It is never too early to begin training for your Kilimanjaro climb, and it’s very helpful to know the specific things you should be concentrating on to increase the chances you’ll make it to the summit.
Exactly what you are training for
Climbing Kilimanjaro is not like rock climbing. It is basically an extended trek rather than a true mountaineering experience. The gradient is usually shallow, but it is and uphill walk that will last between 5 and 7 days, with the final day being by far the steepest and made much more difficult by the extreme altitude. You will be hauling a daypack with your rain gear and water, but you’ll hire porters to do most of the heavy lifting. In other words, you don’t need to train for carrying a heavy pack yourself. And on the subject of rain gear, the weather is unpredictable at best, and even during the driest seasons there is a good chance you will encounter at least some mud, which obviously adds to the challenge.
Training for altitude sickness
It obviously would not hurt to train at altitude, and assuming that it goes well it can definitely help. But unfortunately there is no way to turn yourself into a Sherpa by repeatedly hiking long distances in your local mountains. Altitude sickness affects people randomly, and a person might not suffer from it on one climb and then get hit hard the next time on that same route. Of course, increasing your general level of fitness will go far to avoid compounding possible altitude sickness with general fatigue.
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That said, if you have access to a mountain you can spend a weekend on, it is a good idea to do so. Altitude heavily taxes your endurance as it restricts your ability to quickly draw in breath. Even better than one long hike at a high altitude is doing it on back-to-back days and camping outdoors overnight. Part of the difficulty in climbing Kilimanjaro is sleeping at altitude and not having a hot bath and comfortable bed each night to recharge yourself. Altitude sickness usually begins to be an issue for some people around 10,000 feet. Hiking in a mountain at 8,000 feet is more challenging than one at 3,000 feet, but it won’t tell you much about your body’s response to 15,000+ feet.
Being able to run a marathon is great, but it has little to do with climbing a big mountain. All aerobic training helps you build your ability to process oxygen to feed your muscles efficiently, and walking uphill is similar jogging in this regard, so being aerobically fit is a great help. But don’t confuse being able to run 10 miles on the weekend with being ready for this climb. The trick is being able to do it every day for a week, but again, you won’t be running and only the last day is steep for the whole day.
In addition to maintaining aerobic fitness it is advisable to train by walking long distances on consecutive days, as many as possible up to a week. And if possible, do it in the same boots you will be using on Kilimanjaro so they are properly broken in and you’ll know they are comfortable and the right ones for you. Walking may not sound like much, but unless you are a mail carrier it’s very likely that after two or three days of it you’ll be feeling the strain so this preparation not only increases your chances of making it to the summit, it also will increase your comfort level in the process.
If you already train with weights there is no reason to stop for this, but it really doesn’t factor in to a Kilimanjaro climb. Sure, it’s a great way to increase your general fitness in your everyday life, but there is no reason to start specifically for this adventure.
Do not ever make the mistake of setting off on a significant hike or climb in a new or borrowed pair of boots. There is almost no chance that you will last more than a day, maybe two without experiencing severe blisters or some other related problem. It is imperative that a new pair of boots are thoroughly worn in before you hit the mountain.
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