A Beginner’s Guide to Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing

When I approached the 18,200-foot peak of Kala Patthar, which is close to Everest, as a graduate student in really decent health, I thought, Kilimanjaro is 1,000 feet higher than here. After then, I was unable to imagine finishing it. That’s why, over the decades, Kili has come to represent the ultimate bragging-rights climb for Type A personalities who may cycle twice a day at SoulCycle but don’t bother to collect carabiners. This has always surprised me. Nonetheless, it makes sense: Completing the trip doesn’t need weeks of planning or costly safety equipment of your own. Furthermore, prior knowledge of climbing methods like as belaying is not necessary. To put it really simplistically, all you have to do is hike up the 19,341-foot mountain.

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Even so, it seemed a bit much to me. Then, when a friend told me about a fundraising walk to support Lifewater International, I knew that my teenage son Max would love it and would be the perfect way to send him off to college. We had walked in Yosemite and El Salvador together, so even if we didn’t reach the top, I thought Kilimanjaro was an incredible experience that we would never forget.

We scheduled our vacation a full year in advance, and we got right into training. After three months, we were running ten or twelve miles on Saturdays and Sundays. We also worked out throughout the week while using high-altitude training masks. We believed we were at our best when we arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, in June of last year. We quickly learned that, at over 20,000 feet, nothing can adequately prepare you for the headaches and dyspnea brought on by altitude. Ultimately, our party of 16 hikers, ranging in age from 17 to 73, reached the top. Thank goodness, I won’t ever need to pursue that high again.

Things to Consider Before Traveling

Though going more slowly to better adjust to the altitude boosts your chances of summiting, certain Kili climbs may be completed in as little as five days. Our seven-day Machame route was followed. Our sixth and worst morning began at 12:30 a.m. with a six-hour ascent to 18,885-foot Stella Point. After that, it was a very simple one-hour hike to the top, where we spent about an hour shooting photos before making our way down to our camp, which was at 12,530 feet.

Every climber needs a government-approved guide, and climbing in a group boosts morale greatly: Our Tanzanian porters cheered everyone up with jokes and songs in Swahili.

June is the coldest month of the year, with horrible wind chill and daily rain or snowfall. However, it is also the clearest month with the greatest vistas.

In addition to tents and emergency supplies like stretchers, extra oxygen, and hyperbaric chambers, Climb Kili offers cooks, porters, and guides. (Hippo Creek Safaris and Custom Safaris are other booking options.)

After the climb, reward yourself. We enjoyed two wonderful days of safari, one at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the other at Tarangire National Park. In West Arsi, Ethiopia, we also went to the Lifewater International projects.