Climbing Kilimanjaro

In March 2013 I Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my brother summiting on his 40th birthday, this is my little memoir of my experience climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world. 

I get asked a lot of questions about this little trip of mine anyway and when it came to researching what lay ahead of me, info was slightly scarce; so I figured I would put this post out into the internet to help others who were curious about it. I include the route I took, thoughts, feelings, logistics and an equipment check list :) 

As I stated in the prologue, when I was researching there was only a few websites that I found helpful and they were all very fact based, I couldn't find anything personal. I found a few vlogs which I didn't find very inspiring either (this was before vlogging had really taken off btw) I will go into slightly more detail about the lack of 'vlog presence' on this subject later btw. The only film I found was Gary Barlowe's Sports relief climb, where he took a bunch of celebs up for red nose day. It is worth a watch if you're really interested. So, down to business!

Facts: Based in Tanzania, Africa its not as high as Mount Everest, but at 5895 meters it is the highest free standing mountain in the world. 4000 metres in altitude and with five different environments including rain forestry, desert, moorlands and icy peaks it is a pretty surreal place.

'You're going to climb a mountain?........ seriously?!'
'Yes, seriously' 
It was summer 2012 and my brother (who was going through a rough patch at the time) and I, had cracked open a few beers  and were already done with 2012 and were making plans for 2013- My brother has a very busy schedule hence planning this adventure months in advance. He didnt want to have a party for his birthday as that was 'boring'. Well lets do something a bit more exciting then I suggested, 'what like climb a mountain?' and that is quite literally how the trip came about!  

Now, I don't consider myself a fussy, demanding person as I have quite an active job and like being outdoors but I am a 21st Century type of gal and home is definitely where the wifi is.. To say I was slightly apprehensive about climbing this thing and camping on it aswell was an understatement! But I really do believe we were put on this earth to do, see, and experience whatever we physically can and nothing was stopping me from getting to the top! 

FYI- I still absolutely HATE camping...although I'm now really good at it ;)

My brother did most of the research as to what company we went with. But now a google search will bring up a number of adventure companies :) I also can't disclose how much money this cost me as it is different depending on a number of things including; what season you climb in, if flights are included in your package, what route you take and whether or not you already have the equipment to climb. I can tell you this is an expensive trip, but there's just not a cheap alternative for something like this and trust me! You dont want to do this on the cheap! You can save money on other areas of the trip though ie. if you buy your flights separately (I did) and looking for deals on the equipment you'll need. If you can, buy everything second hand, nothing needs to be new on this trip as it will all be scuffed and worn in on this trip

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is if there there is actually any climbing involved or if I had to do any kind of formal training and in short, no. In my opinion if you are relatively fit and healthy, you should be able to do it. Saying that, this task is not something I would take lightly! I did witness people not making it to the top, ankle injuries, or missing a full days climb due to altitude sickness and fatigue. This mountain is hard! I actually used this opportunity to give my health a kick start and I a few months before I flew out I was a frequent smoker- that came to an immediate stop as soon as I started getting my kit together. I did also take up running to raise my stamina. I would also go out running in my hiking boots, thermals and back pack to break them in and get used to what I would be carrying. I built myself up so I would literally have my entire kit with me. This is good practice as you will be packing and repacking your kit a lot, so get to know it.

Equipment and Clothes
So what do you actually need up there? Mainly, warm clothes which unfortunately add bulk and it will feel strange taking winter clothes out to Africa, but the higher you go, the colder it is and you will need to add layers and then take them off as you descend. The weather and your temperature will change a lot too, I was averaging 3 outfit changes a day ;) Layering in this environment is key! A brief list of the clothes I took:
Sports bra
Sports socks, wool socks, thick socks..... socks
Thermal leggings x2
vests x2
Thermal vest sx2
Long sleeved t shirts x2
Insulated trousers (ski trousers)
Ski Jacket
Scarf, hat, gloves x2- inner layer and outer layer gloves
Hiking boots- get these a size bigger to make room for your thick socks and feet swelling

Do NOT take jeans, they are not breathable, take ages to dry and are heavy to pack. Also be wary of cotton as this also takes ages to dry, if they get wet. you will have to get pack wet clothes in with your other dry clothes and water adds weight to your back pack.

Other equipment:
Sleeping bag- make sure it is a waterproof and thermal one that insulates you below 0 degrees, (a silk lining sheet is also really useful)
A thermal lining matt
35 litre back pack, this will be your day pack for extra layers, water, packed lunches
65 litre back pack, this is what you will fly out with and has to include everything!
Most companies will include tents and occasionally walking poles but double check!
Optional: A camelbak , really useful and convenient but expensive. It just saves you from taking water bottles with you :)

Extra 'Essentials':
Shampoo or general toiletries- No. You need to travel light, the hotel will have these and the chances of you actually having a shower on this trip are zero.
Dry Shampoo- not really. I used on the first few days but come day 4, you wont really give a crap about what you look or smell like. Instead bring tissues, wet wipes and anti bacterial hand gel.
Snacks, protein bars and nuts are really useful to keep your energy up.
Camera- While I would bring a camera as you are gonna see some amazing views, on summit night cameras can potentially freeze, remember how I mentioned before the lack of vlogging or info regarding summit night? Well its because you literally cant, also vlogging your climb (in the dark) will not be on your mind tbh.
Spending money: Not exactly, theres not exactly a gift shop at the top and nowhere to shop in the area apart from the airport, but you do need to tip the porters. The porters are the workers who carry the tents, food and water up for you, so this is their livelihood and they are amazing! Discuss tipping with your travel company before flying.
Insurance: Goes without saying but make sure your insurance covers you up to the level of altitude you need, most insurance companies will only cover you up to to a certain height so read the small print. I don't remember mine being overly expensive either :)

Climbing/ Altitude sickness

What's it actually like climbing a mountain? Really hard! The hardest part is starting and finishing it, and it varies from day to day. Our first day of climbing was like walking up a hill... a really steep hill... that didn't stop for 6 hours! The 2nd day was a little easier  and not as steep, but on the third day, it was full on scrambling over rocks and boulders. No climbing equipment is needed for this trip. The idea is to climb in a zig-zag, slowly upwards, adjust to the altitude and then back down a few metres and then repeat. This leads me onto altitude sickness. Altitude sickness affects people in different ways if at all! Symptoms include, but are not limited to: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, hunger, tiredness, vomiting, hallucinations and madness.   I did go a bit strange up there. Apart from vomiting I experienced all of these at one point or another but they aren't totally debilitating, but can be for some people. The best way to describe it would be like a hangover, without even drinking. Ibuprofen will help relieve the symptoms and altitude sickness tablets are available if you ask your doctor.

What's it like at the top?


Sounds cheesy but theres nothing like it, you are so emotionally drained at the top, it is a real achievement :) It is a very strange feeling, feeling so big and yet so small at the small time as the view is so vast! The other feeling is relief that your climb is over and done with and 'we can finally get off this fucking mountain!'

So those are my little words of wisdom, I could honestly carry on writing on this subject for forever and a day but I'll reigning it in now. The last question I'm faced with is ' Could I do it?' The answer ... absolutely YES! Dont hesitate! Do your research, get saving and prepare yourself for a real physical and mental challenge that is so enriching you will never forget it. If anybody out there is planning to climb Kili I hope this answered some questions and inspired you :)



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