How Hard Is It to Climb Kilimanjaro?

The highest mountain in Africa is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), the peak of Kilimanjaro soars majestically over the African plains. Mount Kilimanjaro is actually a dormant stratovolcano that began forming about a million years ago and holds five distinct ecological zones:

 

 Cultivated farmland surrounds the base of Kilimanjaro at altitudes of 2,625 – 5,905 feet (800 – 1,800m).

 Dense jungle, rich with flora and fauna surrounds the next ecological zone at altitudes of 5,905 – 9,186 feet (1,800 – 2,800 meters).

 Moorland (low alpine region), populated with heather and wild flowers surrounds the next zone at altitudes of 9,186 – 13,123 feet (2,800 – 4,000 meters).

 Highland desert (or high alpine) surrounds the region at altitudes of 13,123 – 16,404 feet (4,000 – 5,000 meters).

 Near the summit, the glacial region at altitudes of 16,404 – 19,340 feet (5,000 – 5,895 meters) consist of scree fields on its lower slopes and huge glaciers higher up, leading to the mountain peak.

 

Three volcanic cones make up Mount Kilimanjaro: the summit is Kibo at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), Mawenzi is at 16,893 feet (5,149 meters) and Shira is at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). Of the three volcanic cones, Kibo is dormant and the other two are extinct, meaning that Kibo does have a chance of erupting again.

 

Many of the routes leading to the mountain peak offer little in the way of climbing challenges; however, altitude sickness can be a noteworthy problem. Every year many trekkers underestimate the difficulty in climbing Kilimanjaro and fail to reach the summit.

 

 Lemosho Route – Difficult and long, six to nine days and approaching from the west side of the mountain, the Lemosho Route offers trekkers a great opportunity to see wildlife on the mountain’s lower slopes. The higher elevations of this route offer trekkers plenty of time to acclimatize thereby preventing altitude sickness.

 

 Machame Route – The Machame route has become the most popular way to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and is offered as a six or seven day trek.

 

 Marangu Route – Approaching from the southeast of the mountain, the Marangu Route is the only route to offer hut accommodation to trekkers for their expedition to the summit of Kilimanjaro. By way of this route, trekkers can climb Kilimanjaro in as little as five days and is the cheapest route up the mountain.

 

 Northern Circuit Route – This newest and longest route to Uhuru Peak links portions of the other routes, it begins on the west side of the mountain, and then slowly turns to the remote northern slopes. Trekkers normally complete this route within eight or nine days.

 

 Rongai Route – This route approaches the mountain from its Northern slopes and receives the least amount of traffic. Trekkers are more likely to see clearer weather and the occasional wilderness animal on this route.

 

 

Trekkers from around the world attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro every year; however, many of them do not reach it, mainly due to altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is nothing to joke about as it has the potential to be fatal. Trekkers must be prepared to hike for four to ten hours a day, for multiple days in a row, while experiencing noteworthy changes in altitude. To prevent injuries, you will also need to work on your cardiovascular fitness before taking on Kilimanjaro.

 

Temperatures around Mount Kilimanjaro are constant as it’s close to the equator, so trekkers can climb the mountain just about all year around. Kilimanjaro does have a rainy season so many trekkers choose to tackle Kilimanjaro between June and September, as the weather is best. However, the weather can change significantly and quickly any time of year near the summit of Kilimanjaro, so pack accordingly.

 

When climbing Kilimanjaro, you will ascend to higher altitudes and will be susceptible to altitude sickness (aka Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)). HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) are also altitude sicknesses that can be fatal if left untreated. Before attempting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, it is imperative that you understand the risks, symptoms and treatments of altitude sickness.

 

Before climbing Kilimanjaro, you might want to consider a preventative such as Diamox to help prevent altitude sickness. There is no cure for attitude sickness; however, rest at a lower altitude will help to alleviate the symptoms. Acclimation is the process of a person’s body to become accustomed to lower levels of oxygen at higher altitudes. The acclimation line is generally in the range of 8,202 feet (2,500m) to 11,482 feet (3,500m) and when most people start to exhibit symptoms of altitude sickness.

 

Trekkers and mountaineers usually talk about three main levels of altitude. The first level is called ‘high altitude’ and describes altitudes between 8,202 feet (2,500m) to 11,482 feet (3,500m). The second level is called ‘very high altitude’ and describes altitudes between 11,482 feet (3,500m) to 18,044 feet (5,500m). The third level is called ‘extreme altitude’ and describes levels above 26,246 feet (8,000m). At 19,341 feet (5,895 meters), the peak of Kilimanjaro is situated in the ‘very high altitude’ level. Assuming you have given yourself enough time to rest at a realistic starting altitude, the body will acclimatize to the higher altitudes. By progressing to higher altitudes on a slow and incremental scale, you will have no problems with altitude sickness.

 

Overall, symptoms of altitude sickness fall into three categories – mild, moderate and severe. Characteristically, a person moves from mild to acute symptoms as the condition worsens. There are usually early warning signals that you are suffering from altitude illness and that your condition is deteriorating.

 

 

Mild altitude sickness symptoms include the following:

 

 Headaches

 Fatigue

 Loss of appetite and nausea

 Shortness of breath

 Dizziness

 

Symptoms of mild altitude sickness typically present between 12-24 hours after arriving at altitude and are common for climbers in mountainous regions. The symptoms will normally resolve themselves with 24-48 hours of rest and hydration.

 

 

Moderate altitude sickness includes the following symptoms:

 

 Headaches

 Nausea and vomiting

 Fatigue and muscle weakness

 Shortness of breath

 Ataxia (i.e. a feeling of decreased coordination)

 

 

Severe altitude sickness symptoms include the following symptoms:

 

 Inability to walk

 Severe shortness of breath

 Poor cognitive abilities

 Hallucinations

 

HACE and HAPE are generally associated with severe altitude sickness and occur when fluid leaks through the capillary walls into the cranium and lungs.

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Jennifer Anders is a freelance travel writer who enjoys

exploring off-the-beaten-path locations around the world.

She loves hiking national parks and photographing wildlife.

You'll also find her eating plenty of local street food.

 

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