Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kilimanjaro – The Essential facts

Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, East Africa, right on the border with Kenya.

There are various estimates as to how high it is. But most people use the figure of 5895m. This is the height you will find printed on the certificates handed out to those who successfully reach the summit. 

In one sense, yes. All the main routes up the mountain are really just walking routes. So you don’t need to be a mountaineer. Sure, there are a couple of places on some routes where you may need to use your hands to steady yourself. Occasionally you may also need to haul yourself over a rock or two. But overall, it’s just a walk. Indeed, there are a couple of people who’ve climbed up the mountain in wheelchairs, so the ability to walk isn’t even a pre-requisite. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easy.

Not any more. In 1991 the park authorities made it compulsory for all climbers to sign up with an agency. They in turn will provide you with a crew (consisting of a guide and his assistants, a cook and several porters). You can thus no longer turn up at the foot of Kili with a rucksack of food and clothes and hope to do it all yourself. The choice of which agency to sign up with is thus the most important decision you’ll have to make. Which is why we provide an extensive review of all the major ones in the guidebook.

Everybody has different idea of what they want from their trek. Of course, everybody wants a safe and enjoyable trek. However, you may also be very concerned about the welfare of the guides, porters and crew who accompany you on the trek. Other climbers will just want the cheapest trek – while not compromising on safety. Some climbers will want a few home comforts on their trek, such as a mess tent. Others will want minimal comfort, and may even want to carry their own rucksack. Some trekkers will want to take a quiet or unusual route away from the crowds. Some climbers want a private trek; others will prefer to climb with others. And so on, and so on…
Just as trekkers all want different things, so the trekking operators all offer a slightly different service too. Some companies are very good when it comes to customer relations. Some have a very good reputation for treating their staff well. Some companies are very good at booking a trek at the last minute. Some agencies are more generous and flexible with refunds and cancellations than others. Some companies treat single trekkers more fairly than others – for example, they give solo trekkers their own hotel room before the trek and their own tent when on the mountain at no extra charge. Other Kilimanjaro agencies, however, insist that solo trekkers share a room with other single climbers, and charge extra for those solo trekkers who want their own tent or hotel room.
So we’ve made it easy for you: if you want help in choosing your trekking company, just send us an email. Simply drop us a line, give us an idea of what you want from your trek – and we’ll provide you with our opinion on which trekking company is right for you. 
At the risk of sounding like a salesman, I would also advise you to look at our guidebook. In it you’ll find a comprehensive review of all the major agencies selling Kilimanjaro climbs. We also provide advice on what questions you should be asking your agency, and what should be included in your trek package. We also look at whether it is better to book your trek before you arrive in Tanzania – or wait until you arrive and book your trek then.
Ideally, we say that you should book at least six months in advance – and preferably a year before you want to trek. On this website you can find  THIS, which gives you a timetable for booking and preparing for your trek.
By booking early you give yourself more time to prepare and train for your trek. It also increases your chances of getting exactly the trek you want, with the route you want, the dates you want and your preferred choice of hotel too. That said, when we were booking climbs we often had people who booked their trek just a few days before it was due to start. If you are fit enough and have the right gear, there is nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you are fully aware of the challenge that awaits you and know about the dangers too.
There’s no need to go overboard with fitness preparations for climbing Kili. The main reason why people fail to reach the summit is altitude sickness rather than lack of necessary strength or stamina. .That said, the trek will obviously be more enjoyable for you the fitter you are. So anything you can do in the way of training can only help. After all, on the final push to the summit you will be walking at very high altitude for about 16 hours! So a certain degree of fitness is necessary. For a more in-depth look at fitness for Kilimanjaro, including a suggested regime, visit our fitness page 
The minimum legal age for climbing Africa’s highest mountain is 12. If you are under 16 you actually get a significant discount on the park fees of around US$90-100 for every day you spend on the mountain. (A lot of agencies won’t tell you about this discount so make sure you insist on this!) At the other end of the scale, there’s no limit on how old you can be to climb.
There are a few deaths on Kilimanjaro every year with acute mountain sickness (AMS) and heart attacks the main causes. Very occasionally there are freak accidents too, such as lightning strikes and rockfalls. The park authorities are naturally very reluctant to reveal details on how many people perish on the mountain, but we estimate the number to be around six or so a year, though this includes porters and other mountain crew members who die on the mountain too.
The minimum number of days is 5. The park authorities, KINAPA, won’t allow you on any of the routes for less than this minimum (unless you are on a day-trip, in which case you aren’t allowed to go very high on the mountain). Many agencies will not sell you a trek for five days as it doesn’t really give you enough time to acclimatise safely. At the other extreme some groups trek for 9-10 days. Most treks, however, are 6-8 days in length.

