Climbing Kilimanjaro: My Personal Story on the Machame Route

Have you ever dreamt of conquering a mighty mountain, witnessing a panorama unlike any other on Earth?

Standing on the peak of Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, is an experience that will stay with you forever.

In this blog, I’ll share my journey to the summit, from the initial spark of inspiration that ignited my desire to climb to the challenges and triumphs I faced.

I’ll also provide practical tips and advice to help you make your Kilimanjaro hike dream a reality.

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Key Takeaways

  • For the best weather conditions, plan your Kilimanjaro climb from January to mid-March or June to October, but be prepared for unexpected weather changes.

  • There are multiple routes to climb Kilimanjaro, such as Marangu, Machame, and Rongai, each offering unique challenges and scenery, so choose based on your experience and physical readiness.

  • Preparing for the climb involves thorough physical training, proper gear selection, and understanding the risks of altitude sickness to ensure a safe and successful summit.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Illustration of Mount Kilimanjaro with surrounding landscape
Mount Kilimanjaro with surrounding landscape. (Wikipedia)

Located in northern Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro is the centerpiece of Kilimanjaro National Park and the shining gem of East Africa.

Rising to an impressive 4,900 m (19,341 feet), Uhuru Peak is the zenith of this dormant volcano, a pinnacle that beckons climbers from around the globe to reach the summit.

This majestic peak is part of a mountain range that spans 100 kilometers long and 65 kilometers wide, making it the highest free-standing mountain on the planet.

The climb mt kilimanjaro takes you on a historical journey, tracing the footsteps of early explorers like Johannes Rebmann, the first European to set eyes on Kilimanjaro’s lofty heights.

As you climb Mount Kilimanjaro, you’ll transition through montane rainforests, semi-alpine moorlands, and alpine plateaus, experiencing a microcosm of the planet’s climates in a single climb.

But the mountain is also a stark reminder of our changing world. Due to climate change, it has lost over half of its glaciers since 1962.

Your trek on Kilimanjaro is not just a climb; it’s an exploration of the Earth’s natural history and diversity.

What is The Best Time to Climb Kilimanjaro?

A well-timed expedition is key to a successful climb.

January to mid-March and June to October are optimal periods for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

I did my climb in August.

These periods promise more favorable weather, with clearer skies and less precipitation, enhancing your chances of a successful first summit attempt.

While the mountain is accessible year-round, the rainy season from March through May presents a soggy challenge, with the potential of heavy rainfall and limited visibility.

For those who prefer solitude and serenity on their climb, mid-May to June could be your sweet spot, as fewer climbers venture up the mountain during this time.

Remember that the mountain weather is unpredictable, and snowfall can occur even outside of the rainy seasons.

So, when planning your climb, consider the best time to climb and your preference for companionship or contemplation on the mountain trails.

Kilimanjaro Routes Explained

Illustration of different Kilimanjaro routes
Map of different routes.

Kilimanjaro boasts seven diverse routes to its summit, all 7 routes, each offering a unique blend of challenges and scenery.

Here are the main routes:

  1. Lemosho Route

    • 7-8 days, 70 km (44 miles).

    • Considered the most scenic route.

    • Offers great acclimatization and high summit success rates.

    • It starts from the west and joins the Machame route on day 3.

  2. Machame Route (Most Popular)

    • 6-7 days, 62 km (37 miles).

    • The most popular and crowded route.

    • Nicknamed the “Whiskey Route” due to challenging terrain.

    • Approaches from the southwest, joins Lemosho on Southern Circuit.

  3. Marangu Route

    • 5-6 days, 64 km (40 miles).

    • Only route with hut accommodation instead of camping.

    • Nicknamed the “Coca-Cola Route” as it’s considered easiest.

    • Ascends and descends via the same southeast trail.

  4. Rongai Route

    • 6-7 days, 73 km (45 miles).

    • The only northern approach near the Kenyan border.

    • A good option for those with little hiking experience.

    • Avoids crowds by taking different up and down routes.

  5. Shira Route

    • 7-8 days, 56 km (35 miles).

    • An older variation of Lemosho, starting higher on the west.

    • Offers scenic views but is less traveled.

  6. Northern Circuit

    • 8-9 days, 98 km (61 miles).

    • The longest and newest route, circling mountain from west to north.

    • Provides excellent acclimatization and scenic diversity.

    • Has the highest summit success rate, around 90%.

  7. Umbwe Route

    • 5-6 days, 37 km (23 miles).

    • The shortest but steepest and most direct southern route.

    • Considered extremely challenging with little acclimatization time.

    • Has the lowest summit success rates.

