How can I prepare for high altitude on Kilimanjaro?
It’s fair to say, the effects of high altitude are one of people’s biggest worries on a Kilimanjaro climb. Nobody can guarantee that you won’t suffer from altitude sickness, and no preparation can guarantee that it won’t affect you. But by choosing a responsible operator you will significantly reduce your chances of suffering, and by following their advice you will adapt and acclimatize as best as possible to the conditions at altitude.
Here are some specific matters to consider, which will help you reduce your chances of suffering, or suffering severely, from altitude sickness:
Don’t choose the shortest route
The more days you spend out on the mountain, the more your trip will cost. But choosing the shortest and therefore cheapest trip is not advisable. Most people who do not make it to the summit fail because of altitude sickness. The more time spent in acclimatizing to the altitude, the better chance you have of reaching the top. In our experience, those who choose less expensive trips which are only five or six days in length are far more likely to suffer altitude sickness and far less likely to succeed. Seven-day or longer trips are what we strongly recommend. On trips of this length, climbers have more time to acclimatize, and their bodies adapt better.
You will note from our website that most of our trips are seven-days at least. Remember that one of those days is for descent. This length of trip is ideal, in our opinion, for beginners and also for those with some experience of climbing. Experienced climbers who have already become acclimatized to altitude before tackling Kilimanjaro – maybe by tackling Mount Meru first – might choose a six-day climb, but we cannot recommend them for other climbers. (Note that Mount Meru is the next-highest Tanzanian peak, standing at 4566 metres). A seven-day Kilimanjaro trip gives climbers enough recovery time once they reach the end-of-day camp, and this recovery time is vital for climbing at altitude.
Some climbers even choose an eight-day climb, giving them even more time to adjust to the altitude and allowing a more relaxed pace at which to tackle Kilimanjaro
Drink plenty of water
Extra demands are made on your body when you exercise, and particularly when you are climbing a mountain as high as Kilimanjaro. It is vital to ensure that you take on enough water, as the body uses much more than normal. Our guides will be constantly reminding you of this during the daily walk. We at Easy Travel estimate that climbers need between 3 and 4 litres each day, to keep the body functioning at its best.
Don’t gulp it down, it’s much better to drink a little at a time, but to drink often. You will rest approximately every half-hour on the mountain, so this is the best time to drink. You should aim to consume between 1 ½ to 2 litres during the day’s walk, then to take the balance at the end of the day
And eat well, too
As well as needing to take on more water, the body also needs to be well-nourished on the climb. Eating well is important, especially as for some climbers their appetite can surprisingly disappear during the climb. Even without an appetite, it is vitally important to keep eating! Easy Travel has an experienced team of mountain chefs who are skilled in feeding you the correct diet to maintain your energy levels and help you acclimatize to the high altitude. Our mountain menus are specifically designed to be nutritious and balanced. With years of experience, our chefs prepare all three daily meals breakfast, lunch and dinner- very carefully. Their choice of meals using a selection of cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken, beef, eggs, spaghetti, delicious soups and plenty more.
We also advise climbers to bring a selection of their favourite snacks and energy bars to supplement their meals.
Walking high, but sleeping low
You spend all day climbing Kilimanjaro, then you descend a bit to spend the night. That might seem strange, but in fact your body prefers it if it can sleep at an altitude that is a little lower than the highpoint of the day’s trekking. Your mountain guides will explain the benefits of this so-called ‘step’ acclimatization. But although it seems tough that you have to descend a bit (where possible), only to climb up again the next day, you have to trust us that this well-proven strategy is a crucial part of a successful Kilimanjaro climb.
At Easy Travel, our decades of experience on Kilimanjaro have taught us the best ‘acclimatization profiles.’ If that sounds like some technical jargon, do not worry. Your mountain guides know exactly what to do, and this may involve you taking part in a brief hike at the end of the day. Yes, it seems tough after you feel that you have already done a day’s climbing, but those who join these hikes will definitely be acclimatized much better than those who don’t. This process could be the difference between you reaching the summit of Uhuru Peak, or not.
The two most important words on the mountain: Pole pole
‘Take it slowly’or ‘pole, pole’ is some of the very best advice you will get for your climb. Whatever your Kilimanjaro is, it is certainly not a race. Reaching the summit is a great achievement but trying to get there quickly is dangerous and likely to end in failure. At Easy Travel, we know the importance of climbing this great mountain at a steady, gradual pace. Your body needs to acclimatize and the slower the better. Your aim should be to walk much slower than you do when you’re going to the shops back home (!) Our mountain guides will take good care of you, making sure that you do not walk too quickly.
You might get fed up hearing your mountain guides and porters speaking those words ‘pole-pole’ as you climb, but they can never be said enough. Success on Kilimanjaro depends largely on your ability to resist the effects of altitude sickness. Taking it slowly is the key to doing that.
Follow these simple rules, and do not hesitate to talk about your health at morning and evening medical examinations. Listen to the advice of your Easy Travel Mountain guides and your ascent to Kilimanjaro will be successful!