By Terri Paajanen
Imagine the sweeping vistas and beautiful scenery as you ascend the summit of Tanzania’s famous Mount Kilimanjaro. This extinct volcano is the highest peak in Africa as well as the highest walkable mountain in the world. These features make it a magnet for hikers and climbers alike. It’s a breath-taking challenge that you’ll find nowhere else in the world.
Just because Kilimanjaro is considered “walkable”, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb. The summit is 19,335 feet above sea level and the ascent can take between 5 and 8 days. There are several mapped routes to climb the mountain. Each trail offers varying degrees of difficulty, with Shira and Umbwe being the most difficult routes and Marangu being the easiest.
So just how risky is this climb? Choosing the right time of year, equipment and a good guide all factors into how safe your expedition will be. The early part of the climb is not extremely strenuous. But the final eight-hour climb to the summit is incredibly demanding, so being physically fit is important when planning this trip.
The most common problem during this climb is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) that causes headaches and nausea, as well as tingling and slight swelling in the face or extremities. More serious health risks are pulmonary edema, or even swelling of the brain. A slow and measured ascent can help reduce these risks. There are also drugs available to reduce altitude symptoms.
You should hike up this peak as part of an organized trek, with a properly licensed mountain operator. Groups can consist of between 1 to 100 climbers, however most treks are organized in groups of no more than 12 climbers. Expeditions are usually accompanied by a large number of local staff, as well as a head guide. Your expedition should be booked well in advance of traveling to Tanzania, as there can be quite a demand for climbing groups.
To climb Kilimanjaro, you should expect to pay somewhere in the range of $750 to $2000 per person. Take the time to research and select a season to climb, as well as tour group you feel will be safe traveling with. Overall, the summer months offer the best climbing weather, but will also be the busiest time to trek to the summit. If you enjoy ice climbing you may wish to experience the ice-covered slopes during the winter months.
When making travel arrangements, the most direct route is to fly into Nairobi, the capital of nearby Kenya. Then you can find transportation from the city to Kilimanjaro National Park. There are plenty of shuttle buses. While in Nairobi, I would suggest a side-trip to the Nairobi National Park.
I’m positive that you will be rewarded by the exciting and unique challenges of conquering Mount Kilimanjaro. This can be your chance to experience the adventure of mountain climbing.