Preparing to Hike Mt. Kilimanjaro: More than Training & Gear

I sit here, two weeks before my departure for Tanzania, asking myself “Oh my, what did I get into??”.  As you may have read, I am headed to Tanzania to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, something that 5 months I would have told you was the furthest thing from my bucket list.  Seriously.  As I contemplate the process so far, I have learned a few things and I wanted to share those with folks who may be thinking of hiking Kilimanjaro.  Conditioning and gear are two important elements,  But there is a less immediately obvious element in being prepared…

Before that:  How did I decide to hike to Kilimanjaro?

I already knew I wanted to do more treks with Trekking for Kids (with whom I trekked the Transylvanian Alps) because of the great work they do with orphanages but I was not expecting Kili would be the trek for me.  I attended a TFK event last September where I heard Len Stanmore speak about his incredible journey of extreme outdoor adventure.  His story is quite inspirational and others started talking about TFK’s upcoming trek to Kilimanjaro in February 2013 at the reception afterwards.  I was hooked.  Somehow.  Not really sure what had just happened but I was in.  ALL IN.

Besides the orphanage work (fundraising for it and actually spending a few days there), there are three key aspects for me about the hike itself:  training, gear/packing preparations, and a third that I have yet to name at this point in this writing…

Kids, uniform, Tanzania

The kids at the Kili Centre orphanage sporting the new uniforms paid by funds raised by this trek

First – Training for the hike

Fortunately, when I decided to go on this trek, I was still relatively fresh from my Romania hike and had continued exercising in general.  It makes for a good starting point!

I started more serious training by getting on the treadmill and increasing the incline over a few weeks to 15%, ending up doing this for a couple of hours.  I also used a backpack whose weight I kept increasing beyond the expected weight we would carry on the hike (about 15 lbs for our day needs; porters would be carrying the rest) .  I was doing great with this and was planning to mix in real hikes by going to small but still helpful Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta, Georgia, where I trained for the hike in Romania.  And that is when a mini disaster struck:  I over-stretched my Achilles tendons (both legs!) likely due to the imperfect simulation of a 15% incline on a treadmill.  It all seems obvious now but I had not contemplated that I could hurt myself that way – you just don’t know what you don’t know!

That set me back about 6 weeks at a point when the intensity of my training was really beginning to pay off.  (I am almost back to normal and training again at this point.)   Not only that but I gained weight due to the double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas falling squarely in that 6-week period…  So now I will carry even more weight uphill :)

Advice:  If you embark on something like this without that type of starting point – don’t fret!  Just be sure to start gradually.  Aggressive training from cold is more than likely counterproductive if not outright a risk!  That’s the easiest way to get injured.  And also, stretch even of days you are not training.  Stretching is your best ally in physical readiness.

Second – Getting in gear.  Into gear, that is.

After being in good conditioning for the hike, the next item on the list is all the stuff that I will need on the hike.  That short word “stuff” covers a wide range of things that I will need to make this a successful trip.  After getting the packing list from TFK (VERY thorough!), I did an inventory of what I had and what I needed to research/acquire.  I started staging all my items in a spare bedroom.  It looks like a mess but it does two things for me:  1.  allow me to start gathering in one place all that I will need to pack making packing later a lot easier and 2.  allow me to start enjoying the upcoming trek by seeing it shape up!

packing gear for hiking trip

The “mess” in the spare bedroom!

Advice

  • Get a good packing list for the type of hike
  • Go talk to your local outfitter before you acquire things to learn about what they recommend, what materials are out there, criteria for choosing items, etc.
  • Then proceed with sourcing the items (borrow or buy).

Let me share some more specifics about gear and packing here (for a more detailed description of the clothing I took, go here)…  But do check out this post on what I considered my 7 key items for this hike (written BEFORE the hike) and then the top 14 things I took (written AFTER the hike)!

