Do I need to train for Kilimanjaro?
If you’ve been thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro you will no doubt be asking yourself this question.
Do you really need training to take on the most popular destination of high-altitude trekkers and the highest mountain in Africa? You’ve heard Kilimanjaro is the easiest of the highest mountains to summit, so you should be able to strap your boots on and beat in no problem… right?
Whether you’re a hardened hiker and fell basher, or you’ve never hiked before and decided to take on the challenge over a couple of beers in the pub, here are four very good reasons why not training might not be the best idea:
Reason 1: Kilimanjaro is a proper mountain
Climbing a mountain like Kilimanjaro is not an undertaking that should be taken lightly. Even though you’re looking at well-established trails and the majority of your gear will be carried by porters, you’re still looking at a long and steady trek uphill (a long way uphill: Kilimanjaro’s elevation is 5895 metres) and back down again. If you attempt to take on a trek of this nature without preparing from it your knees (and other joints) aren’t likely to thank you for it; neither are your lungs or heart. The reality is that you can’t go directly from pub to peak without getting at least some decent trekking experience first; if the tiredness didn’t finish you off in the first couple of days on Kilimanjaro, the blisters might. And no, you won’t find the African equivalent of the country pub halfway up so you can nip off for a quick ‘refresher’.
Reason 2: The higher you go, the thinner the air gets
High-altitude trekking. The clue’s in the name there, really. As you climb higher, the oxygen content in the air you’re breathing reduces. If you’re someone who gets wheezy by the time you’ve summited a three-rung step ladder then you’d be asking for serious trouble by trying to climb Kilimanjaro without training. You see, it’s all about altitude sickness (sometimes called Acute Mountain Sickness
or AMS) and how well you can cope with it. Regular exercise and training will help to improve your respiratory and cardiovascular performance – these will help your body to cope with depleted oxygen levels. Standing at the top of Blackpool Tower (elevation: 158 metres), sadly, will not. In the UK, at least, you’re better off trying to get some decent hill walking or mountain trekking in for a few months before your trip to Tanzania.
Staff at Kandoo Adventures who’ve taken on Kilimanjaro
used Skiddaw in the Lake District as a regular training ground for example.
Even then, you’ll still want to spend a few days getting used to a higher altitude before you begin exerting yourself on Mount Kilimanjaro. If you enjoy an occasional ski or snowboard trip to the Alps then you are more likely to adapt to high altitude well.
The chart below gives you a better idea of what the oxygen levels are like the higher you get.
Reason 3: You really, really don’t want altitude sickness
Being in good health should be one of your priorities for attempting a high-altitude trek such as the ascent of Kilimanjaro. Think about it. You don’t want to start this adventure of a lifetime feeling a bit rough, only to feel progressively worse as you climb higher and your body begins to respond to reduced oxygen.
Altitude sickness affects everyone differently, but common symptoms include headache or dizziness, shortness of breath and muscle tiredness. Best case, you should be able to manage these symptoms with everyday painkillers and they should settle down as your body grows more accustomed to the altitude. But if you begin to feel even rougher, start throwing up or hallucinating or experience any other kind of severe symptom it’s time to call it quits and head back down the mountain. If you try to carry on with the trek you could be toast. The point is; put in a bit of training and preparation beforehand, look after yourself properly on the climb, and you can spare yourself – and everyone else who’s trekking with you – a whole lot of heartache.
Reason 4: You need to be mentally prepared too
Even if you’ve got yourself physically fit, increased your lung and heart capacity, laid off the booze and the late nights for a few months and acclimatised to high altitude, you’ll need to be mentally prepared for the challenge too. The ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb – so you can ditch the ropes, harnesses and helmets – but you will need stamina, determination and positivity; don’t underestimate how big an impact your state of mind will have on your success at reaching the summit.
There are several techniques that can be used to prepare your mind for a high-altitude trek. Firstly, do everything you can to establish the safety of what you’re doing. Trekking with a professional outfit whose priority is the safety of their guests (like, for instance Kandoo Adventures) means you’re less likely to end up a gibbering nervous wreck if things get a little tricky.
As you’re climbing, don’t let your mind wander or fret about what might happen; live in the moment and focus on enjoying where you are and what you’re doing right now. If you feel that you’re tiring, set yourself mini-goals that are easy to achieve; you can make it that next ridge 500 metres away, and when you do you can reward yourself with a five-minute stop to admire the view. Again, you can start practicing all of these little mind-training techniques – and maybe bung in a bit of basic meditation too – long before you set foot in Tanzania.
So to conclude, depending on your current level of fitness, you are certainly going to need some training to take on Kilimanjaro. You do not have to be Usain Bolt fit, but as long as you’re moderately fit, healthy and prepared you can climb Kilimanjaro without doing yourself a mischief. And, of course, the rewards – trip to Africa, fabulous scenery, unforgettable trekking experience, brilliant sense of achievement – pay back the preparation in spades.