What You Need to Know About Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Wow, you guys–– I cannot even describe the experience that was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the most challenging yet beautifully rewarding thing I have ever done in my entire life. I had no idea how difficult summitting would be. Altitude sickness is most definitely real, and it affected our whole group a lot more than we originally thought, but every minute was worth it. Only the boys and I made it to the tallest peak, and after we got down, we turned to each other and vowed that we would NEVER do it again. We have all since changed our minds, and I even plan on returning to summit it with my brother.

On day one, none of us expected it to be difficult–– boy, were we wrong. We opted to climb the Marangu route because it has huts you can sleep in as opposed to sleeping in tents. It's called the easy route out of all seven of them, but I would not classify it as easy by any means. The first three days of climbing have a lot of elevation gain, but altitude does not really start to hit you until the third day. If you're in shape, then climbing up is not necessarily difficult until you start feeling sick. I don't mean to go all TMI here, but only two out of nine in our group didn't vomit several times. Thankfully, I was one of the two. I just felt super weak on summit day and even blacked out parts of it due to lack of oxygen. I didn't even think to take photos of the beautiful glacier landscape on top because I was so out of it! It is totally doable though. My friend Adam threw up over 15 times on summit day and still made it to the top. All of us agreed that summiting is completely a mental experience, and if you want to do it, you most definitely can. Four out of nine of us made it, and the five that didn't are now confident that they could do it if they attempted to again.

One of my favorite parts of the climb was passing from below the clouds to above the clouds. It felt so surreal to be on top of them–– it truly feels like heaven. Another amazing thing was being able to see the Milky Way at night when you'd get up to go to the bathroom outside. The prettiest day of the hike to me was when we arrived at the Horombo huts due to the rare Senecio kilimanjari trees (the spiky, odd ones pictured above). The only place they exist in the world is on the mountain, and they are a spectacular sight.
Making the decision to climb Africa's tallest mountain with a bunch of acquaintances was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I knew everyone prior to the climb, but only through a few meetings we had before to square away details. I had no idea how close I would get to everyone, and I miss the whole group so much. Spending 5 days with the same people, sleeping in the same room, sharing jackets and warm weather gear and snacks while not showering brings people closer than you'd ever imagine. I loved every game of cards we played, every ridiculous dinner debate we had, and every moment we bonded over wanting to die. It makes me so sad that everyone on the climb is returning to Rollins in the fall and I have already graduated. Not knowing for sure that I will see everyone again makes me so sad, but I am thankful for every moment we had together in Tanzania.

For anyone wondering, we booked our climb through the Babylon Lodge. It was very affordable, and the guides were wonderful–– if you are thinking about doing it, ask for Jim, Godi, and Dennis! They were the best.

And now, here are some tips I'd give anyone who is thinking about attempting this climb:

  1. Pack all of your climbing gear in your plane carry on and wear your hiking boots on the plane. Thankfully, I took my hiking bag as my carry on and wore my boots. A few of us had lost luggage with our gear in it, meaning we all had to share gear and clothes/rent things because people's bags didn't make it in time. I didn't mind lending my things to others, but I felt bad that they didn't have their own hiking socks/pants/underwear/etc...
  2. Book your flight to arrive 2 days before the hike. Mine was scheduled to arrive a day before, and all of my flights got delayed, meaning I got in early in the morning the day we were scheduled to begin hiking. Thankfully, I was stuck in Turkey with other people in our group that also missed their flight, but it was tough doing the first day of the hike with absolutely no sleep. There is only one flight into the Kilimanjaro airport, so if you miss it, you have to wait until the next day.
  3. Make sure to pack flushable wipes. There is rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms on the mountain.
  4. Pack energy bars, as the food on the mountain gets old quickly. I never want to eat porridge again, and I am so thankful that I had an array of Kind bars to get me through.
  5. Bring earplugs and a sleeping mask, as some people in your group might get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and there will inevitably be snorers. Our hut sounded like a freight train because the boys snored and moaned in their sleep.
  6. Break in your hiking boots ahead of time. I didn't and thankfully mine were so comfy that it didn't matter, but a lot of people suffered from raw feet and blisters. I would suggest packing blister bandaids and medical tape in case!
  7. You can re-wear shirts and shorts on the mountain (I wore the same sports bra for 5 days; gross, I know) but I would suggest wearing new socks each day. Nothing feels better than clean socks, trust me!
  8. Bring a pair of tennis shoes or slippers for when you get to each camp. I wish I had done this, as it was a pain to lace up my hiking boots in the pitch black darkness of the night when I needed to go outside to use the restroom.
  9. Take lots and lots of pictures. It's easy to get lost in the moment when you are doing something so physically demanding, but you will want the photos to look at when you're done. I took at least 500 on the mountain, and I still wish I had taken more. Make sure to bring an extra battery pack so you can charge your phone/camera on the mountain. You don't want it to die mid-trip (although you'd be super surprised to know that iPhones will stay charged for 3-4 days while on airplane mode ––mind blown).
  10. Have fun. Be one with nature. Cherish the 5-6 days without cell phone service. There is no better feeling than truly being off the grid. I miss it like hell.

1 comment

  1. This is the coolest thing. This has been on my bucket list since I saw Kilimanjaro from afar in Amboseli National Park last summer. Seeing someone actually do it is giving me the push I need to make this dream a reality!