Mount Kilimanjaro – From Dream To Reality (Part 1)

I first read a book titled ‘100 Great Wonders of the World’ at the age of 12. Imagine, some of the most awe-inspiring places in the world depicted at every turn of a page. The chapter had turned from Asia to Africa’s wonders and on page 135, there it was. Up until now, I had only dreamt about it; a snow-capped volcano looming over the semi-desert of Northern Tanzania. At 5,895 metres, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa with a distinctive profile. What are the odds of me trekking a mountain of such scale? Perhaps one day I would be able to see it from the plains of Tanzania.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

saint Augustine of hippo, theologian and philosopher
100 wonders of the world book with the page turned to Mount Kilimanjaro.
100 Great Wonders of the World – the book that inspired me to see Mount Kilimanjaro with my own eyes.

The Call Of Mount Kilimanjaro

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Neale Donald WALSCH, AMERICAN AUTHOR

Let’s face it, we are all guilty of cocooning ourselves in our own comfort zones, so much so that it begins to reflect in the way we travel. Having it easy and convenient all the way became a norm and even the slightest derail would spell catastrophe. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? For me, the call of Kilimanjaro came at the right moment in my life. At a time where my travels had reached a plateau, I decided to step out of my own comfort zone and take a leap into what will be an unforgettable journey.

View of Mount Kilimanjaro from aeroplane.
Enveloped in clouds, this is Mount Kilimanjaro as seen from an aircraft.

Preparing For Mount Kilimanjaro

By no means was it an easy feat. It wasn’t just the scale but the sheer altitude of Kilimanjaro. Standing at 5,895 metres, where our oxygen saturation drops to 65% to 70% and coupled with a rapid heart rate, it is easy to be hit by acute mountain sickness (AMS). How can you possibly train to overcome such challenges? Just two years ago, I started off with zero mountain training, so I had to train with increased frequency and intensity.

My hiking journey with loved ones.
My journey with the ones who made it possible, family and friends. Clockwise from top left: Gunung Datuk – the very first mountain I hiked in Malaysia with my friends, Gunung Berembun – the intensity increased with longer hiking duration as the family explored a World War 2 plane crash site, Gunung Trus Madi – the second highest peak in Malaysia, and Gunung Ledang with loved ones in Johor.

Although Kilimanjaro is one of the top seven summits of the world, there are no technical skills involved. The challenge is mainly the long distance (62 kilometres in total) and significant elevation gain each day (800 to 1,000 metres per day). The hills of Malaysia became my training ground. Almost every month, my family and friends would arrange hikes and runs across different states and countries, increasing the difficulty level each time. The gym became a second home on most weekends as a means to strengthen core muscles and cardio. As the time drew nigh, I had already climbed the highest and second highest peaks in Malaysia but I was still nowhere near Kilimanjaro’s towering altitude.

How I trained for Mount Kilimanjaro with the support of family and friends.
The moments that I will always cherish and remember with my loved ones. Clockwise from top left: Gunung Nuang via Janda Baik, Family Angkor Run in Cambodia, Summit of Mount Kinabalu, Maliau Basin, Sabah, and Pines Tree Trail, Fraser’s hill. .

How To Pack For Mount Kilimanjaro

Getting the packing right for this arduous journey was extremely vital. There was no room for skimping on quality gear and it was definitely worth the investment. Here are the things that kept me comfortable throughout the trek:

Apparels

1. Layer Up

Kilimanjaro’s weather can be temperamental and extreme. From freezing cold to sweltering heat and even heavy downpours, all within a matter of minutes. My attire had to suit every scenario. Here is the list of apparels that I needed for my trek:

  • Long sleeve base/thermal layer
  • Fleece jacket
  • 1 down jacket, goose/duck feather
  • Knit hat
  • 1 waterproof windbreaker
  • 3 hiking shirts, dry fit, moisture-wicking fabric
  • Sport leggings
  • 1 pair of thermal leggings
  • 1 pair of hiking pants
  • Waterproof summit pants with fleece lining
  • 3 pairs of thick woolly socks
  • 2 bandanas
  • Raincoat
  • Disposable underwear
The jackets I wore for my trip to Mount Kilimanjaro
From left: Waterproof windbreaker, knit hat, fleece jacket and down jacket with goose feather.
The inner lining wear for my trip to  Mount Kilimanjaro
The thermal and base layer that kept me warm throughout the hike.
The hiking pants used for my trip to Mount Kilimanjaro.
From left: The waterproof summit pants lined with fleece, and the more casual hiking pants.

