Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro


The first thing you need to do is choose and itinerary for the climb. I ended up doing the 6-day just because I went to several other countries in southern Africa and couldn't spare any more time. The longer the tour, the better chance you have with acclimating properly and successfully summiting.

Trip Insurance

It is imperative that you get insurance for both your health and and trip. The health insurance is pretty cheap, usually less than $100 and the trip insurance is about $150. The best place I found for getting quotes for travel insurance was through SquareMouth. I also purchased MedjetAssist. MedjetAssist will fly you back to a US hospital on a hospital jet in the event you have to be hospitalized  The cost of this insurance is about $100 for 8 days of coverage.

Get some topics out in the open

You are going to get VERY dirty on the way up. It does not matter how much you try to stay clean, you will be filthy within 15 minutes after washing. Everyone in my group began wearing the same clothes for the rest of the climb after day 2. You realize that does not do any good to change clothes. So my suggestion is to take two pairs of clothes with you, besides the summit day clothing, to conserve on weight. Even if you do take more changes with you, your old clothing is going to dirty your new clothing right up as you put it back in the bag.

You're going to be passing a lot of gas. Everyone in my group was and it finally came out when one asked the rest of the group if there were passing a lot of gas. It is called high altitude flatus expulsion.

Gear Checklist

Technical Clothing

  • 1 - Insulated Jacket, synthetic or down
  • 1 - Soft Jacket, fleece or softshell
  • 1 - Long Sleeve Shirt, lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric
  • 1 - Short Sleeve Shirt, lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric
  • 1 - Hiking Pants (convertible to shorts recommended)
  • 1 - Shorts (optional)
  • 3 - Underwear, briefs (moisture-wicking fabric recommended)
  • 2 - Sports Bra (women)


  • 1 - Brimmed Hat, for sun protection
  • 1 - Bandana (optional)


1 - Hiking Boots (Same for summit day)
1 - Gaiters, waterproof (optional)


1 - Sunglasses
1 - Backpack Cover, waterproof (optional)
1 - Poncho, during rainy season (optional)
1 - Water Bottle (Nalgene, 32 oz. recommended)
1 - Water Bladder, Camelbak type (optional)
1 - Water Filter (Not a Brita! It does not filter parasites.)
1 - Towel, lightweight, quick-dry (optional)
1 - Pee Bottle, to avoid leaving tent at night (highly recommended) 
Stuff Sacks or Plastic Bags, various sizes, to keep gear dry and separate
Compression Bag for sleeping bag


1 - Sleeping Bag (-15 degree Rating)
1 - Sleeping Bag Liner, for added warmth (A definite)
1 - Sleeping Pad, self-inflating or closed-cell foam
1 - Trekking Poles (highly recommended)
1 - Headlamp, with extra lithium batteries
1 - Duffel bag, for porters to carry your equipment (Gregory Stash Duffel 115 Liter)
1 - Daypack, for you to carry your personal gear (JanSport Klamath 55)


Sleeping Medication
Lip Balm
Insect Repellent, containing DEET
First Aid Kit
Hand Sanitizer
Toilet Paper
Wet Wipes (recommended)
Snacks, light-weight, high calorie, high energy (optional)
Pencil and Notebook, miniature, for trip log (optional)
Camera, with extra batteries (optional)

Summit Day Gear

It is imperative to wear very warm clothes in layers. The night I summited, it was 0 degrees Fahrenheit with no winds. It is usually around -20 degrees Fahrenheit with the windchill, although I saw the tour guide posted on Facebook that it was -20 degrees Fahrenheit when he summited again two days ago. You will want to wear at least 4 layers of clothes. It is usually the hands, head, and feet that become really cold. That is why I opted with fur. The fur mittens and hat kept my head and hands toasty warm without the need for any warmers. I wore the following starting from the base layer:

