Kilimanjaro Trekking Info
Kilimanjaro mountain climbing is considered a strenuous and physically demanding trip (reaching altitudes exceeding 19,000 ft above sea level). It is imperative that you are fully prepared (both physically and mentally) for this trip and you must ensure you have all the appropriate equipment and clothing, which can greatly affect the overall enjoyment of your climb.
While on mount Kilimanjaro trek, you will experience equatorial to arctic conditions. The range begins with the warm dry plains with an average temperature of 30C, ascends through a wide belt of wet tropical forest, through zones with generally decreasing temperature and rainfall, to the summit where there is permanent ice and below freezing conditions. The altitude and seasons determine weather conditions.
The fact that for most months of the year there are so few rainy days makes it possible to climb in relatively good conditions all year round. The rainy season is from March to June, with short rains in October and November.
Mt. Kilimanjaro has five altitude/climate zones; the lower slopes, forest, heather and moorland, highland desert and the summit. Within each zone there is an association between altitude, rainfall, temperature, plants and animals. The zones occupy belts of approximately 3,281 ft (1000m) of altitudes each. In general the temperature falls about 1C for every 656 ft (200m) increase in altitude, rainfall also decreases steadily with altitude from the forest upward. Plant life is abundant in areas of high temperature and high rainfall. As you climb you will see that plant life decreases, not because of the height, but because conditions are colder and drier. As animal life is dependant on plants, fewer animals live at high altitude.
The lower slopes 2,624 – 5,906 ft (800 – 1800m) were originally scrub, bush and lowland. This has been cultivated and is now used for livestock grazing and local crops.attractive grasses and flowers. There are not many large mammals here and those that do visit In this cultivated zone you will not see large wild animals.
The forest 5,905 – 9,187 ft (1800 – 2800m) is the richest zone on the mountain. A band of extremely beautiful montane forest encircles the whole of Mt. Kilimanjaro, frequently covered in cloud. Protected from the sun by clouds the moisture cannot easily evaporate so there is high humidity, dampness and fog. Although flowers are not plentiful in the forest those seen are often striking. The forest is the home of most of Kilimanjaro’s wild animals although often hidden from view. However, you are likely to see both blue monkeys, and black and white colobus monkeys. Leopards live throughout the forest, preying on antelopes, monkeys and rodents, duiker and bushback.
The heather and moorland 9,187 – 13,124 ft (2800 – 4000m) is a low alpine zone with a cool clear climate except for mist and fog near the forest. Heather and heath-like shrubs grow in this area, as well as gorse-like bushes, the moorland are usually in transit to other areas, although eland, duiker, dogs, buffalo and elephants have been seen.
You may see Anguar and Mountain Buzzards, the Crowned Eagle, Lammergeyer and the White-necked Raven.
The highland desert 13,124 – 16,405 ft (4000 – 5000m) is the alpine zone. There is intense radiation, high evaporation and huge daily fluctuations in temperature, nights can be below 0C and in the day time as high as 40C in direct sun. Under these harsh conditions only the hardiest lichens, moss and tussock grasses can exist. This area does not offer much in the way of wildlife buts its views are spectacular.
The summit area above 16,415 ft (5000m) is characterised by arctic conditions – freezing cold at night and burning sun during the day. Oxygen is about half that at sea level and there is little atmosphere to protect you from the sun’s radiation. Creatures large and small are rare in the summit zone, although a leopard has been found frozen in the snow.
Description of climb
The awesome site of the Kilimanjaro Mountain is breathtaking.With its glittering peaks rising from the high Tanzanian plateau, this immense dormant volcano seems to watch over the fauna of East Africa. “Kili” is actually made up of three different craters; the little Shira in the west, Mawenzi, in the east, and in the centre, the enormous cone of Kibo, whose summit, Uhuru Peak, set in a spectacular background of hanging glaciers, is the climbers goal.
The less frequented Machame route includes seven days of actual climbing, allowing additional time for altitude acclimatisation. Climbers ascend and descend by a different route, encountering more wild and varied scenery along the way. Additionally, climbing the route does not present any particular technical difficulty.
Only travellers in excellent physical condition should attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. As a guideline, you should be able to run or jog for half an hour or more without feeling short of breath.
