May 282008
 

Earlier this month, Ultimate Kilimanjaro posted a Kilimanjaro Climb Survey on the discussion forums of Lonely Planet, Summit Post and Trip Advisor.  The purpose of the survey was to collect data that could assist others who are considering climbing Kilimanjaro in their decision making.

The survey was a short 20 question, multiple choice survey, and that took people an average of just over 3 minutes to complete.  As of today, there were 49 respondents.  Below are the summarized results of the first 10 questions:

  • male climbers outnumbered female climbers by 2 to 1
  • 54% of climbers were between 31 and 40 years of age
  • 22% of climbers obtained a medical check prior to climbing
  • 80% of climbers obtained all recommended vaccinations, immunizations and medications
  • 67% of climbers obtained travel insurance
  • July was the most popular month for climbing Kilimanjaro
  • 45% chose 6 day routes; 31% chose 7 day routes; 10% chose 9 day routes
  • 45% climbed Machame; 20% climbed Marangu; 16% climbed Lemosho
  • Only 6% of climbers hiked to Kibo Crater
  • 84% of climbers reached Uhuru Point

The most surprising figure is that 84% of the respondents reached the summit, while it is widely cited that the overall summit success rate is about 50%.  However, there are a few possible explanations of the rather high success rate for survey respondents.  First, keep in mind that park statistics reflect that the Machame Route is slightly more popular than Marangu Route, but the respondents overwhelmingly chose Machame over Marangu (45% vs. 20%).  Also, only 10% did a 5 or less day climb.  The lack of respondents using Marangu and 5 or less day climbs would improve the survey’s summit success percentages tremendously.

A good percentage of people who attempt Kilimanjaro have absolutely no hiking, backpacking or high altitude experience.  But the respondents on the cited forums are typically serious backpackers, independent travelers and mountaineers, all of whom have an advantage on Kilimanjaro versus their less experienced counterparts.  Finally, respondents are also likely to be people who succeeded on the mountain and had a good time doing it.

May 192008
 
kili2

Most people avoid climbing during Mount Kilimanjaro’s two rainy seasons.  The long rainy season begins in mid-March and lasts through early June.  The short rainy season is from November to early December.  Bad weather makes climbing more difficult and less enjoyable in several ways.  Most obviously, rain makes you wet, which robs the body of warmth and heightens the risk of hypothermia.  Water causes changes to the terrain, making the ground muddy, soft and slippery.  Visibility is reduced by clouds, fog, wind and water.  So given this, why would anyone climb during the rainy season?

First, sometimes personal schedules do not allow someone to climb during the dry season.  And since the mountain is accessible year-round, they proceed with their trek.  Secondly, Kilimanjaro is a very popular (i.e., crowded) mountain during the dry season.  Those wanting to avoid the crowds choose the rainy season to have the park to themselves.  Lastly, although the chances of encountering precipitation during these time periods are significantly greater than Kilimanjaro’s dry season, it is not guaranteed that this is the case.  A large mountain like Kilimanjaro causes its own weather, which is notoriously unpredictable.  Therefore, the opportunity for great weather or foul weather exists no matter when a climb is attempted.

If one does plan on climbing during the rainy season, consider the following:

  • The northern part of the mountain recevies less rain than the southern parts.  Therefore, Rongai is the preferred route when climbing during the rainy season.  Marangu is also good route because of the hut accommodations.
  • Quality rain gear is essential.  Climbers should make sure that they have waterproof, breathable jacket, pants and boots.  The day pack and duffel should be protected from rain with backpack covers or plastic bags.  Everything inside the pack and duffel should be stored in ziplock bags as well.
  • The difficulty of a route increases with bad weather.  So do the dangers.  When climbing during the rainy season, it is better to plan less strenuous itineraries.

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May 152008
 

Attempting the Machame route in 6 days is very tough.  The standard 7-day route is shown here:

machame itin

So to do the route in 6-days, you need to shave off one day from the standard route.  Here are the options:

  • On day two, trek from Machame to Barranco, without camping at Shira.  This is difficult because you’d have to climb from 2,850 m to 4,600 m and descend to sleep at 4,000 m.  You’ll be on the trail a long time, for 10-14 hours.
  • On day four, trek from Barranco to Barafu, without camping at Karanga.  This is difficult because it can take 8-10 hours to complete this leg, and then you can only sleep a few hours before you prepare for the midnight assault on the summit and descent, which can take another 11-14 hours.  Therefore, you’d be walking for 20 or so hours with only a few hours of sleep in between.
  • Through day five, you’d stick to the 7-day itinerary, trekking from Karanga to Barafu.  On day six, you’d summit and descend all the way to Mweka gate, instead of stopping at Mweka camp, and get off the mountain.  Summit day is already tough without adding an extra 3-4 hours to your walk.  This day may last 14-18 hours.

As you can see, none of these are ideal. Therefore the 6-day Machame route is not recommended. Unless you know you are a strong hiker and can adapt quickly to high altitude, the 7-day option is the best option.

May 112008
 
backpacker

On Kilimanjaro, most of your personal gear will be carried by hardworking porters.  As climbers begin their trek in the morning, the porters stay behind to break down the tents and clean the campsite.  Then, the porters proceed ahead of the climbers at a faster rate, beating the climbers to the next campsite to set up, prepare meals and boil water.  Therefore, climbers will often not see their porters again until they have reached their overnight destination and thus will not have access to the gear that the porters have transported until then.

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Climbers are expected to prepare their own day packs and to place all other items into a duffel bag for the porters.  As far as what goes into the day pack, it depends on what you may need during the day.  This typically includes rain gear, some extra layers of clothing in case the temperature drops, and clothing accessories.  Additionally, climbers should carry sunscreen, insect repellent (at lower altitudes), first aid kit, toilet paper, snacks and water.  The general rule is only carry what reasonably can be expected to be needed.  For instance, you do not need to carry fleece, insulated jackets, and gloves in the rainforest.  The sleeping bag and pad should not be carried, and probably would not fit, in your day pack.

To pack your day pack efficiently, you should use plastic bags or dry bags to separate items based on categories.  For example, small bottles such as prescriptions, sunscreen, lip balm and hand sanitizer should be secured in a zip-lock type bag.  Extra layers of clothing should also be put into larger bags.  Paperwork, such as your passport and insurance documents into another bag.  Heavier items should be placed close to the midpoint of your back to keep your center of gravity in-line with your spine.  Placing heavy items near the top, bottom, left, right or rear of your day pack will cause you to lean forward, back, or to the side.  If your day pack has compression straps, tighten them so that your items do not move around as you walk.  Lastly, be consistent as to where you store your items (main compartment, side pockets, pant pockets, etc.), so that you do not fumble for your items when needed.  A medium sized backpack, with the capacity of  about 1,800 cubic inches (30 liters), is appropriate.

Sea to Summit eVac Dry Sack

Gregory Z30 Pack