Advice to my mate for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

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My trekking group with Kilimanjaro in the background. I’m in the red tshirt and flat cap in the right foreground.

One of my close friends is climbing Kilimanjaro this November.

Over a recent curry, he sounded pretty relaxed about it.

I asked him what training he was planning to do.

He said, ‘A bit of cardio.’

Is that all?

‘Yeah, bit of running. What else do I need to do?’

I thought I’d write this for him and anyone else looking for advice.

I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2012.

I did the Lemosho Route.

lemosho_route

Kilimanjaro is easy to underestimate and that’s why I’m writing this.

She’s just under 6,000m, which is high, but no technical climbing is needed.

There’s even a route disparagingly called ‘The Coca Cola Route.’

So people of above average fitness think it’s a walk in the park.

It’s true that if you hike regularly and run a few times a week, you should be absolutely fine in terms of fitness needed.

But summiting is still not a given.

My group had 14 members.2 didn’t summit.

However, one of my good friends who didn’t, he returned the following year to retry and this time, he successfully summited. Big respect to him.

So it’s not a cakewalk. It’s a real challenge.

1 in 7 didn’t make it on my trek.

I barely made it as did several others on the trip.

So how can you maximise your chances of summiting?

There are two big hurdles.

1) Altitude

You can be super-fit and still get affected by altitude sickness.

This manifests in headaches and fatigues.

Altitude causes the brain to swell, which pushes the brain against the cranium.

It’s temporary and is relieved by moving to lower altitude.

I’ve seen it affect fit people on Machu Picchu at 4,000m as well as at Huayna Potosi around the 5,000m mark.

It also affected me massively on Kilimanjaro.

I was at 5,600m.

It was daylight already.

We were walking around the edge of the volcanic crater.

I couldn’t walk.

I kept falling over.

It was like I was drunk.

I couldn’t keep my balance.

I kept falling over in the snow.

Luckily, my friend Sue helped me walk to the summit.

I remember the Steve the doctor trying to get me to come off the mountain.

I think to my regret I swore at him and said I wasn’t going to waste the 2 grand I’d paid for this.

As soon as I reached the top and posed for photos I don’t remember, I was whisked by a guide down the mountain as soon as possible.

What would I recommend if you can’t prepare for altitude sickness?

Firstly, it is possible to acclimatise to altitude. Slowly.

You can stay longer in places up your ascent but the time restrictions of most trekking suppliers mean that you will have to stay with the group.

If you can, go to mountains in the same height bracket beforehand.

The tallest mountain in Western Europe is Mt Blanc.

My best recommendation which I would do if I had to do it again would be to visit an altitude centre and acclimatise.

Setting up camp in the lowlands of Kilimanjaro

2) The final push to the summit

Aside from altitude, the biggest obstacle to successfully summiting is the final push to the top.

You get to the camp beforehand at 6pm, then have dinner. Then you’re supposed to get some sleep.

But no one ever does.

Everyone is in sombre mood. Very apprehensive and very nervous.

This is what you’ve been working towards and you want to get it right.

At midnight, you all walk off.

Up the mountain, you can see other groups looking like a procession with their headlamps on their heads as they make their up.

It’s already 5,000m and the climb is steep for the first 5 hours.

It’s exhausting and it would be so easy to quit.

You want to sit down but you know that sitting down would mean that you don’t carry on.

You move slowly, focusing on one step at a time.

You’ll get there. Just keep going.

You’re sleep deprived and altitude sick. You’re so tired.

This is where people don’t make it.

My advice here is to stay close to the person in front of you.

Make sure they’re keeping up and watch their heels.

Just keep moving one foot in front of the other.

You’ll get there.

Keep going!

Me looking completely punch drunk on altitude sickness at the top.

 

Any questions, let me know in the comments below.

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