Tips and Advice

The following is a list of tips and advice that would be useful to anyone considering climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

Challenges:

  1. Cost – of getting there, doing the hike and all the gear you need to buy, plus the pre-trip training
  2. Time –  In planning, preparing, travelling and executing
  3. The hardest thing you may ever do, because of AMS symptoms
  4. Going outside your comfort zone

Rewards:

An adventure that will open up new experiences in a different culture and environment.

Tips and Advice:

  1. Identify the risks, and work on mitigating them
  2. Be self-reliant, as much as you can without going overboard.  This is applicable regardless of whether you are a solo traveller or travelling with a group.  Anyone in the party may be evacuated off the mountain at any time
  3. Test all equipment beforehand, don’t try anything new on summit day
  4. Try and simulate the climatic and environmental conditions during training, i.e. high elevation, low temperatures and high winds
  5. Be thorough, do not assume
  6. Take personal responsibility; making good decisions and managing your own situation can be taken to any adventure
  7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  8. Golden Rules of Mt Kilimanjaro:
    • Drink lots of water and liquids
    • Pole’ Pole’, Swahili for ‘Slowly Slowly’.  It cannot be stressed how important this is, even though it may seem ridiculously slow
    • Acclimatisation
    • Keep a positive attitude
  9. Researching a reputable guiding company is vitally important.  It may be the difference between success and failure
  10. Physically, all you need to do to get ready for the climb is some walking, or hiking. The route itself isn’t strenous, it is simply the altitude
  11. On summit day, if you don’t need to use the walking stick just put your bare hands into the pockets of your down or warm jacket, they stay much, much warmer than any gloves.  So if your hands start to freeze, pack away your poles and put them in the pockets
  12. If you are a single traveller and camping on the mountain, pay the extra for the singles supplement.  The tents are not that roomy with two people and it will be worth the small extra expense
  13. If hiring sleeping mats, it will pay to check the thickness of these.  A good nights sleep is very important
  14. Be wary about the food being served on the mountain, particularly meat after Day One.  If you can manage it, stick to plant-based foods and foods cooked fresh, rather than re-heated
  15. Eat…this sounds obvious but loss of appetite is common.  Eat with your brain, not your stomach.  I forced myself to eat oatmeal (porridge) and peanut butter because I knew the protein, salt and fat was good for me.  Eat more than you normally would to keep your energy levels up.  It is not the time to diet.

Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS)

As a general rule, it is far safer (and more enjoyable) to avoid altitude sickness by planning a sensible itinerary that allows for gradual acclimatisation to high elevation as one ascends.  Operations that typically see in excess of a thousand climbers summitting annually are best placed to identify such patterns, usually posit that an optimal climb length should last at least around seven to eight days.

The “rule of thumb” for chances of success based on climbing days is as follows; 5-days 50%, 6-days 60%, 7-days 70%, 8-days 80% and 9-day 90% success rate.  That is to say, the faster you climb the greater susceptibility you have in getting AMS.  Everyone has different levels of discomfort that they are willing to endure.

Some hardy trekkers can climb through the headaches, nausea and fatigue but it is no easy task and most of us have never experienced anything like it. Go to the mountain expecting to endure some sort of distress.  It must also be said that mountaineering is 50% mental. How each person prepares, and their expectations, are the foundation for what they are willing to live through and cope with.

Listen and pay attention to what your body is telling you and don’t push it.  Go as as slow as you need to minimize the impact of AMS.  You should read about AMS and be familiar with how it can affect people and what is normal and what is not.  It is normal to be short of breath, some nausea, headaches, however just slow down, take some breaths and allow your body to adjust.  Also drinking lots of water helps with combating AMS.  AMS symptoms are headache, tiredness/weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite/nausea or vomiting and insomnia/disturbed sleep/frequent waking.

Read up on Diamox, the side affects etc.  Try it beforehand and if the side affects are tolerable, it is worth taking as a good precaution, even though there is no guarantee it will work for you.  Each person’s symptoms are different and there are no guidelines based on age, race, gender, fitness etc.  Consult one or two doctors familiar with travel to high altitude, just to ensure you are well advised.


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