How to Prepare for Your Kilimanjaro Trek

Mount Kilimanjaro! The name of this awe-inspiring summit is by itself enough to send shivers of excitement (as well as terror) down one’s spine. And, hiking up 19,340 feet to reach the topmost point of Mt. Kilimanjaro is every hiker’s dream come true.

But as much as hiking up this great mountain sounds daunting, with good preparation, planning, training, and physical conditioning, you can successfully get to the top and enjoy one of the most breathtaking experiences in the world.

Your training to climb Kilimanjaro is not only about physical fortitude but building your mental stamina too. You need to be physically fit, as you need the endurance to withstand around 5-10 miles of trekking every day, for around 5-9 days depending on the route you decide to take.

Fitness Level Required for the Climb

The climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro is pretty strenuous. The altitude makes it quite a challenge for even those who are extremely fit. To succeed in your trek up to the summit, you must be fit enough to meet the varied demands of the terrain and the climb.

So, it is a good idea to follow a fitness routine that will prepare you for the challenges of the climb, which is a mix of building stamina for walking all day, endurance for walking uphill carrying a heavy load and core, upper body and lower body strengthening.

However, before you embark on your fitness regime it is a good idea to consult your doctor to check you are medically fit to undertake both the climb, as well as the training for the climb.

Image: Shutterstock

Training for Your Kilimanjaro Climb

Since the trek up Kilimanjaro is just a very long hike, there is no need for you to undergo strenuous training like a professional mountaineer. Nevertheless, the rapid gradient of the mountain makes the climb much tougher than it really seems.

Training for Kilimanjaro is not all about speed or strength. It is about learning how to handle the low oxygen levels at a high altitude. This, in combination with intensive resistance and strength training, can take you a long way in your preparation for the ‘Kili’.

Image: Shutterstock

Aerobic Training

Aerobic exercises mostly involve light-to-moderately intensive activities such as walking or jogging long distances, cycling and swimming. Anything that gets your heart beating fast and your lungs working hard.

Essentially, you need to build a strong heart so that the body is able to meet the energy requirements at such a high altitude.

Typically, your preparation for the trek should involve around 6-12kms of walking or running in a day for 3 days a week for at least 3-6 months before the climb. You could do this on your gym treadmill by setting a constant pace and varying the slope on steeper and easier inclines, or by getting out into nature near you. 

Image: Shutterstock

Alternatively, you can workout for 60-90-minutes on a StairMaster 3 times a week, or follow a vigorous cycling routine. If you are fairly fit and already have a regular cardio routine, then maintain your exercise regime until one month before the climb. Then increase the duration of your exercise while keeping the intensity the same.

Strength Training

Apart from your aerobic exercise routine, you should take up strength training to strengthen your core, upper body and legs.  As you will be carrying a significant load on your back when climbing, it is essential to build your muscles to cope with it.

You can follow an exercise routine with the following exercises for 3 days of the week, alternated by cardio on the other 3 days.

To Strengthen Your Legs

  •       Squats
  •       Lunges
  •       Front and reverse leg curls
  •       Leg extensions
  •       Leg presses
  •       Calf raises and toe pulls
  •       Step aerobics

Image: Shutterstock

To Strengthen Your Back, Shoulders and Core

  •       Shoulder presses
  •       Sit-ups
  •       Kettlebell swings and rows
  •       Shoulder and back flies
  •       Plank
  •       Crunches
  •       Lower back extensions

Endurance Training

Apart from your regular aerobic and strength training sessions, to actually be able to hike the long distance can be grueling. So, to your gym sessions, you must include walking and trekking routines too.

Attempt to take up 5-6-hour treks and cover locations that will take you uphill, as well as downhill for at least 3 days at a stretch. You must follow this routine in the final stages of your preparation for your Kilimanjaro climb.

Glen Coe, Scotland. Image: Shutterstock

Benefits of Undertaking Practice Hikes

  •       You can experience how hiking on a difficult terrain feels, especially going down can be very hard on your joints and knees.
  •       You can wear in your boots, as unworn boots can give you sore feet and blisters.

Practice Breathing Techniques

You can practice breathing techniques that will allow you to slow down the rate of oxygen consumption and increase the rate of carbon dioxide expulsion.

To prepare for a low-oxygen environment, you can try yoga breathing techniques. Meditation can also be very helpful for breath control and also give you mental strength to get you through the ‘I want to quit’ moments.

