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Everything you need to know about climbing Kilimanjaro…

Thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro? Is it something that’s been lingering on your bucket list for years? Well hopefully the information below will help you take the first steps towards reaching the Roof of Africa at 5,895 metres and ticking off this incredible bucket list experience of summiting the world’s highest freestanding mountain.

But first of all, let’s take it back a step. Why take the plunge in the first place?

Spending 6 – 8 days with people you’ve never met, trekking for multiple days at altitude, sleeping in tents and inevitably climbing the highest free-standing mountain in the world is no mean feat and to most of us – that prospect can be more than daunting to say the least. But isn’t that part of the excitement as well? Jumping into the unknown, attempting a world-famous mountain peak and creating your very own adventure tales? And all with the support of specialists that will help and guide you every step of the way. So, don’t let your nerves get the better of you about stepping outside your comfort zone because the rewards and experience far exceed not taking your first steps on Kilimanjaro.

Can I actually do it?

The million-dollar question for all who consider climbing Kilimanjaro. If you’re in good shape, have a bit of previous trekking experience, have a can-do attitude and love a challenge, then you’re halfway there to achieving your goal.  Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is by no means a walk in the park, with long days trekking and altitude to tackle, its hard work. And there’s more than just physical strength that you’ll need, there’s the mental strength as well that will help you reach the summit. You’d be surprised how much your mentality can affect your physical performance. Climbing Kilimanjaro requires perseverance and determination to reach the summit and that’s what makes it worth doing, because the sense of achievement is unbeatable. It’s namely the summit night where you will really need to dig deep, but the rewards of the sunrise and that famous summit sign will stay with you for years to come. So, remain positive and believe that you can do it! The Absolute Africa guides and support team will help you as much as possible as well. They are some of the most positive and kindest people in the world, but at the end of the day the final summit push is down to you which makes your achievement so very special.

What is the difference in routes and length of itineraries?

There are many different routes to choose from for your ascent of Kilimanjaro. The map above displays the routes available. Absolute Africa offer four of these routes so there’s bound to be a route that will best suit your ideal ascent:

  • Lemosho route
  • Machame route
  • Marangu route
  • Rongai route

Below is a brief summary of each of these routes.

Lemosho: On this route you approach the mountain from the west by the lightly-used Lemosho route. Many guides consider this ascent to be both easier and more beautiful than any other trail and it retains a real sense of unspoilt wilderness. You will trek through forest and moorland from the west, crossing the caldera of Shira volcano and exploring the rock formations of the plateau, before traversing beneath the southern icefields of Kibo. You will also be greeted with an unusual view of the montane forest, before converging with other routes and making the final ascent to the summit by the Barafu route.

Machame: This route approaches Kilimanjaro through forest and moorland from the south-west and joins the Shira route before traversing beneath the southern icefields of Kibo. The rainforest is extremely beautiful and there is a tangible sense of ‘wilderness’ once the higher elevations are reached. The views of Mt. Meru floating on the clouds are simply unforgettable. You will make your final ascent to the summit by the stunning Barafu route.

Marangu: This route, often called the ‘Coca-Cola route’, is used by almost 50% of all climbers and has comfortable mountain huts with solar power lighting. The views are beautiful, and each day of walking progresses through a different climate zone. The real highlight is the walk from Gilman’s Point along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, passing close to spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs. The views on a clear morning are magnificent, with the Rift Valley, Mt. Meru, and the Masai Steppes clearly visible. We also add an extra day to the standard five-day itinerary to ensure maximum acclimatisation.

Rongai: This route approaches the mountain from the north by the lightly-used Rongai route. The Rongai route starts just south of the Kenya-Tanzania border and has been almost unused for many years because the area was considered sensitive. Now open for climbing once again, experienced guides consider this ascent route to be both easier and more beautiful than the main Marangu trail. The Rongai route begins in attractive farmland and delightful forest, with the possibility of wildlife viewing, and passes through several different climate zones, adding considerably to the interest of the trek. This route retains a sense of unspoilt wilderness and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro by approaching it from the north.

Absolute Africa offer 6 to 8 day trekking itineraries to help maximise your acclimatisation and summit success. Recent National Park statistics indicate that the chance of reaching the summit increases by at least 30% if an extra day is spent acclimatising. We strongly recommend that you do not attempt to climb Kilimanjaro in anything less than a 6-day itinerary.

What does it mean to trek at altitude?

Altitude is predominantly the main concern for most people with climbing Kilimanjaro. Quite often people who take on Kili have never been at altitude before, so it is stepping into the unknown which is quite daunting. Rest assured that Absolute Africa’s guides and crew are fully experienced and training in mountain safety and first aid. Plus, our itineraries are designed to help with your acclimatisation.

Firstly, what is altitude sickness:

Altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness (AMS), can occur when you travel to a high altitude too quickly. Breathing becomes difficult because you are not able to take in as much oxygen.

It’s important to note that age, sex or physical fitness have no bearing on your likelihood of getting altitude sickness. And just because you haven’t had it before doesn’t mean you won’t develop it on another trip.

 Symptoms of altitude sickness

Symptoms of altitude sickness usually develop between 6 and 24 hours after reaching altitudes more than 3,000m (9,842 feet) above sea level.

Symptoms are similar to those of a bad hangover.

They include:

  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • shortness of breath

The symptoms are usually worse at night.