Each prospective climber should consult a doctor about high-altitude travel. After a brief period of acclimatisation, most people do not suffer from altitude sickness; but elderly travellers or those with high blood pressure or heart conditions need to exercise extreme caution at high altitudes (see section of INFORMATION ON ACCLIMATISATION FOR TRAVELERS TO AREAS OF HIGH ALTITUDE).
The best advice to climbers is not to hurry and to proceed at a steady, comfortable pace that will facilitate your acclimatisation to the altitude. Having the right mental state is also important. Do not push yourself to go on if your body is exhausted. Take it slowly, and do not force your body to exert itself.
Although the Park has a reliable, equipped rescue team (guides are also trained in rescue procedures), please keep in mind that professional medical attention is NOT readily available in the remote areas visited during a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Information on weather
Although Mt. Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time of year, January, February and September are considered the best months. July, August, November, and December are also good months.
During the rainy period of March to May, clouds tend to pile up and over the summit, dropping snow on top and rain at the base. Visibility can be limited by cloud cover even when no rain falls. The temperature at this time of year is relatively warm.
The dry season, beginning in late June and extending through July, can be very cold at night; but is usually clear. August and September are also cool and may have completely clear days — however, it is not unusual for a dripping cloud belt to girdle the mountain above the forest and moorland.
Information on clothing and accessories
Here is a suggested list of clothing and accessories for a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro:
- insulated, waterproof hiking boots with rigid uppers and thick soles
- (Boots must be WELL BROKEN )
- 3 pair of warm socks
- 3 pair of lightweight socks (to wear under warm socks)
- 1 or 2 pair of lightweight walking or running shoes for walking around camp (with appropriate socks)
- 1 warm hat (or balaclava) with brim to keep the sun off face and neck and a sun hat (you will need both types)
- 1 pair of insulated hiking or ski gloves
- 1 down-filled, hooded parka or goretex anorak
- 2 sets of thermal underwear (preferably a lightweight pair to wear next to the skin and a heavier second pair for extra warmth)
- 1 pair of warm, windproof slacks
- 1 pair of lightweight slacks
- 1 pair of shorts
- 2 woolen or flannel shirts with long sleeves
- 1 or 2 warm sweaters (fleece-type)
- 2 lighter-weight shirts (or tee shirts)
- 3 or 4 sets of underwear
- lightweight rain gear with hood (Rain can occur at any time on the lower slopes.)
- lightweight personal water container
- a water purification kit and/or iodine pills
- a lightweight daypack for carrying your own water, lunch, camera, film, etc.;
(A pack that has a hydration system with an insulated water bladder is suggested.)
- a medium-size, sturdy duffel bag to contain all your gear and clothing (Porters will carry this for you, but they will NOT carry framed backpacks.)
- well-insulated sleeping bag suitable for temperatures of 20-degrees Fahrenheit (The sleeping bag should fit in your duffel bag.)
- camping pillow (if desired)
- emergency foil blanket (optional)
- flashlight (with extra batteries); a head lamp will be especially useful for the last
- part of the climb, which is done at night
- 1 or 2 walking sticks
- pair of mud gaiters
- dark sunglasses with high UV ray protection or snow goggles
- (Polarising glasses are not sufficient to prevent snow blindness.)
- sunscreen with high SPF
- lip balm containing a sun block
- small hand towel, soap, and 2 rolls of toilet paper
- tissue and “wash and dry” wipes
- UV filter for your camera (which is necessary for high-altitude photography)
- -high-energy snacks (such as muesli bars, chocolate, or instant hot drinks)
- a small reference book on plants (if you are interested in botany )
IN ADDITION, it is suggested that you assemble a basic medical kit. Your doctor can advise you on specific items to include. The following items may be useful:
- a good supply of aspirin (for altitude headaches)
- altitude medication — as prescribed by your doctor
- an antibiotic to use if needed (such as Septra DS) as prescribed by your doctor
- anti-biotic cream (for cuts and scrapes)
- band-aids and bandages
- scissors, tweezers, and a thermometer
- cold/flu tablets and throat lozenges
- medicine for stomach ailments and rehydration salts
Clothing of various weights is suggested, because you will want to dress in layers (removing layers as you heat up from walking, adding layers as you cool down from resting). During the first two days, climbers may find it comfortable to wear shorts and tee shirts. However, temperatures will change at higher altitudes. By the third day of your climb (Shira Camp to Barranco), it can be very windy and the temperature can fall to freezing at night.
