The main attraction in Tanzania, a climb to the “Roof of Africa” on Mount Kilimanjaro is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and one that I am yet to complete (despite living in its foothills for quite some time now!)
Standing at a mighty 5,985 metres, Mount Kilimanjaro is no easy feat! It holds the crown for the tallest mountain in Africa and the world’s highest freestanding mountain, and there are several routes to choose from depending on your ability, budget and schedule.
Working in tourism, I meet many travellers who have braved the mountain and always feel inspired by their stories as well as their sheer determination to make it to the top. That’s why I’ve invited Stefanie Groll from Blonde For Adventure to share her experience with us today!
1) Why did you decide to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
In 2015, a few friends of mine climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I had never heard about the trekking before and did not know that it was possible. But as they talked about their adventure, my heart was on fire. I love adventures and being in the mountains and I am always up for a new challenge. The thought of climbing the highest mountain on the African continent made my heart jump.
2) I am thinking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro but am worried about getting in shape. How fit do you need to be for the challenge?
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a challenging activity and you should not underestimate the climb. BUT, the most important thing you need to know is that climbing the mountain is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. The climbing itself is at a very slow pace, but you still need to walk at high altitude, which can make it difficult. I did not prepare very much for the climb, but I consider myself as an active and sporty person. Nevertheless, I was very nervous about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and so I tried to fit some running or hiking into my schedule every now and then. I began my preparation about 4 months before the climb but I would recommend starting at least 6 months before the climb, depending on your personal fitness and health.
3) Did you find it difficult to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
The climbing itself was technically not really challenging. We chose an easy route, called Rongai Route to have the best chance to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. The route was not very steep (except summit day) and the trails were well prepared. Many tourists climb Kilimanjaro every year, so they have to be good. From day one, I had a slight headache, which got worse from day to day and made it difficult.
At an altitude of 4,700m, I reached Base Camp (Kibo Hut) – the last camp before summit night. My headache had got so bad that I could not walk anymore by myself and I had no idea whether I would be able to make it to the summit. BUT my biggest desire was to stand on top of that mountain, so I told myself that I would make it and that after a good rest my condition would not stay that bad. My friends forced me to drink and to eat, even though I had completely lost my appetite and felt nauseous. I fell into my sleeping bag, just hoping to get used to the altitude, which was fighting my body. But by 12 am (the time you leave for the summit) after sleeping for a few hours, I woke up and felt surprisingly much better. My headache was not entirely gone but I felt that I could keep climbing. Therefore, I did. So YES … it was incredibly hard to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I definitely found it much more mentally challenging than anything else.
4 ) What advice would you give to others when preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
There were three rules our guide told us every day:
1) Walk slowly 2) Drink lots of water 3) Keep your mind positive.
Climbing slowly is most important at such a high altitude like at Mount. Kilimanjaro. The slower you walk; the better is your chance of acclimatization. When moving slowly, you can also pay more attention to your breathing. Breathing calm and deep will help you while walking. I always recommend using poles along the climb as they can help you breathe correctly and fill your lungs with enough oxygen.
Drinking and eating gives you the energy you need. You may find that you feel nauseous or without appetite/thirst along the route. But drinking and eating is one of the most important things you need to do. And finally, the third rule kept me going when I arrived at Base Camp as I mentioned in the last question.
If you stick to these three rules, you will have the best chance of reaching the summit. Make sure you train your mind beforehand and keep visualizing yourself at the top of the mountain during your journey.
5) How long does it take to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Which route did you take?
We climbed the Rongai Route, which is considered easy and one of the less travelled routes. It is the only route that comes from the north over Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak. You descend over Marangu Route and it took us six days to complete the climb.
You can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 5 days on the Marangu Route, however I would not recommend this. The more days you have, the better your chance of acclimatization and not risking altitude sickness. Routes like Lemosho take longer, starting from 7 up to 9 days. It is a little harder to climb, but I hear the landscape is outstanding. You can always choose to stay a night at camp in the crater of Mount Kilimanjaro. But most people do not do it because it can get hard to stay at the high altitude for a long time.
