Training for Kilimanjaro and What to Pack
You have chosen your traveling dates, the tour operator company and your traveling partners. Now the real fun begins! Training and preparing to climb/trek the highest peak in Africa.
I did a lot of research in anticipation to this adventure. I read countless of articles I found in the Internet, all the information I found on Zara Tours web page and even read two books: Kissing Kilimanjaro and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. I wanted to know it all and minimize as much as possible any risk of failure. Here I share what we did from a training standpoint and what we packed for the trip. Although some people may differ from me, I have to say that everything we did helped because we were successful and reached the summit. Now, everyone is different and you should know your body better than anyone, so use your best judgment. Use the information that works for you and don’t worry about anything you don’t find useful.
There are 4 critical things you need in order to be successful: training, beating the altitude sickness, having a positive attitude and the right equipment.
In my opinion, the best thing you can do to train for Kilimanjaro is to hike. Hike as much and as often as you can. Although Kilimanjaro doesn’t require any technical climbing, it is important to be in a relatively healthy physical shape.
I like to think of ourselves as active people who are decently fit. We don’t run a marathon every month, but we try to exercise regularly and try to keep a healthy lifestyle.
Still, we started to train more seriously 6 months before the climb. When I say more seriously, it was basically keeping with our exercise routine plus adding at least 3 long hikes per month of 6-11 miles each. We also took a few TRX-Cardio classes. The key is to make sure you can walk for long periods (4-6 hours daily) at a steady pace, but “Pole-Pole”, like the locals say which basically means no hurry, take it easy. If you can do that, then you can make it to the top.
We were living in California at the time, which provides a plethora of hiking opportunities and we took advantage of that. We did several hikes in San Jose, Pacifica and Lake Tahoe. Then, one month before our trip we did Mount Dana (Yosemite).
Some of the hikes we did included:
Snow shoeing in Lake Tahoe. We did snowshoeing at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Great work out and a good way to see how your body reacts to high altitudes.
Mission Peak in Fremont, California. Offered a pretty nice inclination with amazing vistas. We started to hike close to 2pm and returned to the car a little bit after 6pm. We had the trail pretty much for ourselves, with the exception of a few hikers we encountered along the way. I think part of it had to do with the weather, as it was super windy and cold, but we were prepared for it.
Mori Point in Pacifica, California. It was cold and foggy but we still had a good time. We hiked with two friends for a couple of hours. Long hike if you do it until the end.
Almaden Quicksilver County Park in San Jose, California. One of our favorites due to of its location. Only a 15 minute car ride from our home in San Jose, CA. We hiked in this park regularly and always no less than 7 miles. This park offers great views and you can take your dogs with you. It is best to hike early in the morning or after 3pm in order to avoid the nasty heat from 11-2.
Mt. Dana in Yosemite National Park. At 13,000 feet, this was the most difficult of all hikes we did before Kili. We hiked Mt. Dana in June and it was our last big hike before going to Tanzania. Omar and Jennie traveled from Texas to do this hike with us and we had a blast. We wanted to do other mountains in the area, but due to the snow most of them were closed and for others we needed a special permit in advance.
We decided to spend the weekend in Yosemite and camp there. It was beautiful but also a bit difficult. There were parts still covered with snow and we had to hold on from rocks in others as it was very steep. But oh boy, once we reached the summit we were rewarded with amazing views. Alexis and Omar experienced altitude sickness for the first time, with a strong headache and dizziness.
The highest risk of climbing kilimanjaro and your worst enemy is the altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). Running marathons, doing triathlons or being in an amazing shape doesn’t guarantee you will be safe from suffering AMS.
Every year approximately 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain and there are approximately 10 deaths that are reported and the main cause is AMS. Altitude sickness can be fatal, that is why it is very important to be familiar with the most common symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Nausea & dizziness
Loss of appetite
There are four factors associated with AMS:
Fast rate of ascent
High degree of exertion
Training in high elevations can help because you can have an idea on how your body will react on high elevations. That’s how Omar and Alexis realized they needed to stay extra hydrated and look for other alternatives in case they got AMS.
Other alternatives include taking a medication to help prevent AMS. Yes, I know, that’s sounds like cheating but if the doctor says it’s OK, then we should be fine, right? So we talked with our doctor and he prescribed us Diamox (Acetazolamide), a pill that helps with AMS . We took it from day 1 of the climb to prevent altitude sickness and I think it did help. (Please check with your doctor the potential side effects and to see if it’s suitable for you). On Ultimate Kilimanjaro website I found very useful information regarding AMS.
