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Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Notes For Climbing

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It is possible to combine climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with a bike tour. Most climbing packages for Mt. Kilimanjaro climb the Marangu Route, which is the least technical.  There are more technical routes. On the Marangu Route, with the exception of the top section, which is steep, difficult and high altitude, the "climb" is basically a long slow hike on a rough trail (daily mileage 5, 8, 8, 14 and 13, total 48 miles round-trip). The combination at the top of elevation, steep slopes, and sometimes violent weather, is the challenge, and sometimes perilous.

You are required to have a "guide", but don't expect any value-added for the expense.  The trail is a trench, so it is easy to follow even if the guide disappears for most of the day, as is common, and few of them know anything substantial about the geology, flora, fauna or lore of the mountain, were they to spend any time with their clients. [If you want information see: Kilimanjaro: Mountain at the Crossroads, Kilimanjaro Geology and Glaciology, and Kilimanjaro Flora and Fauna (even better, there is a small book on the flora available for purchase at the shop at the entrance.)]

Most packages takes five days, four nights.  There are six day packages as well. Climbing packages usually includes: transport from Moshi or Arusha to the national park gate and return, national park gate fees, guide salaries, porter salaries, accommodations in huts, rescue fees, park commission and all meals on the mountain. They do not include equipment, beverages, guide tips ($75 per group), assistant guide tips ($50 per group) and porter/cook tips ($25 per porter/cook – each person has two porter/cooks), which they expect emphatically! [For comparison: A certified Tanzanian school teacher with a class of 80 students makes about $5/day.]  Expect pressure to pay a more because the guides have a racket where they extort additional money from their clients by inflate the number of staff (assistant guides, waiters, etc., with stand-ins) at tip time -- pretenders split their tips with the guide. It is useful to ask your guide at the beginning of the climb how big a staff will be working with him.  There shouldn't be more than two porters/cooks for each climber. The number of porters should be written on the permit the guides will carry up the hill and show each time you check in to huts.  You can try to get a look at this -- say you want to photograph it as a souvenir.

Climbers need a day-pack/rucksack/waist-pack to carry things you want access to during the walk (water, lunch, extra clothes, camera, sunscreen, binoculars, treats, etc.)  Each climber is expected to carry their our daily allotment of 4 liters of water.  At the end of the day when you reach camp, the porters should provide fresh water for the evening and the next day's climb.  It is very important that you try to drink 4 liters per day in order to combat altitude sickness.  The porters carrying your equipment generally are not with the climbers as they hike. The porters carry clothes, sleeping bags, cooking gear and other such items, for use at camp.

Climbers need to be prepared for conditions ranging from tropical to NASTY arctic-like weather with  high-winds and sub-freezing temperatures. Take multiple insulating layers of clothes, sturdy rain gear, alpine sunglasses, sunscreen and sturdy hiking boots.  It can rain and storm any day of the year on the mountain.

The hike starts in the tropics-here you will probably want to hike in shorts-passes through a cloud forest (wet) and ends in an alpine or arctic-like climate (depending upon the weather). You will make the final ascent in the coldest wee hours of the morning when the talus and snow is still frozen. This section can be tough to brutal.  Because there are so many changes in conditions, dressing in layers that can be shed is very advantageous.  A flashlight with five hours of life is very important for attempting the summit.

Coming down can be more painful than going up. On the way down your feet are jammed into the front of your shoes, and it can be blisters everywhere.  Boots that fit and that are tied across the arch so that your heal stays back help a lot.  It can also help if, on the night before you are setting off for the top, you cut your toe nails back as far as you can and tape all your toes. Carry your scissors and spare tape in your day pack as well.

[Several companies offer wildlife and climbing packages. Five-day climbing packages are about US$1000-1200 per person (2009). About US$650 of this is various fees paid to the government.]

Suggested Equipment For Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro By Muranga Route:

* Shoes/Boots - You need comfortable, water-resistant, mud-durable shoes for the first three days, up to Kibo Hut.  On day four (Kibo Hut to the summit) you want dry, sturdy, ankle-supporting, hiking boots.
Warm socks
- comfortable to hike in.  Convertible pants are practical.
Long underwear - polypropylene leggings or cycling tights
Wool pants or knickers (pants for warmth)
Nylon wind/rain pants
Polypropylene undershirt
* Insulating middle layer
(wool, fleece or pile, down vest, sweater or jacket)
* Rain shell (Gore-tex-like fabrics are best)
* Mittens or gloves
* Warm hat
(balaklava is excellent for a variety of weather conditions)
Sunblock lotion/creme (hard to buy in Tanzania)
Flashlight/torch and batteries for five hours
Toilet paper
Water bottles
- Make sure that you drink at least 3-4 liters of liquid a day. You will lose a large amount of water through the lungs (respiration) and by sweating (perspiration). Take a sip every now and then. Some water on the mountain is safe to drink.
* Sleeping bag - Overnight temperatures are below freezing. If you rent a bag you might be more comfortable with a your own liner-sheet/sleep sack.
Camera & film - ASA200-400 film is good for shooting in low light. You reach the top around sunrise and may not wish to wait owing to the altitude and cold. After sunrise film with an ASA of 200 or below is O.K.
Rucksack/day pack/waist-pack (carry clothes, water, food, camera and things you want with you while you walk)
Acetazolamide - Prophylactic for high-altitude illness. The generic form comes in 250mg tablet. The brand name is Diamox (500mg tablets) and is about twice as expensive per dose. If you have any of the following pre-existing conditions please discuss the high altitude conditions with your physician: cardiovascular problems, pulmonary disease, seizures, diabetes, hematological system or pregnancy

* These items may be rented from climb outfitters at the beginning of the climb.

Transfers between Nairobi and Arusha/Moshi

If you find yourself in Moshi or Arusha and need to leave from Nairobi (or in Nairobi, needing to get to Arusha or Moshi) there is scheduled van service by Riverside Shuttle (East Africa Shuttle) and Impala Shuttle.  The travel time is five or six hours. Meet 1/2 hour before departure at the Norfolk hotel in Nairobi and the Novotel Mt. Meru hotel in Arusha. Cost US$20-35 one way.

The local buses, direct long haul buses and shared taxis are cheaper. A share taxi is a large cab which can take about 6 people. You will take this to the Kenyan/Tanzania border at Namanga. At Namanga you will cross the border by foot and catch a waiting share taxi for the final leg. The total trip time is about 4-5 hours. The share taxi's and buses leave from a different location near River Road in Nairobi. It is a fairly rough part of town and the stations themselves require constant vigilance. It is suggested that you take a taxi to the station.

Transit visa to Kenya for US citizens are US$20 (in 2004). The process takes about five minutes.

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