Getting a good guide for climbing Kilimanjaro – or any mountain – is vital, and as a mountain guide myself I can pass on some useful advice to people who want to reach the roof of Africa. I’ve climbed the mountain 52 times! It’s an expensive trip nowadays but a lot of operators cut costs by reducing the number of days. This is not a good idea! Seven days is the minimum as stipulated by mountaineering bodies like the UIAA, so don’t opt for any six day itineraries unless you want to reduce your chances to summit and/or get very sick along the way. Acclimatisation to altitude is simply a matter of going slowly and looking after your water intake, food input and getting enough sleep.
The good news is the slow tortoise statistically does better than the fast hare on any high altitude trek, so no need to get to the camp before lunch! Take the whole day, walk slowly, enjoy the views and take it ‘pole pole’ as they say in Swahili. Drink at least three litres of liquid and eat everything that is put in front of you, you’ll need the calories. It’s just like putting wood on a fire. This is not a trip to get all picky about food.
Diamox is a popular drug which can assist with acclimatisation but like any drug is has to be treated with respect. It has side effects, mainly that it is a strong diuretic, so that means you need to drink more liquid. Expect to be up in the night peeing and obviously don’t ignore the advice to go slowly just because you’ve taken a tablet.
People with high or low blood pressure need to be aware on high mountains, get a health check before you go and monitor your heart rate throughout. Don’t take salt or too much coffee in your diet, drink well and don’t ascend if your blood pressure gets too high. Your body is telling you it’s not ready to go up yet.
Climbing Kili is a physical challenge and the summit day is hard, but with a good level of fitness and some training beforehand (think thigh and calf muscles!) it’s absolutely not unachievable. I took a couple from Dublin to the summit once, he was 80 and she was 79, for their 60th wedding anniversary. They bickered all the way! But on the top they couldn’t stop hugging each other and the following year they went to Nepal. The bug had hit..just a bit later in life.
I’d be happy to offer more advice for people wanting to visit this iconic peak..