Sunday, 22 January 2012

Tips for Kilimanjaro

I went to the Destinations Travel Show in Manchester today. It's comprised mostly of stalls run by travel companies advertising their tours. As I tend to avoid tours this isn't of much interest to me. Even the talks are basically a half hour of advertising blurb. I've been to these shows before so I knew what to expect and only went because I had a free ticket and didn't have anything else planned.

I did find one thing of interest of though.  A talk on climbing Kilimanjaro by a tour leader who's already been up and down ten times. He works for Exodus, so of course some of the talk was on what Exodus do for you if you go with them (good breakfasts served in a mess tent and the open-sided toilet tent always positioned with a great view), but a lot of what he had to say was more general and included a lot of good tips. Here are some of them:

  • Acclimatisation - each day when you reach your camp for the night, don't stop there. Have a bit of a rest then climb for about another hour, before coming back down to the tents. This starts getting your body ready for the thinner oxygen, but you're sleeping at a lower altitude to recover from your first exposure to it.
  • Take plenty of chocolate - healthy food is all well and good, but there are times when only comfort food will do. This will be one of them.
  • Expect pain, lots of it.
  • Headaches aren't only caused by altitude, but by the intensity of the sun hitting your eyeballs too. Take a really good pair of sunglasses.
  • Wear a hat - don't fail to summit because you've got sunstroke.
  • Take some really good earplugs - you'll be sleeping in close proximity to a lot of people some of whom will snore. And snoring is amplified at altitude.
  • Don't panic if you can't sleep. As long as you are horizontal and resting, you are still doing your body some good. On this note, don't take a nap when you arrive at camp as this will really throw your sleep patterns out.
  • If you're hungry you're doing ok. People who are hungry make it to the top. If you're not hungry, it doesn't mean you won't make it, but it is a sign that you may struggle a bit more.
  • There isn't a lot of snow at the top and what there is is very compacted and frozen. Normal walking boots are fine, you won't need crampons.
  • You need to drink a lot of water even if you're not thirsty. However, water bladders will be frozen when you start heading for the summit at midnight on the final day. Carry your water in an alternative way.
  • There are several reasons why the last day starts at midnight. One is so that you can't see where you're going. It's about 7hrs on a switchback path that would destroy any moral you had left if you could see it.
  • If you use an ipod wrap a heat pad round it otherwise it won't work.
  • After the first few days, you'll be above the cloud cover so it won't matter what the weather's like - you won't be in it.
  • The weather is really changeable and no one time of the year is particularly better than any other.
  • The climb starts at around 1600m - spending a few days in the area first will help your acclimatisation.
  • Running, swimming and cycling are the best training. They have to be done to the extent that you really get your heartbeat up and sweat a lot.
  • Walking across 'The Saddle' (the strip of land that dips between the lower peak and and the summit) is soul-destroying. It's a day of walking with nothing ever seeming to get any closer.
  • Don't expect to do too much talking whilst you're walking - you'll be conserving your oxygen for breathing.

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