1. You Will Hike Very, Very Slow
“Pole, pole,” they will say. That means, “slow, slow,” in Swahili. For speed-freak hikers like me, it can be torturous to trek like a tortoise. But honestly, it is for the best.
At the slow pace we hiked, for the first few days on the mountain, I barely even broke a sweat. I was never exhausted and never out of breath. That all changed on summit morning, but altitude is a different story. In general, before that, it was easy! And I think the guides know that.
They want it to be easy for you when you start out. Not only will going slow give you more time to acclimatize, but it will conserve your energy and give you a much better chance at successfully reaching the summit. Along the way, you’ll also have your heart rate and oxygen saturation levels checked with an oximeter. Going slow will help keep both of these numbers where you want them to be.
So prepare to take it slow. “Pole, pole.”
2. You Will be Pampered
Every climb I’ve ever done prior had been self-supported. Just some friends and I with crazy plans, unwavering optimism, and pure determination. No guides and no porters. This time was different. Way different!
You can’t climb Kilimanjaro without going with a guided expedition company. That is unless you’ve got Red Bull or the like cutting through the red tape to give you special permission to speed-climb to the top and roll down it in a Zorb ball or something. Generally, you will go with a guide company. It’s a good thing really. The mountain is better controlled and stays much cleaner that way. And these guys have it dialed in!
What a crazy experience it was having so much taken care of for me on the mountain though. Literally, all I had to think about was sleeping and hiking. The rest? Done.
Round the corner on a trail and a picnic table awaits, complete with tablecloth, place settings, sandwiches, and avocado salad. At 6:30 AM we’d be woken up to steamy hot mugs filled with ginger tea. At every camp we arrived to, our tents, sleeping pads, duffle bags, and even a personal camp toilet had already been set up.
We’d leave camp, the porters would break it all down, they’d hike past us along the way, and it would all be set and ready by the time we got to the next camp!
I don’t know if every climbing team received this level of support, or if it was just the crew from Miyar Adventures that rocked, but either way, it was an amazing, and humbling experience.
I’m not complaining, but it felt very strange to be waited on so much in the mountains. If I were hiking past me, I’d be making fun of me. And that’s not to say it’s not hard. It is! But just without having to worry about the expedition logistics, it’s definitely easier.
Also, on a side note, bring way fewer snacks than you think you’d need! If you’re used to packing your own food for climbs, you’re bound to bring too much. The porter prepared meals are so substantial that I only had maybe one Clif Bar a day otherwise while hiking between breakfast and lunch.
3. Take The Time To Learn
You’ll have a lot of time hiking. Use it to learn about everything! There’s no better way to pass time on the trail than asking questions, trading stories, and getting to know the people and place better. Learn about your expedition mates if you didn’t know them before the trek. Ask questions and get to know your guides. How long has he been guiding for? Was he a porter prior? How many times has he been to the top? What is his family like? What motivates him and what are his future aspirations?
Our head guide, Aaron, had been trekking Kilimanjaro for 20 years and has reached the summit over 200 times, while assistant guide, Sunday, is also a Pastor and has dreams of climbing Everest without oxygen support. They appreciate being able to share their stories.
Learn about the mountain, its history, its six unique biomes. The mountain flora that you’ll find nowhere else in the world. And learn Swahili too! That was my favorite part of every single day actually. Talking with Sunday and practicing words and phrases so that I could better communicate with the porters and other guides, not only from our group, but those we would pass along the way. They’ll have a blast teaching and you’ll crack up trying to learn it. This was one of the things that brought us much much closer with our climbing support team.
A favorite response to “how are you” in Swahili had to be “poa kichizi kama ndizi” – or, “cool and crazy like a banana.” It’s such a fun rhythmic language!
4. Don’t Forget…
I won’t go too deep into what to bring or not to bring because I posted the entire packing list before leaving for climbing Kilimanjaro…
- Solar charger – A must have to keep the cameras working.
- Sunscreen – While your stuff is charging, make sure you’re not burning! The sun is hot!
- Sun hat – I forgot mine and had to grab one in town. It was only $5 from a gift shop but 100% worth a lot more!
- Down jacket – The temperature swings on Kilimanjaro are pretty brutal. It gets very, very cold at night. Make sure you’ve invested in a good down parka.
- Advil PM – This is a favorite of mine for high-altitude climbs because not only is Ibuprofen helpful with altitude related aches and pains, the PM part is basically sleep insurance. And good sleep is crucial to a successful climb!
- Thermos – Yeah don’t just bring a Nalgene bottle. A thermos in addition is very helpful. You’ll be drinking a lot of tea, and sometimes will be too lazy to purify your water with tabs, so you just want to fill up on the boiled stuff.
- Journal w/Pen – I forgot this too and grabbed one in the town of Moshi. Good to be able to scribble thoughts during your down time. Like most of this blog post here, which was written at Shira Cave Camp.
- Chapstick – Don’t let your lips fry and crack! It’s so damn dry up there…
- Bandana – Failure for me. I had a balaclava but that was only good for the cold summit morning. On most of the other days, it’s hot and you’re trekking through an alpine desert. The dirt and dust that stirs up across the mountain is just unbelievable. And like me, without a bandana, you’ll be coughing for weeks after inhaling all of that.
- Hard candies – Ethan brought these and they were clutch on summit morning! Anything from Jolly Ranchers to Werther’s to suck on will help you on the final climb. It helps moisten your mouth when you’re breathing the cold, thin, dry air, gives you something else to concentrate on, and also provides a tiny boost of energy too.