Besides altitude sickness, the next thing that can prevent you from reaching the summit is yourself. If you think you won’t make it, guess what? you won’t make it. Stay strong and focused. Don’t be negative. Tell yourself you can do it, especially during the last day of the climb, which is the hardest. I thought about what I would say upon my return if I failed because I didn’t give my best. I am a very competitive person and I don’t think failure is an option. I thought about how ashamed I would feel and said to myself there was no turn around. I was determined to reach the summit. Of course there are things that are out of our control, like getting injured or sick, but that’s a different story.
Packing List & Equipment
Provided by Zara Tours:
food & water during the climb
The rest of the gear we took from home. Don’t be cheap and invest in a good equipment. Layers, base layers and a good jacket are extremely important.
Ultimate Kilimanjaro provides this awesome check list to help you pack, but I want to highlight a few “must have” items, some not included in their check list:
Good gloves and an extra pair in case we lose one. Extremely important. I thought mine were good and still I had a very mild frost bit in my knuckles.
Sun screen & chap stick for your lips (with SPF). Your lips will get very dry because of the cold and the sun can be brutal on your skin.
Baby wipes (buy a lot and then by some more). Without showering for 6 days, they will be your BFF.
Go Girl (if you are a girl, of course). If there is one thing I recommend to any girl before she climbs Kilimanjaro is to buy one of this. The Go Girl definitely improved the quality of the trip because with this you don’t have to leave your tent in the middle of the night, at freezing temperatures to hide behind a rock to pee. Buy it before and practice! I didn’t have any accidents inside the tent and you don’t want to have any either.
Oh, where did I pee? Right, I forgot to mention that. I bought a bottle of Nalgene just for that and wrote PEE with a sharpie to avoid any unpleasant confusion, then every morning I emptied the content.
Camera and extra batteries (keep batteries close to your body as the heat from it will help to keep them charge)
Medicines. Talk to your doctor about Malaria pills and altitude sickness medication. We also brought over the counter medicines for diarrhea and vomit
It is extremely important is to invest in a pair of comfortable, water-resistant, durable hiking shoes. Make sure to brake them in. Never take a pair of new shoes there without trying them first. Since we love REI, we bought most of our stuff there. We used the shoes for our training hikes and even to go to the mall. The last thing you need are feet covered with painful blisters.
After doing a lot of research and spending quite some time at REI and local stores. I went with the Vasque Talus WP Hiking Boots and Alexis with the Vasque Wasatch GTX Hiking Boots. We are typically fans of Keen, but this time it seems like for both of us the Vasque were the winners.
UPDATE: since this was in 2013, these models are no longer available. My recommendation is to visit a store specialized in outdoor adventures, such as REI and ask for recommendations. The feature of our boots were:
Waterproofed nubuck leather uppers are flexible, lightweight and durable for reliable performance in all conditions
Gore-Tex® inserts with wicking 3-bar knit nylon linings are seam-sealed to keep out water yet breathable enough to keep feet from overheating
Padded collars and tongues add comfort to ankles and relieve lace pressure; gusseted tongues keep out trail debris and weatherDurable toe rands protect uppers and feet from bumps and abrasion
Removable dual-density EVA footbeds add extra cushioning comfort to soft and supportive polyurethane midsoles
Flexframe 3 midsole supports, made from tapered nylon, help control flex, adds torsional stability and protect feet on uneven terrain
Strobel construction helps enhance flexibility and delivers a smooth and snug fit
Long-lasting Vibram® Contact outsoles with multi-directional lug pattern designed for solid traction and braking on uneven terrain
Citizens from the United States need a visa to visit Tanzania. Check your passport to ensure it won’t expire within 6 months from arriving in the country and request the visa as soon as possible, at least 30 days before the trip.
The Yellow Fever vaccine is required to enter Tanzania. They ask for proof and if you don’t have it they can deny your entry to the country.
Although not required, but highly recommended is protection against Malaria. Not exactly a vaccine in the form of a shot. It comes in pills and your doctor will write a prescription depending on the length of your trip. You also need to continue taking them for a few days after you return home. I took the generic Malarone.
Other vaccinations that are not required but recommended are:
Boosters for Tetanus, Diphtheria, Measles, and Polio are all advisable before traveling.
Have fun in this life changing journey!