In terms of high-altitude hikes, Kilimanjaro is often one of the first of the world's major peaks on a climber's list. The reasoning for this is due to the fact that of the highest peaks in the world, Kilimanjaro is considered non-technical, which means extensive mountaineering training and experience is not necessarily required. However, that does not mean that summiting the peak is a cakewalk, or anything even close to it.
With a percentage of only 45-65% of hikers able to summit this 19,341-foot peak, it speaks volumes to how many underestimate its trek. There are a number of factors that contribute to hikers needing to come back in order to complete this full climb, many of which are not properly prepared for. While it might be easier in terms of technical difficulty and skill, it certainly is not the easiest high-altitude climb that there is - here's why.
Climbers Ascend More Than They Realize In A Short Period Of Time
The truth about hiking Kilimanjaro is that the terrain does gradually slope upward, with minimal rock scrambles to reach the summit. This is one of the biggest reasons behind why many believe it's so easy to do - the trail is free of technical climbing tactics.
However, one thing most people don't account for is the sheer ascent footage that's being gained, which works out to a roughly 30 to 40 stretch with an elevation gain of 14,000 feet. A common mistake is made by taking the shorter routes which theoretically will get hikers to the top faster but at the risk of not acclimatizing and getting sent back due to altitude sickness.
High Altitude And Oxygen Levels Are No Joke
Speaking of which, altitude is nothing to play around with. Anyone who's familiar with the statistics of Mount Everest will know that oxygen is sorely lacking the higher one climbs into the atmosphere; any trip to Colorado or another state with high-altitude hikes will confirm this.
Many hikers don't realize the mistake they've made by severely underestimating the ability to acclimate until they're experiencing headaches, nausea, disorientation, and dizziness. It's recommended by awexpeditions.org that climbers take a full week to summit the mountain in order to allow their bodies to adjust to the difference in altitude levels.
Mountaineering Boots Are A Must, Even If Crampons Are Optional
There are some good things about choosing to summit Kilimanjaro as opposed to other high-altitude peaks. Since the hike is not technical, there's no need for any heavy equipment such as crampons, an ice pick or ax, or any extensive warm gear.
While the summit does occasionally see snow, hikers only need to invest in things such as a warm sleeping bag, a good daypack, trekking poles, layers of clothing in the event of rain or cold temperatures, and a good down jacket. Gloves and high-quality mountaineering boots are highly recommended, and this is likely what will take up a chunk of your hiking budget. When hiking with a guide, meals, tents, and porters will be included.
Age And Fitness Levels Have Nothing To Do With Reaching The Summit
The most surprising thing about hiking Kilimanjaro is when a younger adult watches a person twice their age on their way to summit the mountain just before they do. The problem that often arises with hikers who are in top shape and are outwardly physically fit is arrogance.
The high altitude and lack of oxygen toward the top don't care how physically fit a person is; this is why older hikers can often have fewer issues because they have zero problems with taking their time. Patience is the key here; if a hiker can listen to their body and be in tune with what they need, they'll be golden.
Mountain Conditions Are Just As Mentally Challenging As They Are Physically
If Kilimanjaro is a hiker's first high-altitude hike then, chances are, they'll also be dealing with the mental challenges that come with the territory for the first time, too. During the week-long hike, bathrooms are in short supply and if you need to go, you'll likely be running behind a rock (don't count on much foliage for privacy) if there's no outhouse.
Sleeping on the side of the mountain in a tent and a sleeping bag is humbling, and as the altitude gets higher, hikers must find comfort and motivation in the reason they started the hike. Part of summiting a peak such as this is mind over matter, along with good common sense.