Climbing Kilimanjaro is a lifelong ambition for many, but after sharing our own story with friends and family, it seems the biggest factor that puts people off, it that they believe they are not fit enough to make it to Uhuru Peak.
If you Google “how difficult is it to climb Kilimanjaro” or “is Mount Kilimanjaro hard to climb” you will come up with about 900,000 results with various different answers, yes, no, yes & no, which is not a great deal of help if you are thinking about climbing – but the truth is, there is no simple answer.
Undoubtedly, you need to have a certain level of fitness to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. You will be hiking around seven hours per day carrying a backpack of approximately 4-kilos. The daily hikes vary in steepness and length, but it is all uphill, and when you combine that with chilly nights in a tent (if you take the Machame Route), it’s pretty tough on the body.
However, climbing Kilimanjaro is not technically challenging, you do not need ropes or grips, and we personally found hiking poles to be a hindrance rather than a help, but that, of course, is down to the individual.
The path is mostly a gentle gradient and you walk incredibly slowly, which is why many say to climb Kili you simply need to “put one foot in front of the other”, but you get very high very quickly, and that is what affects the body.
It is altitude rather than fitness that prevents people from reaching Uhuru Peak, and altitude sickness can affect anyone. Drinking plenty of water (at least 3-litres per day), eating as much as possible, and following the slow climbing pace set by your mountain guide is the best way to avoid it, and if you do suffer from mild symptoms such as a headache or nausea, a simple Ibuprofen tablet should have you back to normal in no time.
Ultimately, the best training for Kilimanjaro is hiking – as that is exactly what you are going to be doing for the week. We were in a fortunate position in that we trained in the Austrian Alps, but if you don’t have any high mountains or hills around, a stepper at the gym should do the trick. Leg strength is vital, so we added running and cycling to our training program, and we were so glad we did – you will feel it on day three if you haven’t trained believe me!
All that said climbing Kilimanjaro is nothing that a reasonably fit person shouldn’t be able to do, and as long as you are prepared mentally – you journey to the Roof of Africa will be a successful one!