So you’ve decided to tackle the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Well done. Even just committing to such a feat is worthy of recognition. So give yourself a pat on the back, maybe even sink a beer or two.
But don’t bring out the champagne just yet. There’s plenty of work to be done first. Here’s a rundown of seven tips to help you get your head in the game and reach the Roof of Africa (and get back again) with as few hitches or nasty surprises as possible along the way.
Practice makes perfect
Kili is a strange and complex beast. Fitness and youthfulness do not necessarily guarantee that you will conquer it. Some of the fittest fail, while others have been known to succeed in their late 80s. But whatever the case, it’s certainly advisable to get into shape as best you can before your trek. If nothing else, it will certainly make for a more enjoyable trek. So put on your boots and go for long weekend hikes into the hills or mountains or, if you live in Netherlands, get on the treadmill and put it on maximum incline. Throw your dirty laundry in a rucksack and strap it on for extra weight. Every little helps.
Don’t cut corners with your gear
Let’s be honest, hiking Kili can be an expensive adventure. But if you’ve undertaken to slay this giant it’s really not worth cutting corners on your suit of armour. It gets damn cold on the mountain. You need a good coat, fleece, thermals and so on. See our full list of what to pack and our video guide for more information on this. Boots are perhaps the most important consideration here. They need to be waterproof, have good ankle support and be worn in before your trek. Your boots can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Don’t be a cheapskate – you’ll certainly regret it.
“Pole Pole” – it’s not a race
Throughout your hike, you’ll get very used to hearing your guides and porters saying “pole pole” which means “slowly” in Kiswahili. They’re not just saying this for fun. It’s the number one piece of advice to bear in mind on the mountain, as it helps you adjust to the altitude. Slow and steady wins the race here. Even if you’re one of a group of super fit young athletes, don’t rush. It’s not a competition. If you want to make it competitive, try to see who can go the slowest. “Pole Pole” is your new religion. Respect it, worship it, and it will keep you safe from harm.
Drink and Eat like your life depends on it – it might
Always carry and drink more water than you think you’ll need, even if you have to pee every twenty minutes or so. Dehydration is often the bedfellow of altitude sickness. Don’t even give it a sniff. If you’ve got some kind of powder with electrolytes, use that too. And eat lots as well. Most of the time this shouldn’t be an issue as you’ll be very hungry from all that hiking, but as you get close to the summit and the altitude starts to hit you it can suppress your appetite. But force yourself to eat, even if you aren’t hungry. Carry high energy snacks (such as nuts or chocolate) for between meals. Aim to come down the mountain a few pounds heavier than when you started.
Mind over matter
Summiting Kili is more about mental strength than physical strength. You’ll need patience, determination, a sense of humour and the ability to stay calm and positive when you feel crap or when things aren’t going well. Life on the mountain is not a walk in the park. You’ll be dirty, cold, tired. You might not sleep well. You may well experience headaches and nausea. You’ll be struggling for air at times. The weather might not favour you. You might have moments when you want to turn back. You might not get on with someone in your group. You have to be ready to deal with all of this. You can do it. Stay focused.
Without your Tanzanian team, you are nothing
The team of Tanzanian guides and porters that accompany you on your trek are (no offence) the real heroes of Kilimanjaro. Without them, you’d never make it. Fact. So treat them with the utmost respect, listen to them at all times, thank them for their work, and be sure to tip them according to our guidelines. They deserve it. And you can learn a lot from them – both about the mountain and about life and culture in Tanzania in general. They are remarkable men, and some of them have climbed the mountain literally hundreds of times. While you’re busy crying like a five year old at the summit, for them it’s just another day at the office.
There’s no quick way down
Once you’re done celebrating your success at Kili’s summit and you’ve finally opened your champagne only to find that it’s frozen, you’ll be faced with the reality of having to get all the way back down again. Many people fail to adequately consider this, as they are too focused on the goal of reaching the top. Then suddenly the reality hits them: There is no cable car. There is no helicopter. You’ll be heading back down the mountain the same way you came up it, albeit in about half the time. You will be shattered from the overnight summit climb. It won’t be fun. But it’s the only way. And when you finally crack open a beer at the end, it will be so so worth it.