Layer 1

  1. Silk underpants
  2. Silk undershirt
  3. Silk socks

Layer 2

  1. Under Armour Compression Bottom
  2. Under Armour Compression Top
  3. Silk Socks

Layer 3

  1. Polarmax Double Base Layer Pant
  2. Polarmax Double Base Layer Crew

Layer 4

  1. Polarmax Quattro Fleece Pant
  2. Polarmax Quattro Fleece Crew
  3. Wigwam Merino Silk Socks

Layer 5

  1. Arctix Men's Classic Bib Snow Pants
  2. Patagonia Ski Jacket


  1. Fox Fur Mittens
  2. Fox Fur Hat
  3. Columbia Men's Spindrift Gloves
  4. Oakley A-Frame Goggles
  5. Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava
  6. Merlin Fulcrum - Wolverine ICS Boots

Vaccinations & Medications

  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Polio
  • Malaria
  • Antibiotics


Every country I went to in Africa that required a Visa, I purchased at the port of entry. It is best to do that instead of taking the risk of losing a passport when sending it off to embassies. I had no issues with getting Visas at any of the customs stations.


I started taking Diamox the morning before the climb started. I took my last dose right after I summited. The side effects I got were horrible tastes, especially with carbonated drinks, and tingling in my mouth and feet. Carbonated drinks taste like they do when all of the carbon is gone. Other than that, I have had no other issues. I was taking 250 mg 4 times a day. Each doctor is going to vary the prescribed dosage. On summit day, I took a 250 mg tablet at 10 pm, 125 mg tablet at 2:30 am, and a 250 mg tablet at 8:30 am.


In order to successfully summit, you will need to train sufficiently. It depends on your current state of fitness, but if you are a couch-to-climber, the two months that many of the tour companies say you need is bullshit! Two months is probably sufficient if you are already in shape and do not lead a sedentary lifestyle. Personally, I trained for 13 months. It was an overkill, but well worth it.

The reason I say two months is not sufficient is because not only do you need muscle, but you also need stamina and endurance, which is going to take longer to build up. I know that when I became a cyclist many years ago, it took about 6 months for me to get enough stamina and endurance to go on a 100-mile ride. The main thing is do you want to spend all of that money on the climb and not be sufficiently trained to end up failing? I was the only one that summited in my group of three because of the other two not sufficiently training. It is better to train more than not to train enough. I don't mean overtraining either, as that can lead to injuries. Much of my advice here comes from my past training experience as an endurance athlete that I used to successfully train for Kilimanjaro.

I have never been a person that likes the gym, so I trained for Kilimanjaro mostly from outdoor activities. To sufficiently build my lower body, I incorporated a steep 25% grade hill work, along with long hikes that I alternated; one for strength building and the other for endurance and stamina.

The hikes were 3 miles, six miles, and 9 miles, three times a week. The climbs, strength training, were 1 mile of 25% grade, twice a week. I later incorporated a 1/8 mile, 59-degree hill I discovered near my home. As for the core, which is necessary to build up because you will be hauling 20-25 pounds in your backpack, I started carrying weights in my backpack. I also carried my backpack everywhere I went, including work, restaurants, and such. I slowly increased the weights in it until I could carry 35 pounds. This was more than sufficient for me and my core was in good shape.

I was lucky enough to live only 180 miles from Mount LeConte, which is the third highest mountain in the Appalachians. I went numerous times over weekends to go up to the top, which is 4,200 feet of elevation gain to an altitude of 6,533 feet. The Rainbow Falls trail is the best trail to use for training. It averages 10.5% grade for 6 miles. That is equivalent to what you will do each day on Kilimanjaro, except for the summit day. That is where you should go to Colorado to do a climb or two at high altitude. This will show how your body reacts to the high altitude.

For going to Colorado, I went to Leadville and went up Mount Massive, which is 14,429 feet. Before I went there, I did get a prescription from my doctor for Diamox, as going above 8,000 feet can bring on altitude sickness.

For my final test to make sure I was ready for Kilimanjaro, I worked remotely from East Tennessee for a week to go up the Mount LeConte multiple days in a row and I more than succeeded. It was a great test and confidence booster.

This is the best training advice I can give if you are like me and do not like the gym. You can successfully train outdoors without the need of gyms.

Training in the Nashville Area

When I first decided to climb Kilimanjaro in July 2011, I did not realize how lucky I am to live where I do. The Nashville area has some great training grounds.

