Mount Kilimanjaro is not a hard undertaking because there are no technical skills or equipment required to reach the summit. As long as you’re well conditioned and can walk up to 7 hours at a time, you should be in great shape to successfully climb Kilimanjaro. That said, you should not underestimate the overall hike because many hikers commonly face altitude sickness, food poisoning, fatigue, bad weather and lousy accommodations. In short, we’re going to address the various challenges you’re likely to encounter during Kilimanjaro hikes and the systems you can use as methods of prevention. (1)
How Hard Is It To Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
- Altitude Sickness — altitude sickness occurs when there’s a sudden drop in atmospheric oxygen levels, where you’ll start experiencing a loss of appetite, nausea, mild headaches, vomiting and dizziness. (2) This is often prevented with plenty of hydration and Acetazolamide. It also helps to know how to prepare for Kilimanjaro’s altitude.
- Fatigue — fatigue sets in when you endure weak, sore or aching muscles during Kilimanjaro hikes. Furthermore, you’ll also experience dizziness, headaches, sleepiness and slowed reflexes and responses. This usually occurs on short Kilimanjaro hiking trails and can often be avoided when there’s plenty of room for physical recovery.
- Bad Weather — blustery winds, snowfall with ice and unpredictable rains can come about at any point during your hike, regardless of the time of year. Mount Kilimanjaro is known to sometimes have its own weather so you should be prepared for everything, even when hiking during the dry seasons.
- Lousy Accommodations — aside from the Marangu route, all Kilimanjaro hiking trails have camping grounds and tented accommodations. If you’re new to camping and living outdoors, then you may find a trip of 6-9 days to climb Kilimanjaro very difficult.
- Food Poisoning — poor sanitary measures and contaminated water lead to food poisoning on Kilimanjaro. You’ll likely experience high fevers, a loss of appetite and frequent vomiting that’ll prevent you from keeping down liquids.
1. Altitude Sickness
Avoiding altitude sickness is really one of the hardest parts of climbing Kilimanjaro. Your ability to acclimatize and get used to the low oxygen in the air, while still having to trek long distances, is what sets Kilimanjaro apart from your average weekend hikes. This is why Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp is a far more common comparison than Mount Whitney vs Mt Kilimanjaro.
To get around this, you’ll have to condition yourself above 3,000m, at least 1-month prior to your arrival. This will help your body better adjust to higher altitudes on Mount Kilimanjaro. Otherwise if you’re on a tight budget or can’t find the extra time, you could also engage in breathing exercises, 4 times a week, to simulate lower atmospheric oxygen levels before you attempt Kili. Pressure breathing exercises, belly breathing exercises and breath-holding drills are simple breathing exercises to help condition your body for Kilimanjaro. (3)
Once on the mountain, apply the pole, pole (slow-slow) system when you start your hike in the morning until you get to camp in the afternoons. This system will help your body gradually adjust to elevation changes so you don’t get altitude sickness throughout your trip. To round out the day, your lead Kilimanjaro tour guide will guide you up 50-100m and bring you back down. This process is called trek-high and sleep-low. (4) It’s an acclimatization system that’ll ensure you adjust during your sleep, while helping you better anticipate elevation gains when you wake up in the morning.
Diamox is medicine used to prevent altitude sickness, while hiking at high altitudes. If you happen to consider taking it, test the medication at home in a controlled setting for 4 days, at least 2 weeks prior to your arrival, in order to determine your body’s reaction to the doses (125-250mg). (5) This experiment will also help not confuse the side effects of the medication for altitude sickness. Consult your doctor before engaging in this experiment to rule out any allergies and to find out the right dosage for your body mass.
Most hikers risk fatigue when they climb short hiking trails on Kilimanjaro. That’s because you’re bound to hike 8-9 hours at a time with little room for physical recovery. This can become especially difficult if you haven’t gone through proper training before attempting Kilimanjaro. (6)
For the most part, you don’t need any fancy training since Kilimanjaro isn’t really a technical climb. Extensive cardio exercises will do the trick. Groups that tend to do exceptionally well on Kilimanjaro are often mountaineers and runners.
The best method around this is to hike longer routes on Kilimanjaro so you have short hiking intervals with plenty of room for recovery. This makes longer routes on Mount Kilimanjaro very easy for hikers that are not used to trekking long distances. A good 7-9 days of hiking is a great range to keep your body fully recovered so you don’t undergo fatigue on Kilimanjaro. This is why when you compare Lemosho vs Machame route, you’ll realize the extra day spent hiking the Lemosho trail is the reason Machame has a lower success rate, despite them being the same trail. Compare Kilimanjaro climbing reviews in order to figure out which route is suitable for your trip. Otherwise if climbing Kilimanjaro on a budget is what you are looking for, it’s best you opt for the Machame route in order to save money, instead of trying to figure out how to climb Kilimanjaro without a guide.
3. Wether Conditions
Another thing that can make climbing Kilimanjaro difficult, is adverse weather conditions. Expect blustery winds, snowfall with ice and unpredictable rains to come about at any point during your hike. The mountain’s weather conditions are notoriously unpredictable, but you’ll find most times of the year to be stable and much better for hiking the mountain. (7)
February, August and September have the warmest weather conditions although, if you’d like to avoid crowds, schedule your hike either in June, July, October, December, or February because months that are close to the rainy seasons are usually less crowded. Overall, expect good weather conditions within these months. Trails should be dry and much easier to navigate with a group.
As you get higher up, temperature drops significantly at night, so if you know you suffer from cold temperatures, you’ll need to be prepared and have the right gear with you. The wrong gear can make your life on the mountain much more difficult.
If you’re not used to camping and outdoor living, you may find sleeping on Kilimanjaro a bit hard. That’s because weather conditions on Kilimanjaro may frequently disrupt your sleep at night. Inflatable matts get extremely cold, due to the air density within the mattress, while tents are unable to keep winds from howling throughout the night. (8)
Bring a pair of ear plugs to block out the winds and use a foam mattress underneath your sleeping bag. This will ensure you’re warm and are sound asleep at night.
If you’re still not sold on tented accommodations, hike the Marangu route because the trail has sleeping huts instead of tents for accommodations. Marangu route has poor acclimatization landscapes but the hut accommodations make for a much more enjoyable hiking experience.
5. Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is often overlooked but it contributes to a great deal of failed summit attempts on Kilimanjaro. This is due to unsanitary measures and contaminated water.
Bring purification tablets because water is conserved and boiled on Mount Kilimanjaro but, unfortunately clean water can’t be accessed above 13,000ft. Support staff may sometimes not go through great lengths to get you clean water, when at high altitudes, so it’s best to bring your own purification tools (tablet or liquids) as extra precautions. (9) If you find it hard, you can add some flavorings, in the form of electrolyte powders or liquids, or simple squash.