Kilimanjaro Info

Fitness and training to climb Kilimanjaro

Taken over 7 days or more, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro does not require super-human levels of fitness. In fact, we regularly help climbers summit who are carrying a few extra pounds and have left their fittest years a little behind them.

What all successful climbers share though is a real T J Tours attitude and that means high levels of grit and determination. Summiting Kilimanjaro is a long slow grind but provided you have the determination to do just one more step even when you are tired we can help you get to the top.

If you are comfortable walking for 6-7 hours with an ascent of 1000m then you are certainly fit enough to succeed on Kilimanjaro. Similarly if you can do a full hour spinning, a vigorous aerobics class or can jog at a decent pace for 45 minutes then there is no reason why you can’t summit Kilimanjaro.

The best training by far to climb Kilimanjaro is to get your walking boots on and get lots of miles under your belt. Whether this is two to three hours walking locally or full days away on your nearest hills, you just need to clock up lots of hours on your feet as more than anything else it is just walking every day for 7 days that people find tiring. And the best cure for this is to have spent lots of hours just walking.

In addition to walking, we recommend you also start or maintain an aerobic gym routine for at least 3 months before departing for Kilimanjaro. Your aerobic fitness programmer should consist of 3-4 visits to the gym each week and focus on the 3S’s.

Required stamina

The aim here should be to build up your cardiovascular system through a combination of weekly running, cycling and cross trainer gym activities. You should be able to do at least 30 minutes at a strenuous pace on either activity before departing for Kilimanjaro. Energetic spinning, cross-fit, aerobic or zumba classes work well.

Building strength

Doing some basic strength training is important. You should aim to work both upper body muscles and leg muscles. Suggested exercises include Kettle Bell rows, shoulder presses and flies for the upper body and squats and lunges for the legs. Make this strength training exercises part of your aerobic gym routine.

The importance of stretching

Most sports injuries occur due to poor stretching. This is particularly true on mountains where repetitive movements over tough terrain put a lot of stress on joints and muscle. To loosen your muscles and increase suppleness we recommend adopting a regular stretching regime. Spend 10 minutes every morning stretching your main muscle groups.

So get that date with destiny booked, put on your boots and get out there walking!

How many days do I need to Hike Kilimanjaro

The short answer is 5 to 9 days, but that doesn’t really tell you anything.

The key to a successful attempt on the summit of Kilimanjaro is becoming fully acclimatized, and this simply cannot be rushed. Each of our routes has a minimum number of days listed, we highly recommend spending an extra day or more to acclimatize, and get used to exerting yourself at the low temperatures and thin air at these great heights.

Failing to properly acclimatize puts you at a much greater risk of altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS). AMS generally occurs at altitudes above 2400 meters, and has different symptoms in different sufferers. It is often described as being similar to the flu or a hangover, and often includes nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and swelling of the hands and feet. There is no sure way to tell who is vulnerable to AMS before they climb. It is best prevented by taking a long, slow ascent, and by ‘climbing high, sleeping low’ to give your body time to adjust.

Success on Kilimanjaro is linked to the length of climb

T J Tours achieve a success rate on climbs of 7 days or longer in excess of 95% and that is down to our great guides and excellent preparation. Success rates on the short 5 day routes are below 60% on average.

For this reason, we highly recommend taking a minimum of 6 days for the Marangu route and no less than seven days for all other routes.

Another advantage of taking an extra day on many routes, especially the Lemosho, and Machame routes, is that it allows the penultimate, pre-summit climb to be split into two separate, shorter days. You would arrive at the final camp before the summit early in the afternoon, and will be fully rested before setting out in the early hours of the morning to tackle the summit itself.

Many climbers want to minimize the number of days they spend on the mountain, either to save money or because they only have so much time in country and they have other things they want to see and do. Of course, that is your choice, and we will do everything within our power and the limits of safety to meet your demands. Nonetheless, the money you save could end up costing you the experience of a lifetime. Nothing is more expensive than regret.

How to avoid altitude sickness

Altitude sickness, also called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), hypobaropathy and soroche, is an illness caused by exposure to the low air pressure; especially low partial pressure of oxygen, which many climbers experience at high altitudes.

AMS is caused by exerting yourself at high altitudes, especially if you have not been properly acclimatized. It is most common at altitudes above 2400 meters. Kilimanjaro peak is nearly 6000 meters above sea level. At this height, the air pressure (and the amount of oxygen it contains) is less than half that at sea level, and has been said to be comparable to ‘working with only one lung’.

AMS can be serious, especially as it can be debilitating, and it generally occurs far from places where medical treatment can be easily administered.

Not everyone suffers from AMS, of course, and it is very difficult to predict who is or is not vulnerable to it. Generally speaking, a fit person is less vulnerable than an unfit person, because their cardiovascular system can operate at low pressures longer without as much strain. Even so, anyone can be vulnerable at altitudes above 3500 meters, no matter their fitness level, if they have not spent some time getting used to the low atmospheric pressures first.

