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Preparing for a Kilimanjaro trek

One of the easiest high altitude treks in the world, and one of the mountains you must consider climbing to qualify for an Everest ascent, climbing Kilimanjaro is still hard work from a physical and logistics point of view.

You need to prepare from around two months in advance, though if this is to be your big holiday of the year it helps to be in good physical condition from a longer spell of training.

Unlike many of the high altitude treks we look at, there are diseases in Tanzania that range from the irritating to horrifying. You will need to prepare for and be aware of these before you go.

This is a trek in Africa and whether visiting the nearby mountain gorilla families or taking in a big game safari in a nearby national park, the Kilimanjaro trek could be part of a longer experience of a lifetime.

At a minimum of seven days + travel you may consider another trip as part of your journey to this beautiful continent.

Tropical diseases

Let’s get the nasty bit out of the way quickly shall we?

Malaria is a major problem in Tanzania so you need to visit your doctor to get the right antimalarial medicine ahead of the trip.

Though your tour operator may provide bed nets as part of the service, consider bringing one.

A bug net for your hat will be good for the lower, forest days on the mountain too.

Many airline routes to Tanzania involve changing planes in Kenya.

Even if you’re just changing planes you will need a Yellow Fever jab for that sojourn as the authorities in Kenya are very hot on the matter.

A certificate comes with that – bring that with you to border control.

Other jabs you need are: tetanus (get a booster jab), typhoid, polio (again, get a booster), hepatitis A and B.

You will have had most of these vaccinations in the UK as a youngster but it pays to get booster jabs before you go.

There is no licensed, proven vaccination for Ebola.

It is possibly the most frightening disease on the planet, where you can catch it from close contact with someone who does not yet know they have it.

Travellers to Tanzania from Congo have died in Tanzania with it.

There have been no outbreaks there but you’re not as safe from the disease as you will be in London.

AIDS and HIV

It happens – you meet eyes across the bar after a good dinner and you do as people do when on holiday.

HIV and AIDS are a huge problem in Tanzania and if you do have a taste of the local delicacies then do protect yourself.

Unlike the European HIV variants, African HIV variants aren’t as easily medicated for as well – the last thing you want on a holiday of a lifetime is a death sentence.

Particularly with new local friends, forget ultra-light condoms – have thick ones that won’t break.

The French Foreign Legion issue ultra-thick ones for their men to relax with – better safe than sorry!

When do you want to go?

Your final ascent will start long before dawn.

Could you choose a trip to coincide with the Full Moon to light your way?

If timed right the Moon at dawn over the crater could make for some great shots with your camera!

There are two seasons for climbing Kilimanjaro – December to February and July to October.

It is drier between August and October and warmer between January and February.

Outside of these times it is either hot and wet or cold and wet!

Tour operators

Getting a tour operator for this trip is essential.

For quite a low daily cost you will have porters to carry your heavy stuff and mountain guides to get you up the mountain safely.

The mountain guides are trained in Acute Mountain Sickness First Aid and can assess whether you are just a little sick or need to be evacuated from the mountain in a hurry.

Most such expeditions will carry bottled oxygen for you to breathe should you be suffering, perhaps enabling you to make it to the top after a little wobble.

When you choose your tour operator for the Kilimanjaro trek, try to get one that runs as small groups as possible.

There are operators who take larger groups for less money but 10 is an ideal number.

Enquire as to how many guides will be on the expedition – ideally a 1:1 ratio.

That means you will have someone to talk to who knows the mountain inside out and as well as learning all about this alien world you also have them watching your back all the way.

If you are a first-time altitude trekker, look for a tour operator that sends you up the Lemosho route.

This has road access to Shira camp 1 3,500m and Shira camp 2 at 3,850m.

The best cure for mountain sickness is to descend quickly and if you are showing signs of serious deterioration you can be put in a truck and sent down the road where you can recover.

You don’t get that in the Karakoram Range!

Another tip is to look for a tour operator offering a minimum of seven days on the mountain.

Yes, mountain sickness again!

