Cracking The Code: How Hard Is It To Climb Kilimanjaro?

Kilimanjaro is not a technical hike, and it’s a relatively achievable goal, even for beginners. However, the challenges lie in dealing with high altitudes and the physical and mental demands of the trek.
This iconic mountain, standing at an awe-inspiring 5,895 metres, offers more than just a climb. Kili presents a journey through diverse ecosystems, from misty rainforests to arid alpine deserts, culminating in a snow-capped summit.
So, if you want to know how hard it is to climb Kilimanjaro, read one as we fill you in on the details.

How Hard is it to Climb Kilimanjaro: Factors to Consider

Route Profiles

elevation profile
Porters trekking up the mountain.
The first factor you want to consider when determining Kilimanjaro's difficulty is the route you follow. There are several Kilimanjaro routes - each with its challenges that determine how hard the climb can be.
Here is a quick overview of the difficulty of each of Skyhook’s recommended routes:
  • Machame: This route is quite challenging and considered difficult and steep. Longer itineraries increase your chance of reaching the summit. Scaling the Kilimanjaro Barranco Wall, a steep rock face, adds to the exciting endurance test.

  • Lemosho: This route is considered moderately difficult. It is usually completed on longer itineraries (seven or eight days), which helps for acclimatisation. The trail follows a varying elevation profile with lots of ups and downs. This, combined with the distance covered, adds to the challenge.

  • Rongai: Known as a ‘secret trail,’ this route is less crowded and offers a steady ascent. However, the climb across desolate scree slopes and the long final ascent make it challenging. There is also less opportunity to “trek high, sleep low.”

  • Marangu: Often considered easier in terms of terrain and because you sleep in huts. However, this means the route is typically done on shorter itineraries, which means less time for acclimatisation. Also, the final ascent is quite demanding.

Altitude and Acclimatisation

altitude and acclimatisation
Tackling high altitudes while trekking isn’t always easy.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges you will face when climbing Kilimanjaro is acclimatising to the high altitudes.
As you ascend, the air gets thinner, oxygen levels get lower, and breathing gets harder - increasing the risk of altitude sickness.
Acclimatisation is your body’s way of getting used to the lowered oxygen levels, and the key to a successful climb is giving yourself enough time to acclimatise.
So, we always recommend choosing a route that offers ample time for acclimatisation. For instance, routes like the Lemosho 8-Day offer more time to adjust than the shorter Machame 6-Day route.
Also, consider taking a pre-acclimatisation climb to prepare your body for the altitude.

Your Fitness Preparation

Having a solid fitness base will make your ascent up Africa’s tallest mountain that much easier.
You don’t need to be a pro athlete to hike Kilimanjaro. But a reasonable fitness level is absolutely essential for a successful climb.
In general, you should be capable of walking six to seven hours a day, as this is the average duration of daily trekking on most routes. Keep in mind that you’ll be walking with your day pack on as well.
Training for Kilimanjaro doesn’t require rigorous gym sessions but does call for adequate aerobic fitness. It may be best to train for about two months for the climb - focusing on endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
It’s also a great idea to do some hikes carrying a loaded day pack so you can get used to having the weight on your back.
Recommended reading: Training to Climb Kilimanjaro.

Guides, Porters, and Mountain Crew

lift your spirits with dance
Lift your spirits with a dance…
Your guides, porters, and mountain crew are arguably your most valuable assets on the trek. They are there to lead the way and ensure your safety and well-being throughout the hike.
When choosing your Kilimanjaro tour operators and guiding team, ensure they have a great reputation for safety and motivation.
A good team can significantly alleviate the mental strain of climbing Kilimanjaro. While the physical challenges are evident, the mental toll of long hours of hiking, dealing with discomfort, and pushing through exhaustion can be overwhelming.
But your skilled guide will provide emotional reassurance. They will help manage your pace so you don’t exhaust yourself too early.
The guides are also trained to spot early signs of altitude sickness, allowing for timely interventions to prevent a minor issue from becoming a significant problem.
Their expertise will instil confidence and security, allowing you to focus more on the climb and less on the potential risks.

Reliable Gear Makes The Hike Easier

The right gear can make a difference in your Kilimanjaro experience, turning a gruelling climb into a more manageable and enjoyable adventure.
On the other hand, inadequate or inappropriate equipment will make the trek far more complicated than it needs to be, potentially jeopardizing your chances of reaching the summit.
Kili gear list
Having the right attitude and the right gear is a winning combination.
You can find the full details of what to take in this Kilimanjaro packing list. However, here is a quick overview of some of the important things to remember:
  • Proper footwear to prevent injuries and discomfort during your hike

  • Appropriate clothing - layering is critical to handling Kilimanjaro’s varying climates as you ascend

  • Rain protection

  • Sleeping gear

  • A well-fitting backpack for shoulder and back comfort

  • Sun protection

  • Water bottles

Hydration Is Key

Staying hydrated is paramount, especially given the challenging conditions and high altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Dehydration can lead to numerous symptoms, including headaches, weariness, and even more severe conditions like seizures or coma.
It can also exacerbate symptoms of altitude sickness - making it even more crucial to maintain proper hydration levels.
The body loses more water than usual at high elevations due to factors like sweating and breathing. So, it’s best to consume at least four litres of water daily when climbing.

Camping and Sleeping

Some of the most essential equipment you need on the mountain is for camping and sleeping.
Sleep quality can be compromised at high altitudes due to lower oxygen levels, which could mean restless nights. But you need to sleep well to acclimatise!
sleeping under the stars
Camping under the beautiful Kilimanjaro night sky.
Most tour operators have their own equipment for you to use. Ask the company you want to book with what tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping mats they have - you want to know the quality is good. After all, you need all the rest you can get for the strenuous days ahead.
As part of your personal items, we recommend taking a sleeping bag liner, some earplugs, and an eye mask for uninterrupted sleep if the campsites are busy.

Temperature and Weather Conditions

Mount Kilimanjaro is known for its varying weather conditions, which can change rapidly. You start your trek in a tropical climate at the base, and end up in arctic conditions near the summit. This makes it essential to pack layers so you can adapt to changing temperatures quickly.
Wind can also be a significant factor, making it feel colder than it is and affecting your balance and stability. A windproof jacket and sturdy trekking poles can mitigate these challenges.

Health Precautions

Before you set off for Kilimanjaro, consult your healthcare provider for a comprehensive check-up. Ensure you’re up-to-date on routine vaccinations like Hepatitis A and Typhoid since these diseases can be contracted through contaminated food or water.
Malaria is less of a concern on Kilimanjaro due to the high altitudes. But malaria prophylaxis may be advisable if you’re spending time in Tanzania before or after the climb.
Altitude sickness is a significant risk; medications like Acetazolamide can help with acclimatisation, but consult your healthcare provider for the best advice tailored to you.
Taking a water break
A much-needed water break on the trail.

Conclusion

There you have it—the ins and outs of how difficult it is to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. From selecting the right route to understanding the role of guides, we’ve covered the ground you’ll soon be trekking.
At the end of the day, hiking Kili is no walk in the park. But with the proper preparation, it’s an experience that will leave you with a lifetime of memories and stories to tell.

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