“It’s just a walk up a mountain,” I thought. “How hard could it be?” Standing 19,341 feet high Mount Kilimanjaro looms large as the tallest peak in Africa, but summiting it doesn’t require any special climbing equipment (aside from a good pair of hiking boots) or any technical knowledge. I read a few pieces of advice, trained for a few months, devoted way too much time to packing, and left feeling prepared to conquer the mountain.
On my flight into Kilimanjaro International Airport, I was instantly humbled by the sight of Kilimanjaro’s three distinctive peaks poking well above the clouds at what seemed like the same height my plane was flying. Was I really ready for this?
Here’s what I wish someone had told me before I left on my trip.
You Don’t Have to Like Camping
Although I love spending time outside hiking, I am 100 percent the opposite of a camper. When it’s time to turn in for the evening, I want electricity, climate control, and a hot shower. There are no luxury hotels on Kilimanjaro, so I spent way too much time worrying that I was going to be dirty, freezing, and miserable the entire trek. Fortunately, my fears were alleviated once I reached our first night’s camp.
The company I summited Kilimanjaro with, World Expeditions, provided everything needed to sleep in comfort (even if it was in a tent.) There were flushing toilets housed in private bathroom tents, twice-daily bowls of hot water for sponge baths, and cozy sleeping bags that were warmer than my bed at home.
Pro tip: Pick a company that offers private toilet tents for your group. Trust me, when you see (and smell) the grim state of the public bathrooms on Kilimanjaro, which feature “long drop” style squat toilets, no running water, and a serious lack of doors, you’ll be grateful you did.
Don’t Let Anything Hold You Back
Age, physical limitations, or dietary restrictions can all be accommodated on Kilimanjaro. If an 89-year old can make it to the summit, so can you.
Concerned about embarking on a week-long hiking trip with a severe food allergy or medical condition? World Expeditions offers a unique solution that keeps people with serious allergies safe. For an extra fee, you can hire your own private chef to cook for you in a separate tent, using dedicated clean dishes and pans. They will also assign an individual waiter to serve you to prevent any accidental cross-contact with allergens.
On our trek we heard about inspiring people who climbed the mountain in wheelchairs or without shoes. If Kilimanjaro is your dream, there are plenty of options to make it happen.
Pack an Insulated Water Bottle
The importance of hydration for combating altitude sickness was impressed upon my group of hikers from day one. Which is why it was unfortunate that my water froze within hours during my hike to the summit, leaving me to carry two liter blocks of ice to the top.
Everything I had read about Kilimanjaro recommended bringing a Nalgene water bottle that can handle boiling water. Although these lightweight bottles were great for every other day of the trip, it was so frigid on summit night that my water quickly froze solid, despite storing my bottle upside down in my backpack and insulating it with a hiking sock.
Packing an insulated bottle will add a little weight to your pack, but it will also give you a better chance of being able to hydrate on your long climb to the summit.
The Food is Amazing
I packed tons of protein bars and snacks for my Kilimanjaro thinking that the food would be really basic. After all, everything you’ll eat on your hike has to be carried up the mountain by porters and cooked in a tent far from running water or electricity.
World Expeditions blew me away with the variety and taste of the food on our trek. We had three-course meals three times a day, and the dishes were varied and shockingly gourmet considering our surroundings. A typical day’s menu looked like: Eggs, sausage, and french toast for breakfast; Pasta, vegetables, and chicken for lunch; and a hearty stew over rice for dinner, accompanied by fresh fruit.
We even had a resupply of provisions halfway through our trip, provided by a team of porters who quickly hiked up from the base of the mountain to give us fresh vegetables, meats, and fruits.
Wear All Your Layers on Summit Night
When I hike on colder days at home, I adhere to the advice: “Be bold, start cold,” and quickly warm up after walking for a few minutes—so I tend to wear less layers than I think I’ll need, and pack extras in my daypack in case the temperatures drop later on
I figured Kilimanjaro would be the same, but that was a big mistake. It gets colder the higher you climb (according to our World Expeditions’ guide, the hours between 3-4 a.m. are the chillest on summit night).
I was completely comfortable for the first two hours on summit night, but as we ascended, it got so frigid that it was difficult to remove my mittens and outer jackets to put on more layers.
Don’t make my mistake—start as warm as possible, even if you’re overheating a bit at the beginning. (Just be careful to avoid getting too warm, as sweating can quickly turn dangerous in the cold.) It’s a fine line to walk, so make sure you try out all your layers at home in cold conditions to figure out what will work best when it counts.
Put Your Phone on Low Battery Mode
I packed a bunch of portable chargers thinking that my phone would die quickly in the cold weather—but I only needed to charge it once for the entire trip, despite using it as my sole camera and taking tons of snapshots and videos daily.
To make your battery last longer, put your phone on low battery and airplane modes. Sleep with it in your sleeping bag at night to keep it warm and prevent battery drain, and you won’t need a ton of extra chargers.
Donate Your Gear
The porters who will carry your stuff up the mountain are the real heroes of the trip. Help them out (and free up some space in your luggage for souvenirs) by donating some of your gear after your hike. I can confidently say that I never wanted to put my hiking boots on again after my trip, so I was thrilled to hand them off to someone who would appreciate them. Gently used clothing, shoes, and tech gear are all happily accepted and appreciated by the porters at the end of the trip.
You’ll Miss the Mountain After
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a camper. So I thought I would be thrilled to get off the mountain and back into civilization after my trek. Although my post-hike shower did live up to my dreams, I was surprised at how quickly I missed being on the mountain.
I’d never spent eight days completely immersing myself in nature. Spending the majority of my time walking outside rather than sitting at a computer and embracing the natural rhythms of the world by waking with the sun and sleeping as soon as it got dark just felt right. I miss it a lot, and the luxury of being back in my own bed just doesn’t compensate for it.
How to Book
I successfully summited Kilimanjaro with World Expeditions on their 10-day Lemosho Route tour. Prices for the trip start at $3,950 and can be booked directly on World Expeditions’ website.
Editor’s Note: The author of this story was hosted by World Expeditions.
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