Climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenge, but it is not a technical mountain climb...
The best way to prepare physically for the climb is to make regular hikes, building up the frequency and length towards the date of travel (but ensuring that one is not overexerted just before leaving). Walking in hilly areas and on rough surfaces is great preparation, as is walking up and down stairs and step-aerobics.
All aerobic exercise helps to strengthen the cardiovascular system: swimming, running, cycling etc. are all good, as is any exercise, which increases / maintains the heart rate for at least 20 minutes. It is advisable to do your physical preparation in the boots that you will be wearing for your climb.
On average, less than half the people who attempt to climb Kilimanjaro actually do so. This does not need to be the case, and a few simple strategies can really make the difference.
Go slowly! This is so important because walking slowly allows the body to acclimatise. The speed at which clients walk during the first two days of the climb will determine the chances of reaching the summit. The slower the better. A really good idea is to breathe entirely through the nose
for the first two days of walking. If it is necessary to breathe through the mouth during the initial stages of the climb, then the pace is too fast. Later on, breathing through the mouth will become essential, but (of course, every individual's metabolism varies).
How to Walk
It is advised to imitate the guides' slow, methodical walking style. Knees should be kept 'soft' and not pounded. Paces should be short, measured and rhythmical with each step placed gently
. This will help to avoid 'trekkers knee.'
It is essential to drink as much as possible. At least 3-5 litres of fluids
(not coffee, tea, alcohol) every day.
Staying Healthy During the Climb
Minor ailments are the most common: blisters, colds, stomach upsets etc. Proper precautions should be taken against blisters and any that do appear should be dealt with promptly. Colds can be treated and kept at bay with Lemsip or similar over-the-counter remedies
. Stomach upsets do happen in Africa, so it is advisable to pack some Imodium or similar anti-diarrhoea remedies.
Acclimatisation and Altitude Sickness
Climbers must be prepared to recognise and respond to early symptoms of altitude sickness, which is caused by reduced levels of oxygen / air density. Any feelings of nausea, headache, fatigue or severe breathlessness should be reported immediately to the guide.
The human body is well capable of adjusting to altitude
- the actual individual rate of acclimatisation is a genetic factor - but the process takes time and the best way to minimise the symptoms of Hypoxia is to ascend slowly - i.e if in doubt increase the number of days on the mountain!
You may also like to consider taking Diamox, which is widely used to combat the effects of mild altitude sickness by causing the body to breathe more deeply during sleep. This is of course a personal preference and it is important to seek professional medical advice
before leaving home. Diamox is a diuretic and so you have to be particularly careful of the level of fluid intake during your climb.
Emergencies / Insurance
You should check that your travel insurance covers you for adventure activities and mountain climbing as well as repatriation.