Undoubtedly the best way to see how you are going to react to high altitude is to go high and try to do some exercises. For most of us that isn’t an option so a good alternative is to have a session with a specialist altitude training company that have equipment that simulates the effects of altitude. In the UK the leading specialist is The Altitude Centre.

Avoiding AMS

  1. Walk high, sleep low. It is best to gradually climb higher each day, and then descend lower to sleep. This lets you gradually become accustomed to lower pressures, and then recover somewhat overnight.
  2. Slow and steady. You need to keep your respiration rate low enough to maintain a normal conversation. If you are panting or breathing hard, you must slow down. Overworking your heart and lungs substantially increases your chance of becoming ill.
  3. Drink much more water than you think you need. Proper hydration helps acclimatization dramatically. You need to drink at least three liters each day. As dehydration presents many of the same symptoms as altitude sickness, your chances of being allowed to continue are best if you stay hydrated.
  4. Diamox. The general consensus of the research is that Diamox is helpful in avoiding AMS. We use it when climbing Kilimanjaro. We recommend you Google Diamox and its effects yourself. It is a prescription drug, and you should consult with your doctor before taking it.

Effects of exposure to low atmospheric pressure

  1. Low oxygen saturation

At high altitudes and low pressures, each breath takes in less oxygen, and transfers less to the blood. Blood with low levels of oxygen is said to be poorly saturated. Having slightly low oxygen saturation can lead to fatigue and feeling breathless. Severe low oxygen saturation can cause impaired mental functions, reduce your decision making ability, and have other dangerous effects. All our guides have pulse-ox meters to check your oxygen saturation daily.

  1. Cerebral oedema

Severely reduced air pressure can cause fluid to collect in the sinuses and air cavities in the skull. Initially it presents as a mild headache, but can eventually cause disorientation, coma and even death. Cerebral oedema can present very suddenly, and is an extremely serious medical issue.

  1. Pulmonary oedema

This is caused by reduced air pressure in the lungs. Fluid sometimes begins to seep from the lung tissues into the air spaces of the lungs, making breathing even more difficult. This often presents like pneumonia, and is most likely to occur during sleep.

How to recognize AMS

AMS does not present as a slow, gradual worsening of lesser altitude-related symptoms like breathlessness or headache. It is in fact generally a rapid, dramatic onset of symptoms that can render a person unable to walk or take care of themselves at all.

Our guides are trained to recognize AMS and apply the appropriate first aid. They will monitor your blood oxygen saturation and evaluate your overall acclimatization, but it is vital that you monitor and report your condition accurately, for everyone’s safety.

Our client descent protocol

If our guides believe you may be in poor health or that allowing you to continue the climb may be dangerous, they will require you to begin your descent immediately. If that decision is made, it will be according to this protocol:

1) Measuring your oxygen saturation

If it is below 80%, then you will be required to submit to another test every half hour, for the next two hours. If your saturation does not rise to at least 75%, you will be required to descend immediately.  If your saturation is at least 75%, you will be allowed to continue subject to close monitoring.  If your condition worsens you must notify your guide immediately, and begin the descent.

2) Evaluation on the Lake Louise Scale

If your score is between 6 and 8 then the guide will consider whether you can continue based on your score, oxygen saturation levels, pulse rate and overall well-being. If you are allowed to continue, you will be monitored closely for the duration of the ascent. If your condition worsens you must notify your guide immediately, and begin the descent. If your Lake Louise Score is higher than 8, you must descend immediately.

How to avoiding malaria on Kilimanjaro

Tanzania is a malaria zone and therefore you will be at risk of contracting the disease. We recommend that you take malaria tablets.

While there are no mosquitoes above 2,000m on the mountain itself, they are present in Moshi, in the safari parks and on Zanzibar. Some of the hotels provide mosquito nets but you are still safer to take the tablets as well.

We recommend consulting your doctor or travel clinic to get advice on the best anti-malarial medication.

In addition to taking anti-malarial medication, we would recommend you take every precaution to prevent mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved trousers and shirts and using a DEET based mosquito repellent.

Insurance I need to climb Kilimanjaro

It will come as no surprise to you that climbing even a well-travelled mountain like Kilimanjaro to a height of nearly 6000 meters is not completely without risk. The good news is that many people climb the mountain every year, and there are ample safety and rescue services in place for your protection. The bad news is that these services are very pricey to use.

Required insurance cover

As a result, T J Tours absolutely requires you to carry the appropriate medical and accident insurance before you can make an ascent with us.

Your insurance must cover helicopter evacuation if it becomes necessary, as well as the costs of repatriation should you miss your scheduled flight due to accident, injury, illness or simple bad luck.

Your insurance must specifically include coverage at altitudes up to 6000 meters before you can attempt to climb the mountain.