The reason behind this is the more gentle the ascent to the summit the more time your body can adapt to the rarified air up there.

Yes, you won’t feel overly ‘challenged’ but you will be going at the speed your body can handle.

Training for the trip

Recently we published an article on how to prepare for a high altitude trek.

That article goes into considerable depth as to the training you should ideally do for a hardcore high altitude expedition.

Apart from the final day’s walk to the summit the Kilimanjaro trek isn’t hugely challenging as high altitude treks go.

That said you will do well to be in good physical condition, and able to walk comfortably around 15 miles a day on sometimes challenging terrain for a week at sea level.

That’s no mean feat for someone who might drive a desk for a living!

All tour operators have porters for the trip but you will need to carry the gear you need for the day – this could be 6-8 kilos of weight.

Train with that weight even with your practice hikes.

Ultimately the greatest challenge of a physical challenge like this is to make it less of a challenge through proper preparation.

Boots and gear

Get a decent pair of boots – £100 or more – that fit well with walking socks at an early stage.

They should be winter-capable, and when you try them on at the store use their supplied walking socks to get the feel of them before you buy.

When you try them don’t just wriggle your toes – spend 5-10 minutes looking around the other available boots as you have them on.

The right boots will choose you!

Ideally you will have at least 50 miles of walking in your boots before you travel to Tanzania.

They will be well worn in and all being well you should be blister free for the trip.

You will be ascending through five distinct climate zones on your trek up Kilimanjaro.

You will start at tropical forest, cross a desert zone and then enter a world of permanent winter on the final day.

It can rain at any time on the mountain and the higher you go the more likely this will be snow.

Thanks to these factors you need everything from tee shirts and shorts for the lower levels where it will be extremely hot and humid, to arctic gear for the top.

Carry layers of clothing for your mid-trek stops. Always have a good set of waterproofs in your day bag, though of course at lower levels you could sweat so much in your waterproofs you may as well get soaked in the rain!

Have thermals, a down jacket, hat and gloves/mittens for the final ascent.

Snacks!

You will need to carry armloads of these for the trip from the UK.

Most tour operators will feed you three decent meals a day but you will get up there better with a cereal/muesli bar every hour. For seven days on the mountain that could amount to seven boxes.

Water purification tablets, a reverse osmosis pump or other portable water purification gadgets and bottles are important too.

You will be thirsty, will need lots of fluids, and this IS Africa!

Park fees and insurance

There are a number of fees that you need to be aware of before you travel.

The first is the Conservation Fee that goes into protecting the environment and wildlife on the mountain.

This is £56 per person per day.

Every night you will stay in a campsite.

Campsite fees are £40 per person per night.

If you get in trouble and need to be evacuated from the mountain you will be charged £20 by the park authorities.

Have that cash in your wallet – mountain sickness can hit anyone, regardless of how fit or prepared they are.

If you wish to explore the crater this is an additional £100 per person.

Porter and guide fees however are embarrassingly cheap at just £1.50 per person per day.

Given the other fees, do think of the porter and what they could do with a decent tip on top of that fee.

£50 goes a long way for someone who lives a basic life and does such hard work!

Travel insurance is a must.

Be sure to have a medical evacuation clause as you’re better treated at home even with tropical diseases.

Insurance companies aren’t the most honest in the finance world (who is?!) so be sure to make it clear what the insurance is for before you buy.

Final thoughts

Including travel you’ll be on a 10 day trip for a typical Kilimanjaro summit attempt.

Have you thought to visit the mountain gorillas nearby?

Many tour operators offer a chance to meet our mountain cousins as part of the package.

This is one of the most profound experiences you could ever have, meeting a wild animal that could be a direct relative to you.

They are illegally hunted and while there are brave and fierce government guards keeping them safe, the mountain gorilla is threatened as a species and if mankind doesn’t straighten its act out, they could be lost to the world forever.

Prepare well for this trip and a Mount Kilimanjaro expedition could well be the holiday of a lifetime. Good luck and fare well!

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