Once you’ve decided that you intend to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, there are quite a few things you need to think about and do before the magical ascent begins. If you’ve done any other serious research already you certainly know that this climb is as demanding and intense as it is rewarding when you reach the summit. Daydream all you like, but when you become serious about this life-changing adventure it’s time to make some decisions and prepare yourself, especially if you want to have the best possible experience with the best possible chance of actually reaching the famous top of Africa.
Choose the route that suits you best
There are five main routes to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, and they are all quite different. One of them is so basic and un-scenic that most reputable climb operators don’t even run trips up it, and a couple of them are long and complicated and not really well suited for first-time climbers. The route you choose will determine how difficult and enjoyable your trip will be, so it’s never too early to start thinking about it.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is serious business and even under the best conditions it’s more than a little dangerous. Strict laws prevent people from climbing the mountain without a licensed tour operator. You’ll need to book with a licensed operator to make the climb, and virtually all the reputable ones book their trips in advance.
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There are two type of operator on the market, the local Tanzanian outfitter or a foreign based western outfitter.
Local operators are much cheaper, but are unregulated, and unless working in conjunction with a western outfitter, have a reputation for sharp practice against clients and the abuse of mountain support crews, and in particular the porters. This is not universally the case, but the only way to ensure that your climb is outfitted honestly and ethically is to use a western outfitter. Long term business relationships ensure high standards of kit and logistics, and fair trade practice. The premium this attracts is rarely wasted.
Research flight costs
The tour operator you choose will cover nearly everything from the point you arrive in Tanzania, but you have to get there yourself. Flights to Kilimanjaro tend to be expensive from everywhere and this will be a big part of the cost of the whole trip. Fortunately there is an option or two that can save you some money if you’ve got a bit more time on your trip.
Get your gear together
If you’ve done much climbing before chances are you have most of what you’ll need, but conditions at Kilimanjaro can be quite extreme so you’ll want to do some research and make sure you have the right gear for this kind of trip.
Prepare yourself physically
By far the biggest challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro is dealing with altitude sickness, and there is virtually nothing you can do to prepare for that part. Even if you’ve been fine at 16,000 feet elsewhere in the past you might crumble on summit day at Kilimanjaro. But you should do your best to get yourself into the best physical shape you can before arriving in Tanzania. The climb will take about a week so training for it is quite different from training for a marathon or some other thing you do in one grueling day. Read the training for Kilimanjaro section so you’ll not only have the best chances of making it to the summit, but also the best chances of enjoying the whole trip.