Mount Kilimanjaro is called “The Roof of Africa” because at 19,000’ (5,895m), it is the highest peak on the whole continent. Because you don’t need to have any technical climbing skills to summit Kilimanjaro, it has become one of the most desired mountains to hike in the world by all types of people. About 25,000 people try to reach the snowy summit every year. I’ve put together some advice to help hikers prepare for their Kilimanjaro trip, or to help inspire you to plan a trip someday!
In my opinion, this is the most important part. Without mental strength, you will not get there. You have to believe in yourself and remember YOU CAN DO THIS! Yes, it is hard, yes you might cry a little (or a lot), but I know you can do it!
A lot of people climb Kili. to raise funds or awareness for a cause they find really inspiring. This can be a way to help you push yourself to achieve something you never thought you could. Some lucky people make it to the summit without feeling any of the effects of the altitude, but most suffer at least a little.
Talk with your doctor
Your doctor most likely knows your history and can give you tailored advice for your situation. Your doctor is also the only place you can find a prescription for Diamox, which is a great medication for reversing altitude sickness. Diamox does help but it also has side effects that are good to be aware off. I would recommend trying out the prescription a couple weeks before you climb Kilimanjaro to see how your body reacts to it, but I’m not a doctor so be sure to talk to yours
The core of the issue
Start working your core via planks, mountain pose, sit-ups, everything that hurts but is essential for abdominal strength. Good posture encourages the chest to open for breath, increases muscle control for slow and steadied steps, and reduces the chance of back and shoulder strain. Stand erect and hike with pride.
One good way to prepare for this would be to deprive yourself of oxygen so that you can condition your body to what it will be like the closer you get to the summit. For most of us however it is not possible to pay the expenses of exercising in an altitude chamber, so the next best way to prepare is to hike any and all mountains close to you! You can even hike with a heavy backpack on to strengthen your muscles even more. (Don’t worry you won’t need to carry your own gear on Kilimanjaro, a porter will help you out.) I went to Tanzania in the middle of the winter, and so getting out to the local mountains was not an option.
Expose To A Cardio Workout Before Hiking
Yes, this is yet another cardio endorsement. Run, cycle, swim, or do whatever activity you enjoy that gets the heart rate up. Due to reduced oxygen levels, the ascent of Kilimanjaro is akin to a multiday cardio exam. The answer being happy heart equals happy climbing. Just being there is a cardio workout; the more you strengthen your cardiovascular system beforehand, the less strained you will feel. Fear not, cardio integrity is closely monitored. Each night the guides will measure each trekker’s pulse and oxygen level. If a heart rate is dangerously high or low, that person will immediately descend to lower altitudes.
Bring the right gear
It is important to make sure you have the right equipment for the trek. If you are going to get caught in rain, snow, wind, or sunshine, you want to be prepared. Nothing is worse than wet feet or freezing fingers! If you want more information on what to pack be sure to check out.
Work Hard To Breathe Deeply.
Just breathing on Kilimanjaro is a task in itself. A deep, controlled breath is the foundation for success. Five- to six-second inhales through the nose accompanied by equally long exhales also through the nose are required during the summiting climb and encouraged for the preliminary days. Five minutes of practice a day – standing or lying down – leading up to the trek will make a world of difference. Shallow inhales that are deemed acceptable at low altitudes do not provide the cardiovascular system sufficient oxygen. The ever-pervasive mouth breathing demands insubstantial breaths which, in turn, lead to swallowing air instead of breathing it in. (It is remarkably unattractive, but we’ll have to table this point for another time.) Breathing deeply into the abdomen distributes plenty of oxygen to the body and also helps to calm the heart rate. On Kilimanjaro, the notion of pole pole guides steps and also breath. Those who regularly practice yoga will be familiar with such steadied and controlled breath and already enjoy ample practice.
Slowly and steady
It is worth practicing the Tanzanian definition of walking slowly to avoid cramping and frustration during the early days of the climb. Each step towards the summit, your guide will encourage and remind you to walk pole pole.The Swahili saying pole pole (“slowly, slowly”) is the Kilimanjaro chant. Walking pole pole may seem simple in theory, but in reality, it takes a surprising amount of practiced physical and mental control to find peace at this pace. It is worth mentioning that pole pole connotes much more than merely a suggested speed. It speaks to mindfulness, control, and awareness. Ultimately, we walk to go slowly as it allows us to relish in the beauty of the landscape and the mental freedom found in repetitive and rhythmic movement.
Review your suggested packing list a few months in advance of your trek to allow for sufficient time for any necessary purchases. Practicing slow ascents with all your gear may seem like a no-brainer, but sadly, seemingly common knowledge is seldom common practice. Aventure such as Kilimanjaro is an excellent excuse to obtain some new gear, but try to get used to your new equipment before Day 1 of the hike. Have all your gear? Great.
Assemble a daypack as you would for a day on Kili and start pole pole-ing up some hills. When adjusting to a difficult climb in a new climate and culture, the last thing you want to be doing is play around with new or rarely used gear to get comfortable.