While on the Climb
Go slowly – “Pole Pole” as they say in Swahili! This is also very important during your first days of climbing. Even if you feel well, slow down and enjoy the scenery. The biggest cause of altitude sickness is ascending too high too fast! The slower you hike to more time you give your body to acclimatise.
Drink enough water
Make sure that you drink at least 3 – 4 litres of liquid a day – preferably water. For your first day it is recommended that you take along fresh water, which may be purchased at the hotel in Moshi before your climb. Try to get the bottles with the screw tops, this way you will also have containers in which to take water further up the mountain. Running water on the mountain is safe to drink from day-2 onwards, but care should still be taken. If you are not used to fresh water in nature, prevent any inconvenience by using water purification tablets. REMEMBER! A functioning “body water balance” is one of the keys to a successful climb!
Walk high – sleep low
If possible and especially on your acclimatisation day “walk high – sleep low” Try to do a short evening stroll to a higher altitude and then descend to sleep at the camp at a lower altitude. This is essential on your acclimatisation day.
Climb as lightly as possible; this becomes even more important on your summit night. Extra weight will slow you down and will also make breathing more difficult. While being physically capable certainly helps, climbing is about mental toughness — not just how physically fit you are or how much you trained.
Remember that you will be on the mountain for at least 5 or 6 days. You need to take enough clothing, especially socks to last for this period. Due to frequent rainfall as well as numerous streams on the routes, it is advisable to pack items individually in your bag. These individually packed items should be wrapped in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet in case of rain or of being accidentally dropped in a stream.
You will require the correct underwear, thermal hiking socks, gloves (preferably mittens), warm head protection, rain coat, sunglasses and sun protection cream. Also remember your hiking boots, hiking/running shoes (it is not necessary to walk with boots or climbers shoes until the last sections where scree and rocks are encountered), and very importantly, a walking stick / ski-pole. One of the most critical items of clothing is an outer jacket. You want it to perform the functions of keeping you warm, protect you at temperatures of as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius, keep the wind out and yet still “breath”. Try to avoid tight fitting clothing or underwear. This will hamper circulation, causing either cold or discomfort on the mountain. A balaclava is a must, as it will protect your face against cold, wind, sun and snow. Other clothing like shorts, sweaters and T-shirts are strongly recommended, especially during hiking on the lower slopes, when the day temperatures are still high. The only way to ensure that you are dressed warmly is to follow the principal of wearing the correct clothing layers, starting from against the body. A common mistake made by climbers is to wear almost everything they have and to start off with cotton against the skin. Cotton absorbs moisture perfectly, and moisture trapped against the skin will result in a definite lowering of the body temperature, which could even lead to hypothermia. It is therefore very important to use proper thermal underwear with “wicking” properties (a fabric which has the ability to draw moisture away from the body) and thus enabling it to evaporate to the outside. The middle layer should provide the insulation and a product like polar fleece will be adequate in this regard. The outer layer should be windproof, waterproof and breathable. Products like Ventex, Goretex or Jeantex offer these properties. Short of altitude and physical exertion, cold is one of the most serious obstacles when attempting to summit Kilimanjaro. After securing your booking with us, you’ll receive a comprehensive document, to guide you through the steps of purchasing the correct gear.
Take a ski – pole
A ski – pole is essential. Use of ski poles reduces external and internal loads on the knee joint by up to 20%. Using 1 ski pole is a must, but 2 poles are recommended. Buy one or hire one but take one.
Replace your head lamp and camera batteries with new ones on your summit night.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
AMS commonly affects people at high altitude, who are not accustomed to high altitude conditions. AMS can be lethal if not treated immediately or if its symptoms are ignored. Probably 70% of all people climbing Kilimanjaro will suffer to some extent from AMS. You should familiarise yourself with this condition and take preventative care.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
There are two ways to prevent altitude-related illness: proper acclimatisation and preventative medicines. These recommendations are written specifically for climbing Mounts Meru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and may not be applicable to other high mountains. But always Summit Odyssey advise our climbers to have a ‘polepole ’pace and drinking plenty of water as the best preventative method to slow down the altitude sickness.
- Tell guide your AMS symptoms and keep him as well as the other group members informed of your progress.
- Climb high and sleep low. It is recommended that you acclimate during the day by climbing to high elevations and then descending to sleep.
- If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness, don’t go higher until symptoms decrease.
- If symptoms become severe, descend.
- Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatisation is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 4-6 liters per day). Urine should be clear.
- Don’t over-exert yourself at altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. Depressants further decrease the rate of respiration during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.
- Eat a high calorie diet of which 70% is carbohydrates.
Diamox (Acetazolamide): Diamox is a drug that allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen. Although gradual ascent is recommended as opposed to Diamox, the drug does help to avert symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Because it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. The recommended dose is between 125 mg and 250 mg twice daily starting one to two days before the trek and continuing for three days once the highest altitude is reached. Possible side effects include tingling of the lips and finger tips, excessive urination, blurring of vision, and alteration of taste. Contact your physician for a prescription. Since Diamox is a sulfonamide drug, people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. Diamox has also been known to cause severe allergic reactions to people with no previous history of Diamox or sulfa allergies. (There are other medications that may be taken to prevent altitude sickness. You must ask your doctor if they are right for you.)
Malaria occurs below 1800 meters and you should use the recommended prophylactics. Please consult your doctor about these. Currently, there are various preventative medication products available which will be effective against the malaria strains currently found in Tanzania. Women using oral contraceptives should consult their physicians before using prophylactics.
Be prepared not to shower for a week. Get used to wet wipe baths.
Bring an iPod, but (in my personal opinion) save your battery for summit night. Music makes the long night climb much easier. Keep it close to your body to use body heat to prevent it from freezing and dying.
Do not carry any water on the outside of your pack on summit night, it will freeze. Protect it with insulation or under clothing.
Bring a camera that fits in your hip pockets of the daypack. You won’t want to stop and dig through the daypack; you want easy access on the go.
Bring a journal and pen. It goes by in a blur and you’ll be grateful you documented your journey.
Diamox is helpful but not mandatory to help combat altitude sickness. I took generic brand and had no symptoms of AMS.