Clothing

Mt. Kilimanjaro covers multiple climate zones ranging from forest where one may be trudging through mud to extreme cold and windy terrain towards the top.  Guess what?  That means carrying gear to deal with all the climate zones but, most importantly, to deal with the extreme cold and wind which is far more dangerous to a hiker.  The key to all this is layers.  Not rocket science, I know.  I hear the cold towards the top is brutal!

The list I was provided by TFK was very clear on what was needed.  I went (a few times!) to my favorite outfitter and explores the options available for each category of item needed.  I have learned WAY more than I thought I’d ever learn about gear.  And spent way more than I ever thought I’d spend.  But two things help:  one, I have bought thinking of re-use especially at ski time or in future treks and, second, I have tried to borrow some items (though it has not been as much as I would have hoped for).

Advice My advice to you is to borrow, or buy used if possible, and think of re-use as you make choices on what to get.  For example, instead of buying the absolute best gloves for the extreme temperature, think of using liners, etc. so the gloves themselves can work for you in less extreme weather back at home.

Accessories

This covers a whole range of items like the hiking poles (with shock absorbers!  see here for more on them), headlamp (not only to read at night or go potty in the middle of the night but also for the night hiking we will do on summit day!), sleeping bag liner (to make it warm enough for the coldest nights), sleeping bag pad (for comfort and further insulation from the very cold ground), cameras (yes, plural:  the big one is not summiting with me – too heavy), even duct tape!

Advice:  Borrow, or buy used if possible.  Buy new if that suits you better.  However, another possibility is renting some of the items on-site.  This helps you in two ways:  not buying stuff if you are not going to be hiking/camping more than this trip and also reducing the amount of stuff you have to lug half way around the world!  However, some potential downsides of this:  you don’t know the condition of the item you will rent (dirty, torn up, etc.) and you may not find the right type for the item you are looking for.  For example, you need to be sure that sleeping bag will be warm enough.

Health/”Medical”

For this destination, one does have to be ready with anti-malarial and other items as recommended by the CDC.  I have all the hepatitis stuff from prior travels so the anti-malarial (which is taken for every trip) and the typhoid (which I needed) were on the must-have list.  But the medical category is not just the innoculations/vaccines.  Things like ibuprofen, Cipro (for the potential digestive maladies that could affect a traveler…), and maybe even something to help you sleep get on the list.  Other items, such like the iodine tablets, sunblock with DEET, high-SPF chapstick, etc. are more preventive in nature but just as important.  This list is very important and is sometimes less obvious than the gear and clothing lists.

Advice:  Do your research, ask people who have gone before (feel free to ask here!), and don’t try to save money by skimping on these items!

Third – Is it the emotional preparedness?

I will have to get back to you on this after the trip for a full report.  However, I had heard that a lot about hiking Kili is the mental strength to power through tough conditions like mud and rain, tiredness, perhaps pain, and other discomforts.  So I am thinking this would fall under emotional preparedness.  I have heard from people who have hiked it before that, in the end, this is the most important elements in preparing for Kili.  You may be fit, you may not.  Altitude sickness could keep you from summiting and that is independent of your fitness level (amazing!).  But if you don’t have some toughness in this realm, you may fall short of your goals.

We are lucky that our lead guide is one of the foremost mountain expedition leaders in the world, Luis Benitez.  He is also a Board Member of TFK!  In an email he sent the trekkers last week, he told us that the best thing to do in this category is to expect discomfort, understand it will happen, understand it starts and it ends.  All that so that when it hits at any point in the trip, you remember it will pass and you don’t let it bring you down (figuratively speaking!).  I think this is a great piece of advice that will serve ME well in these 2 weeks before I leave for this hike.

Advice:  Listen to Luis’ advice!

Final thoughts…

I am almost done doing all the things that I need to do to be ready but, in the end, it is the emotional preparedness that I am not sure how to measure.  I cannot check it off a list, like I can do with the other items on my packing list.  Yet it is likely one of the most important success factors in this trek.  I don’t know if altitude sickness will beat me to the summit.  I can’t control that.  But I sure hope I am ready enough to control my willpower and discomforts to summit or get very close to it!  Kili, I shall meet you very soon!

