Climbing Tips

When first drafting Kilimanjaro Diaries, it came out more travel guide, less memoir, with a few tips sprinkled throughout that I initially intended to list in a sidebar. The climbing tips didn’t survive the editor’s pen, but since they’re still helpful to the future climber, I wanted to give them a home right here on my website.

  1. Pole pole, one step at a time. Whether you’re in labor, climbing a mountain, or, for that matter, writing a book, it helps to remember that you can almost always take just one more step to keep moving towards your goal.
  2. Surround yourself with a group of friends to climb with, one that ideally contains a person who likes to plan the trip. It makes things so much easier if, like me, you’re not a planner yourself. You will know that you’re not a planner if you’ve ever forgotten to pick up your child from school. Of if your husband had to tell you that your flight was leaving tonight instead of tomorrow.
  3. Spend a bit of time researching the climate before settling on a date for your climb. Consider whether it’s more important for you to stay dry or to avoid crowds or to have clear skies for picture taking, but also consider the chances of success. September is considered the driest month, but also the most crowded. (Check out the tab for Seasons on Kili.)
  4. Buy a pair of hiking boots, if you don’t already own one, with plenty of time to spare so that you can properly break them in. To break them in, you sort of have to actually wear them during that time. And not just to cross your legs under your desk while typing on your computer.
  5. Take daily or at least weekly walks, but don’t start training for a marathon.
  6. Don’t schlepp extra weights around with you when preparing for your Kili climb. The act of walking regularly is quite sufficient. Unless you want to impress Mike, of course.
  7. Bring a small camera to document your experience, because you will be so busy hiking that you might not remember many sights afterwards, but you don’t need a large and fancy camera with five different lenses – no doubt someone else in your group will lug that up the mountain and share the pictures with you afterwards.
  8. Ask your doctor about Diamox with plenty of time to spare, so that you can test it beforehand for side effects. Or take my word when I tell you the side effects will involve a lot of peeing.
  9. You do not need biodegradable soap in little sheets. What you do need is plenty of wet wipes. And toilet paper. Do not skimp on the toilet paper!
  10. Bring enough U.S. dollars. However many dollars you think you should bring, bring more. About $500 per person is recommended. You’ll want to buy drinks at the hotel afterwards – LOTS of drinks, actually – and you’ll need a good amount of tip money for your guides and porters.
  11. Get the Tanzania visa ahead of time at one of their embassies.
  12. Bring “camp shoes,” i.e. shoes that aren’t your boots (crocs or similar are best) and are easy to put on and take off in the dark, in the cold, multiple times a night. Why multiple times a night? See #8.
  13. Springlands Hotel is the base of Zara Tours, and I can highly recommend this outfit. They cover everything from airport transfers to equipment rental and are a very well-oiled operation, employing a group of very skilled guides. Booking through Zara Tours (or a similar operator) directly is likely much cheaper than booking through an overseas travel agent.
  14. Rent the toilet tent! Or you might have to buy the book How to Shit in the Woods. I am not shitting you.
  15. Hiking poles are a must, in my opinion. I never hiked with them prior to Kili (if I’m honest, I never hiked much before Kili, with or without poles) but they make things so much easier on your legs and knees, both going up and coming down. Especially coming down. You can rent them at the hotel or bring your own.
  16. Make sure you buy good boots. Leather ones. No need for expensive Gore-Tex. Make sure you also buy good socks – thin ones for underneath, and thick cushy ones for your second layer. You really only need one pair of those, or two at the most, because after the first day no one cares about the smell. And it’ll be so much easier to find stuff in your bag by the light of your headlamp if it isn’t stuffed full with extra socks. Trust me.
  17. Speaking of which, make sure you bring a headlamp and some spare batteries in case you did not listen to me about the socks and can never find anything in your bag. Also, it’ll come in handy during summit night, especially if  you haven’t been paying attention to the phases of the moon.
  18. Get a 2-liter water bladder to stuff into your backpack, and in addition two insulated water bottles for either side of your backpack. Drink from the bladder throughout the hike, and use the bottles when taking a break. If there is one thing that can help ward off altitude sickness, it is taking in enough liquids. So finish all your soup as well!
  19. Get Diamox, 125 mg twice a day, enough for approximately five days. And hire the toilet tent. Did I mention that already? No need to worry yourself about fancy devices such as Gamow Bags. Although now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m sure you will anyway.
  20. Make sure you carry at least one regimen of antibiotics in your first-aid kit, but a separate regimen of Flagyl to treat intestinal infections might come in handy too.
  21. I highly recommend the Machame and Lemosho routes for their superior acclimatization opportunities as well as natural beauty.
  22. Do not Google “Death on Kilimanjaro” before your trip.
  23. A down sleeping bag with a good temperature rating is an absolute must. They sell synthetic ones with the same ratings, but there is no substitute for goose down. Mine was a First Ascent Ice Breaker (I went for the big guns – according to the website this is South Africa’s bestselling down sleeping bag) with a -8 degrees Celsius temperature rating. You can further improve the temperature rating by inserting a liner (also good for hygiene) and sleeping on an inflatable sleeping pad. And you absolutely need one with a hood that you can cinch closed right around your nose.
  24. If you’re traveling with a partner or family member, make sure you discuss and make plans for the event that one of you has to descend prematurely. Will one of you continue, or will you both go down? You won’t have time to make a decision on the mountain.
  25. Trust your guides. Listen to your guides. Listen to your guides sing, and all will be well with the world.

Based on the travel memoir Kilimanjaro Diaries: Or, How I Spent a Week Dreaming of Toilets, Drinking Crappy Water, and Making Bad Jokes While Having the Time of My Life.

milestone (2)About the Author: Eva Melusine Thieme is the author of Kilimanjaro Diaries as well as the blog Joburg Expat, where she has been chronicling her family’s adventures while living in South Africa. She currently resides in Brentwood, Tennessee, with her husband and four children, where she is working on her next book about a road trip through Namibia with six people in a five-person car.

Find Eva Melusine Thieme online:

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