Climbing Kili is one of Africa’s biggest challenges.... quite literally. At 5895 metres tall, it is the largest freestanding mountain in the world, and reaching the summit to watch the sunrise over Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the Rift Valley and the Maasai Steppe, is the highlight of many of our student’s Tanzanian travels.
"There's no better feeling than standing on the roof of africa - That's what I learnt on my travels this summer. Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I have achieved. Looking back I have memories of exhaustion and pain, but those memories are distant and overwhelmed by the realisation that with determination and team spirit you can achieve anything you set your mind to, and of course the most beautiful sunrise in the world is not easily forgotten - what a reward for reaching the top. I would wholly recommend the climb for anyone who wants to push their own boundaries, brush up on their swahili, and make memories that will impact on your outlook on life forever." Sarah (Dentistry student, Arusha)
Born from a volcano eruption about one million years ago, Kilimanjaro is one of the highest peaks you can climb without specialist training or equipment. It is no walk in the park though. Most hikes take several days, taking you through five different vegetation zones - rainforest, open grassland, semi-desert and alpine, before you scale past ice cliffs and glaciers to the crater rim. You need to have a good level of fitness to attempt such a challenge.
There are several routes that you can take, the main ones being the Marangu and Machame. The Marangu route is the shortest at 5 days and offers solar powered hut accommodation with foam mattresses. It is the most tourist-friendly - you can even buy chocolate and coca cola en-route! The Machame and lesser known treks such as the Umbwe, Rongai, Shira and Lemosho routes offer a more challenging, remote climb over a longer period (6 plus days). There are no huts, so you will stay in overnight camps, and porters are available to carry your camp kit. All this can be arranged from Arusha and we can give you plenty of advice on how to book the right trek for you.
Whichever route you take, the scenery is stunning. As you ascend you can expect to trek through coffee, banana, cassava and maize crops, before reaching thick lowland forest that thins out into beautiful alpine meadows filled with wild flowers and birdlife as the air thins. As you rise you will look down on and glaciers, lava ridges, towering rock spires and sheltered valleys. Finally you will climb the last section of volcanic scree to reach the crater edge – a climb that will literally take your breath away!
At such dizzy heights it is not uncommon for people to experience altitude sickness. Taking the trek slowly will help you acclimatise, but unfortunately some people are more prone to the effects than others. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, rapid pulse and insomnia – not very enjoyable for sufferers – and the best advice is always to drop in height. Often descending just 500m can make you feel vastly better. A trained guide will be able to help you with symptoms and give you advice on whether you should continue descending / ascending. This expertise, along with the need to limit to numbers of tourists climbing Kilimanjaro, is one of the many reasons why the national park has ruled that everyone can now only trek with a certified guide booked via an authority approved agency.
Despite the threat of altitude sickness and the difficult last climb to the summit, there is no doubt that climbing Kilimanjaro is worth it.
"Best bits... the team, they were fantastic, we wouldn't have reached the top without them, and they taught us so much swahili! Also, the shower at the end!
Not so good....Bad tummy. Yuck. Think it might have been from the diamox rather than the altitiude but we'll never know! It was also really cold. I think I've somewhat blocked out the feeling of how cold it was, all I remember is the pain in my poor toes! Somehow when I got to Stella Point and realised I was nearly there the adrenaline kicked in and I warmed up. No toes lost!" Claire (Dentistry student, Arusha)
Students interested in climbing Kilimanjaro should speak to staff at the Work the World house, who can ensure you book your trip with a reputable agent in Arusha.You can also post a message on the noticeboard in the house, or on our Tanzania Facebook page.
For more information on Kilimanjaro, check out the Tanzania Tourist Board.