How Hard Is It To Climb Kilimanjaro? (My Experience)

Tristan Balme How hard is it to climb kilimanjaro my experience on the mountain

I recently had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet (5,895m). It was an unforgettable experience that challenged me physically and mentally.

Kilimanjaro is one of the easiest circa 6,000m mountains to climb in the world, but that does not mean it’s an easy feat with an average success rate of only 65% across all climbers and routes. On one hand, climbers need no special expertise or mountaineering skills and the routes and camps are well-formed. However, you’ll be on the mountain for 7-9 days on average, exposed to harsh conditions and dangerously high altitudes.

In this blog post, I’ll share my personal account of climbing Kilimanjaro, and how hard it really is, along with some useful information and tips for anyone considering taking on this incredible feat.

A Brief History of Kilimanjaro

Before diving in, let’s take a look at the history of Kilimanjaro.

The mountain is a dormant volcano that is located in Tanzania, East Africa. It is made up of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. The first recorded ascent of Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German geographer named Hans Meyer, along with Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller. Since then, Kilimanjaro has become a popular destination for climbers from around the world, with tens of thousands of people attempting to summit the mountain each year.

Kilimanjaro Hiking Difficulty

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not an easy feat. It requires a significant amount of physical and mental preparation, as well as a good understanding of the challenges you will face along the way.

With a success rate of only 65%, it’s sometimes categorized as a difficult mountain to climb. (The success rate of Everest is currently 60%!), but you need to understand this data is skewed by the sheer number of inexperienced hikers attempting the climb.

My Take: If you do plenty of multiday hiking in your home country, you’ll have no trouble with the physicality of climbing Kilimanjaro. The terrain and gradient is very mild, and your guides and porters will carry most of your gear. However, the altitude may still get you (or even the fittest hikers). This is largely a factor of genetics and your acclimation process so considered booking a longer route and taking Diamox before you leave.

That being said, there are plenty of other factors that will contribute to the difficulty of your trip. Here are 11 considerations to keep in mind when planning your Kilimanjaro hike:

Difficulty FactorDescription
AltitudeClimbers must deal with the effects of high altitude, which can lead to altitude sickness
TimeIt takes over a week to reach the summit
RouteThere are several routes of varying difficulty
Group vs. SoloIt is easier (and more fun) to climb with a group
Physical FitnessClimbers need to be in good physical shape and train for the terrain
TemperatureTemperatures can be extreme, ranging from hot during the day to well below freezing at night
SnowClimbers will encounter snow and ice on the final ascent
GearProper gear is essential
CampingClimbers stay in tents at designated campsites. There are no huts apart from on Marangu Route.
SafetyClimbing Kilimanjaro is not without its risks and the health and safety precautions are a little rough to say the least
RescueGetting rescued can be challenging due to the remote location and difficult terrain

1. How Altitude Affects Your Body

One of the biggest challenges of climbing Kilimanjaro is dealing with the effects of high altitude. As you climb higher, the air pressure decreases and the air becomes thinner, making it harder for your body to get the oxygen it needs. This can lead to a number of altitude-related illnesses, including altitude sickness, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. To avoid altitude sickness, it’s important to acclimatize properly by taking your time and allowing your body to adjust to the altitude.

2. It Takes Over A Week To Reach The Summit

Unlike many other mountains, Kilimanjaro can be climbed relatively quickly. However, it’s important to give yourself enough time to properly acclimatize and adjust to the altitude. Most climbers take between 6 and 8 days to reach the summit, depending on the route they take.

3. The Different Climbing Routes and Difficulty Levels

There are several routes that can be taken when climbing Kilimanjaro, each with its own level of difficulty. The most popular routes are the Marangu, Machame, and Lemosho routes. The Marangu route is the easiest and most direct, while the Machame and Lemosho routes are more challenging but also more scenic.

Read More: This guide discusses the differences between each route and which one might be best for you.

Tristan Balme trail of porters making their way up kilimanjaro

4. Climbing As A Group vs. Climbing Solo

When deciding whether to climb Kilimanjaro as a group or solo, it is generally recommended to climb with a group. Climbing with a group provides several benefits, including support and motivation, access to experienced guides and porters, and safety in numbers. Climbing with a group also helps to mitigate some of the risks associated with climbing Kilimanjaro, such as altitude sickness and falls. However, climbing with a group also requires compromise and coordination, and it can be more expensive than climbing solo. Climbing solo, on the other hand, provides more flexibility and independence, as well as the opportunity for a more personal and introspective experience. However, climbing solo requires a higher level of self-sufficiency and preparation, as well as the ability to make quick decisions in case of an emergency. Ultimately, the decision to climb Kilimanjaro as a group or solo depends on personal preference, experience, and comfort level.

