Left foot, right foot, repeat. Those simple instructions are all you have to remember to reach the roof of Africa. That is not to imply that Kilimanjaro is an easy climb, it is far from it, but it is not extremely difficult either. It is not rock climbing, and it is not overly demanding, it is nothing more than a strenuous 5 day hike. If you are in shape, breathe accordingly and are determined, you will succeed.
You can find an endless amount of information online including, details on different routes, tour companies and gear. I will leave it to you to discover the answers as I wouldn’t dare try to pack all the essentials in one post. There is a lot to know about Kilimanjaro before you leave, and I highly recommend being as prepared as possible. Below, I will share my views on preparation, the things I wish I had known before I left, and what I took away from this experience of a lifetime.
It is mandatory that you are accompanied by a reputable and licensed company during your trek. I suggest contacting 3-5 operators to compare quotes and itineraries. It was very important, to me, to find a locally owned and operated business, that employed residents of the surrounding areas. In my searches I was lucky enough to come across Kilidove Tours. In addition to being great value for the money*, a portion of all proceeds goes towards supporting a Moshi orphanage, which raised the founder and operating director Mr. George Joseph. It is important to note that I found Kilidove to be more of a budget operator compared to other accommodations I observed on the mountain. However, if you are looking for an adequate sleep, hearty meals, and a great crew, then I suggest you check them out.
10 PACK COMMANDMENTS
Ok, not actually ten, because I don’t give a shit about lists, but here are a few simple tips.
1. Bring lots of snacks, and when you think you have enough snacks, pack a couple more. You are burning a lot of energy and you will need the extra fuel. Additionally, some days include five plus hours of hiking, and you don’t have the ability to choose when your meals will be cooked.
2. Keep your clothes dry. I can’t stress this enough. Once any article of your clothing gets wet it can be extremely difficult to get it dry again, and you most certainly will not be happy putting on wet / frozen clothes in the morning.
3. Bring music, cards or any other personal items you find enjoyable. There is a lot of time spent hanging out in tents waiting for meals or relaxing at night. It’s nice to occupy this time with something that will put you at ease.
SOLO VS GROUP
When I first decided I was going to climb Kilimanjaro I booked solo. I am all for friends and family coming along for the journey but at the end of the day, I only knew that I would show up to the airport 100%. I have had a lot of people flake on a lot of different trips in the past, so it’s important to me to secure travels for myself first and then add on to that afterwards.
When it came time to saddle up I was lucky enough to be joined by two of my close friends. One of my main dudes since high-school Andrew LaGrave (you can read his account of the adventure here) and an old co-worker turned homeboy Matt Wellman (who is pretty much responsible for getting me into travel when he brought me to La Tomantina in Spain). Even though I booked the trip solo, when it was all said and done I don’t know if I could have done it alone. Well, I probably could have, but it would have been a hell of a lot less enjoyable. The climb is as much mental as it is physical and it’s nice to have those support systems with you. If they weren’t there I wouldn’t have been able to pass the time playing 20 questions and having heated arguments on whether or not a bat fits into the “tropical bird” category, or if Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen. It is also a priceless keepsake knowing I can reminisce about my time spent on the mountain with the two of them for years to come.
THIS PORTION OF THE TRIP IS A BIT OF A BLUR TO ME. IT IS HONESTLY THE ONLY SECTION I FOUND DIFFICULT AND TRULY CHALLENGING. WE WERE THE LAST TREKKERS TO LEAVE CAMP IN THE EARLY MORNING, ARISING ONLY TO DARKNESS AND THE SUBTLE GLARE OF HEADLAMPS IN THE DISTANCE. THE REST OF THE HIKERS HAD SET OFF INTO THE NIGHT AS MUCH AS THREE HOURS PRIOR, IN HOPES OF REACHING UHURU PEAK BY SUNRISE.
I honestly did not think we would catch the groups ahead of us, let alone pass them, but we did. One by one we made our way towards the front of the pack. Left foot, right foot, repeat. Although the excitement of reaching the summit keeps you marching forwards, hours of this can take its toll, I recall not having the energy to reach into my pocket to put my music on. The majority of the hike was done in silence, only talking briefly to complain about having to walk single file behind a group that was slow. Chances to pass others were few and far between so you had to seize the moment when the opportunity arose. We stopped once in the five hour journey for five minutes, to scarf down an energy bar and hydrate ourselves. Although my water had frozen, so even though you’re thirsty sometimes you’re just out of luck. On that note, I would recommend keeping your camel back close to your body so it doesn’t freeze. The last hour was gruesome, every corner you turn you think you’ve made it, but it never quite seems to end. It is not until you hear cheering that you know you’ve reached Stella Point, and with that last little push you will soon be standing on the roof of Africa.
Why no one bothers to talk about the way down is still a surprise to me. It is steep and slippery and random. You really have to focus on every single step, more-so than on the way up. The only pain I felt as a result of the hike was an hour or so while descending from the peak. A pain shot down the back of my leg and didn’t seem to fade away until we were back on stable ground. I was also swept off my feet by a large rock that had tumbled down the mountain right into the back of my legs.
TIPS & DONATIONS
Tips are not required, but obviously a nice gesture if you enjoyed the service from your guides and crew. We were advised that Kilidove paid their employees above average wages and tips were not necessary, but a token of our appreciation. The three of us collectively pooled tips for the entire crew based on percentages we had read about before the trip**. On top of this, we elected to give an additional tip to our waiter, Thelios, whom we all developed a bond with. He was closer to our age and shared stories of his life with us, laughed with us, and most importantly became a friend to us on the mountain. The following day we learned Thelios had notified our lead guide about the additional gratuity and handed it over to his superior. He explained to us that the guide is the leader, and he respects the chain of command. He stated one day he would be in the position to receive a larger income, but until then, he would work his way to the top. This spoke volumes to me of Thelios as a person, and a lot of the Tanzanians we met, they are hard working, honest, kind-hearted people.
At the end of the journey you are provided with an opportunity to donate some of your gear to the crew, whether you choose to do so is completely at your discretion. A lot of the workers rely on hand me downs from past clientele to make it through the drastic climate changes faced on the mountain. If you have expensive, top-notch gear you are attached to, by no means just give it away. However if you see fit, bring something along with the sole intention of gifting it to one of the amazing individuals you will meet on the mountain.
PS The night we got back down from the mountain, a few members of the crew took us to a local bar to get drunk. Perfect way to end the climb.
*US $2580pp including a 5 day Safari
Head Guide: US $15 – US $30 per day per guide
Assistant Guide: US $10 – US $20 per day per guide
Cook: US $8 – US $12 per day per cook
Porter: US $4 – US $10 per day per porter