Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one of those things that seems to be on just about everybody’s bucket list, and for good reason too. It’s an amazing experience and is one that will live with you forever.
Upon climbing it, you join a large group of people who have tread before you, and all of you will be united by the fact that you have been there and done it. With that in mind, we got volunteer expedition leader and Kilimanjaro summiteer Jack Howell to tell us eight things that everyone who has climbed the mountain will know.
1. What ‘pole pole’ means
Photo: Mouser Williams
Pronounced ‘pol-ay, pol-ay’, the phrase means ‘slowly’ in Swahili and it represents the way in which you climb Kilimanjaro, and also how much of Tanzanian life is. You must go slowly to avoid ascending too quickly and suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the porters will often shout “pole pole” as they race past you.
2. The toilets are seriously grim
Photo: Mouser Williams
I’ve travelled around a fair amount of East Africa and love a good squat toilet. However, the toilets on Kili were grim. Some people seem to have particularly poor aim, so finding a mess all over the floor was not uncommon.
I’d read in advance that if you go the toilets before dawn the poo pile is frozen and doesn’t smell as much, this was not the case.
3. It’s probably more fun in a group
Photo: Sam Hawley
The experience is probably much more enjoyable as a group, both for motivation and for the shared memories to look back on. Having more people than one person in the tent at night also makes it a lot warmer. Though if your tent mate is being sick all through the night you might be wishing for a tent to yourself!
4. How good Kilimanjaro beer is
Photo: Joren De Groof
If you can’t climb it, drink it. Though when you have climbed Kili, the beer always tastes that little bit better.
5. The weather is unpredictable
Listen to the guide’s advice and not other climbers previous experience as yours is likely to differ. The weather varies as much as the climatic zones you pass through, from scorching hot at the bottom to freezing cold at the top. The weather can also change suddenly throughout the day.
6. You can book it in country
Photo: Rajesh India
You can book the trek in country with a local tour operator which can potentially give you a better price. If you’re planning on booking in country be prepared to be hassled by many touts in Moshi and shop around to get the best price without sacrificing quality of guide or equipment.
If in doubt, booking from your home country is likely to take the stress away while providing quality, assistance and a group of like-minded people. Whatever you choose, make sure you are using an ethical operator that pays porters a fair wage. See www.kiliporters.org for more information.
7. You can make it
Photo: Jack Howell
It is not a technical climb, but the last night is physically tough. With a bit of determination, decent fitness and a bit of luck regarding AMS and the weather, you should be able to make it to the top and thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Due to the cold you usually don’t spend too long at Uhuru Peak but the sense of achievement makes the physical (and financial) investment of the previous week worth it.
8. The porters are the real reason you get to the top
Photo: Brigitte Djajasasmita
The porters have a seriously tough job. They carry everyone’s tents, food and equipment up the mountain on their heads. They pack up camp once you’ve left and race ahead of you to get the next camp ready for when you arrive. Like the guides, they’re a great resource to learn about Tanzanian culture from in the evenings. Without the porters tireless work, the experience would not be the same, so make sure you thank them.