A limited selection of equipment is available for rental at the base of the mountain; however, Smart Adventures cannot guarantee the quality or condition of any items rented locally. It is, therefore, suggested that climbers bring all of their own equipment.
During a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, travellers should plan to travel with only what is required for the climb. (Excess luggage can be left behind in Arusha and claimed after the climb.)
As previously mentioned, porters will carry only duffel-type bags during the climb (no framed backpacks or suitcases). You need only carry a daypack with the personal items you will require during the day (your personal supply of water, your lunch, your camera and film, and any clothes you may want to put on or discard). Your passport, money, and permit papers should be kept with you at all times during the climb and also carried in your daypack.
Please be advised that luggage carried by porters is available to travellers only while in camp and is NOT accessible during the day.
Information on laundry
Laundry service is NOT available during a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it is necessary to take a sufficient amount of clean clothing for the duration of the climb.
Information on food and drink
On most days of the climb, camp breakfasts are served at approximately 6:00 AM. Breakfast is usually a hearty meal consisting of porridge, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and toast with jam. Lunches generally consist of sandwiches and fruit; occasionally soup may be served as well. Tea and biscuits or cake are served on arrival in camp at the end of the day’s climb.Dinner, which is served in the early evening, usually consists of soup, meat, potatoes, a vegetable, and fruit.
At all stages of the climb, it is important to drink as much liquid (water and tea) as possible to help your body acclimatise.
Information on acclimatisation for travellers to areas of to areas of High altitude
The following is taken from a guide to travel at high altitudes:
Acclimatisation is the adjustment of the human body to the diminished supply of oxygen at high altitudes. Bone marrow produces quantities of extra, new red blood cells to take oxygen from the air in amounts needed for good health, a process that may take several days. Mountain sickness is caused by an insufficient flow of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. It can affect anyone at altitudes above 10,000 feet.
Each person has a different tolerance for altitude, and an individual’s tolerance has nothing to do with age, sex, or state of fitness. One person will get a headache at 11,000 feet and another at 18,000 feet. The symptoms of mountain sickness include headache, nausea, and shortness of breath, singly or together. About half of the people visiting high altitudes suffer from at least one symptom in the first two days and then quickly recover.
In 99% of these cases, rest and two aspirins will relieve the discomfort. However, the serious, sometimes fatal conditions of pulmonary and cerebral edema also begin with similar symptoms. If a headache does not respond to aspirin and a good night’s rest, or if a dry cough with frothy sputum develops, or if there are any signs of severe lethargy or poor co-ordination, get to a hospital at once. Better yet, move to a lower altitude.
At high altitudes, it is not unusual to awaken at night gasping for breath. If this happens to you, do not panic. This complaint, known as “periodic breathing,” is normally quite harmless and is caused by a change in the control of breathing within the brain while you sleep. Normal breathing can be quickly re-established by relaxation, rhythmic deep breathing, and the understanding that there is nothing to worry about.
Sensible precautionary measures include:
- sticking to a schedule of mild activity;
- drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids (one to five litres per day are recommended);
- not smoking; and
- avoiding sedatives (such as sleeping pills or tranquillisers), which tend to depress respiration and limit oxygen intake.
You might also consult your personal physician about taking the prescription drug Diamox (acetazolamide), a mild diuretic that stimulates oxygen intake. (It is used by the Himalayan Rescue Association.)
Smart Adventures strongly advises all travellers to high altitudes to consult with their doctor prior to travel.
Mountain or Altitude Sickness is not a problem for climbers, only ’cause we know it and how to overcome it!
While a Kilimanjaro climb can be an exhilarating and fun-filled adventure, there are many dangers associated with high altitude climbing. Although the information below will help you plan and prepare for your Kilimanjaro, it is not a substitute for high altitude medical training or experience. You must be extremely cautious during your climb and inform the guide and others in the group of any altitude sickness you experience.