Tristan Balme Group of hikers at the top of kilimanjaro

5. You Need To Train for the Terrain

Climbing Kilimanjaro requires a significant amount of physical fitness, as well as training for the specific terrain you will encounter. This includes hiking on steep and rocky terrain, as well as walking on loose scree and snow.

6. It’s Hot During The Day and Cold At Night

The temperature on Kilimanjaro can vary greatly depending on the time of day and the altitude. During the day, temperatures can reach up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while at night they can drop to well below freezing.

7. There’s Snow At The Summit

Yes, there is snow at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Despite its location near the equator, Kilimanjaro is capped with snow and glaciers. Climbers will encounter snow and ice on the final ascent to the summit. It is important to have the right gear, such as warm clothing, a waterproof jacket, and a sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temperatures, to protect against the cold and snow. It is also important to be aware of the risks of climbing in snow and ice, such as slipping and falling and to take appropriate safety precautions. Overall, the presence of snow at the summit adds to the challenge and beauty of climbing Kilimanjaro, but it is important to be prepared for the conditions.

Snow at the summit of kilimanjaro

8. You need the right gear

Proper gear is essential when climbing Kilimanjaro. This includes warm clothing, good-quality hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, and a sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temperatures.

Read More: Read this article where I share my ultimate Kilimanjaro packing list.

9. The Camping Situation

Camping on Kilimanjaro is an essential part of the climb, as climbers will spend several days on the mountain.

On all routes (apart from Marangu Route) climbers stay in tents at designated campsites, which are set up and taken down by porters.

The higher campsites can be quite cold, so it’s important to have a warm sleeping bag and clothing.

You’ll be sleeping on a foam squab on the ground, which can be pretty uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.

The Toilets are long drop style, but without the western comforts (i.e. you’ll be squatting over a hole in the floor).

Food will be cooked by the chef you hire as part of your trekking crew. They pump out some amazing fare given the conditions, but still, it’s camp food and each company’s menu (and food budget) will differ.

Overall, camping on Kilimanjaro is a unique and challenging experience, but with the right preparation and gear, it can be a rewarding part of the climb.

Tristan Balme The campsites on kilimanjaro climb

10. The Are Some Real Safety Concerns

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not without its risks. There have been a number of fatalities on the mountain over the years, mostly due to altitude sickness and falls. It’s important to take safety seriously and to follow the advice of experienced guides.

Our friends at Foot Slopes Tours wrote this great guide on who should NOT climb Kilimanjaro

11. Getting Rescued On The Mountain Is Not Easy

If an emergency occurs during a Kilimanjaro climb, getting rescued can be a significant challenge. Due to the mountain’s remote location and challenging terrain, rescue operations can be slow and difficult. In addition, the high altitude can make it challenging for rescue teams to operate effectively. It’s important to take safety seriously and to follow the advice of experienced guides to minimize the risk of an emergency. Climbers should also be prepared to deal with emergencies themselves, including carrying appropriate safety equipment and knowing how to use it. With proper preparation and safety precautions, climbers can minimize the risk of an emergency and enjoy a safe and rewarding climb up Kilimanjaro.

Is it Really Difficult to Climb Kilimanjaro?

So, is it really difficult to climb Kilimanjaro? The answer is yes, it is a challenging climb that requires physical fitness, mental toughness, and a good understanding of the challenges you will face. However, with proper preparation and a good support team, it is definitely achievable for the average person.

Tristan Balme Do You Need Diamox To Climb Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro – FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about climbing Kilimanjaro:

Q1. Can an average person climb Kilimanjaro?

Yes, with proper preparation and a good support team, the average person can climb Kilimanjaro.

Q2. Can a beginner climb Kilimanjaro?

It’s not recommended for a complete beginner to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. You should have some experience with hiking and outdoor activities before attempting the climb.

Q3. What is the success rate of climbing Kilimanjaro?