Uhuru peak or Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

P.S. – Thanks for all the words of support, advice, and for orphanage donations via Trekking for Kids!

——————————————————————————————————————————

A month after this post went up, I had completed climbing Kilimanjaro and started writing about every day in the trek (7 total days) and about the route we were to take.  Check it out!

The Machame Route

Day 1 (and links to the subsequent days)

Comments

  1. Needless to say, this isn’t one for me! But Mr O summitted (check me out, I know the lingo) Kili and I was there for the pre and the post excitement. A lot of prep is required indeed – and going with a good company is key. But what you will get out of it is priceless. If you need to speak to him, let me know! So excited about your climb!!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..How holidays help you live longerMy Profile

    • Thanks, Mrs O! I am fortunate that we are being led in this trip by such an experienced mountain guide. Plus Len Stanmore who climbed the 7 summits. TFK has gone to Kili before so they seem to know well the lay of the land. I am thrilled and off for a practice hike in the mountains north of Atlanta! We need to get Mr O to do Everest Base Camp with TFK if he hasn’t done that trek. It’s coming up fall 2013!

  2. No puedo creer que ya solo faltan 2 semanas! Waoooo eres mi heroe por hacer esta gran hazaña…..te felicito y vamos a estar rezando por todos!

    • Muchas gracias, Chirry! En los momentos de “discomfort” del trek me acordaré que tengo una banda de “cheerleaders” en Panamá!!

  3. so excited for you! looking forward to reading about your trip post hike/trek! i know it’s going to be AMAZING!!
    lola recently posted..5 reasons i may go European after allMy Profile

  4. Holy cow Raul…that is a ton of gear! Can’t wait for you to embark on this adventure.
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Avenue of the Oaks – Picture of the WeekMy Profile

  5. Somehow I think the pitchers of Guinness consumed last week helped the emotional preparedness for this arduous task. Good luck my friend.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Snow & Slopes News: What’s in Store for the 2012-2013 Ski SeasonMy Profile

  6. What a great post, Raul. Being confident of your preparations is a huge step, and you’ve clearly covered all the bases! I can’t wait to read your comments, post expedition. Good luck! And have the time of your life…Cindy

  7. I can not wait to follow you along on this adventure. Not only is it for a great cause, but it will be an experience you will not forget. I’m so proud of you, Raul.
    Leah Travels recently posted..At Verbier St-Bernard, My Swiss Dreams Come TrueMy Profile

    • Thanks, Leah, for the kind words! I am so happy to have this experience and that good friends like you have also been having some awesome travel experiences! Like I like to say: life is now, explore the world!

  8. That is so awesome! Climbing Kilimanjaro is very high on my bucket list…has been for years! I did a bike ride across Canada a few years ago…the sense of accomplishment and the amazing experience has stayed with me since then! Like what you are going through to prepare to climb Kilimanjaro, there is so much involved before hand. Can’t wait to hear how it went. Enjoy the moments along the way – you have earned them!
    Anita Mac recently posted..Travel Confessions of a Travel-a-holic!My Profile

    • Thanks, Anita. Things like biking across Canada or hiking Kili are certainly the stuff of growth and thrills! I am looking fwd to every experience in this trek.

  9. Holy moly that’s a lot of ‘stuff’!
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..Our Worst in FoodMy Profile

  10. SO excited for this hike, as it is something that is on my bucket list. How did it get here so fast!? You sound as ready as you’ll ever be, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking this for my future trek. :)
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Music Monday: We Are The Tide.My Profile

  11. If I ever decide to hike Kili, this will be the post to read again. Raul, I’m keeping fingers crossed that everything will be relatively easy. At the same time, I have confidence in your abilities!! (And not just because you braved Chicago’s winter sidewalks ;) haha). Love the pic of your spare bedroom!
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo of the Week: St. Peter’s Square, Vatican CityMy Profile

  12. What a splendid adventure, made more meaningful by its charitable connection! How long did the trek take in all?
    Tricia recently posted..Snowy Vignettes from an Alpine ParadiseMy Profile

    • Hi, Tricia! The trek starts in a little over a week (Feb 19). The ascent will take us 6 days on the Machame Route and then 1 day to descend. I am ready!!

