Kilimanjaro

I went up Kilimanjaro in July 1994.

If you are fit and used to dealing with altitude I recommend that you don't take the tourist route on Kili. The routes on the west side are said to be quiet and more beautiful. I'd certainly not take the Tourist route if I ever go back. I'd also try to get a guide who would take me into the crater. This is probably the only place that a competent hiker would need a guide for navigation.

We paid $350 each for six days on the Tourist route. We were three and had four porters and a guide. $240 of this covered Park and Hut fees (both $20/day) so there was not much left to cover transport to the route/food/wages. Some people paid $600 and got exactly the same treatment on the mountain: I guess the profit just goes to the Hotel/Agency. We went with Prince Kili Safaris who work from an office at one of the cheap hotels (in Moshi). Their deal was the cheapest that we felt we could trust. There was a freelance guy at the hotel who works for Prince Kili sometimes and would take people up non-tourist routes. Don't use the agency at the Moshi Youth Hostel. It looked expensive and dodgy.

As for the number of days to take (5 or 6), it depends a lot on your experience of coping with higher altitudes. I would recommend the extra (sixth) day, particularly if you have never been above, say, 4000m before. Leaving aside the altitude, the hiking is very easy (70-80km and c4000m gained/lost, generally on good paths) and the whole trip could be done by an experienced hiker in 3-4 days. We had no problem whatsoever with illness. I'm not saying that our approach would guarantee this, even were we to do the same again---altitude is like that---I've walked at or above 4500m on seven occasions. But, for the record this is what we did.

Day Altitude range (m) Time (h) Comments
1 1800-2700 2-3 Easy walking apart from a short steeper section on a muddy path through `jungle'.
2 2700-3800 4-5 Easy walking across open moorland.
3 3800-4000-3800 3-4 Easy acclimatization hike
4 3800-4800 5-6 Easy walking across cold desert.
5 4800-5900-3800 12 Up scree (4 hours starting at 01:00), along a good path round the crater rim (unless there is snow) and back. NB It can be VERY cold just before dawn on the crater rim of Kili---about -25C. Fortunately we had only a light breeze but it can be windy.
6 3800-1800 6? Easy descent.

Clearly, apart from the `summit day', there is lots of time to get to the next hut so you can go SLOWLY. We drank a lot of WATER---`clear and copious' urine output became a bit of a joke with us but undoubtedly was important. There is plenty of water below 4500m (it may not need purifying but we did with iodine) but none above 4500m. We took Diamox above 3800m but I think that this had much less influence than walking slowly and drinking. I had also been to 5000m on Mt Kenya the previous week and my girlfriend and her friend were living at 1800m in Nairobi.

As for fitness, this is only needed on the summit day when you will be out for a long time----albeit moving slowly. Anyone who is used to 8-10 hour days in the hills in Scotland, Snowdonia or the Lakes would not be seriously challenged---so long as they have looked after themselves on the three-four days beforehand. You don't need to be super-fit to get to the top. What is much more important is how well you look after yourself on the way up and how well you, as a person, tend to acclimatise. Only about 25% of people get to Uhuru peak---13 on the day we got up.

Take a good fleece, gloves, hat and windproof jacket---it's extremely cold (Around -25C) on the crater rim just before dawn and definitely freezing during the hours of darkenss at/above 4000m. As for your feet, there's a trade-off between 3-4 season walking boots which would keep you warm on summit day and give you better footing on the scree---and lightweight fell-walking boots which you'd be glad of on the rest of the walk. You could take two pairs, depending on how guilty you'd feel when an ill-shod porter is carrying your heavy warm boots for summit day.

It is obligatory to take a local guide. On the Tourist Route you can't get a permit without a guide and you can't use the huts without a permit and if you tried to camp at the huts you would invite investigation. You might get away without a guide (and your park fees) on the other routes because they are quieter but I have not heard of anyone doing it.

As for the best time of year, it's hard to say. My girlfriend went with an MCK party one December and they did not even try because they could see from Moshi that there was too much snow. I have also spoken to someone who saw almost no snow on the route in December of another year. When we went up (July 1994) there was no snow at all. Weather on Mt Kenya is even more unpredictable. Mountain conditions in equatorial countries without well-defined major seasons can be hard to predict. I have the Savage map of Mt Kenya in front of me and it says that it `can be climbed at any time of year but it is best to avoid mid-March---mid-June (long rains) and late-October---end-December (short rains)'. Last year the short rains almost failed so Kenya was dry when I was there at Christmas but the long rains were good so it was beautifully green when I was there in July.

As regards acclimatization, I went up Mt Kenya before Kili---an infinitely better experience apart from the few hours spent on Kili's crater rim---and really felt the benefit. Other alternatives are Mt Elgon or Mt Meru.


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