19,340 feet 5896 meter
Here are some common questions about climbing Kilimanjaro. I am focusing on the Machame route because I climbed it and it is one of the most popular. This was one of my Memories are Everything® expeditions. Since I am not a guide nor a professional climber, this information is based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions!
A: Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania, Africa. It is unique not only for being the highest in Africa and one of the 7 summits but for having one of the highest stand-alone vertical gains of any mountain earth. It stands seemingly alone in the Tanzanian savannah. Most climbers fly into Kilimanjaro airport and take a cab or bus to Moshi, Tanzania to meet up with their team or guide service. View Kilimanjaro on a larger map.
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: Being near the equator, it can be climbed most anytime of the year however the biggest consideration is the rainy season in the winter so summer is most popular with September being the prime month.
Q: I read that Kilimanjaro is an easy climb, really just a high-altitude hike. How hard is it?
A: If you are in great aerobic shape, it can be "easy" on a perfect weather day and on the normal routes. But as with most of the extreme altitude climbs, Kilimanjaro can have brutal summit weather with temperatures at 0F and if the winds are blowing, the wind chills can be very dangerous. Climbers die on KIlimanjaro. Also, remember this is almost 6,000 meters, 20,000 feet so AMS is always a risk as is HAPE or HACE.
Q: How does the normal routes on Kilimanjaro compare with Denali since it is at a similar altitude or Rainier?
A: Kili is a straightforward climb via the normal routes with no real objective danger except for cold summit weather. Porters carry everything for you, as required by the park regulations, so all you carry is a simple day pack with the bare essentials. On Kilimanjaro, it is very dry and there is rarely snow down low but some snow on the summit. There is no crevasse danger like on Denali or Rainier on the normal routes. It more similar to a tough Colorado 14er than Rainier or Denali.
Q: Is an Kilimanjaro climb dangerous?
A: Kilimanjaro is a relatively safe climb by the standard routes. However, there are always deaths on these big mountains. Kilimanjaro is no different. The most common cause of death is probably altitude related and that is from going too fast and not taking the time to acclimatize. This is why selecting the proper guide service is critical.
Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: It is estimated that 25,000 climb Kilimanjaro using the various routes each year. The summit rate is around 66% with cold summit days and altitude issues being the major reasons for not summiting. I understand there is about 1 death each year thus it is relatively safe, however one climber was killed by lightning in early 2013
Q: How did you train for this climb?
The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.
You cannot do much to acclimatize while at a low altitude but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.
Q: Anything special in your gear for Kilimanjaro?
A: There are 5 main routes that meander from the jungle through five microclimates to join the three final ascent routes to Kibo. Both the Machame and Lemosho routes offer a more leisurely paced scenic climb. The Lemosho route is less crowded while the Machame route has a more difficult beginning but joins into the same route as the Lemosho. The Marangu climb is crowded since it follows a road part way. There is a technical route, the Western Breach, but is is prone to rock fall and is considered extremely dangerous and not offered by most companies unless you are willing to take the risks.
Q: How long does a climb usually take?
A: My entire trip took about 14 days, home to home, including a short safari (highly recommenced) after the climb. The actual time on Kilimanjaro was only 7 days.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $1500 to $7000 depending on who you use. You must use a guide due to Tanzanian government regulations. See my Guide page for more details.
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes you must have permit and all climbers, regardless of route or guides, must use a guide and porters, no exceptions.
Q: Do I really need a guide for Kilimanjaro?
A: As mentioned, the park service requires guides and porters but they vary in skill as you would expect. The worst one rush clients to the summit to squeeze in more customers throughout the season. But the vast majority are well versed in AMS and take their time. But with local guides, if you get sick, they may not know what to do other than drag you lower. For more serious injuries, your life could be in danger so choose carefully. There is no helicopter evacuation on Kilimanjaro unless dire circumstances. You must bring a two-way radio and a sat phone in my opinion and have the frequency or number of the local rescue resources already programmed in.
Q: Are there local guides for Kilimanjaro?
A: Yes, there are many quality choices based out of Moshi. and Arusha. Most are less expensive than traditional Western companies but some charge about the same price. My usual advice is to get recent references from a climber with a similar background and skill level as yourself. Get everything in writing. Especially understand the acclimatization schedule since local guides have been known to rush people up and down. Finally ask about food, group gear and language skills.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Kilimanjaro?
A: Guide service will accept most anyone given it is not technical.
A: Yes. We left the High Camp around midnight and summited about dawn or 7:00AM climbing at a very slow and steady pace. All 14 of our team made the summit, 100%.
Q: Why did you choose International Mountain Guides?
Q: I understand you were injured on the descent. What happened?
Q: Which route did you take?
Bottom LineKilimanjaro is a nice climb for anyone wanting a combination of cultural experience plus a moderate high altitude climbing experience. The normal routes are pretty safe and do not require technical skills with ropes or crampons. Without snow, it is extremely dirty and dusty. Well worn trails mark the majority of the route. Finally going on a safari after the climb makes the experience all the better.