THE TREK TO THE TOP
5895m the highest point, to wait for dawn. Watching the light gradually fill in the landscape is fascinating and more remarkable than expected. Kibo crater, the largest of three on Kilimanjaro, is an icy moonscape of snow and rock contours that draws the eye this way and that. Its sheer scale and variety surprises.
To the other side there’s an ice wall glacier that defies the rest of the landscape with its geometric outline. Glaciers have been retreating here for more than a century, but they are spectacular still. In the distance one of the other peaks, Mawenzi, looks like a witch’s castle as the sunrise colours the sky behind its jagged outline. Having made it to the top, I’m in no hurry to descend. It’s simply too beautiful. This is a sight to be relished.
But at this altitude, acclimatisation isn’t possible. Climbers who have arrived after us are leaving and our guides are getting restless. Descent turns out to be harder GET FIT: You’ll cover a lot of ground over five to 10 days, depending on the route you pick, and obviously much of it will be uphill. You’ll have a much better chance if you’re fit, especially as the oxygen thins above 2800m. Train for endurance by hiking, cycling or running. Better still, go to a gym that can replicate altitude so that your body learns to adapt. Altitude, at Brookvale on Sydney’s northern beaches, has a climate-controlled room that replicates conditions at 3700m, where oxygen is at two-thirds normal levels. More: altitudeaustralia.com.au.
SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE: Get a check-up before you go and stock up on suitable medicines, such as nausea and diarrhea prevention tablets, and begin a course of antimalarials. Specialised travel medical centres can advise on vaccines, with evidence of yellow fever protection necessary to enter Tanzania. They can also supply Diamox, a drug that works to counter the effects of altitude by reducing the fluid build-up around the brain. Most people will experience some effects of altitude, but at its worst it can be debilitating or even fatal, and requires immediate descent. Acquaint yourself with its symptoms. There’s an excellent app called Travel Health that includes a section on altitude sickness. More: travel-doctor.com.au; travellingwell.com.au.
BE INSURED: If you’re using a climb operator that does not require proof of travel insurance then you’ve probably picked the wrong one. If you need to descend, you’ll be in no position to negotiate.
FIND A TOP OPERATOR: Pick a company with a proven record that responds quickly to emails and remember the cheapest is unlikely to be the best. Some, such as African Walking Company, can be booked only through thirdparty adventure specialists such as World Expeditions. Start your search with Kilimanjaro — The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain by Henry Stedman. More: climbmountkilimanjaro.com.
PACK SUITABLE GEAR: A worn-in pair of hiking boots is just the start as you’ll need clothing to cope with a range of conditions from sunny mid-20Cs to sub-zero wind-chill at the summit. Be prepared for drenching mist, torrential rain, sleet and snow. There’s no substitute for proper thermals, insulated jackets and waterproofs. Operators supply tents, but you’ll also need equipment such as walking poles, a head-torch and a sleeping bag. Some equipment can be hired prior to the climb.