The decision to climb Kilimanjaro is one that is often made impulsively and without adequate preparation for the climbing conditions. Climbers are frequently unaccustomed to the challenges of spending prolonged periods trekking and living at altitude.
Here are some simple, but essential training tips that will enhance your preparation for that week on the mountain.
1. Aim to be fit – your trekking experience will be enhanced if you feel confident that your fitness level will match, or better, surpass the challenge. You will have 7 or 8 days of walking at altitudes that are unfamiliar to most trekkers so cardiovascular fitness should be a priority. The better your body is at extracting oxygen from the blood, the better you will fare at altitude. Perhaps a good time to kick the smoking habit.
2.Train with your trekking kit – while this makes sense, we all know it won’t happen. But try to include some long hikes with a heavy backpack into your training routine. Consider trekking with poles if your legs aren’t as strong as you would like them to be. Poles can reduce strain on the joints and spine, particularly on steep descents. They also help to balance on uneven terrain, reducing the chance of ankle injuries. And if you’re using them for the first time, practice until they feel comfortable and natural. Adjust the length so that the hands are lower than the elbows and you are able to lean on them when you need to.
3. Get comfortable in your boots – if you buy new boots for the trek, make sure you wear them for several weeks (and many miles) before your trek. They will need time to conform to the shape of your feet and if they haven’t done this before you spend seven hours a day in them, there is a good chance you will develop blisters.
Once you’re comfortable, spend time on your feet. Your goal is to be able to walk 70-75 km at a consistent, average gradient of 5% over the period of a week. Some days will be undulating at high altitude, but the summit day will see you trekking an average gradient of 18%.
4. Practice working in a confined space – You will live in a (possibly shared) tent for a week, changing into and out of your trekking gear, getting into and out of your sleeping bag. This all requires strength and energy which all but disappears at altitude. It may seem excessive, but practicing your tent routine at sea level will make it much easier to execute at 4500m.
5. Work on your mental stamina – this is the most frequently overlooked element of preparation. After several days of headaches, nausea and fatigue, come summit day, you are still expected to wake up before midnight and trek up to 17 hours to the top and back down to the overnight camp. The body will hurt and the altitude won’t help and this is where mental strength is the key to keeping you on your feet.
Remember that you’re not there to suffer through it. Your Kilimanjaro trek should be unforgettable in a good way! The over-riding feedback we hear from trekkers is that the experience was life-changing in some way. We see strong friendships forged through mutual excitement, discomfort and ultimately, triumph. Don’t compromise that by not being ready for it.