I joined the Nashville Hiking Group in the fall of 2011 and learned about Beaman Park. All I can say is that it is awesome! It is where I did the majority of my training because it has long, steep hills with grades up to 8%, including the back driveway that is a 25% grade for about a 1/8 mile.

My training regimen at Beaman was three times a week on the trails. For good strength training of my legs, I would do climbs up and down the back driveway twice a week, with 5 to 10 laps up and down.

Another great place for strength training is Caldwell Park in Ashland City. It is a short trail, but it has parts that are extreme in steepness. I used a clinometer and measured the one hill to be a 59-degree slope for a quarter mile.

The Cheatham County WMA also has a quarter mile, 19% grade on the back side of it. The GPS coordinates of the trail are 36°13'57.04"N 87° 4'57.12"W. I can tell you that to get to the trail, you make a left turn on the trail just before the firing range. In the summer, you cannot drive down to the hill, so you have to hike for two miles to get to it. The TWRA closes the trail down over the summer months for all motorized traffic. It is safe to use the trail for training in the summer when no hunting is going on, but in the fall when the hunting seasons begin, I highly suggest not using the trail, as it is dangerous at that point on being mistaken by a hunter as prey.

The entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway at Highway 100 is another great place to park and take off on foot to go up and down the 1 mile, 6% grade hill.

Another good spot is on the Stones River Greenway across from McGavock High School where it goes down a very steep hill. The GPS coordinates are  36°11'40.28"N,  86°40'21.89"W.

One last place is the road behind Tin Angel on West End Avenue. The road is extremely steep but short.

For distance training, you will need to incorporate long, steep climbs. For that, the Smokies are only 180 miles away. Specifically, I climbed Mount LeConte via the Rainbow Falls trail. I frequented the mountain many times. One of my final training sessions over there was working remotely from there for a week and going up the mountain daily to make sure I was ready for Kilimanjaro. It was my opinion that if I could do at least three consecutive days, which is 12,000 feet of altitude gain, close to what you will do on Kilimanjaro, then I knew I was physically ready. It is a 6-mile walk up the mountain and it averages 10.5% grade.

For upper body strength, I mainly relied on carrying my backpack everywhere I went, including the office, restaurants, and such. I slowly added weight to it until I was able to carry up to 30 pounds. That was more than sufficient and I had no problems on Kilimanjaro with weight on my back.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment here and I will be glad to reply.

Lung Training

If you think you need to improve your lung capacity, there are several options. There is a good comparison of altitude training systems here. The PowerLung is a popular option used by endurance athletes to improve VO2 and lung capacity. Another option people use is a training mask that limits their oxygen while training.


In order to keep my mind on track while climbing all night, I carried an iPod Shuffle with me. I put it on my armband next to my skin and layered the clothes over it. I never had a problem with it becoming too cold to operate and it did just fine at the high altitude, unlike what Apple publishes that none of their equipment will function above 10,000 feet. I had a playlist of 24 songs that kept me on track and motivated the entire night. Here is the list of songs:

All American Nightmare             Hinder
Been to HellHollywood Undead
Bleed it OutLinkin Park
ComebackRedlight King
Coming UndoneTantric
Die TryingArt of Dying
End of MeApocalyptica
Eye of the TigerSurvivor
Fueled by AdrenalineKazzer
Get Thru ThisArt of Dying
The HeroAmon Amarth
I Will Not BowBreaking Benjamin
Kick AssEgypt Central
Narcissistic CannibalKorn
PainThree Days Grace
The Point of No ReturnImmortal Technique
Superstar IISaliva
SurrenderAngels and Airwaves
'Till I CollapseEminem & Nate Dogg
With a Spirit009 Sound System


The SPOT GPS does work on the mountain. If you read the instructions from SPOT, they do not guarantee that it works there, as it is right on the edge of the satellite coverage.

Here are the three messages I sent back from the mountain to all of my Facebook friends and family

Electronics Gear

I took my SPOT GPS, iPhone, iPod Shuffle, GoPro cams, and Fuji XP50 camera up on the mountain with me. Apple says that none of their equipment works above 10,000 feet. I had no problems with either my iPod or iPhone. The iPod shuffle was on my arm underneath all of my layers of clothing on the night of the final ascent, so my body heat kept it warm enough. The iPhone and SPOT GPS were turned off and underneath my ski jacket. The GoPro cams were exposed. The Fuji camera was in my jacket pocket. Everything worked perfectly except for the GoPro cams. The one GoPro battery completely died. Luckily, I had another GoPro with me. 


