, but most hikers pick among three: the Marangu Route, the Machame Route and the Lemosho Route.
The Marangu Route is favoured by many visitors because it takes five to six days to hike, depending on your pace and stamina, and is thought to be the quickest, cheapest and most comfortable way to reach the summit. The Machame Route will lead you up the southern flank of the peak. It takes anywhere from six to seven days to hike and is quite challenging, and therefore not recommended for inexperienced hikers.
The Lemosho Route is full of scenic views and has been established up the long western ridge of Kilimanjaro Mountain. Hiking the Lemosho Route takes from six to nine days. You need to keep in mind that the more days you spend on the mountain, the more expensive your trip is going to be.
That’s why, unless you are very confident in your abilities and overall strength, as well as the ability to feel well in high altitudes, it might be better to play it safe and book one of the longer tours to give yourself time to acclimatize. The success rate for climbers who attempt a five-day ascent is less than half, so there’s really no need to rush your hike.
The mountain is cold
Unfortunately, many inexperienced hikers make the mistake of assuming that just because Kilimanjaro is located close to the equator, it’s a place that’s always hot or at least pleasantly warm. Nothing could be further from the truth. When hiking the mountain, the temperature drops as soon as you gain elevation. That means that you should never attempt to hike Kilimanjaro without clothing that is designed to keep you warm in cold weather.
During the day, the sun should be enough to keep you comfortable in a single base layer and quality trekking pants. You might also need a softshell jacket for when the sun hides behind the clouds and a hard shell in case there’s a breeze or wind.
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Have quality gear
Investing in high-quality gear that you will be able to rely on during dramatic weather changes can make or break your entire experience. You can expect heat, heavy rains (especially if you travel during the rainy season), and temperatures dropping well below freezing during the night. Additionally, it’s likely that you might experience all of these conditions in a single day. That’s why it’s essential that you bring lightweight, weatherproof and water-resistant gear for your Kilimanjaro climb.
Some examples of equipment or gear you may need to bring with you include:
- -20 degree sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Trekking poles
- Insulated trekking gloves, pants, and winter Jacket
- Thermal underwear
- Hiking boots
- Medium-sized daypack (25-35 litres)
- 70-litre main pack or a duffel bag
For more detailed information you should contact the guide company of your choice as every company may have different requirements when it comes to the exact kind of gear you’ll have to bring.
The higher the altitude, the thinner the air is. This can cause an illness known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). Many hikers experience it and it’s the primary reason that people fail to reach the summit. Mild forms of AMS are common and generally even expected while climbing Kilimanjaro, but severe forms of AMS can be dangerous to health and potentially fatal. Symptoms of AMS usually begin with a light headache, nausea and fatigue. With time, the body acclimatizes to the current elevation, and the symptoms disappear.
However, as you reach higher elevation, your body is retested again. As long as this is the way you’re recovering it’s a good sign – your body is overcoming the oxygen deficiency and there is no need to be concerned. Some people might even acclimatize quickly enough to not feel any symptoms at all. But if the symptoms don’t disappear and become progressively worse, AMS can become dangerous. In such cases people need to be escorted down the mountain for their safety.
Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro is the experience of a lifetime. Many trekkers dream about it because it offers a complete non-technical hike. However, the dangers of this mighty mountain cannot be underestimated and everyone who wants to succeed in reaching the summit needs to prepare accordingly.
Hikers need to be prepared for low temperatures and rapidly changing weather conditions. It’s also important to carefully consider and choose the best route for your abilities, bring high-quality gear and be aware of the dangers of altitude sickness. The final results and the views from the top of the mountain will certainly be worth the time and effort put into the preparation process.
Top image by Greg Montani from Pixabay
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