It’s Kili Time! Make the most of it
Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each continent.
Kibo Peak, the highest point on the mountain, stands 5895m above sea level and Kili is considered the highest freestanding mountain in the world.
It has naturally become a magnet for people looking for an attainable challenge. At peak season up to 300 people a day can reach the summit.
Despite its fame and the high rate of traffic Kilimanjaro should not be considered an easy peak. Even though it is essentially a walk, with no technical climbing involved by the common routes, it is no stroll in the park and is challenging on a number of fronts.
The biggest issue is the height and the rate of climb. This is a high mountain and the difficulties of acclimatising and the general lack of oxygen higher up should not be underestimated…
I had the great fortune to get the chance to climb Kili again this April. My good friend Alan was conducting a reconnaissance for a charity trek company who are sending groups of trekkers onto the mountain later this year. He was checking out the logistics, risks and conditions they will encounter and doing everything possible to make sure their adventure would be safe, enjoyable and attainable. For many people this will be an expensive and very significant adventure, and indeed many Kili summiteers do not have extensive mountain experience, so a lot of support is needed to maximise their chances of success.
Due to the time demands we travelled to Tanzania in the rainy season. This brings its own pros and cons. On the positive side the mountain is much less busy, but of course the adverse weather can make things harder. The summit is snowbound at this time, although temperatures are less low. In the dry season the summit is wind-scoured with no snow cover, but colder and windier.
Apart from the obvious appeal of such a challenge, one of the most amazing things about Kilimanjaro is the various climate zones you pass through on the ascent – and the speed with which you transition from one zone to another. These aspects make the mountain unique and are a key part of why it is so attractive.
Starting in a cultivated zone you trek through tropical rainforest, heather moorland, high altitude desert and then climb into alpine and arctic conditions on summit day. The flora in particular is spectacular, as is the sense of being on the Roof of Africa, with massive and extensive panoramas from the top.
We climbed via the Machame Route. There are various routes onto the summit and the Machame is widely regarded as one of the most scenic and varied. It basically approaches the mountain from the south and climbs to the western edge to traverse around in an easterly direction. You leave the mountain due south by another exit point at Mweka gate. It is more demanding than the Marangu – the most common way to go – but has the benefit of allowing better acclimatisation as the route rises and falls along the way. This conforms to the acclimatisation rules of “go slowly” – “pole, pole” in Swahili – and “climb high, sleep low”.
Despite all this I had a demanding time on summit day and had to dig deep to get there in the end. I would say that this was the toughest time I’ve ever had on a mountain. But of course the rewards and sense of achievement made it all the more worthwhile.
The Machame route normally takes 7 days and doing it in 6 certainly doesn’t help. As this was a reconnaissance trip we had our own porters (the route is camping all the way), with cooking crew and guide. It’s a condition of trekking on Kilimanjaro that as well as paying fairly hefty park fees you employ local labour and expertise to help you on your way. This was very ably organised for us by the Tanzania Travel Company and Daniel, our guide, was an inspiration and a great support throughout the trip.
Kilimanjaro is within reach of anyone with the right attitude and experience, but I would also say, get fit and be realistic about how hard the summit is going to be. A modicum of luck and some hard work will get you there. Pack some Rohan clothes (of course! See kit list) and have a great time.
We often feel that the normal demands of life leave time in short supply. An ascent of Kilimanjaro is an amazing experience and it’s remarkable that it can be achieved in just over one, short, incredible week.
Tim shares some really useful information on Rohantime regarding his kit list for Kilimanjaro. The comprehensive list is also broken down by climate zones. We hope this proves to be helpful when researching what to take on your next trip. There is also a photo record of the trip through the different climate zones.
Any questions for Tim on the trip or his kit please use the comments at the bottom of the post.
Read Ed Douglas in The Guardian – Kilimanjaro: it makes you sick