On 07 September 2012, I summited Kilimanjaro at sunrise. The moment I put my right foot onto Gilman's Point, the sun rose. All of the preparation training I did for it paid off. How hard is it? It is 50% mental and 50% physical. It is difficult on the summit day, at least if you do a 6 day or less climb. If you do more days, you camp closer to the summit and therefore don't require as much time and energy to get to the top.

On our 5th day, we left the campsite and got to the Kibo site after about 4 hours of hiking and set up camp. We got lunch around 1:30 pm and then rested the rest of the day. I was lucky enough to have Ambien prescribed by my doctor just for this climb. I took it and it helped rest to a degree. We were awakened at 10:00 pm to eat a small supper and then get ready for the final ascent. By 11:00, we were packed and taking off in three groups to the top.The first group had 5, my group had 3, and the last group had 1. The climb up the final night is grueling, to say the least. You may wonder why you do it at night. It is because it is so much easier to climb up the mountain at night because you do not see how much further you have to go, except for the headlights from other climbers. It is like I kept telling the other two in my group, keep your heads down, just like I did when cycling and encountering a steep climb. Looking up just reminds you of how hard and how much further you have to go. It is a total of 4 miles to Uhuru Peak from the Kibo camp, with an average grade of 22%. I also had my iPod Shuffle with me to help take my mind off of the climb with inspiring music in my ears. It really helped. It is also key to tell yourself that you will not fail. The moment you take a defeatist attitude, failure is imminent. I kept the Shuffle on my armband at the bottom of all my clothing and had no problems with it from either temperature or altitude. As for the clothing and staying warm, I have all of the details on this blog.

Once you reach Gilman's Point, there is still a long way to go to get to Uhuru Peak. You will go next to Stella Point and then finally to Uhuru Peak. The problem is that once you get to Stella Point, you can now see Uhuru Peak and it looks a LONG way from there, which it is after climbing up and seeing that you still have more climbing to get there. You will probably make quite a few stops to get up there, but keep on. You can do it. It's just harder that you can now see where you are going and how far away it looks. On the way up to Uhuru Peak from Stella Point, you will have some of the best views of the glaciers. Once you finally get to Uhuru Peak, you will take your pics and leave. I cannot describe the feeling of when you get there. It is a feeling like no other.

Don't be shocked like we were either if you see a porter appear out of nowhere and ask if you want some tea. The porters there can make you feel pretty insignificant when you see them just come right up the mountain with hot tea and say "Hey, you want some hot tea?" and then you see them pretty much running back down the mountain. LOL! But then again, they do this all of the time, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I am sure we would be the same way if that was our job too!

Once you begin your descent, you will most likely go back to the Kibo camp and rest for a little while before continuing on to Horombo camp site, which is more like a village. The entire day is roughly between 12 and 18 hours. Once you reach the Horombo site, you are exhausted and ready to hit the bed. One thing you might want to consider is taking the trail back down instead of sliding back down the mountain from Gilman's Point. Sliding down is the straight shot, but if you have allergies, it might not be a smart move. It creates a LOT of dust. I had an allergic reaction to all of the dust. I inhaled so much that every time I coughed, I was coughing up specs of sand from my lungs.

I used a heart rate monitor and pedometer on summit day. At the end, my average heart rate was 158 beats per minute and I burned between 11,000 and 14,000 calories that day. Definitely, take food with you as you will be burning a LOT of calories.

The best advice I can give you for the summit day is to have a distraction with you, such as an mp3 player, be well clothed, keep your head down, and never stop thinking that you will summit! If you keep to these rules, you will make it up!


As far as expenditures go, here is a breakdown of what I spent on this portion of the trip. The flight is a little more because I went to several countries in Africa and did open jaw on my international flights.

Flights $1881
Climb $1680
Tipping $300
Tours $80
Food $30
Hotel $40
Total $4051