Known as the Roof of Africa, the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro stands high above the clouds at a whopping 5,895 metres above sea level. Summiting Kilimanjaro is a true test of endurance, and if you are looking for your next adventure Kili should certainly be on your bucket list!
Inspired Adventures’ very own Danny took on Kilimanjaro as a participant and has plenty to share about his life-changing experience, the challenges he faced and how it felt to reach the very top…
What is a common misconception about Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro actually has three peaks! They are named Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. You will be lucky enough to camp underneath Mawenzi and spend a day beside the highest lake on the mountain whilst taking in the views of Mawenzi’s sharp and jagged edges. Also the three ‘peaks’ are actually all volcanic cones, so despite the plateau like shape the commonly photographed Kibo peak actually drops down into a volcanic crater and is quite a sight once you are up there.
How cold does it get at night?
It can get very cold and depending on the season it can be quite a few degrees below zero. Make sure you have the appropriate clothing and equipment to keep you warm at night as in the mornings when you first wake up your body temperature is at its lowest.
How do you stay warm?
Layers! Layers are the key to staying warm along the way. I highly recommend taking as many layers of clothing as you can. It is important to make sure they fit together snuggly to minimise any air between the layers. I had thermals, a sweat wicking shirt, a thin jumper, a thicker jumper, a down jacket and finally a raincoat. It is important that you have clothing with zips so that you can easily add or remove a layer as the temperature changes. The summit is the coldest night and in addition to all my layers I also used the temporary heat packs that you can tuck into your gloves and shoes. A scarf or neck buff is also essential to keep your face warm! At night be sure to pack a sleeping bag liner as well to add a few degrees to your sleeping bag, and worst case you can always sleep in your thermals or a few layers to keep you just that little bit warmer.
Did you get affected by altitude sickness? Did you take any medication?
I was lucky enough to not have any serious side effects from the altitude. Growing up in the flattest state in Australia (WA) I was very worried this might be an issue. I trained really hard and made sure to do multi-day treks on weekends and holidays and this may have been why I didn’t experience anything too major. I was on Diamox as per my doctor’s instructions and was helped by our team leader and doctor along the climb. Having an acclimitisation day free on the mountain half way up really helped get used to the altitude as well. Altitiude sickness effects everyone differently and the best thing you can do to prevent it is to focus on correct traininig, taking it easy on the mountain and not going above your physical level, and finally through medication if required.
What did you do on the acclimatisation day?
I spent the acclimitisation day chatting with the team and having a rest day from the hike. Thanks to all my training I actually wasn’t too tired and spend the second half of the day exploring the beautiful campsite below Mawenzi peak and photographing the streams, rock formations and even snow higher up on the peak.
What is the most challenging aspect of the climb?
Summit night is definitely the hardest part of the climb. After days of trekking and months of imagining the moment when you would wake up and commence your trek to the summit, it really becomes a physical and mental challenge. You will wake up around midnight and begin trekking one by one up a switch back trail all the way up to the plateu of Kibo. Once you are at the top there is still over an hour left to get to Uhuru peak – the highest point. You can feel the air getting thinner as you become more conscious of your breathing and heart rate. However, having your team alongside you and the incredible guides as well as stunning views of the glacier and overlooking the clouds and savannah of eastern Africa it will help keep you going. When we were up at the summit there was some fog and once it cleared I saw the tell tale green of the Uhuru peak sign and even managed a little run in excitement as we closed in on the last few steps. There is no better feeling than making it to the summit of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world with a team of other inspired and passionate individuals having just completed what may very well be the most physically and mentally challenging adventures of your life. I would do it again!
What are some things you recommend packing that others might not think of?
A neck buff that can be pulled up to cover your mouth and nose is really important. It can help keep your neck warm and also can cover your face to protect you against wind-chill and also the harsh sunlight and UV as you trek between Mawenzi and Kibo peak.
As a keen photographer, a solar power battery charger was a worthwhile addition to the packing list for me. Obviously there are no options for charging equipment along the way so having a solar option means you can get that added extra bit of battery for taking a few extra minutes of footage of the mountain.
Can you use your phone on Kilimanjaro?
I didn’t take my phone with me along the way as my family and friends knew I had trained for months to be on the mountain and the last thing I wanted to do was be distracted by my phone. The team leader had a phone available for emergencies and I believe that in some parts there is good signal.
How long before the challenge did you begin your training?
I have always been an active individual but began to ramp up my training upon signing up. I started by planning weekend hikes that were for 6-10 hours long and some that required two or even three days to complete, as I wanted to replicate the conditions of the adventure as much as I could. I also was lucky enough to be on student exchange in the UK beforehand and used this as an opportunity to climb at altitude in the months before my adventure.
Any hygiene tips?
Hand sanitiser is essential for snacking and eating, be sure to pack a few small bottles to use along the way and you will often end up sharing it with others at meal times. Also bring wet wipes as showers are not available; they are a great way to freshen up along the way.
What are the toilet facilities like?
I was impressed with the toilet facilities, after having experienced some very basic toilets and long drops in my hiking and training practice. They are still basic but often they are in a shed or small room, base camp below Kibo is also particularly nice with a cement block of long drop toilets.
How heavy was the backpack you were carrying?
I took an Osprey 44L daypack which was the largest in the team. Although it was large, I only had my basic day-to-day equipment such as my camera, water, snacks, solar charger, and as always my raincoat and waterproofs as you never know when it might rain. It wasn’t too heavy and in my training I was sure to carry it around to become used to it before I flew into Tanzania.
Did you have to walk in the dark?
Yes, on summit night we trekked all through the night. A good head torch is essential to make sure you can see where you are going!
Are there any animals?
Yes! With a background in conservation biology this was a huge reason for me to come. There are black and white colobus monkeys as well as blue monkeys and my team was lucky enough to see both. There were also beautiful sunbirds and more common ravens along the way. The plant life along the way is also incredible – be sure to ask the guides along the way as they are really knowledgeable!
What food did you eat? How often did you eat?
I am known for having a huge appetite, particularly after months of training and I was extremely impressed with the food and I never went hungry. Each morning you would be woken up with milo, tea or coffee to drink and they even had Cadbury chocolate to give us an initial energy boost. For lunches and dinners there was always fresh fruit, toast, spaghetti and pasta dishes, to rice, potatoes and a range of meats. I also brought my own high-energy snacks with me and a few of my guilty pleasures (Caramello koalas and starbursts) to keep me going.
Anyone who has ever climbed Kili will agree that the challenge is well worth it just for the view at the peak. Are you inspired to climb the Roof of Africa? Visit the Kilimanjaro destination page and keep an eye out for future challenges!