Altitude affects people differently and there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with the susceptibility to altitude sickness. Most people can hike to 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) with minimal affect.If this is your first trip at altitude, it is important to be extremely cautious when hiking Kilimanjaro. Altitude is commonly given three rankings of high, very high, and extremely high. The lower and upper boundaries of these ranks are shown in the table below.
High 2,500 to 4,000 meters 8,000 to 13,000 feet Adaptation sufficient
Very High 4,000 to 5,500 meters 13,000 to 18,000 feet Adaptation not sufficient; acclimatization necessary.
Extremely High Over 5,500 meters Over 18,000 feet Acclimatization not possible; deterioration.
The summit of Kilimanjaro, 5895 meters (19,340 feet), falls in the extremely high category and proper precautions should be taken to mitigate the risks of high altitude hiking. The highest camps of Kilimanjaro, Barafu and Kibo, fall in the very high category of altitude and hikers could experience severe signs of altitude sickness at these camps. Although Mount Meru is often viewed as an acclimatization hike for Kilimanjaro, its peak, 4,566 meters (14,990 feet), falls in the very high altitude category and hikers can also experience severe altitude sickness while hiking Meru.
What is Altitude Sickness?
Symptoms associated with altitude sickness result from the body’s inability to adjust to lower levels of oxygen in the blood. At sea level, the concentration of oxygen is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, oxygen concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced due to lower barometric pressure. At 3,658 meters (12,000 feet), barometric pressure decreases to 483 mmHg, resulting in roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. In order to increase oxygen levels in the blood, your body responds by breathing faster. Although oxygen levels increase, sea level concentrations cannot be reached. The body must adjust to having less oxygen. This adjustment is called acclimatization. At elevations above 5,500 meters, acclimatization is not possible and the body begins to deteriorate.
The main cause of altitude sickness is going too high too fast. Given enough time, your body will adapt to the decrease in oxygen at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes one to three days at any given altitude. Upon climbing to a higher elevation, the body must readjust to the new altitude again over a period of one to three days.
In order to cope with decreased oxygen levels, the body reacts in the following ways:
- Respiration frequency and depth increases
- Pressure in pulmonary arteries is increased, “forcing” blood into portions of the lung which are normally not used during sea level breathing.
- Additional red blood cells are produced to carry oxygen
- Enzymes are produced to facilitate the transfer of oxygen from hemoglobin to body tissues.
It is imperative that hikers be aware of symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness during Kilimanjaro and Meru trips and that they communicate with the guide regularly regarding their condition. It is very important to rest and not ascend further if experiencing severe symptoms of AMS.
Above 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), most people experience a periodic breathing during sleep known as Cheyne-Stokes Respirations.The pattern begins with a few shallow breaths and increases to deep sighing respirations then falls off rapidly for a few seconds before shallow breathing begins again.
During the period when breathing stops the person often becomes restless and may wake with a sudden feeling of suffocation. This can disturb sleeping patterns, exhausting the climber. This type of breathing is not considered abnormal at high altitudes. Diamox is helpful in relieving this periodic breathing.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Acute Mountain Sickness is common at high altitudes and 75% of people experience some symptoms over 3,000 meters (9,842 feet). The severity of AMS depends on several factors including rate of ascent, elevation, and individual susceptibility. Symptoms usually begin between 12 and 24 hours after reaching altitude and decrease in severity by the third day.
Mild AMS symptoms include: headache, nausea and dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, shortness of breath, and inability to sleep.
As long as the symptoms are mild, hikers can continue to climb at a moderate rate. All symptoms of AMS should be communicated to the head guide and progress reports should be given daily.
Moderate AMS symptoms include: severe headache, nausea and vomiting, increased weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, and decreased coordination.
Although the hiker may be able to continue walking on their own while experiencing moderate symptoms of AMS, normal activity becomes more and more difficult as the hiker gains altitude. At this stage, only medicine and descent can reverse the symptoms of AMS. Even a minor descent of only 300 meters will result in a significant improvement. All symptoms of moderate AMS should be communicated to the guide at which point the guide will make a decision whether or not to evacuate. Depending on symptoms, the climber may be told to walk a straight line. If he or she is not able to walk a straight line on their own, immediate descent is required.
Severe AMS symptoms include: increased shortness of breath, loss of ability to walk, decreasing mental awareness, and fluid buildup in lungs.
