Can I climb Kilimanjaro?
Quite simply, Kilimanjaro is everyone’s mountain. Although a serious challenge, for even the fittest of folk can struggle reaching the summit, this gentle giant is achievable for mere mortals. On successfully summiting, the hardships endured to reach your goal only serve to make the sense of achievement all the more sweet.
You can do this, and it’s an adventure you will never forget.
No technical skills are required, just a reasonable level of general fitness, heaps of determination, a good sense of humour and some warm clothes. Crucially though, allow enough time for your acclimatisation.
How to climb Kilimanjaro?
The tortoise beats the hare up “Kili”. The porters and guides have a Swahili expression that you are bound to hear, “pole pole” (pronounced polly polly) which means slowly slowly. Statistics clearly show the longer you spend on the mountain, the higher your chance of success and this is because your body is acclimatising to the altitude constantly while you are on the mountain. In fact, with each day that goes by your body adapts and becomes more efficient at altitude thus increasing your chances of success.
The statistics are: 5-6 day treks (72% of success), 7-8 day (88% of success) and 9-10 day (99% of success). These statistics speak volumes.
(Camp with Kilimanjaro towering above us) Click to enlarge.
The best guide on Kilimanjaro? Msafiri Munna
Below we catch up with one of the mountain's most respected and experienced local guides.
The dedicated Msafiri Munna has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro over 200 times over the last 15 years and he takes enormous pride in his job as a head guide. Here he reflects and explains to us why this should be the year that you realize your African dream.
Sandgrouse Travel: Hi Msafiri! It’s a pleasure to talk to you today. Where are you right now?
Msafiri: It’s also a pleasure for me talking to you. At the moment I am on the mountain, though the weather is not great up here as it’s a little bit rainy and snowy! In March the weather becomes unpredictable with spells of rain and snow. Due to this kind of weather, it is not a busy time of the season for the guides and porters here. The clients that I have with me at the moment are the last group for this season, but very recently I came off the mountain with a group of 10 from the UK aged between 56 and 62, and we trekked the same route as you I believe via the stunning Northern Circuit? All of the group reached the summit which was brilliant.
Sandgrouse Travel: Fantastic. I have fond memories of my successful summit bid with your infallible team via the Northern Circuit. I miss Tanzania enormously and can’t wait to get back. A little part of me stayed in Tanzania after my recent visit to the Serengeti National Park where I watched one of nature’s most incredible sights, “The Great Migration”. Have you seen the migration Msafiri?
Msafiri: Yes I have seen the Great Migration a lot of times and I love it. It is one of the largest movements of wildlife on the planet. About 1.5 to 2 million wildebeest complete a clockwise 500 mile route through the Serengeti each year in search of grass and water. The Great Migration is among the wonders of the world and should be seen by everyone. The best time to see this and enjoy is from end of December to April when the wildebeest are grazing on short grass if the southern Serengeti. During this period 90% of wildebeest babies are born. During May to August they move to the Western Corridor where the grass is tall and the new mating season begins. In September to November the herd of the wildebeest go far to the northern zone entering Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Tanzania is crawling with wildlife as you know, we have all the BIG 5 which includes African lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and black rhino. Black Rhino are rarely found in other countries. I would recommend people to visit our wildlife in the Serengeti or one of the other National Parks after a climb up Kilimanjaro as a nice way to relax. I am very sure they will enjoy it and will not regret a thing. Some of my favourite statistics are:
- The Serengeti: world’s largest migratory herd /world’s largest lion population
- Mount Kilimanjaro: world’s tallest free-standing volcano/highest point in Africa
- Ethnic Groups: Over 120 groups and all speaking their own tradition language and Swahili
- Ngorongoro Crater: World’s highest mammal concentration/world’s largest unbroken caldera
- Selous Game Reserve: largest game reserve in Africa
- Lake Tanganyika: the longest and second deepest in the world
Sandgrouse Travel: Incredible statistics, I always find it amazing to imagine the Selous Game Reserve the same size as Denmark!
So you’ve been living close to and working on Mount Kilimanjaro for many years now. We know you are one of the most well respected and loved guides on the mountain, not only by your clients but also by your fellow guides and porters. What attracted you as a young man to start a career taking people to “the roof of Africa”?
(The final steps) Click to enlarge.
Msafiri: I have always been inspired to do so as I grew up near Mount Kilimanjaro, which is my mother’s home area called Marangu. I always admired the mountain whenever I looked at it and promised myself that when I grow up I will make use of it to the benefit of myself, my country and foreigners as well. And I made it! I have now climbed Kili with clients more than 200 times, standing on the roof of Africa with clients over the past fifteen years and I still have the same passion I started out with. I started way back in 1998 as a porter, then to a chef, and then to Assistant Guide, now I am a full Tour Guide. So I have experience in most activities involved in Mountain climbing. In regards to my staff, we have a good relationship and flow of communication between the mountain and operations staffs in general. This helps me provide unrivalled hospitality to my clients.
Sandgrouse Travel: Have things changed a great deal since you started working on the mountain all those years ago? Would you say the porters and guides are looked after much better now and if tourism is a bonus to the region and hinterland of the mountain?
Msafiri: Yes, quite a lot of things have changed since then in regards to porters, guides and the mountain environment as well. Amazingly the porters were not recognised back in the day, but nowadays they have their own association which deals with making sure all the porters rights are met by companies. Also guides have their own association of which looks into everything related to their guiding work, making sure we do our job well. Tourism is a bonus to the region and hinterland of the mountain as it has created schools, dispensaries and other facilities which used to be too far away. We now benefit from having these close to us all.