Not cheap, I’m afraid. The absolute cheapest (and not recommended) Kilimanjaro trek will set you back about US$1800. Most companies charge in the region of US$2000-3500. Some actually charge US$5000 or more! That said, that anybody who has climbed to the summit will agree that whatever price you pay, it’s worth it.

The main trekking seasons on Kilimanjaro correspond with the mountain’s two ‘dry’ seasons. These are January to mid-March and June to October. Note that it will still probably rain on your trek during these months too – it’s rare to climb without getting rained on at least once. You can read more about the mountain’s seasons by visiting our BEST TIME TO CLIMB PAGE.

You can of course travel overland and on this website we have a whole section devoted to travelling in Tanzania. But for most people the only option is to fly.
The mountain has its own airport and there are currently five major airlines serving Kilimanjaro International Airport (three-letter code: JRO). The most popular carrier is the Dutch airline KLM, largely because a) they fly frequently (pretty much every day in the high season) and b) they have an extensive network of regional flights in the US and UK (and Europe), which makes them more convenient than other airlines.
Kenya Airways have also been serving the airport for many years and I have to say, having flown with them last time, that I was impressed with their service and the quality of the plane. Given that their hub, Nairobi, is less than an hour’s flight from Kilimanjaro Airport, this probably means that they will be the natural choice if you want the most direct flight (depending on where you’re flying from, of course). They’re pretty cheap too.
Ethiopian Airlines have also been flying to Kili for many years. They have two big selling points: 1) They’re cheap; and 2) they fly via Addis Ababa, which means you may be able to stop over and see a bit of the country – which is something everybody should do at least once in their life (it’s lovely and fascinating).
Two airlines that started flying at approximately the same time to JRO are Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airlines. The former are often the cheapest though there is a hidden price to pay: they tend to arrive at 1 or 2am, which means that you’ll have to pay for an extra night’s accommodation. For example, say you fly into Kilimanjaro Airport on the 2nd, you’ll actually need to book accommodation for the 1st as you are arriving so early in the morning on the 2nd (and you aren’t allowed to sleep in the airport). As for Qatar Airlines, they have a good reputation for service and are popular with those flying in five the rest of Asia.
In addition to the above there are the local airlines including Precision Air, a subsidiary of Kenya Airways and one that most people use to get around the rest of Tanzania and Kenya; Rwandair, which serves that country; the local budget airline fastjet which connects Kili with Dar es Salaam and Entebbe in Uganda; and a host of smaller airlines, many connecting Kili and northern Tanzania with Zanzibar.
If you can’t find anything suitable, do try Nairobi Airport, which is just an hour’s flight from Kilimanjaro Airport or six hours by shuttle bus to Arusha, where many of the trekking companies are based. Flights to Nairobi can be slightly cheaper – there is more competition and more choice – and it’s a good way of seeing a bit of the region before heading up it’s highest mountain.
For those travelling overland we have a whole section devoted to travelling in Tanzania. While for more information on how to get to East Africa for your trek, please visit the Getting to Kilimanjaro section of this website.
t’s a good question, particularly if you want to reach the summit on an important day such as your birthday. The easy way to work it out is this: you will normally reach the summit at dawn on the penultimate morning of your trek. So, for example, for a seven-day trek you would reach the Uhuru Peak at dawn on the sixth day. The rest of that day – and the morning of the last day – will be spent descending back down the mountain to the exit gate.                                                
Here’s an example. Your birthday is on the 10 March and you want to do a seven-day trek on the standard Machame Route. So you need to book a trek running 5-11 March. That way, you’ll spend five days (5, 6, 7, 8, 9 March) walking to Barafu. You will then walk through the night (beginning at about midnight), reaching the summit at dawn on the 10 March. You then spend the rest of the 10th March walking down to Millennium or Mweka Campsite. The final day is then spent walking to Mweka Gate.
You will need to bring clothes that cover every possible weather condition, from steamy jungle to snowy sunset. You can find a complete list of what to wear in our PACKING LIST.
A lot depends on what company you are trekking with. Some agencies supply more than others. For example, some supply sleeping mats and even sleeping bags while others (the majority) will expect you to bring these themselves. That said, they pretty much all have the facility to rent these items to you.Make sure you ask for a kit list from your agency so you are sure of what you need to bring. See our what to take section for a comprehensive list of equipment to bring.
There are in fact six main paths leading up the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain. These are (running anti-clockwise, beginning with the north-westernmost trail)