Severe AMS can only be treated by immediate descent to lower altitudes.
Other Severe Altitude-Related Illnesses
Two other severe forms of altitude sickness may result from failure to descend to lower altitudes. These include High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Although these happen less frequently, they usually result from fast ascents among people who are not properly acclimatized. The lack of oxygen in the body causes a leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or brain.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
HAPE results from fluid buildup in the lungs and can prevent effective oxygen exchange. Impaired cerebral function, cyanosis, and death may result in severe cases of HAPE. Symptoms of HAPE include: shortness of breath even at rest; fatigue and weakness; feeling of impending suffocation or drowning; grunting or gurgling sounds when breathing; persistent cough which brings up white, watery, or frothy fluid; confusion and irrational behavior. In cases of HAPE, immediate descent is necessary. Patients should be evacuated to a medical facility for follow-up treatment.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
HACE is the result of swelling of brain tissue from fluid leakage. Symptoms include the following: headache; loss of coordination (ataxia); weakness; decreasing levels of consciousness including, disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, blindness, and coma. HACE generally occurs after a week or more at high altitude. Severe instances can lead to death if not treated quickly and immediate descent is a necessary life-saving measure. Follow-up care must be sought at a medical facility following HACE
Preventing Altitude Sickness
There are two ways to prevent altitude-related illness: proper acclimatization and preventative medicines. These recommendations are written specifically for climbing Mounts Meru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and may not be applicable to other high mountains.
- Tell guide your AMS symptoms and keep him as well as the other group members informed of your progress.
- Climb high and sleep low. It is recommended that you acclimate during the day by climbing to high elevations and then descending to sleep.
- If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness, don’t go higher until symptoms decrease.
- If symptoms become severe, descend.
- Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 4-6 liters per day). Urine should be clear.
- Don’t over-exert yourself at altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. Depressants further decrease the rate of respiration during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.
- Eat a high calorie diet of which 70% is carbohydrates.
Diamox (Acetazolamide):Diamox is a drug that allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen. Although gradual ascent is recommended as opposed to Diamox, the drug does help to avert symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Because it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude.
The recommended dose is between 125 mg and 250 mg twice daily starting one to two days before the trek and continuing for three days once the highest altitude is reached. Possible side effects include tingling of the lips and finger tips, excessive urination, blurring of vision, and alteration of taste. Contact your physician for a prescription.
Since Diamox is a sulfonamide drug, people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. Diamox has also been known to cause severe allergic reactions to people with no previous history of Diamox or sulfa allergies. (There are other medications that may be taken to prevent altitude sickness. You must ask your doctor if they are right for you.)
Ibuprofen relieves altitude induced headache.
Nifedipine rapidly decreases pulmonary artery pressure and also seems able to decrease the narrowing in the pulmonary artery caused by low oxygen levels, thereby improving oxygen transfer. It can therefore be used to treat HAPE, though unfortunately its effectiveness is not anywhere as dramatic that of dexamethasone in HACE. The dosage is 20mg of long acting nifedipine, six to eight hourly.
Frusemide may clear the lungs of water in HAPO and reverse the suppression of urine brought on by altitude. However, Frusemide can also lead to collapse from low volume shock if the victim is already dehydrated. Treatment dosage is 120mg daily.
Information on Gratuities
Many travellers view tipping as a difficult subject, though this need not be the case. The first thing to remember is that tipping is not compulsory, nor are there any fixed amounts. The bottom line in determining whether and how much to tip is to ask yourself how much the individual did to make your travels more enjoyable. It is with this in mind that we offer the following information.
On a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, many travellers choose to tip their guides and porters and the following amounts are suggested:
Head Guide: US-$150 to US-$ 200 for the entire trip
Assistant Guide: US-$ 80-110 for the entire trip
Porters (per porter): US-$15-US-$20 for the entire trip
PLEASE NOTE that your gratuity should be presented at the end of the climb and should be given to the head guide, who will distribute it amongst those who have assisted you during the climb.
Please Note: All the information contained in these pages is intended for guidance only and is believed to be correct at the time of writing.
As circumstances may change at any time you are strongly recommended to check with us or the appropriate authority prior to travel for up-to date information, especially on health.