Porters are treated well by the companies by making sure they have the right gears before the hike. Most of the porters are well educated in regards to hiking gear now too, and those who don’t have the appropriate clothing are given it by the company or the association they are registered with. In some instance the association will lend the porter the gear to help them out whilst they save up, which is brilliant and forward thinking. We provide our porter’s sleeping tents, enough food and good care including regular salaries (unlike before when porters relied solely on tips, and even slept in caves on the mountainside!).
Now, when I have dates of a confirmed trek, I select my crew and brief them on everything they need to know about our expected clients. With this in mind it creates a good mindset for the entire crew and at the same time when our client arrives I inform them during the general briefing of the crew accompanying them.
(Msafiri and team) Click to enlarge.
Sandgrouse Travel: That’s incredible – so much has changed over the years you have been working on Kilimanjaro. With this wealth of experience, what would you recommend to our readers who are thinking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - all those people who might not be able to make their minds up just yet about a climb? Perhaps people who have worries about their own physical ability or the ethics and treatment of the porters who are integral to the climb's success?
Msafiri: I would recommend anyone who wants to hike Kilimanjaro to not worry much - it is not a technical mountain to climb. Many clients worry about not reaching the peak, but when they meet us we assure them that they can make it. It’s a gentle process, in the long run they make it with our help, and this makes them very proud of their achievements. The entire crew encourage clients along the way which makes them feel safer and happier – a lot of success is based on a client’s outlook.
Sandgrouse Travel: What about the damage to the landscape and environment?
Msafari: With regard to the environment our porters and teams are encouraged to collect litter and rubbish to help keep the National Park pristine. They are well trained on TITO/LNT (Trash In Trash Out)/Leave No Trace. And we also brief our clients to bring along their plastic trash bags.
Health-wise on our side, we are also well trained in Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and National Outdoor Leadership (NOLS). We treat all our drinking water or boil it before use.
The money the trekkers bring to the region helps to build better homes for the porters and guides, improve school facilities for their children and also helps people start their own small businesses to sustain their daily life.
Sandgrouse Travel: So has there ever been a better time to climb Kilimanjaro, Msafiri?
Msafiri: There’s never been a better time! With regard to the seasons though there is a dry season which is convenient and rainy season which is not so convenient for hiking. The best period to climb is June to October and December to March (dry season). The more difficult periods are April, May and November (rainy seasons).
The ice or glacier at the top of the mountain disappears as time goes by which is sad to see, and we believe it is because of global warming. We advice clients to take this opportunity to climb now and not wait because the landscape might change and in years to come may not be as amazing as it is now.
(View from your tent) Click to enlarge.
Sandgrouse Travel: What would your top tips be in preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?
Msafiri: To climb Mount Kilimanjaro, one has to be well prepared physically, mentally and also emotionally. Kilimanjaro is not a technical mountain thus you do not have to force your body to train on technical climbing but general training for Kilimanjaro is very important. Before you start training it is better to see your physician (Doctor) for health check-up of course, but I suggest long walks, even walking up and down stair cases. I would recommend trekking with your daily back packs (8-10kgs) so you get used to the weight. And running (jogging 3 to 4 times a week) 3 months before the trek – this improves all your muscle groups equally. Remember, it is better to use your hiking boots during the training to break them in! Two weeks before your climb I would recommend winding down your training programme and resting.
Sandgrouse Travel: So with this solid base of advice, good preparation and a strong amount of determination what other elements are critical to a success bid on the summit?
Msafiri: The other elements that can be critical to the success on the mountain are the number of days spent on the mountain. The more days spent on Kilimanjaro the better the chances of succeeding in reaching the summit. Acclimatization is very important on the mountain. The statistics are: 5-6 day treks (72% of success), 7-8 day (88% of success) and 9-10 day (99% of success). These statistics speak volumes.
Having a sense of humour and laughing really helps when things are hard, it also makes the trip more adventurous and enjoyable. Yes it really helps to do this trek with friends or family as they encourage each other all through the trek and one can never feel lonely, but even if trekking in a small group people are all friendly on Kilimanjaro.
(Dawn at Camp 1) Click to enlarge.
Sandgrouse Travel: What do you love about your job as a head guide on Kilimanjaro, Msafiri?
Msafiri: In my head guide job I like inspiring people to climb Kilimanjaro and making it to the summit no matter how negative a client might be. I just love seeing the joy in a client's eyes after their success. It is also my pleasure to meet new people from all around the world with different aspects and cultures. I find I learn a lot from them as they also learn from me.
Kilimanjaro has different views and zones from the starting point to the summit which make Kilimanjaro unique. Every step you make takes you to closer to the mountain summit. Tanzania is a peaceful country including its people. I feel I am with luck to love my job.
Sandgrouse Travel: Over the years, you must have had some incredible experiences and have many unique and special memories so what has been the highlight of your career on the mountain and why?
Msafiri: I have had some incredible experiences. I have had several couples getting engaged on the summit and one couple got married as well!! I have also seen some incredible weather, lightning strikes and storms from above are a sight to be seen.
Sandgrouse Travel: Wow! What a special place to propose, I hope each response was a “Yes” otherwise it would be a long 2-day trek off the summit!?
Thanks so much for talking to us today Msafiri, it’s fantastic to know our clients are in the best hands whilst out on the mountain with the likes of yourself and your amazing team.
We are so grateful for all you do and the magic you help create.
Msafiri: It was a great pleasure talking to you and sharing my experience with you. Thank you very much.
I am looking forward to welcoming more Sandgrouse Travel clients. Together with Sandgrouse Travel’s support we will go further here in Tanzania. Asante Sana!
If you are interested in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after reading this article or would like information, please contact the Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions team at firstname.lastname@example.org or +441392 661050
(Sunrise over Mawenzi from Kilimanjaro's crater rim) Click to enlarge.