For many people, the sole purpose of climbing Kilimanjaro is to get to the summit. Fail to do that and the whole trip has been wasted. If this is you then Lemosho, Machame and Rongai (the one with the Mawenzi diversion) are, statistically, the best bets. (The Alternative Lemosho Route that we used to offer – and some other companies still offer – actually has the best success rate of all.)
On the other hand, those looking to avoid the crowds (again, ignoring alternative routes) should look at Lemosho and Umbwe.
For a no-nonsense, cheap-ish climb then Machame, Marangu and Umbwe are good.
While if you don’t want to stay in tents then Marangu is the only option.
The route with the best views and scenery? Well they’re all brilliant in this respect. I love the forest on the Lemosho and Umbwe Routes. I love the beautiful view of Kibo from across the Saddle on the Rongai and Marangu Routes, and across the Shira Plateau on the Lemosho Route.
So what is my personal favourite of all the trails? Well, the part of the mountain I enjoy the most is the forest on the lower slopes. I also love taking photographs and so appreciates great views and scenery. Furthermore, I like to avoid the crowds on the mountain. If you’re going to spend a week on one of the planet’s most unique wildernesses, it’s good to spend it without hundreds of other trekkers. A few others is nice, but not hundreds. And yes, I do also like to acclimatise well: life’s always so much better when you don’t have a splitting headache. And I do like to reach the summit too! – so any route that aids this is good.
For this reason, my favourite of the ‘official’ routes is Lemosho, which ticks all of the above boxes: the forest is the best in my opinion, the views and scenery once you leave the forest and gaze at Kibo across the Shira Plateau are jaw-dropping, and the chances of getting to the summit are high, particularly as it’s also the longest ascent route on the mountain. It’s also a fairly quite route, at least for the first 3-4 days before you meet up with the hordes on the Machame and (to a lesser extent) the Umbwe Route.
Of all the routes – official and otherwise – the Alternative Lemosho is my favourite path of all. It’s both even quieter than the official Lemosho and seems to improve one’s chances of acclimatising still further.
When buying insurance for climbing Kilimanjaro you must make clear to the insurer that you will be trekking on a very big mountain. If you are going to be mountaineering and using ropes then you need to tell them that too. This will probably increase your premium (it usually doubles it) and may even exclude you from being covered altogether. But if you don’t make this clear from the start and pay the lower premium you may find, should you have to make a claim, that you weren’t actually covered at all.
Do note, however, that it pays to bear in mind that you are not actually doing any climbing, you are just walking. In other words, you won’t be using any ropes, crampons or other climbing gear . The insurance company should know this – but many of the staff they employ don’t!  So do make this clear or they’ll be charging you a higher premium unnecessarily.
Remember, too, to read the small print of any insurance policy before buying one to protect you, and shop around too, for each insurance policy varies slightly from company to company. Details to consider include:
  • How much is the deductible if you have to make a claim on your Kilimanjaro insurance?
  • Can the insurers pay for your hospital bills etc immediately, while you are still in Tanzania, or do you have to wait until you get home?
  • How long do you have before making a claim and what evidence do you require (hospital bills, police reports etc)?
  • Does your policy include mountain rescue services, helicopter call-out and so forth? If it doesn’t, don’t buy it! That said, remember that helicopter rescue is very limited on Kilimanjaro. For one thing, helicopters can fly only up to a certain altitude and can’t land anywhere on the Kibo summit (which is where you are likely to need helicopter rescue!). Secondly, by the time they’ve arrived, it may well be too late, particularly if you have collapsed due to altitude sickness. So while it’s always worth having cover that includes helicopter rescue, it is likely to be of limited use. And if you do find yourself in a situation where helicopter rescue could come in useful, the chances are by the time they arrive you’ll either be: a) Dead. Or b) Bouncing down the slopes on a stretcher (which they keep at the ranger’s huts) to the KCMC hospital at the bottom of the mountain. Which would be the quickest way, anyway. In fact, I’ve never seen a helicopter land on Kili myself in all the years I’ve been climbing it; and the only time i know it happened was not in an emergency situation. Instead, it was to help bring up all the heavy cameras and other gear for the IMAX film about the mountain!
There’s plenty of wildlife on Kilimanjaro, though your chances of seeing much are slim. This is largely because the animals prefer to avoid those parts of the mountain where more than 40,000 people tread every year. For this reason, you’ll be lucky to see anything larger than a monkey or a mouse. That said, every so often a reader will write in to say that they saw a buffalo, eland, leopard or elephant on the trail.