The average success rate for climbing Kilimanjaro is around 60-65%. This varies depending on the route taken and the level of experience of the climbers.

Q4. Is Kilimanjaro harder to climb than Everest?

While Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, it is not considered to be as difficult to climb as Everest. Everest requires a much higher level of technical skill and experience.

Q5. What is the death rate of Kilimanjaro?

The exact death rate for Kilimanjaro is difficult to determine, but it is estimated to be around 1 in 1,000 climbers.

Q6. Can you climb Kilimanjaro without oxygen?

It’s important to note that climbing Kilimanjaro is not without risks. There have been a number of fatalities on the mountain over the years, mostly due to altitude sickness and falls. However, with proper preparation, safety precautions, and a good support team, these risks can be minimized. It’s also important to remember that climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenging feat that requires physical and mental preparation, as well as a good understanding of the challenges you will face. Despite these challenges, climbing Kilimanjaro can be an incredibly rewarding experience that you will never forget.

Conclusion

Climbing Kilimanjaro is an incredible experience that requires a significant amount of preparation and hard work. However, with the right support team and a good understanding of the challenges you will face, it is definitely achievable for the average person. If you are considering climbing Kilimanjaro, I highly recommend it – it is an unforgettable experience that you will never forget.

Kilimanjaro Travel Planning Cheatsheet

 

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Tanzania?

100% YES! — Tanzania has now introduceed “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover high altitude hiking as it's a high risk activity!

(that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for high altitude hiking UP TO 6000m (Which most travel insurance companies don't offer!)

🎫 Do I need a visa for Tanzania?

Probably not — Tanzania now provide a visa on arrival (VoA) for most western countires which allows you stay for up to 90 days. However, some other countries do need a pre-approved eVisa (check here!). VoAs cost $50 USD for a single entry - Note, US Citizens are required to get a Multi-Entry visa which costs $100 USD. (View visa prices here)

If transiting through Kenya (a lot of people fly via Nairobi), you'll need a Kenyan visa too. Visa's cost $20 for a 3 day transit visa and $50 for a toursit visa

(By the way, on both my interactions with the imigration officers in kenya they tried to scam me, so know what your obliged to pay and BRING THE EXACT CASH for the visa!)

💉Do I need any vaccinations for Tanzania?

YES! Make sure you are up-to-date with all your vaccines. Common travel vaccines include Hep A/B + Typhoid, and Diphtheria + Tetanus.

A yellow fever vaccination isn't a requirment to visit Kilimanjaro but is for neighbouring areas in East Africa. In reality, you will might not be allowed back into your home country on your return (I was asked for proof of vaccination upon returning to Australia) so getting this jab prior made for good peace of mind. 

Rabies is an issue in Tanzania but the vaccine is expensive and ineffective as a preventative measure (it only lasts a few years and you'll need to get them again if you require treatment). If bitten by a stray dog seek immediate medical attention!

As always, talk to your GP or specialised travel doctor a few weeks BEFORE you leave.

🏩 What’s the best Kilimanjaro Tour operators?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Tanzania?

Cash is king in Tanzania, so you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. Larger businesses and hotels will take Debit / Credit Card but most resturants, and street vendors want cash. I even had to pay for my Kili trip in cash!

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all the Tanzanian ATMs I tried. 

🚌 What's the public transport like in Tanzania?

There is a good basic network of local and inter-city busses in Tanzania and travel this way is very cheap. Domestic flight are also very affordable and a far more comfortable option. Checkout Busbora for booking bus tickets online.

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Tanzania and on the mountain?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is prepaid SIM cards are cheap and availible to tourists and locals alike (You don't need a pricey tourst SIM!)

Your cheapest option is buying a physical sim card on the street corner once landed and getting the shop assistant to help you set it up. I went with Vodacom and had generally good coverage, even up on Kili!

Another option if you're visiting other African countries is the Airalo eSIM. This is a little more expensive but gives you connectivity across 14 neighbouring African Countries and connectivity the moment you step off the plane!

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Tanzania?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water in Tanzania?

Safest not to — tap water in Tanzania may be OK (the locals drink it) but is generally untreated and not reccommended for tourists. Purchase bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing.

🏔️💧Can you drink the water on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Yes — Your tour company with ensure the water provided to you is safe to drink by either carrying in bottled water, or by treating stream water with purification tablets or by boiling it. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I'd also recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

 

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