I think if I were to re-write this list it would be rather different, and include more travel, a half ironman and more destination races, however this is the list I’m sticking with for now.
Well I am seriously excited to be ticking off a major bucket list item this Summer; climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with G Adventures.
I don’t know that many people who have climbed the highest mountain in Africa, but a couple of blogger friends attempted it last summer. I asked Laura Stewart (Life Laura London) and Jess Alberigo (part of the Twins in Trainers) about their own trips, pick their brains for advice and packing tips.
Why did you decide to take on the challenge?
Jess:I grew up watching my Dad travel the world as an expedition medic and knew that one day I wanted to do the same. When I qualified as a GP I felt like I had enough experience and wanted Kilimanjaro to be my first trek. It’s such an iconic trek in an amazing country. It really seemed like a challenge because not only do you have to hike for days over challenging terrain and camp overnight (with absolutely no luxuries!) you also have to deal with the altitude which is a huge challenge in itself. I knew it would push me to the limit both physically an mentally and would really be an experience of a lifetime- I was right!
Laura:To be honest we didn’t really think of it as a challenge, more of a holiday doing what we love! Hiking, walking, camping, and being on mountains! (Editors note – I definitely see this as a challenge!!)
What route did you take?
I am taking on the Machame route, which is 8 days from start to finish, which includes the 2 days travelling. It has a 94% completion rate so I’m hoping that bodes well for me!
Jess:I took the Lemosho route which is the longest (it takes 7 days) and apparently is the most scenic. I was keen to do this route as the longer duration means there is more time for acclimatisation with much higher success rates of reaching the top.
Laura: We took the Marangu Route which is the quickest route up that has huts along the way. You can camp on this route too and most trips use it as the descent route as it’s most direct. We chose it because of our time constraints of holiday and my husband thought it would be more comfortable in the huts, but that’s not true. We now realise that camping is a much better option!
What do you wish you’d know before Kili?
Jess: I wish I’d known about the rain! I had packed waterproofs but for some reason I hadn’t thought rain was that likely (I was probably thinking of how hot and sunny Africa is- obviously it’s slightly different when you’re half way up the biggest mountain on the continent!) I think the people I’d spoken to about the trek had had dry weather so obviously they hadn’t mentioned rain. I had no idea how heavy the rain could be and wasn’t prepared for how much harder this would make it.
Laura:Stay on the mountain for as long as possible! This allows for more acclimatisation, but also, just more amazing time on the mountain! I would have stayed there if they let me. Most people don’t come back to Kili so get all the time on the mountain you can!
What was the best bit advice you were given about the climb?
Jess: Pole Pole! This is swahili for slowly slowly, and is what guides are constantly saying to you. The slower you go, the better, as it gives you more time to acclimatise to the change in altitude, and more chance of reaching the top.
Laura: Go. So. Slow. Like slower than slow. Take your slowest walking pace and then go 50% slower. There is more than enough time in the day to get from camp to camp so only fools hurry. Going slow gives you more time to acclimatise, talk to the people on your trek, and meet the amazing other people on the trail. You hear this advice so much before the trek you start to think, “OK I get it” but seriously. GO SLOW!
Best piece of kit?
Jess: This is tricky as everything had a purpose- if you’re given a kit list from your tour provider, take everything on it! It’s tempting to think you won’t need certain things, especially as it can get quite pricey if you need to buy or rent lots of items, but if you’re missing something essential it’ll make the trek so much harder. I think my best bit of kit was my walking poles. These had actually been listed as optional on my kit list but I absolutely couldn’t have done without them. The descent especially would have been impossible as your legs are exhausted and it can be quite steep and slippy.
Laura: I loved these hiking trousers because they came in a long length (don’t get me started on being a tall active woman) and have some stretch in them so are actually flattering and comfortable to be in all day. My friend Polly gave me great advice to not wear running leggings as the zips and pockets around the waist will dig in when you are wearing a backpack all day. Plus, they’re not warm enough – get some proper thermal leggings for the summit day and the cold nights to sleep in. Bring a wide brimmed hat or something that covers the back of your neck. It’s not super hot but the sun is intense and you’re out all day. Oh, and my best advice from my friend Katie was to bring a metal water bottle that you can fill up with hot water before you go to bed to act as a little hot water bottle in your sleeping bag!