Tips for preventing altitude sickness…

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to travel to altitudes above 3,000m slowly, ‘pole pole’ as your guides and crew will say continuously. This means  ‘slowly’ in Swahili.

You should also:

  • take 2-3 days to get used to high altitudes before going above 3,000m
  • avoid climbing more than 300-500m a day
  • make sure you’re drinking enough water
  • avoid alcohol
  • avoid strenuous exercise for the first 24 hours
  • eat a light but high calorie diet
  • avoid smoking

When is the best time to climb?

There are two distinct trekking seasons which constitute the best time to climb Kilimanjaro. They are January-March and June-October.

January-March are generally warmer months than June-August where there is a higher probability of encountering snow on the summit. However the temperatures will drop dramatically the higher up the mountain you climb.

However, if you find yourself in Tanzania outside of these months, below is an overview of the year on Kilimanjaro:

January, February and the first half of March are the warmest months, with wonderful clear skies mornings and evenings, making these very popular times to climb. Although you may get a few showers during the day.

June, July and August are the “winter” months in Tanzania. Although it’s still warm during the day, nights are cold. Kili is chilly year-round anyway but, if you are combining your trek with other activities, the days will be warm, but the nights and early morning safaris are cold.

August and September are peak seasons, so if you want to avoid busy trails you might want to consider the Rongai or Lemosho routes. It is, however, also migratory season for wildlife if you want to add a safari into the already magical mix. September is a little quieter and also warmer than August.

Climbs around full moons are very popular for obvious reasons.


There is a rainy season in April and May
, which generally means one pretty heavy rainstorm every day on Kili. However, even that is not guaranteed and it doesn’t last for hours with most of the rain hitting the coast. So, although some people want to avoid this, others embrace it, as rain equates with more solitary slopes. During this time, the Rongai route is the best option during this time as you ascend on the driest side of the mountain where it rarely rains.

There is another shorter rainy season from November to December, although the showers are short. October is usually a great time for climbing, getting in just before the rains do, but when many of the crowds have gone home.

 Top tips for climbing Kilimanjaro…

  • Be sure to use a reputable company. You can’t go up Kili without a local guide who has undergone the rigorous national park training. Absolute Africa are proud to work with our Chief Guide, Samson Lauwo, the grandson of the famous Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, ‘Mzee Lauwo’, who led Hans Meyer, the first European to summit Kilimanjaro in 1889. Samson is our consultant and man on the ground in Moshi to ensure all aspects of the trek run smoothly and safely.
  • Try to maximise your days on the mountain for acclimatisation. We recommend the 7-8 day itineraries in order to help you with acclimatisation and reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro.
  • Be prepared. Sounds obvious, but ensuring you have the right kit will make all the difference to your mountain adventure. Good quality, durable kit could mean the difference between a fantastic trek and an uncomfortable one. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions and ensure you have a very warm sleeping bag. Absolute Africa will provide you with a kit list, so you will know what to pack. As a top tip, pack a buff as they are great for the sun, the cold, the dust and come in handy for when visiting the long drops! And a warm jacket such as a down jacket for evenings in camp as the temperature at night drops quite dramatically.
  • Get fit physically and mentally. It’s wise to do some training before you go – particularly in the walking boots you plan to wear.  But as much as anything, getting to the top is about mental strength too. Get out and walk (slowly) for a number of hours on a few occasions to get used to being on your feet for some time on consecutive days.
  • Eat and drink plenty. Eat plenty at every meal and drink more than you think you need.  Take snacks with you to keep energy levels up – dried fruit and energy bars are ideal. Plus take some of your own favourites and you can use these as personal rewards for when you reach certain milestones of the trek. It can be quite dusty while you walk, so take some sweets to suck on to help clear your throat too.

Travelling solo?

Africa is a wonderful place to travel solo. If you’re open, you can have wonderfully rich experiences while meeting incredible people. With using our local crew Absolute Africa have the flexibility to tailor a Kili climb to suit you. You can opt to climb solo or as a couple with your own personalised crew or we can group you up with other like-minded people and collectively you can strive for the same goal, as long as the dates work out for you.

Mark a special occasion?

If you have a special occasion whether it’s a milestone birthday, an anniversary of some kind or a particular time of year such as NYE, we can organise a trek for you to summit on that particular event. What better and more memorable way to mark your special occasion or celebration than standing at Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

How does it work with an overland trip?

If you are wanting to make the most of your time in Africa, then there are plenty of overland tours that you can do together with climbing Kilimanjaro. Depending on the time you have available there are tours ranging from a few days all the way up to 11 weeks. We recommend that you book your Kilimanjaro climb either before the start or at the end of your tour. Kilimanjaro is near Arusha, Tanzania and can be reached by air via Kilimanjaro International Airport which is served by several international airlines. We can arrange transfers by road to and from Arusha and Nairobi.

Your team at Absolute Africa…

If you have any further queries, concerns, questions about your Kilimanjaro journey, feel free to get in touch with the team at Absolute Africa. Many of them have stood on the Roof of Africa and are only to happy to share their experiences, provide you with top tips and put your mind at ease with answering all your questions. Simply get in touch with the team at absaf@absoluteafrica.com, call UK +44(0)208 742 0226 or check out the website at https://www.absoluteafrica.com/Climb-Kilimanjaro-with-Absolute-Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro is rugged and wild and the people overwhelmingly friendly. The energy of the people and the landscape is infectious, it will allow you to immerse yourself into the culture as you collectively strive for the same goal, to summit the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

 

 

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