Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a Lifetime Experience
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a highly climbable mountain for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. With a bit of planning and preparation, scaling the mountain is an inspirational experience. Tour guides are plentiful and well trained, routes are well defined and when you have completed the climb you can tell everyone that you reached to the top of the highest mountain in Africa, Kilamanjaro. Tragically, the famous snows of Kilimanjaro may soon be a thing of the past. Climactic changes have caused over 80% of the glaciers present in the early twentieth centuries to melt, and though scientist disagree on when exactly all the snow will be gone, most cite 2015 to 2020 as the window.
Due to the sheer popularity of Kilamanjaro, the National Park Service of Tanzania has initiated a policy that requires all climbs to be pre-booked. It is not possible to arrive at the gate and request a pass. The two most popular and well known ascents are the Machame route and the Marangu route. The Machame route is considered the easiest, providing a gradual climb through the forest at the base of the mountain, up into the moors of the Shira Plateau. Continuing up the mountain you encounter the Lava Tower on Kibo; this section is rocky so watch your footing. Still further up you encounter the Summit circle which, appropriately, circumnavigates the summit. You can get on or off this part of the trail at various locations around the summit. Figure on needing no less than six days to accomplish the climb.
The Marangu route is somewhat shorter than the Machame route, allowing you to complete the climb in only five days if you so chose. This trail takes a short path through the forest emerging at the base of the Maundi Crater. Skirting around the crater you will have stunning views of the mountain and encounter some of the astonishing plants that inhabit the moorlands about Kilimanjaro. As you continue your climb you will pass the Zebra rocks and move onto the Alpine Dessert climate. You will get to choose which of two paths to follow as you move up towards the summit. From here on you will need to carry all your water with you. The final part of the climb, the summit attempt, is begun during the night to afford the best views of sunrise.
Whether you chose to climb Kilimanjaro on your own with a guide or join one of the many tour companies, you are going to need quite a few supplies. Guides and companies provide food and expertise; but only you can bring the gear you personally need. Don’t count on being able to purchase anything locally and you won’t have any disappointments. A porter assigned to you will carry up to 30 pounds of gear, so pack sensibly. Layers are critical for the climb. You start out in a tropical rainforest and ascend over 15,000 feet to the summit at 19,336 feet. At the top you are likely to encounter freezing winds and snow.
Ski poles are recommended to assist your climb, and a lightweight, warm and highly collapsible sleeping bag may make a huge difference in your comfort. Hiking shoes should be well broken in before you get to Kilimanjaro, or you are in for some very painful walking. Sunscreen, a water filtration unit and sunglasses are also critical. A water portage device, complete with thermal liner, will keep you hydrated and prevent your water from freezing on your summit attempt. Finally, bring along money to tip your guides, porters, cook and any other staff responsible for your safety.
Climbing Kilimanjaro can be a life altering experience. Plan well so you enjoy your trip to the very top of Africa.