Mental Stamina

The other vital aspect of climbing Kilimanjaro apart from physical strength is mental stamina. At times, you may feel that the trek is draining you out and you may want to give up and return. The important thing is to stay put, delve into your mental reserves and power on.

Just as you can train your body physically, mental training is also possible. Being prepared mentally is crucial to the success of your climb. A positive attitude is a must!

Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro

Most people who set out to climb Kilimanjaro give up before reaching the summit due to altitude sickness. The key to reaching the top is coping with the altitude and handling the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness usually occurs when you reach an altitude of 2,400 meters or 8,000 feet above sea level, where the air is thinner and it’s harder for your body to get the oxygen it needs. Mount Kilimanjaro is at an altitude of 5,895 meters and while climbing, you will begin to experience some symptoms of altitude sickness at around 3,000 meters.

The main reason why climbers suffer from altitude sickness is that they attempt to climb too high, to fast without proper acclimatization. This should be completely avoided and the key to preventing altitude sickness is to take your time in climbing so that your body gets adjusted to the pressure at the higher altitude.

The body can only tolerate around 300mts or 1000ft or altitude gain in a day and anything more can cause altitude sickness.

Avoid altitude sickness by taking your ascent easy. Image: Shutterstock

Types of Altitude Sickness

Essentially, there are three types of altitude sickness:

  •       Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS, which is the most common form of sickness when climbing.
  •       High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE, which causes fluid build-up in the lungs.
  •       High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is the fluid build-up in the brain.

When climbing, you may experience a few other symptoms such as breathing faster, getting out of breath very quickly, waking up frequently in the night, and periodic breathing in the night, where you may stop breathing for around 15 seconds and then breathe very quickly to make up for it. All these symptoms are quite normal and there is nothing to worry about, and are not associated with altitude sickness.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

AMS

Shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness and sleeplessness are some common temporary symptoms of AMS that go quickly by taking it easy or hiking lower. In rare cases symptoms can become worse and causes damage to the lungs and/or the brain.

HAPE

The symptoms of HAPE are severe breathlessness even when you are resting, coughing accompanied by pink froth, blue fingernails or lips and rattling breath.

HACE

Symptoms of HACE include lack of coordination, confusion, irrational behaviour and inability to walk in a straight line.

Dangers of Altitude Sickness

The symptoms of AMS are usually short-lived and not dangerous. However, if you experience the symptoms continuously, you must monitor them, as they can turn serious.

HAPE and HACE can be fatal. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to HAPE or HACE, you must descend immediately. However, these conditions are quite rare and if your climb is well-planned and you follow a sensible climbing routine, these problems can be avoided.

Mount Kilimanjaro. Image: Shutterstock

Treatment for AMS

Despite following all the preventive measures, if you still have altitude sickness, then some steps to treat it are:

  •       If you experience AMS symptoms, stop and rest for a while. It may be a good idea to give a 24 hours rest to your body to acclimatize it to the altitude.
  •       If the symptoms worsen even after resting, then descend to a lower level.
  •       You can take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to alleviate the symptoms.
  •       Reduce all activity and give your body time to heal.
  •       Keep yourself hydrated at all times, as water from the body is lost due to perspiration and urination, and dehydration can make the AMS symptoms worse.
  •       Do not smoke and drink alcohol, as smoking will affect your breathing, while alcohol will worsen the dehydration.
  •       If the symptoms are not better even after 2-3 days of rest, then do not proceed further and it is a good idea to call the trek off.
  •       If the symptoms do not reduce or become worse even after you are back on level ground, then see a doctor immediately.

Kili’s Summit. Image: Shutterstock

Irrespective of how old you are or what your physical condition is, with proper preparation, training and determination, you can definitely make it to the top of the Kili. The key to a successful climb is to take it “pole, pole” or “slow, slow” in Swahili, and you will be all set to conquer the Roof of Africa.  

This post was brought to you in collaboration with mojhi.com,

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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

Comments 2

  1. Kilimanjaro climbers summit guides

    It is great travel article for mountaineering skills, it helps people to prepare and climb Mount Kilimanjaro successful especially for first time climbers. Kilimanjaro trekking beginners can read more from Kilimanjaro Climb Summiting Co.Ltd in Tanzania.

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