Thing you wish you’d brought but didn’t?
Jess:I decided to rent a sleeping bag from the tour company rather than bringing one of my own which was a mistake Even though it was 5 tog, I was freezing at night time and basically ended up sleeping in multiple layers of clothing and a down jacket. It was obviously just really old and maybe not that good quality. Other members of my group who had brought their own sleeping bags (or hired them from a UK company) were toasty warm at night -some of them sleeping in their underwear as they were too hot otherwise!
Laura: I pretty much wore everything I brought as I only brought 1 set of layers. Wear it all at night and just the light stuff during the day. It worked great (if started to smell a bit). Here’s my kit list with details.
What was your best moment on the mountain?
Jess: Without a doubt reaching the summit. You leave camp in the middle of the night and trek for hours in the darkness. You reach the summit just as the sun rises over the clouds. I hadn’t realised how beautiful the summit would be, and also hadn’t realised there were massive glaciers at the top which were absolutely stunning. The views took my breath away and it really was one of the most amazing moments of my life.You build really strong friendships with your team and after days of struggling together it’s amazing to all reach the summit.
It’s also worth saying that there were so many other highs on the trek! Not everyone will reach the top which is obviously hugely disappointing, but there are so many other great moments that make it an unforgettable experience.
Laura: All of them. It is 100% about the entire trip and not one moment or the other. Take time to enjoy the golden hours after you arrive in camp and have a bit of time to wander around before dinner. Eating popcorn with our guides and learning about their awesome lives leading 100s of expeditions. Taking a few detours to explore lesser paths during the day. Bundling up after dinner and standing outside in the freezing cold to see the stars that look close enough to touch. Having an ice cold Kilimanjaro beer and tube of Pringles as you sign out of the park on your last day too! EVERYTHING!
What was a low point?
Jess: There was one day where it rained really heavily. I was absolutely soaking, freezing cold and exhausted. I arrived at a cold, damp camp and just felt so low. I just wanted to cry but knew I had to be strong. I was the trek doctor and was conscious of the fact that I was there for other people and needed to support them rather than having a break down myself! I took myself away to my tent for a little while to get myself together. Luckily I had signal, so text my sister Bex, to tell her how I was feeling. Fortunately she replied straight away with a motivational message, telling me how well I was doing and how proud she was. Obviously this made me want to cry even more but it was just what I needed!
Laura: Dropping my glove into a puddle of *something* in a long drop toilet at 4,400m wasn’t quite my low point, but having to put it back on while already having the classic AMS symptom of a dodgy stomach was. Everyone will have their own difficult moments on Kilimanjaro but it’s just about working with your group and guides to get through them. Everyone is always looking after everyone else!
Any tips you’d give to someone taking on Kili this summer?
– Listen when you are told to go slowly. It can be really frustrating when you have to walk at snails pace, and I think if you’re competitive it makes it even harder, but just remember there is a reason for it! If you want to reach the summit, you’re more likely to get there if you’re the slowest person in the group! Just relax into it and take time to enjoy the experience.
– Be honest with how you’re feeling. It’s really good to be honest with the other members of your team- many of them will be feeling the same so support each other through it and it will be so much easier
– Don’t ignore symptoms of altitude sickness; if there is a medic on your trek, discuss it with them sooner rather than later.
– Take snacks! The food on the trek was actually really good but sometimes you just need a Mars bar!
– take an exfoliating face wash. After day 2-3 I gave up on hygiene and just kept adding layers of clothing, but it was really nice to be able to wash my face each morning.
Thanks Jess and Laura – I can’t wait to tackle Kili in a few weeks, and share my trip here and on social! What’s on your bucket list? Would you/have you climbed Kilimanjaro?