Whichever route whispers your name, consider your experience, physical readiness, and the time you can invest in this adventure.

Preparing for Your Kilimanjaro Trek

Thorough preparation is vital for a successful Kilimanjaro trek.

It’s about packing the right gear and fortifying your body and mind for the challenges ahead. A combination of aerobic fitness and strength training is crucial, especially if tackling a shorter or more demanding route.

Think of your training as the foundation for your journey, a way to build resilience and endurance that will carry you to the roof of Africa.

How I train to climb Kilimanjaro

Your training plan should aim to replicate Kilimanjaro’s conditions to the best of your ability.

Here is what I did:

  • Regular Runs: I included regular runs to boost my physical condition. Sometimes, I ran up the stairs for interval workouts, adding a weighted backpack to simulate trekking at altitude.

  • Strength and Cardio: A mix of hiking, strength training, and cardiovascular exercises built a robust endurance base for the climb.

  • Focus on Consistency: Aiming for 4 to 5 days of focused weekly training ensured my body was mountain-ready.

  • Heart Rate Training: Paying attention to heart rate training helped me enhance my stamina for sustained physical activity at high altitudes.

  • Don’t Neglect Descending: Remember, the descent can be just as taxing as the ascent, so incorporate downhill exercises into your training plan.

Remember, consistency is key in your training journey.

Stick to your plan and stay committed to achieving your goals.

As you prepare, pay special attention to heart rate training to enhance your stamina for sustained physical activity at high altitudes.

Training should also include downhill exercises, as the descent is often underestimated yet can be just as taxing as the ascent.

And when you think you’ve trained enough for the summit night, train some more.

This is the climax of your climb, a grueling test of endurance that will demand every ounce of strength and determination you’ve fostered.

Costs and Budgeting for the Climb

Climbing Kilimanjaro can be as financially challenging as it is physically demanding.

A typical climb costs between $2000 and $6000, and the price tag fluctuates depending on the trekking company and the route you choose.

I paid $2,100, flight excluded.

This price included:

  • Accommodation (two nights in Moshi) with three meals a day.

  • Two porters.

  • One guide.

  • One chef (three meals a day and water).

  • Park fee.

Don’t forget to tip the guide and others.

I paid $150, which might have been lower if there were more people in my group.

Altitude Sickness Awareness

As I will tell you later, I experienced this.

Rather than steep slopes or rugged terrain, altitude is the unseen enemy on Kilimanjaro.

Ascending beyond 2,400 meters brings the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a condition that affects over 50% of climbers (including me). Symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue are your body’s plea for caution, signaling the need to slow down and acclimatize.

Severe cases can escalate to life-threatening conditions such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and Cerebral Edema (HACE), both of which require immediate descent.

Prevention is your best defense against altitude sickness.

Here are some tips I’ve learned:

  • Ascend slowly.

  • Keep hydrated.

  • Avoid alcohol to give your body time to adjust to the thinner air.

  • Listen to your body and communicate openly with your guide, who will monitor your condition throughout the trek.

  • Remember, the mountain will always be there, but your health is irreplaceable.

  • Don’t let the eagerness to summit overshadow the importance of your well-being.

Hiring a Guide and Trekking Company

Undertaking a Kilimanjaro expedition without a licensed guide is reckless and forbidden.

Navigating the mountain’s terrain and coping with its unpredictable weather demands the expertise of a professional guide, who will be your navigator, coach, and sometimes lifesaver.

These guides are seasoned mountaineers, often WFR certified, equipped to manage emergencies and ensure safety.

Choosing a reputable trekking company is as important as selecting the right route.

Look for operators that:

  • Emphasize safety measures.

  • Maintain a high guide-to-client ratio for personalized attention.

  • Have experienced guides and comprehensive safety protocols.

  • Prioritize constant connectivity with emergency services.

Companies like Thomson Treks are highly recommended for their commitment to these standards. Trustworthy operators provide peace of mind when you’re pushing your limits on Africa’s highest peak.

My Story to The Summit of Uhuru Peak

Illustration of hiker on Kilimanjaro trail.

The ascent up Kilimanjaro mirrors life’s ups and downs, as each day brings fresh challenges and triumphs while hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Your days will be marked by early rises, steady hikes, and evenings under canvas, with a support team of guides, cooks, and porters to make the Mount Kilimanjaro climb as smooth as possible.

When embarking on a Mount Kilimanjaro trek, meals are crafted to fuel your body for the climb, featuring fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Private toilet tents ensure a degree of comfort even in the wilderness.

But it’s the summit night that will test your mettle!

The Machame Gate

Kristoffer Thun at The Machame Gate.
Machame Gate.