  13. Wow….tremendo reporte. You were able to pack all that stuff and carry it????

    • Yep, all that got packed into two large bags and my carry-on (where I took the most important items just in case!). I was well under the luggage weight limit from the airline, believe it or not!

  14. Wow – that really sucks that you hurt yourself on the treadmill! I can totally see that though – a constant 15% would not be normal. Would be better to have it vary 12 – 17%. Not only for the body, but also for the mind! Hindsight, I know – is 20-20! Sounds like you put some serious prep into it though and, having read some of your posts from the days of trekking, it paid off! That is some serious gear though!!! Thank goodness for porters…I don’t think I have ever taken that much and I have done a few trips in my time! Will be coming back to this when I finally do cross Kilimanjaro off my list – it is so on my list and has been for years! Very cool.
    Anita Mac recently posted..Monday Morning Series: #GirlsTravel chatMy Profile

    • @Anita, Kilimanjaro covers 5 distinct climate zones so you are pretty much forced to consider warm weather as well as frigid cold and everything in between! Also the likelihood of rain and mud also have to be kept in mind. I carried no more than 30lobs in my porter bag and about 12-15 on my daypack. Of course, I had other stuff for the orphanage workdays and the safari but those are not reflected in the lbs I cite in the comment. One thing to note is that I took to Tanzania more than I took up the mountain – I’d rather have more stuff at hand than not enough. Part of the plan was a walkthrough with our lead guide on everything on the list for him to advise, once he saw exactly what types of gear we brought, how much to take up. For instance, people may have opted for polyprop instead of wool, etc. so he would see what you specifically had and then advised what to take up the mountain. I shed quite a few items at that point!

  15. Paul Willette says:

    My son and I are going to Kili on 1-1-2015 and need advice on the type/brand of long under ware that others have had success with. Should it be the “heavy” weight type; ? wool vs. synthetic. We are bringing a lighter synthetic pair. I’m trying to capitalize on the final winter sales. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    Also, my sleeping bag is a Quest-Polaris which is rated for 20F. Will this work. If I have to buy another piece of equipment my wife is going to have a stroke.

    Thx!!

    • Paul, my suggestion is to wear light but warm layers. I used a combination synthetic and merino wool layers. For example, my outer jacket (besides the wind breaker) was synthetic down: it provided warmth yet was very light and compact (REI jacket). Under it everything was wool: I had a merino wool jacket (medium weight) and under that base layers of wool that were light. I chose Icebreaker merino wool for the baselayer (125 or 200) because nothing seems to beat its effectiveness at wicking moisture while keeping you warm. For my legs (I usually don’t get as cold there), I used SmartWool leggings under my pants. You don’t ask about socks but let me tell you, I asked for the warmest socks at the store and those, with liners under them, were not enough for summit night! My toes were cold!!

      In terms of the sleeping bag, I would say that it is not worth your money buying the 0F-rated if this is the only time you would use it. You have some options: 1. buy a used 0F-rated, 2. rent one once you get to Tanzania (the company you go with may be able to do this for you) but you have to be OK with it maybe not being perfectly clean, or 3. buy a warm liner to go into the sleeping bad (maybe $50 so cheaper than a new sleeping bag – and less cause for that stroke you mention!).

      If you want to chat more, let me know and I can email you. You have good questions and I am glad you are doing your homework now so you can save $$ while the sales are happening :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...]  I came across a great series of posts including how to prepare for when I eventually do it - Preparing to Hike Mt Kilimanjaro: More than Training & Gear.  I have only had to deal with those kinds of altitudes twice - climbing in the Everest [...]

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: