Kilimanjaro Trek - Things to know before you climb Kilimanjaro
by Kshaunish Jaini
Kilimanjaro -Things to know before you climb
Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is one of the most famous trekking destinations in the world, offering amazing views and a challenging but awe inspiring climb over many days that attracts over 30,000 trekkers
every year. If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in climbing Kilimanjaro yourself! In this article, we’ll look at some interesting and useful facts about the mountain to prepare you for the adventure! So here are a few things you must know before climbing Kilimanjaro.
What is Mt Kilimanjaro?
One of the most exciting facts about Kilimanjaro is that it is one of the “Seven Summits” - which are the highest mountains in each of the world’s seven continents. It’s the highest mountain in Africa, and found in north Tanzania near the town of Moshi, right next to the Kenyan border. It is the highest free-standing mountain in the world - meaning it stands alone and is not part of a mountain range.
Mt Kilimanjaro is a huge conical volcano with three cones; Shira and Merenzi are extinct, but the third, Kubu, is dormant - although it has not had a major eruption for
! It’s last recorded volcanic activity was over 200 years ago. Kilimanjaro's highest point, Uhuru Peak, sits on the Kubu crater and in 2014 was measured at a whopping 5888 meters above sea level. As trekkers climb to its summit, they actually reach a higher height than when trekking to the Everest Base Camp
! This makes it one of the highest popular treks that can be completed without specialist training in the world. Kilimanjaro is the highest volcano on Earth outside of South America!
History of Kilimanjaro
Of course, Mt. Kilimanjaro is well known amongst the local people, with the mountain boasting several legendary creation stories. We know that people once lived on and around the mountain in ages past from at least 1000 BC. Kilimanjaro’s name comes from what the locals call the mountain in the local Swahili language, although its actual origin is unknown.
The first official report confirming the existence of Kilimanjaro by non-indigenous explorers was back in 1848 by German missionary Johannes Rebmann. However, even before this, other sailors and explorers had mentioned mountains which could be attributed to Kilimanjaro. For over 500 years it served as a navigational aid for explorers and sailors, and attracted the attention of European explorers during the colonial period.
In 1861, the first Kilimanjaro summit attempt by Europeans
was made, but failed, only reaching 2500 meters thanks to poor weather conditions. After this, there were many failed summit bids as it attracted the attention of the international exploration community, until 1889 when Kilimanjaro was finally conquered. The victors were Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Pertscheller, who succeeded in climbing Kilimanjaro on his third attempt, accompanied by German geology professor Hans Mayer, who had also struggled in previous efforts to reach the top, with a team of African guides and porters.
In the 20th century, Kilimanjaro’s attraction to adventures and explorers did not diminish, and tourism began in earnest. In 1932, Kibo hut was built to accommodate trekkers and other tourist-friendly operations were starting to emerge on the mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro became an independence symbol for its country around 1960, back then what we now call Tanzania was a sovereign state called Tanganyika, under the control of the United Kingdom, but gained independence in 1961. Tourism continued to increase on Mount Kilimanjaro through the latter half of the century and its popularity soared, thanks to its easy accessibility for such a high mountain and its amazing scenery. It now hosts hundreds of tour operators, guides, porters and established routes and huts up the mountain, attracting over 30,000 visitors a year!
Kilimanjaro has a very diverse environment. Photo by Ninara
Part of Mt Kilimanjaro’s appeal is that it contains a variety of ecological environments, meaning that during your Kilimanjaro climb you will pass through at least five or six different types of landscape and four climate zones. These include farmland, rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and an arctic ice cap at the top. The west side of Kilimanjaro contains impressive gorges and caves, and the famous Shira plateau which some routes cross is one of the highest in the world. The top has glaciers (which are sadly rapidly melting due to climate change) and frequently sees snow and ice. Each climate “zone” sports its own interesting flora and a diverse range from flowers in the dense forest, to massive groundsels in the alpine desert.
Blue Monkey spotted on the Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by kezee
This diverse range of environments means that spotting wildlife is a real possibility, especially on the quieter routes. You might see black and white colobus or blue monkeys
in the forest, or hear the calls of bushbabies. Kilimanjaro is especially good for birdlife, including sun birds, mouse birds, alpine chats and seed, hornbills and ravens, to name a few. For bigger beasts, the area north of Kilimanjaro boasts safari wildlife with elephants, antelope and buffalo the most commonly seen, sometimes on the northern trekking routes. Going on safari in the area after your trek is a great way to see anything you missed!
Kilimanjaro Climate and Weather
Kilimanjaro’s seasons can be split into three states through the year:
January > March
A dry season, and a good time to trek thanks to decent weather and quieter visitor numbers. The start of the dry season. The weather is colder than the following season and there’s more likely to be snow on the summit. Rain is rare, and only found on the lower slopes which are usually covered in cloud. Above 3000 meters the skies are very clear.
June > October
The best dry season. Rain and snow are very uncommon. Nights are very cold but improve as the overall mountain temperature rises up to their height in August and October. The downside is that this is peak season and so the mountain gets very busy. The summit is usually clear of snow during this season.
April, May, November, December
These are all short wet seasons and so not ideal for trekking. December is very cold but not as wet as the other three months, and will be cloudy at lower elevations - but is still popular with trekkers through to January thanks to it being a holiday month.
During the dry seasons, there can still be the occasional rain shower, usually in the afternoon, so it’s still important to bring waterproof gear!
Like other huge volcanoes, Kilimanjaro’s size means that it creates its own unique weather systems which can be unpredictable. Temperature varies from very hot (20>45 degrees centigrade in the desert) to freezing cold (-25 degrees on the summit at night), thanks to the massive elevation difference from the top of Kilimanjaro to the bottom.
Temperatures are affected by the season, the time of day and your elevation on the mountain. In general once you get above the forest climate zone, nights are cold, but it warms up once the sun rises. Walking through the common morning cloud can be damp and chilly. The strong midday heat requires sun protection from its powerful rays. So, you need to be prepared for every kind of weather on this trek! To help you do this, we’ve made a handy what to pack for Kilimanjaro
article with an attached checklist.
People of all ages and backgrounds trek Kilimanjaro. Photo by Brad
People of all ages and backgrounds come to climb Kilimanjaro, and with good reason. You don’t need any special technical knowledge to ascend the mountain, it’s effectively a standard hike, covering many days. The duration of a Kilimanjaro trek depends on the route you choose, your own ability and the tour that you are doing. They generally range from the shortest at 5 days to the longest at 10 days.
Trekkers are usually accompanied by English speaking guides and Swahili porters, who carry some of your gear for you and supplies for the expedition, as the mountain is uninhabited. There are seven main routes to climb and descend the mountain, each offering different types of terrain, views, lengths and difficulties.
Some routes are very popular and busy, others (usually the longer ones) much quieter with more opportunities to see wildlife or a wider amount of scenery. Only one route, Marangu, has huts with dormitory accommodation. All the rest are camping only, with porters usually carrying the tents and equipment for the trekkers. You can also learn about the different Kilimanjaro routes
and help you decide which one might be best for you.
It is important to realize that climbing Kilimanjaro is not easy. Regardless of the route, you will be hiking for days at high altitudes and climbing for over half of the trip. Many trekkers don’t prepare properly for the Kilimajaro trek and struggle. However, the training for Kilimanjaro climb in advance is straightforward and will leave you well prepared for the challenge. We have an article with some Kilimanjaro training tips
that will be useful.
Further Information for Kilimanjaro
Here’s a few little nuggets of wisdom you might find useful for your Kilimanjaro trek!
You need to pack wisely for climbing Kilimanjaro. You have very limited space and porters can only carry so much of your gear. The rest you will be carrying yourself for days whilst you hike. Factor in the many clothes and supplies you’ll need for all of the different weather conditions, and it’s a challenge. Fortunately, we’ve done the research and created a handy packing guide for Kilimanjaro
which you can use.
Tipping on Kilimanjaro
It’s customary to tip your guide and porters for their hard work after the trek and factor this into your budget. Tipping is a vital part of their income in the tough economic conditions of the country and low wage standards for the competitive and unregulated tourism industry on Kilimanjaro.
Tipping etiquette is to pay tips individually in separate envelopes. As a rough guideline, guides should receive US$20-25 per day, cooks US$15 per day, and each of your personal porters – US$10 per day. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider the incredibly hard work that they do for little pay to make your trip possible, its not so hard. Also, check out the KPAP
, a non-profit organization which works to improve working conditions for the porters on Kilimanjaro.
It’s really important to keep hydrated during your trek. You should aim to be drinking at least 3 liters of water a day to cope, and your support staff will provide you with clean, safe drinking water. You can also take your own water purification tablets or tools to get water from streams. It’s wise to bring at least one insulated water bottle for the freezing summit night ascent, as otherwise your water will be a block of ice!
Your support team will provide 3 hearty proper main meals a day cooked up on the spot by the cooks. However it’s a good idea to also bring some high energy, high calorie snacks to give you extra energy on your trek.
It’s vital that you educate yourself about the risks of altitude sickness on your Kilimanjaro trek. As you climb to very high elevations over a short space of time, your body can suffer from altitude sickness. There are many ways to minimize this risk and you need to be aware of them. These include being adequately physically trained for the trek, taking longer tours which allow more acclimatization time, or taking routes which allow for better altitude acclimatization. Trekking slowly is also very important to give your body time to adapt. Medication is also available to help with altitude sickness. Do your research and be prepared! We talk about some of these issues further in our Base Camp Everest Vs Kilimanjaro Trek article
and our Training for Kilimanjaro Trek
Finally, whilst training, preparing and researching, remember why you’re doing this - to have a great time! Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s best hikes and for good reason. Mind blowing scenery in a spectacular environment, an incredible experience with great people, and a once in a lifetime challenge at the top of one of the highest mountains in the world! Look at some photos, watch some videos, read some blogs, get yourself hyped up and look at the rewards you will get, along with your own satisfaction at an adventure achieved!
Get to the Summit!
We hope this article on things to know before you climb Kilimanjaro was helpful and has given you some inspiration for your Kili trip! If you found it handy, check out some of our other articles about Kilimanjaro. Enjoy your trek!