I have chosen the Machame route, which includes seven summits across five diverse climatic zones.

I visited the breathtaking rainforest on the first day. The weather was hot and humid.

You could feel the humidity and fresh air when you breathed during the ascent. This part is very easy to climb.

Initially, it consisted of simple paths that became staircases with roots and thick branches.

Sometimes, I could see through the trees and the branches of a mountain peak (not the highest point, I was told).

There is not so much scenery, but you can enjoy the rainforest and, if you are lucky, some monkeys (perhaps Colobus).

The first time my chief came in with my food, he gave me a soup with white bread.

I asked myself, “Is this all I get?”

I totally misjudged the situation. There’s so much food!

The chief came in later with another round of food for the tent. This time, I got fish, potatoes, and vegetables.

I was so happy!

When I was done with the food and satisfied, there was little left to do in the evenings besides rest.

So it’s good to have something to fiddle with in the evenings.

I read books and watch offline shows on my phone (pack a power bank).

Each day begins with the same routine: eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, and going to the bathroom in one of the outhouses (which I recommend doing before hiking).

Note: The outhouses can sometimes also be found along the way.

Each day you walk, the landscape changes, becoming more barren and with less vegetation, but with a fantastic view!

Sometimes, I turned around and saw this amazing view: the sun shining over fluffy clouds, all the vegetation, and small rock formations.

It is a beautiful landscape up here!

This photo was taken on during nightfall on the Shira cave camp.
This photo was taken during nightfall at the Shira cave camp.

Many of the hiking paths I took were easy to hike. But it is not the terrain that is the hardest part. Of course, the oxygen level and the length of the paths can vary during the day. Mostly, it is rocky trails.

A new challenge awaited me as I left Barranco Camp the next morning for Karanga Camp.

This time, I had to use my hands to climb, and it was a little tricky sometimes.

I climbed up a steep slope of rock called Barranco Wall, which was the challenging but enjoyable part of the hike.

During the hike, I sometimes had headaches, which the guide said were common.

I decided not to take any medication because I wanted to be able to recognize when my body didn’t feel well.

I took plenty of breaks to enjoy the view and drink some water.

The Big Night

Me at Barafu Camp.
Barafu Camp is the last camp before the summit.

After four days of hiking at different heights and in different camps, we reached the Barafu Camp at 4,645 m.

I remember coming up this high plateau of rocks and thinking I was so close to the summit.

I could see the peak!

I signed in as I had before at the other camps and went with my guide to look for the tents. After a well-deserved rest and a big meal.

My guide came to my tent and said the weather looked good, so we left for the summit at midnight.

With great excitement, I lay in the tent for a while before trying to sleep for a few hours. At midnight, it was time to gear up with all my clothes, some bars, headlamps, and walking sticks.

My guide and I started walking in complete darkness, but we were not alone. The whole camp was on its way as well.

As I looked back down and walked up, I could see all the lights (headlamps) from everybody far up the mountain. Then, I could see how many were going up.

Things started to get cold and tough because of the heights.

Then, there was a mantra in my head that you can do it. Pole pole Rafiki.

I am used to cold, but I was freezing despite all the thick clothes I had.

As I approached the top, I began to lose balance and motor skills and needed to use trekking poles more and more to maintain stability.

In other words, I was suffering from altitude sickness, which can be compared to being a little drunk.

It takes about 7 hours to travel from the Barafu camp to the summit, and it is always at night (as far as I have heard).

At 06:30, I was one of the first people from the camp to reach the summit, and it was amazing. 

This was one of the best moments in my life!

But when I reached the summit, the sun appeared on the horizon.

The sun’s rays hit the clouds similar to a blanket of snow as far as the eye can see with a clear blue sky. 

Top of Kilimanjaro.

My guide and I stayed at the summit for just about 30 min. Because of my altitude sickness, the guide said that it was time to head back down.

It takes about 2 hours to get back down to the Barafu camp again due to my condition.

These 2 hours felt like 4 hours, and when I finally came down to the first camp, I went straight to the tent and slept for 3 hours.

Later, when I forced myself to eat, my guide and I went to the next camp down the mountain.Tanzania: Kilimanjaro summitKilimanjaro Summit 5 895 m. The total cost for this adventure was $ 2 100 (excluding flight) from a volunteer company in Sweden.

Reaching the Mount Kilimanjaro summit, as those who have climbed Kilimanjaro know, is a feat that will leave an indelible mark on your soul, a memory forged in the thin air of Kilimanjaro’s heights.


Packing List for Kilimanjaro

Illustration of essential gear for Kilimanjaro trek

Achieving a successful summit requires careful preparation, which encompasses bringing appropriate gear.