Improving. Time was when many toilets were so full they started to develop their own geological formation. Neither stalagmite nor stalactite, but stalagshite. Thankfully, the park authorities are starting to tackle the problem. They have built some state-of-the-art eco-toilets at the major campsites. In addition, many decent trekking companies now provide their clients with their own private toilets.

The national language is Swahili. But on Kilimanjaro the local language is Kichagga, spoken by the Chagga people, which has several dialects. English is widely spoken, at least amongst the guides and more educated members of the mountain crews.


The policy towards this varies from company to company and on the severity of the injury/illness. However, usually the injured/unwell party will be accompanied down the mountain by an assistant guide while the rest of the party continue their ascent.
Usually, if you’ve had to descend, you will return to the previous campsite before deciding on a suitable rendezvous point to meet up with your fellow trekkers on their descent. However, the guide may decide that the most appropriate action would be to evacuate you off the mountain altogether. If this is the case, you will accompanied on your descent either by one of the assistant guides, a summit porter or, if he deems it necessary, by the guide himself. In order to ensure your safety, the guide will probably want you to descend as quickly as possible without risking injury.
As extra insurance, any decent company will also provide every trek with a couple of oxygen bottles. Do note, however, that once you’ve been administered oxygen it is no longer safe for you to continue to ascend as the 99% oxygen inspiration de-activates the body’s triggers which accelerate its Haemoglobin production. In other words, oxygen is there to help you get off the mountain safely – it should never be used as a means of assisting a climber to the summit.
While you are descending, the guide will contact the base in Moshi or Arusha to update them on the situation. As such, by the time you reach the exit gate there should be a car waiting for you to take you back to your hotel. Usually your transfer back from the mountain to the hotel will be included in your package, even if you have come off the mountain early. However, you will still need to pay for any extra nights accommodation you require.
It varies from company to company, of course, but on the whole it’s hearty, healthy,wholesome. Hopefully there’s a lot of it too. Vegans/vegetarians and those with food intolerance can all be catered for as long as you give your agency enough notice.
Yes. I would say that overall, reception on Kilimanjaro remains patchy. There are several variables that can affect your ability to get a phone signal, including the network you’re with and the quality of the phone you’re carrying. But we do think it’s improving. The last time we were round the northern side of Kibo, on the Alternative Lemosho Route, the group we were leading were, on the whole, able to get reception pretty much all the way. This is certainly an improvement from the situation a few years ago. That said, it’s highly possible that you may have to go for a day or two without being able to communicate with the outside world, whatever route you take. In the book we provide details of where we’ve found reception on the mountain for each of the routes.
Here’s very little science to back this claim up. What’s more, I certainly don’t recommend you take up the tobacco habit to increase your chances of getting to the summit! But this rumour has been hanging around for years now. And I have to say that, in my experience, there could be something to it. Around five years ago I led a party of 12 Scottish guys up the Machame Route. All of them made it, but my distinct memory is that the two smokers in the group merrily skipped their way to the summit. The others all suffered from the altitude to some degree. Is it because their bodies are used to less oxygen? Or was it just a coincidence? Who knows? I’d love to find out if it’s true – and why!

1 comment:

  1. You have shared very interesting information. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and it has three volcanic cones, Mawenzi, Shira, and Kibo. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, the highest peak. From top to bottom, Kilimanjaro consists of 5 climatic zones (Kilimanjaro Vikings).


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