2. Shoes

These will make or break the entire hiking experience. If you don’t have a pair of comfortable, waterproof with proper insulation shoes, chances are you will have to abort your journey at the very beginning of the trek. Go for the high cut that wraps above the ankle for support and to prevent sprains.

The Salomon shoes used for kilimanjaro hike.
My most trusted Salomon shoes that I have used for most of my hikes.

3. Gloves

I needed 3 sets of gloves; summit gloves, hiking gloves and light fleece gloves. Except for the summit night, the other two will be sufficient throughout the trek. The summit gloves with waterproof and thermal features are a must.

the summit gloves and hiking gloves used for kilimanjaro.
From left: A pair of hiking gloves and the waterproof, insulated gloves for the summit push.

Other Essentials

1. Hiking Gear

My gear will be the backbone of the whole experience, so it was important for me to get it right on the first go. Again, here is the list of items that you need to pack for the trip:

  • The North Face waterproof 40-litre duffel bag (can be shared by two individual) – the bulk of the items are to be packed into the duffel bag and given to the porter
  • 20-litre backpack – pack only essentials that are needed for a day hike into the daypack, i.e. water, jacket, raincoat, medicine and snacks
  • 2 walking poles
  • Headlamp and spare batteries
  • Hiking sunglasses (polarised)
  • Garmin watch (optional)
  • 2-litre hydration bladder
  • Thermos for summit day
  • 1-litre water bottle for summit day
  • Sleeping bag for subzero temperature
  • Emergency blanket
  • Ziploc bags
  • Power bank
  • Charging cables
  • Camera, spare batteries and memory cards
  • Pocket knife
the daypack and part of the hiking gears for kilimanjaro.
From far left: 20-litre daypack, emergency blanket, polarised sunglasses, and 2-litre hydration bladder.
the North Face duffel bag.
40-litre The North Face waterproof duffel bag for the porters to carry.

2. Toiletries

Bear in mind that the hike is seven days long with no shower and limited bag space. Under such situations, packing the necessary toiletries is absolutely crucial to maintain some degree of hygiene. Here are the things needed for one whole week:

  • Toothbrush
  • Travel size toothpaste
  • Comb
  • Facial wash
  • SPF 30 or above sunblock
  • Wet wipes (lots of it!!)
  • Body lotion
  • Sanitary pads
  • Alcohol rub sanitiser
  • Face towel

3. Food And Medication

Whilst meals and basic first aid kit are provided throughout the trek, I always prefer to carry my own in my day pack. Here is the list of food items and medication I could never part with:

  • Chocolate bars
  • Juice
  • Mixed nuts
  • Milo packets
  • Biscuits
  • Pain relieving spray
  • Painkillers
  • Anti-diarrhoea tablets
  • Topical antibiotics
  • Bandages
  • Anti-histamines

Yellow Fever Vaccine And Diamox For Mount Kilimanjaro

Indeed, Yellow fever is endemic in Africa but you’d be surprised that Tanzania is not listed under the countries with increased risk of transmission. So do we actually need to fork out MYR 400 for this vaccine? Depending on your flight itinerary, prolonged transits in other risk prone countries i.e. Kenya warrants vaccination, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Here is the full guideline on Yellow fever vaccination in Malaysia.

WHO vaccination book.
The mandatory vaccination book for those travelling to countries where Yellow fever is endemic.

Another burning concern is the role of Diamox in preventing altitude sickness. While there are many discrepancies regarding its efficacy, Diamox can somewhat prevent altitude sickness but not entirely. That being said, it is NOT a substitute for proper acclimatisation and high altitude training, so decide wisely before relying solely on it.

And So It Begins…

Now that I am prepared and my bags are packed, all that was left is to board my flight from Malaysia to Tanzania. At the airport, I met Shariman, the man behind NEX Adventure, a company that is responsible for organising unforgettable treks around the world and Azimah, an avid adventurer with an unyielding passion for the mountains. I stepped into the aeroplane with much anxiety and excitement. After all, it is not everyday that you get the opportunity to scale the highest peak in Africa. I wondered what awaited me on the other side…

Azimah, myself, and Shariman at the airport.
The faces that will eventually become my family unit. Far left: Azimah, my roommate and camping buddy. Far right: Shariman, the man behind NEX Adventure and one of the most humble mountaineers I have ever met.

Part 2 – Mount Kilimanjaro: The Whiskey Route

Jeevitha KUMAR

About Jeevitha KUMAR

Hiker, mountain climber, diver, globe trotter, and all-round adventurer, she is probably one of a handful of medical doctors who has left her footprints (almost) all over the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*