Climbing the 19,340ft Mount Kilimanjaro is no mean feat, but it is something many Irish climbers do annually for charity or otherwise. Aaron Barry walks you through the dos and don’ts before you attempt to scale the ‘Roof of Africa’.
DO get a recommendation on tour companies before you travel. Good guides are essential – they will regularly assess your health, keep you informed on progress and plan each day on the mountain. They also keep the pace, ascending as slow as possible so as to avoid the worst effects of mountain sickness. In the absence of reliable data collection on Kilimanjaro, it is generally accepted that the success rate is between 40-45%. However, most tour companies advertise statistically impossible success rates upwards of 95%. Avoid being one of the many who fall for it – a guide recommendation from a friend of a friend always helps.
DO NOT underestimate Kilimanjaro. It is a physically challenging climb, and along with the obvious demands of hiking, traversing and descending the highest free-standing mountain in the world, the body is put under considerable pressure as a result of rising altitude. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) will be the largest threat to your summit attempt. Over 80% of climbers experience a range of symptoms, from the near-inevitable loss of appetite, nausea and headaches to the uncommon and most dangerous pulmonary oedema. There is absolutely no way of knowing how AMS will affect you, although it is generally observed that it helps to be in good physical shape.
DO take a good camera – but avoid overuse. There is no shortage of breath-taking vantage points on the mountain and so a good camera will come in handy in attempting to immortalise the most incredible of memories. However, climbing Kilimanjaro is a near-magic experience; one that no picture can adequately capture. Immerse yourself totally in what you’re doing and try not to become preoccupied with taking the perfect picture.
DO NOT let your morale deteriorate. There are long hours spent at the camps after a day’s climbing is done, and this is where a good group of climbers come in handy. Many people become totally obsessed by Kilimanjaro’s infamous summit night and insist on sharing their apprehension on what lies ahead. Others may fall to complaining about stale foods, the state of the toilets or the generally awful levels of personal hygiene. Avoid these conversations, and if possible these people, at all costs. Allow yourself instead to be filled with the awe of Africa’s highest peak; this is a vital part of the process and one which will be greatly inhibited by an over-emphasis on the loss of western home comforts.
DO invest in the right gear. On signing up for a climb, one of the first things your tour company will send you will be a long and complex kit list. Of all the clothing that one could bring to Kilimanjaro, the most essential would be a good pair of well-fitted and well-worn hiking boots. For these, you cannot buy whatever’s cheapest or simply borrow from a friend like most of the gear on the list. Personally, I travelled quite light but made two rookie mistakes. Firstly, forgetting to get some water-purifying tablets (water is taken from streams and boiled) and also bringing a +10° sleeping bag when night temperatures approached -20°, which was precisely as uncomfortable as it sounds.
DO NOT be a stingy tipper. The tipping culture on Kilimanjaro is well established, although it is heavily stigmatised for guides or porters to discuss this with you and so you are unlikely to experience any pressure in this regard. The crew can get pretty large depending on the amount of climbers (for three climbers we had a crew of thirteen – two guides, a chef and porters) but these guys work hard in immensely tough conditions and many are very passionate about maintaining the beauty and cleanliness of Kilimanjaro. As there is precious little infrastructure on the mountain, all of your supplies will be carried up by porters, including food and cooking equipment. Taking this into account, the variety, quality and quantity of the food served is astonishing. Porters are generally paid less than $5 a day, a comparatively decent wage in Tanzania. At the end of the climb, before the sacred shower and beer, you should not begrudge the crew a good tip for what they have contributed to an unforgettable experience.
DO have amazing conversations with a lot of people. Part of the magic of Kilimanjaro is that you can break new ground every day; physically, mentally, spiritually and even intellectually. Long hikes and resting periods provide great opportunities for all kinds of chat. Discuss everything and enjoy building up relationships with fellow climbers and crew.