What to expect on Mt. Kilimanjaro
For many of us, landing in Tanzania and climbing the to the highest point on the continent is a bit of new experience. So here are a few points to better understand what you might expect when you land.
Most outfitters put climbers up in either Moshi or Arusha. Moshi is a relatively small town near the foot of Kilimanjaro. Arusha is much larger and the main jumping-off point for tourists to Tanzania. Both cities are safe to wander around and explore. But you may find a lot less amenities than you’re used to. For example, on my last visit to Moshi I could only find 1 ATM (cash machine) and it didn’t work with my bank card, so finding cash can be a real challenge. There are a few more options in Arusha.
Guides and Porter
The Kilimanjaro Park Service requires all groups climbing Kilimanjaro to hire a guide and at least one porter to help carry necessary equipment. Most outfitters will provide each group a guide, a cook, and 2+ porters per person. Your guide or assistant will be with you most of the time and can provide you with expert information on conditions, weather, elevation, and even the local environment and wildlife. Almost all guides speak English and have spent years climbing the mountain. I’ve seen a number of guides hike up to the summit without even turning on a flash-light. This isn’t out of lack of concern, they have just done the climb literally hundreds of times and don’t need the light.
It is requested that clients keep their pack weight below 30 lbs per person. Porters have historically carried unhealthy loads of up to 80 lbs on their backs and heads, risking their safety and that of the clients. Also, it’s important that everyone; climbers, guides and porters, have appropriate enough clothing to stay warm and protected in the lower temperatures up the mountain.
In the morning the cook typically provides breakfast. After you pack your personal belongings in your backpack, you’re ready to hit the trail with your day-pack, water and trekking poles. The porters then pack your tent and set off for the next camp.
You typically spend your day enjoying Kilimanjaro and hiking to the next camp with your guide. As you make your way up the mountain, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the porters pass you carrying up to 60 lbs. on their heads and back. By the time you arrive at the next camp, your tent will be set up and waiting for you. You typically get a bag lunch for the trail and a cook prepares a hot dinner for the evening.
It is important to remember that altitude sickness is a serious and real risk when climbing Kilimanjaro. Every year a few climbers die on the mountain from altitude sickness. Most people tend to feel the effects of the altitude above 15,000 ft. You might feel nauseous or have a headache. If your headache gets worse, you get nauseous or vomit, get dizzy or stagger you may be getting acute mountain sickness (AMS). If you get these symptoms do not ascend higher, and descend if possible until the symptoms pass.
One way to reduce the potential effects of altitude sickness is to be properly hydrated. Ideally you should have 4+ liters of water or liquids a day. Some people chose to use Diamox to prevent altitude sickness. You can usually get a prescription from your doctor for this. It’s also a good idea to get an updated physical and talk to your doctor about the stress of the climb, proper use of Diamox and altitude illnesses.
Please remember that the real success is to make it back safely, not to reach the top!