Lessons Learned From Climbing Kilimanjaro

Each time I step foot on Kilimanjaro,a new lesson is learned and I have been up there 35+ times, so I have learned a lot of lessons!  Every time I am climbing Kilimanjaro or out on any multi-day trip, there are lessons to be learned, because each trip is different. Sometimes on Kilimanjaro, we get hit with unexpected rain, high cold winds on the summit night, cyclones, slippery or muddy trails, different affects of altitude, different issues with sleeping and eating at altitude, park entrances can be slow moving and cause problems, vehicles can break down and some people come with not enough training and preparationAll of these things can happen that can effect a group.

These all effect the group you are with and you need to come with a relaxed attitude, this is all part of the adventure. I have climbed Kilimanjaro 35+ times now and have a good understanding of climbing in a range of weather conditions and how to pick the right acclimatization program. The Lemosho route is the best route over 8 days.

The biggest issue that I have seen over the years and thing people need to understand is that going to altitude and standing at 19,341 feet above sea level is very difficult. You can not fully prepare for this type of altitude. People cannot survive long term above 18,000 feet, so once you climb above this height it is always going to be difficult. From years of experience, the best way to make the journey is on our 8 day trip. This gives you, and others around you, the best chance to acclimatize as best you can, enjoy the climb up Kilimanjaro and come down safely.


Also putting in the conditioning training prior to the trip is essential. You will be walking with 6kg+/ 12lbs on your back for 8 days in a row. The ideal preparation is multi-day hiking at home, building up to carrying double the amount of weight you will carry on the mountain.  If you can pair this with strength and endurance training in the gym, carrying your weighted pack on a stair master or inclined treadmill, 4-5 days a week, we consider this the best preparation for your Kilimanjaro climb.  Always consult your doctor and fitness instructor before you take on a more intense training program like this because you do not want to over stress your body if it is not used to this type of training.  If you want to talk to us directly, and are signed up to one of our trips, CONTACT US today and we can set up a time for a call to fully understand the training needed.

Movement of Oxygen in the Body

Once you go above 10,000 feet your body will be producing more red blood cells to move oxygen efficiently around the body to your muscles. If you condition your body to carry more weight prior to the trip then your body becomes used to being under pressure.  The muscles adapt to the hard work walking up hill with weight on your back and will help in your preparation and vital physical conditioning at high altitude. High heart rates and interval training help, but only when you have put in months of base training and improve your endurance capacity.


Another thing to consider, is your comfort while camping. For the entire time you are on the mountain, you will be sleeping in tents and if this is not something you have done before, it can add to your discomfort on the trip.  We always suggest camping before the trip to get comfortable with your sleeping bag, mattress and pillow because getting the rest you need on the mountain is extremely important!  Learning how to keep clean and organized while sleeping in a tent will help you to enjoy the trek a lot more.

Climb High Sleep Low

After arriving into Kilimanjaro airport and one night in Arusha at 1,400m/ 4,593 feet we will get straight into the acclimatization process. As you will see in our Itinerary we have an excellent but challenging schedule. Climbing high each day and sleeping lower that night is critical for the body to understand what it is going through in the acclimatization process.  This process will help you adapt better to the lack of oxygen so you can enjoy the hiking our itinerary provides. The 8 Day Lemosho Route up the mountain is the best route to naturally give you this critical acclimatization.

Ian’s First Experience on Kilimanjaro

From my experience climbing Kilimanjaro 35+ times I have learned a lot about why people are not making the summit. I remember my first climb up Kilimanjaro. I was physically very fit but lacked a range of knowledge about low oxygen environments and how my body reacts to the lack of oxygen.

On my first climb I was signed up to a five day trek not knowing that this was a big mistake. On day two I was feeling very fatigued coming up to the Lava Tower at 4,600m/ 15,000 feet and struggled to arrive into Barranco camp at 3,900m/ 12,795 feet I was vomiting and fell into my tent tired and dehydrated and felt there was no way I could make the summit. My first and biggest mistake was that I did NOT pick the right itinerary and acclimatization.

One reason less than 50% of people make the summit of Kilimanjaro

Pace and Hydration

As I said, I was very fit and couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much. And now I know, with all the experience I have gained, not only did I have a poor acclimatization schedule, but I also knew very little about how to pace myself and stay well hydrated at altitude.

Trying to Sleep at Altitude

The next day I got up struggled all day and made it to Barafu 4,650m/ 15,255 feet the high camp, where we would spend two nights. I remember the guides trying to get us to go for the summit that night. We had only spend 3 night sleeping (or lack of sleeping) on the mountain. I was continually shattered, didn’t want to be there and felt horrible. My experience was demoralizing as I had ambitions to climb Mt. Everest. Well we learn from our mistakes and failures and they make us stronger and more discerning.

Going Higher

I was not sure I could make it and struggled to the summit and we had to go from 19,341 feet back to the gate at 6,500 feet that same day. Going up 4,000 feet and down 12,840 feet in one day is very demanding. Yes we made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro and back to the gate in one day. This was stupid, dangerous and the reason only 42% of people make the summit. You think Kilimanjaro is hard…. Yes it is if you try 4, 5 or 6 day treks.

One reason less than 50% of people make the summit of Kilimanjaro

What I have Learned

The main reason people do not make the summit of Kilimanjaro is they are not spending the time to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. Above 18,000 feet is where the body can no longer fully adjust to the lack of oxygen, your body is slowly deteriorating and you are pushing the limit of what the body can take. This is a dangerous place and should not be underestimated. I want to make sure our clients have all the information they need so they are fully informed before making a decision about going to extreme altitude.

The Key to Success

The key to success on Kilimanjaro is coming with excellent physical conditioning and the right acclimatization schedule, spending more time acclimatizing to the lack of oxygen. Ian has climbed Kilimanjaro in 5,6,7 & 8 days, but now realizes that the only way to climb Kilimanjaro is to spend a minimum of 8 days on the mountain. The goal is to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and enjoy the entire journey there, not just endure it!  This is the only way to approach this climb.
Ian Taylor Trekking has a 95% success rate on our 8 day Kilimanjaro climbs and 85% success rate on our 7 day treks. We don’t run 5 or 6 day treks anymore. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenge, but why make it harder than it needs to be.
We fully prepare you with training plans, 40 page dossier and available 5 days a week to answer any question you may have if you join one of our treks. Get in touch and we can help you make your adventure on Kilimanjaro a safe and successful experience.
If you would like to know more, read this blog post on all you need to know about climbing Kilimanjaro. Or just EMAIL US or CALL US. We are happy to help you get the information you need for your Kilimanjaro climb.
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