What do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?

I admit it. My title is designed to help me show up in search engines.

But it is a good question.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is easier than most people think. It is not technical. It doesn’t involve any mountaineering skills, and in fact, novice hikers can likely handle it. All it takes is moderate fitness, the right preparation, and – excuse the cliche – a will to do it.

Which company?

I’m going to skip over the gear because plenty of sites offer lists of stuff (though I will mention one thing – bring hiking poles). I want to address what I think is the real first step in summiting Kilimanjaro: the tour company. There are a lot out there and it can be quite time-consuming finding the right one. So let me save you some time:

Book with Zara Tours.

One of my chief concerns was finding an American-based company. I wanted to make sure that I was sending my money off to a reputable source. Of course, being American doesn’t make a company trustworthy, but I figured it was better than a foreign company based in a country I had never visited. As it turns out, though, I had sent my money off to a middle man. He was nice enough, if somewhat difficult to contact over the phone, but I didn’t really need him. He just set up my trip through Zara Tours, a company based in Tanzania, naturally charging me more than if I cut him out of the picture.

Which route?

Again, I’m not going to list out detailed descriptions of things that can be found in a million other places, but I will recommend the route I took: Lemosho. I’m sure the others are fine, but it depends on the person. Personally, I didn’t want to sleep in a hut. The reason? A lot of other people do want to sleep in them. That makes for a messier, more crowded campground. Not that any route isn’t going to be crowded during high season, but I prefer a relatively quieter area. Lemosho provided that, especially since it is tent-only.

Here are some campgrounds. This first one is one where I actually stayed:

If I recall, more groups eventually did show up, but it was still pretty quiet. Higher up, however, it gets more crowded because several of the routes converge:

I actually stayed at a site about 30 minutes from here (Shira 2, maybe?), but this is pretty representative. Continue further and it gets more and more crowded. It never got overwhelming, but do expect to see some people up there.

When?

Plenty of sites list out climate information, so I’m not going to knock out a list myself. But for my experience, my trip was from the tail end of August into September, which was dry. In fact, I experienced 15 minutes of drizzle the whole time, and that was only because I was in a cloud. (It also snowed a couple of inches at the final camp before summit, but I’m told it was rather unusual for that time; besides, it happened at night.)

I would recommend to obviously go during the dry season. The mountain is still accessible in the wet season, but scheduling will be more restricted and a successful climb may not be in the cards. Also, many people like to go during a full moon. I personally wanted a new moon so I could see the stars more intensely (plus there would be fewer people). As it turned out, I had a long night filled with amazing stars, later giving way to a yellow quarter moon, capped with the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. On this one it’s to each his own, but I don’t think disappointment is possible with any choice.

Money?

The Zara link above will list out how much it costs for the climb, which may change at any given time. I personally paid about $1850 with the middle man. That isn’t the rock bottom price, but it is somewhat on the lower end, and the guides and porters were fantastic. What I wish I had have done, given my half-day or so ride from the frickin’ Serengeti, was spring the extra few bucks (okay, a lot bucks) for a safari. Don’t be overly concerned with money. I plan on revisiting Africa at some point, so a safari will happen for me, but my Tanzania trip could just as easily be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It would have been worth it to go all-out.

Also be sure to budget cash for the loose ends. I was short on cash because, duh, Tanzania doesn’t much like debit or credit cards. The visa, which can easily be had immediately after landing, was $100 (cash only). I also had to buy some meals and (of course) beer at the hotel (cash only). They weren’t expensive by any means, but it is a cost. For the tips for the guides and porters (cash only) I had to use an ATM in Moshi. It was a disconcerting experience to put my card in a machine so far from home, to say the least. I believe I only gave them around $200, but the average is probably more like $250. (And given the incredible people I had, I wish I had have withdrawn more.) Don’t worry about how to dole everything out; I know a lot of sites make a big deal out of it, but all the money just goes to the head guide. Clean and simple.

Why?

Because it is there.

I’ve barely scratched the surface for the sort of questions people have, so feel free to ask in the comment section: you will get an answer.

Kilimanjaro Hike 2010

One of the members of my Kilimanjaro group took some video of the trip and edited a few things together for YouTube. With his permission (which I figured I’d get since the video isn’t available in a public search) I present it to you. (In case you think I’m worth trying to see, I don’t make much of an appearance.)