“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was one of the most memorable and challenging experiences that we’ve had during our 7+ years of traveling internationally together. It’s a long journey where you spend hours hiking “pole pole” (slow in Swahili) in crazy, unpredictable weather and various terrain. We appreciated the pristine conditions of the mountains and how the National Park was unaltered – no paved roads or ropes to make the hike easier.
Below is our top 8 list of what the mountain taught us, and in no particular order.
1. The hike is not a race.
You’ll stay in shape throughout this trip with walking at least a 10k (6.2 miles) for 4-6 hours each day. Some days will have flatter trails or you may feel the urge blaze up the mountain. Our guides and passing porters encouraged us to go “pole pole” due to the altitude and reminded us that it isn’t a race to get to the campsite first. We saw many hikers speed past us and would later see them again taking extended breaks as they were out of breath or had headaches.
2. You, your traveling companions, and your tour operator/outfitter are one family.
We had an awesome time with our tour operator, Top Climbers Expedition. We had a team of 14 from Top Climbers to support our group of 3 (Justin, my sister, and I), so we were one big family of 17 for 7 days/6 nights. Our guides, Jacob and Ally, were patient with us, especially when we had to take frequent bathroom breaks and also walking the snail pace up a hill. Plus, safety is a big deal as they monitored our vital signs every evening with an oximeter for our heart rate and oxygen level.
Our porters and chef also made our experience memorable. We’re still in shock how quickly our porters had tents and portable toilet ready when we arrived at our next campsite. It was also fun to hang out with them in their tent to chat. Our chef, Priver, magically made a cake in a pan over a propane stove for the New Year holiday. It was thoughtful and we shared the delicious cake and sparkling grape juice with our family.
We couldn’t have done it without their motivation and support.
3. If you can believe it, you can achieve it.
Summit day is mentally and physically draining, but don’t forget about the overall goal!
It is the most exciting and exhausting day. With 2-3 hours of sleep the prior night and the start time of midnight, the goal is to reach Stella Point (5756 m/18,885 ft) and Uhuru Peak (5895 m/19,341 ft) along with hundreds of other people. There is a second time of an 8am start to the summit, but we didn’t see anyone coming up.
Mentally and physically prepare yourself for the cold and windchill. No matter how many layers you wear, your fingers and toes will still be cold! It does help to have the right gear for the job. Layer up!
Our guides said to not stop at Stella Point as everyone stops there. Continue to the Uhuru Peak sign so you don’t have to wait as long in line for the photo opportunity.
It was amazing to reach the summit along with everyone else and to see the pristine white snow. The celebration was short lived as we rushed back down the mountain after taking our photo. It was too cold to hang out on the summit. Be careful with going down the mountain. There is lots of loose gravel and the tiredness plus hunger don’t help. I slipped over 5 times and had to “skate” down the mountain with Ally, one of the guides, holding onto my arm.
Once we reached the basecamp, we rested for an hour, ate brunch, and then walked another 4 hours to our next campsite. What a long day!
4. The mountain is unpredictable.
Prior to the hike, we asked the guides what the weather was like. Even though the main city, Moshi, was 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, they said that Mount Kilimanjaro could be sunny or rainy, but otherwise unknown. We experienced all four seasons on the mountain. After 4 days of hiking through nonstop rain, hail, and snow, we were over the wetness. It was so cold and wet that even hanging up wet clothes in your tent overnight won’t dry them. We figured out that wearing our wet clothes and drying them with our body heat was the most effective.
Cherish the sunshine when it appears! We arrived at Barranco Camp on the fourth day of the hike. We went through a hailstorm on Lava Tower earlier in the day, and was thrilled to see one hour of sun. Everyone rushed to place wet gear and clothes on top of tents and rocks to dry the items. What a sight to see and the change in mood with the sun!
5. Get the right equipment for the job.
Research the gear and clothing that you need and test them out in similar conditions back at home for training. Go with the quality stuff. You wouldn’t want items to fall apart on the mountain. We did weekly hikes prior to our trip to break in our hiking boots and experimented with different layering configurations. Layers are important as we saw those who were unprepared struggle in quickly changing weather conditions. In addition, we also simulated the weight of the daypack with lots of water bottles and collapsible water bottles. Forget something? You can easily rent gear in Arusha/Moshi through your tour operator.
6. Get dirty.
Embrace nature, break a sweat, get dirty and stinky, and experience the freedom of the outdoors. Baby wipes will feel like a first world luxury. We had a private portable toilet at our campsite so we didn’t have to find and use the public ones in the middle of the night. Definitely worth splurging on. Thank goodness for wearing technical/wool baselayers and socks to lessen our stench.
7. Drink lots of water and eat even if you don’t feel the need.
Our guides reminded us to drink at least 3 liters of water everyday, while the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park sign said to drink 4-5 liters (must be for the summertime). It is a lot of water! We tried to drink at least 3 liters of water through tea time, meals, and throughout the day. Water is good for the body and provides extra oxygen to prevent altitude sickness. Don’t worry about bringing water as you’ll receive boiled mountain water from chef everyday. We used Katadyn Micropur purification tablets as extra precaution but wasn’t necessary since the water was clean.
Meals were healthy and delicious from chapati and egg for breakfast to rice and curries for dinner. We had an occasional treat with pizza and kabobs for the meals. The only day that we didn’t eat much was after we summited the mountain. We had a slight case of altitude sickness and didn’t feel like eating.
8. Enjoy the journey.
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” Greg Anderson
No matter which route you take, each day is a milestone. Mount Kilimanjaro is beautiful with the snow capped peak and to climb one of the Seven Summits is a huge achievement. There are plenty of stories, photos, and emotions throughout the trip. Proudly display your certificate of completion once you receive it. The certificate is personalized with your name and has its own serial number to show your ranking with reaching the summit sign.
Have you hiked Mount Kilimanjaro? What are your tips that you recommend for future hikers?