Here is my gear that I packed:

  • Hiking boots

  • Socks and underwear

  • Duffel bag (easy for porters to carry)

  • Hiking poles (I used it most of the time for downhill hiking)

  • Hiking pants

  • Winter gloves

  • Hat

  • Layer on layer cloths (no cotton!)

  • Sunscreen (the sun is very strong when you reach above the clouds)

  • A comfortable small backpack for your stuff (such as a camera, bars, and water).

  • Passport

  • Warm sleeping bag (very cold at night)

  • Sleeping pad (air is preferred because of the very rocky surface)

  • Headlamp with extra batteries for the summit but also inside and around the tent.

Weather Conditions on Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro is like a mini trip around the world because you pass through different climate zones.

Each zone has its weather.

The mountain’s weather changes a lot. It can be very hot during the day but drop below freezing at night.

Near the top, the weather gets really tough. It can be super cold, and it might even snow, no matter the season.

To be ready for Kilimanjaro’s unpredictable weather, you need to pack for everything, from hot days to freezing nights.

The final climb to the summit is especially challenging.

Climbers often face the worst weather during this midnight trek to Uhuru Peak. It’s crucial to have the right clothes and gear to handle the mountain’s changing moods so you can concentrate on the climb and not the cold.

Safety Tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro

When climbing Kilimanjaro, safety is crucial and should be the main focus for any trekking company you choose.

They need to have a full medical kit, emergency oxygen, and safety gear.

Even though Kilimanjaro’s trails don’t need special climbing skills, they still have risks like falls, cold exposure, and altitude sickness, which can be fatal.

To stay safe, get good insurance, hike with a trusted guide, and always talk about your health.

Daily health checks with your guide, using simple tools like a pulse oximeter, are key to spotting early signs of altitude sickness.

If there’s an emergency, helicopters can evacuate you, but sometimes bad weather means you’ll have to walk down. A high guide-to-client ratio ensures your team can keep a close eye on you and respond quickly.

This way, your Kilimanjaro climb can be both safe and exciting.

Post-Climb Activities

Once the excitement of reaching Kilimanjaro’s peak fades, you might want a new kind of adventure.

Tanzania has many wonders to offer, and your options after the climb are endless.

You could relax on the white-sand beaches of Zanzibar and explore the historic Stone Town, a peaceful place to think about your achievements.

If you still feel the call of the wild, a safari in the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater will satisfy your desire to see more wildlife.

For a taste of local culture, try a cycling tour through coffee plantations and Maasai villages. Watching the great wildebeest migration or exploring the diverse ecosystems of Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks can be the perfect ending to your Kilimanjaro adventure.

Whatever you choose, plan these activities for after your climb.

This way, you can enjoy them fully without thinking about the mountain ahead.

For me, I went up to Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise 🙂

Summary

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a big adventure that needs careful planning.

I hope my journey to Kilimanjaro’s summit offers great tips for you.

First, avoid the rainy season. Plan your climb between January and mid-March or June to October.

You can choose from seven different routes, each with its challenges and views. You can also get fit with strength and cardio exercises and learn about altitude sickness.

The cost can be between $2000 and $6000. For your safety, it’s important to hire a good guide.

After your climb, check out Tanzania’s other attractions. You can relax in Zanzibar, go on a safari in the Serengeti, or enjoy cultural tours.

Pack the right gear, be aware of the weather, and focus on safety to make your Kilimanjaro climb memorable and successful.

I hope you have an amazing climb and make incredible memories!

PS: If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will do my best to provide you with answers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Kilimanjaro unique compared to other mountains?

Kilimanjaro is unique because it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world, with diverse climate zones from tropical rainforest to alpine desert, providing a varied climbing experience.

How much can I expect to spend on a Kilimanjaro climb?

You can expect to spend between $2000 to $6000 for a Kilimanjaro climb, depending on the trekking company, route, and level of luxury. Budget for extra costs such as gear, vaccinations, travel insurance, and tipping your support team.

Is technical climbing experience required for Kilimanjaro?

No, technical climbing experience is not required for Kilimanjaro climbs. It’s a challenging trek due to the high altitude, but it’s not a technical climb.

What’s the best way to prevent altitude sickness?

The best way to prevent or avoid altitude sickness, is to ascend slowly, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, communicate any symptoms to your guide, and consider a longer route for better acclimatization. It’s important to give your body time to adjust as you go higher.

Can I hire gear in Tanzania, or should I bring my own?

It’s best to bring your own gear to Tanzania, especially things like hiking boots and backpack that you’ve tested and are comfortable with. Consider renting heavy or bulky items like sleeping bags and insulated jackets to save space.

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