Kili Series: How hard is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Welcome to the Kili Series! A 3 part series that will tell you everything you need to know to get you up and down Mount Kilimanjaro

I summited Mount Kilimanjaro on the 2nd of March 2015. I say ‘summited’ but in truth the reality was far less glamorous. I don’t say this to dissuade people but to emphasise how unprepared I was for the climb. Before I get into the nitty-gritties of it, let’s get ourselves acquainted with one of the most popular mountains. 

So now that we have our basics covered. Let’s get started.

Is Kilimanjaro an Easy Mountain? 

First things first, Kilimanjaro has a reputation for being an easy mountain. This is FALSE. It is easier than some of the more technical mountains, but by no means would I describe it as easy. Kilimanjaro stands at a whopping 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet. That is high. Now symptoms altitude sickness start around 2500 metres while it’s more severe symptoms kick in around 3,600 meters. The milder symptoms of altitude sickness range from debilitating headaches, nausea , dizziness, fatigue amongst others. While the more severe symptoms can be fatal. Imagine having to deal with all of that while trying to climb a mountain for 8-10 hours a day with a rucksack strapped to your back. The summit, Uhuru Peak, is a whole 2,295 meters higher than the benchmark for severe altitude sickness. The single most important thing you can do to combat altitude sickness is to try and acclimatize to higher altitudes before you start climbing. If you live somewhere with access to any sort of elevation, make the most of it prior to your arrival in Tanzania.

None of this meant to discourage you, this is just so you know what you’re getting in to. Altitude sickness is rough, especially if like me you were born and raised at sea level, but with a little help from Diamox the climb seems a lot more doable. Diamox, the Godsend that it is, comes with it’s own rather unfortunate side-effects of needing to pee both often and without the option of holding it in. As a result, you’re going to see a lot of fellow climbers with their pants down trailside.

Aside from altitude sickness, and the side-effects of Diamox, there’s the actual task of getting up to Uhuru. We hiked between 6 and 10 hours everyday on surfaces of varying steepness. It was exhausting work, we trained for 10 months prior to our climb and still struggled with the climb to Gillman’s Point. A word of caution, if you’re prone to allergies or dust-triggered migraines, bring all of your medication if you can. There is a constant onslaught of volcanic ash, that gave me the most crippling migraines I have experienced till date; by the time I reached the summit the pain had affected my vision to the point that I could barely see.

Temperatures on the mountain seemed to fluctuate between those of the Sahara and Siberia, so if you haven’t packed appropriate gear, you’re going to struggle. I forgot to pack a pair of gloves and that was probably one of my biggest mistakes.

On a more positive note, Kilimanjaro requires no technical climbing skills, so it’s a great mountain to start off with. It has a relatively high success rate, and the guides that will take you up the mountain are extremely knowledgeable. The routes are well labeled, and the campsites have functional (albeit filthy) outhouses.

All in all, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but that’s what made it one of the most gratifying. As I stood at the summit, surrounded by glaciers in the midst of a blizzard. Blood, sweat, tears and the delirium brought on by altitude sickness and fatigue combined in a euphoric sense of both empowerment and humility. I had never felt more alive, and never more in awe of the planet we lived on.

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Watching the sunrise as we climbed to the Roof of Africa.

Click here to go to Part 2: Training & Packing for Mount Kilimanjaro

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