Your insurance should also protect against the ‘standard’ travel dangers, including: baggage delay and the loss of personal items; delayed, cancelled or interrupted travel; financial default; loss of employment or layoff; missed connection; pre-existing medical conditions; terrorism; and weather, including hurricanes.

We recommend the global supplier of travel insurance, World Nomads. Make sure to add ‘hiking up to 6,000m’ on check out and be sure to read the small print carefully for any policy you are considering.

Passports and Visas for Tanzania

UK and US travelers will need a passport which will remain valid for at least 6 months longer than your expected visit, and either a valid visa or travel pass. You will also need to present proof that you have a return ticket, and proof that you have sufficient money to support yourself during your stay in Tanzania.

Each traveler is responsible for sorting out their own passport and visa requirements, and we cannot offer much assistance in this matter. If you do not yet have a passport, apply for one early, as they can take some time to arrive. If you already have a passport, double check when it expires.

While Tanzania is a commonwealth country, UK citizens definitely do need a visa to enter. This is also true for citizens of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nigeria and Canada. Visas usually cost in the neighborhood of $50 (around £40), but some visas from the US can cost $100. Tanzanian visas expire three months after they are issued so be careful not to apply too soon.

Visas can be purchased upon arrival at Kilimanjaro international Airport (IATA code: JRO), but you can expect long queues, and for the process to take an extra hour or more. The Tanzanian High Commission has stressed that they have the right to deny visas applied for on arrival. We have never had a report of this happening, but it is a danger best avoided.

For these reasons, we highly recommend that travelers get their visa in advance if at all possible. More information about applying for a Tanzanian visa in the UK can be found here. On the other hand, many US travelers prefer to avoid risking their passports in the mail, and other potential delays, by applying upon arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Where to obtain a Tanzanian visa

  • In Dar Es Salaam: The Office of the Director of Immigration Services
  • In Zanzibar: The Office of the Principal Immigration Officer
  • Abroad: Any Tanzanian Embassy or High Commission
  • Entry points to Tanzania: Any gazetted entry point, including international airports, Zanzibar Airport, the port of Kigoma, Horohoro, Sirari, Tunduma, and Nagama

Please be advised that, whilst we make every effort to provide you with accurate and up-to-date information, travel requirements can change quickly and sometimes without notice. We urge you to double check the visa and passport requirements for your trip, consult with an embassy or consulate, or use a reputable visa agency, such as www.thevisacompany.com.

Vaccinations you will need

We recommend the following vaccinations and medications before travelling to Tanzania. Of course, we strongly advise you to consult with your own GP or a travel clinic near you before travelling. They will have the most up to date and medically accurate information, and should be relied upon over these recommendations.

Strongly Advised Vaccinations

  • Hepatitis A – This dangerous ailment can be spread via contaminated food and water.
  • Tetanus – Tetanus is often present in the soil, and can contaminate open wounds easily. Tetanus vaccine should be used every ten years if travelling.
  • Typhoid – Typhoid can also be spread via contaminated food and water, and poor hygiene.
  • Diphtheria – This potentially fatal disease is spread mainly via sputum, but occasionally through contact with lesions on the skin.
  • Yellow Fever – This can be contracted by being bitten by a contaminated mosquito. This vaccination is not essential if you are arriving directly in Tanzania, but is vital if you plan to arrive through any country that is subject to yellow fever. Simply stopping over at an airport in an affected country should not require vaccination, but leaving the airport even briefly would make it necessary.

Sometimes Advised Vaccinations

  • Hepatitis B – This illness is spread via contact with blood or bodily fluids. It is many, many times more virulent than HIV/AIDS. Some 8% of the populations of Tanzania are believed to carry the virus. This vaccination is advised for anyone who will be travelling to Tanzania to work with children or in healthcare, or anyone prone to cuts or scratches. Also advisable for anyone planning to stay for an extended period.
  • Rabies – Rabies is spread via contact between the saliva of any infected animal and an open wound (including bites, but also licking existing wounds). Rabies is fatal unless treated, and treatment of an unvaccinated rabies patient can be very difficult in many parts of Tanzania. This vaccination is recommended for anyone planning to work with animals while in Tanzania, or anyone planning to visit remote areas or staying for long periods.
  • Tuberculosis – TB is generally contracted through inhaling airborne sputum. Travelers under 16 who plan to stay for long periods should be vaccinated, as should healthcare workers under the age of 35, or anyone visiting family or staying in country for an extended period.
  • Cholera – Cholera is spread via contaminated food and water, and poor hygiene. It is especially dangerous in areas prone to floods and rainy seasons. This vaccination is recommended for health care and emergency relief workers, especially in refugee camps.
  • Measles – This disease is spread through inhaling sputum. Anyone planning to live with, or work closely with the Tanzanian people who has not previously been vaccinated or had measles should be vaccinated.