6) Will I get altitude sickness? And how can I prevent it?
No one ever knows if you will get altitude sickness or not. Every human body is different. For example I had some issues, but my friend who climbed with me did not have any symptoms until Gilman’s Point (5,685m – the lowest point on Kilimanjaro’s crater rim). But you can help prevent altitude sickness by following the three rules I mentioned earlier.
Many people assume it is possible to prevent altitude sickness by getting your body fit but unfortunately, that is not the case. Another way to acclimatize to high altitude is to climb another mountain beforehand. Some people go hiking in the European Alps before they climb Kilimanjaro; others book a tour to Mount Meru, which is the second highest mountain in Tanzania (and a very beautiful one). Mount Meru is about 4,700m high and is a common acclimatization tour before Mount Kilimanjaro.
Always listen to your body while climbing, don’t pack too many things in your daypack and communicate with your guide about problems.
7) What other health precautions should I take?
We took some aspirin and painkillers with us. But it’s best not to rely on them and only take them from time to time. It is better to listen to your body in high altitude. Painkillers only kill the symptoms. If you do not know whether you are physically fit or if you have other diseases that might affect your climb, it’s best to ask a doctor before the climb.
8) What gear did you have in your backpack to help you with the climb? What was the most important piece of kit?
You need clothing for every climate zone. In the lower parts (you start at an altitude of 1,800m), it is still warm and we started walking in short pants and t-shirts. Already on the second day, we needed a long shirt and long trousers. At the top, it is very cold and temperatures can reach up to -20°C. Good hiking boots, a warm sleeping bag (up to -10°C) and a platypus for at least 2 to 3 litres are necessary and make the climb more comfortable. It can get very cold at night and
It can get very cold at night, but ensuring you sleep well and wake up rested will help you gain your energy back. The agencies will offer tents, which were, in our case very good. The most important piece of kit were hiking poles for sure. Not only for the very steep descent, but also for the ascend. They remind you to walk slowly and help you breathe deeply and in the same rhythm.
9) What energy food would you recommend to help with the challenge?
I loved my energy bars, which were high in carbs and gave me lots of energy. They are very convenient during the times you are not very hungry and feel that you cannot eat much.
10) What were the sleeping arrangements and facilities like?
Marangu Route, the most hiked route, offers the convenience of little huts in which you sleep with other people. All the other routes only offer camping. Our tents were very good and kept the cold out.
Toilet facilities were not as nice as on Marangu Route. You can either choose between your own chemical toilets, which will be carried by an extra porter, or some installed “toilet facilities” in the camps, which were okay for camping. At Base Camp, also named Kibo Hut, we had the luxury of toilets in western style.
11) What was the best thing about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?
So many great things happened along the journey. All the things we have seen and experienced were a big life changer for me. The people we walked with, the stories our guide told us, the friends we made along the way, the food our agency cooked for us was DELICIOUS, the nature of Kilimanjaro and of course, that it was the highest mountain in Africa!
12) What was the worst thing about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?
For sure, my headaches, which made it not as pleasant as it would have been without.
13) On the whole, how would you sum up your experience?
Cimbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the biggest challenge and best adventure I have done so far. I had to strengthen my mind so many time and learned so much about myself, about friendship and about pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I know better than ever, that I am able to do anything, if only I want it 100%. Moreover, we all know that we only grow outside of our comfort zones 😉 I would not want to change any moment of the trip, because it made me be the person I am today. I found incredible friends in Tanzania, whom I climbed Mount Meru with a few months later. Waking up every morning with the sunrise, looking at this beauty of a mountain, made everything 100% worth it and I will remember the trip for the rest of my life.
You can follow along with more of Stefanie’s adventures on Instagram @blondeforadventure.
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