A summary of several important conditions for those considering climbing Kilimanjaro. Detailed packing list at the end and separate post on The Summit to follow.
Please note that this is based on my individual experience which can vary depending on the operating company chosen, the route, the weather and of course your personal preferences.
The operating company: G Adventures
The time period: August 4 – 11, 2017
The route: Lemosho route, a 7 night, 8 day hike where summit is starting at midnight of day 7 (effectively nighttime of day 6). This route was chosen because it was the longest and provides the most time to acclimatize, which helps increase the chance of a successful summit.
The group size: 12 travelers
The guides: For our group size, we had 1 main guide and 4 supporting guides. At first it seemed like too much, but it was proven to be helpful when people start to walk at different paces and there was still always a guide watching over everyone.
The porters: We had about 30 porters that helped carry our additional luggage (up to 15kg) and shared team gear. We each had our own personal porter who took care of our luggage and they were amazing and kind enough to meet us as we approached camp at the end of each day to offer to carry our day packs even for the rest of the way. Our team of porters were literally a dream, they performed motivational African songs A Capella for about 30 minutes one afternoon and no other tour company had such lively and happy help. In fact, other travelers came around to watch and take pictures.
The food: We had a main chef and an assistant chef come up on the hike too. The food exceeded my expectations (and I expected decent food since it was pretty good at Peru with Gadventures). Although a bit repetitive as expected with limited ingredients, we always had hot soup, rice or pasta, a protein stew type dish, vegetables, and fruit. For a group mate’s birthday, they even managed to bake and frost a cake! A food tent, tables and chairs are brought up for dining use too.
The living conditions: 7 nights of camping with long drop toilets (a hole in the ground) where toilet paper is not provided and sometimes, there are no lights either. Toilets were extremely stinky and progressively far from our tents as we ascended up the mountain and campsites grew larger. We were not allowed to washroom in the wild at camp as it was against park rules. Along the hike it was acceptable though, and honestly the more preferred method by all. Tents were a bit on the small side, but sleeping mats were provided.
The hygiene: Common basic hygiene practices are thrown out and you will have to be okay with that. There are no sinks but we are provided with a little basin of water each morning and afternoon once settled into camp. However, no matter how much water, hand sanitizer or cleansing wipes you use, your hands will still remain dirty due to the dustiness of the land leaving dirt ingrained into your clothing, shoes, and fingerprints.
The weather: August was picked for its dry season to avoid rain, but it is also their winter so as we ascend up in altitude the weather does become chilly. Not sure the exact temperature but definitely below freezing point as frost could be seen in the mornings. But it is rumoured that the temperature can drop to feel as low as -30 Celsius. A warm sleeping bag and clothes are highly recommended. It is also useful to bring a reusable water bottle that can hold hot water safely, as it can help your sleeping bag keep warm at night.
The difficulty level: The hiking distance (other than summit day) is not too long, about 6-7 km each day. It’s the terrain and altitude that is most challenging. The pace is quite slow so it’s not necessary to be “fit” but it would definitely help if you had stronger legs, shoulders and endurance. Most of the walk is not too technical except for some parts going downhill on rock faces and a bit of easy bouldering required to climb The Barranco Wall. At spots of difficulty however, a guide was always there to give aid. What’s more important than strong physical fitness would be a strong and determined mind to pull through.
The views: Spectacular and definitely made the hiking more enjoyable. At Kilimanjaro you pass through 5 vegetation zones – cultivation, rainforest, heather-moorland, alpine desert and arctic. You get the opportunity to see how the landscape changes each day as we ascend and of course, more and more up close views of Kibo.
Suggested packing list:
- sleeping bag
- sleeping liner
- day pack (optional – rain cover)
- duffel bag
- hiking boots
- windproof jacket / hardshell
- insulated soft shell / down jacket
- fleece pants
- fleece sweater
- gloves – winter and liner
- walking poles (can be rented)
- warm hat and sun hat / cap
- windproof pants
- long sleeved shirt or sweater
- scarf or balaclava
- base layer shirts and pants
- short sleeved shirt
- long trekking pants
- socks – hiking and thermal/wool
- headlamp (optional – flashlight)
- comfortable shoes for camp (highly recommended – UGGS)
- important documents – flight info, insurance info, passport details, required visas or vaccinations, trip vouchers
- USD for tips (they prefer notes that are more new in circulation year)
- ear plugs and eye mask
- first aid kit and travel medication
- electronics, external batteries, adapter plugs, and chargers
- reusable water bottle(s) – enough for about 3L and something that can keep some water from being frozen on summit night
- travel towel
- toilet paper
- feminine hygiene products (pantyliners recommended to keep underwear more fresh)
- toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, facial wipes, moisturizer, body lotion, nail clippers, comb, deodorant)
- garbage bags
- ziploc bags
Clothing: Layering is most optimal as there are days in the beginning that are warm and even hot, but also nights that are below 0 degrees Celsius. Synthetic or wool materials are best as they are quick drying and retain heat well. Quantities are omitted in the packing list above because it depends on the length of your trip and how frequently you prefer to change clothes (but obviously plan for spares in case of rain/dirt). I planned to re-wear most of the outer layers throughout the entire trip, but found that I changed the inner layers less frequently than I had intended (not everyday).
Medication: To prevent Acute Mountain Sickness, I took a generic equivalent of Diamox. It has worked well for me in the past, but I have never ascended without taking the medication so I am unsure as to whether or not it made a difference. I took it as an extra precaution. I also took a generic equivalent of Malarone for Malaria prevention. The risk is only at points of low altitude so primarily the day you arrive in Tanzania and day you descend the mountain onwards. I started taking the medication prior to arriving because I wanted coverage for the arrival day, this does mean you will need to take it for the duration of the hike and risk side effects it may cause which can hinder your hiking. Please consult a travel clinic or family doctor for medication advice to suit your personal needs.
The ascent was a challenge, but overall it did grow easier each day as you get accustomed to hiking and the camping life. For me the most difficult day of the ascent was on the 4th day where we climbed to Lava Tower at 4,600m because I had a headache as a symptom of altitude sickness. However, the week sped by and before I even knew it, summit night already around the corner (post to follow soon!).
If you have any questions regarding more details on the climb or packing list, please feel free to leave a comment to ask!