Is it difficult to climb Kilimanjaro? | Fair Voyage

COVID-19 – Destinations Where You Can Travel Now

One of the most common questions people ask is: ‘Is it difficult to climb Kilimanjaro?‘.

So many people dream of climbing the Rooftop of Africa, which has captured the imaginations of travelers for decades.

However, what prevents some people from achieving that dream are their concerns about the difficulty of summiting this mountain.

In terms of the technical aspects of ascending the mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro is not difficult to climb. Its slopes are mostly gentle, and its paths are well-trodden.

Trekkers can walk up to the summit without any expertise or mountaineering skills required. Tour operators organize climbs, while porters carry the gear, supplies and personal items.

Despite the relative ease on the technical side, many people find Mount Kilimanjaro very difficult to climb due to its high altitude. The difficulty varies from person to person and will depend upon how a trekker acclimatizes to the thin air at high elevations.

In other words, you don’t have to be an exceptional mountaineer to climb Kilimanjaro.

However, there are other considerations that influence your ability to make it to the summit. One of these considerations is altitude sickness.

We talk more about altitude sickness below. However, we’d also recommend you to read our article on avoiding the dangers of altitude sickness when climbing Kilimanjaro.

Why altitude sickness makes it more difficult to climb Kilimanjaro

Even though Kilimanjaro is not technically difficult to climb, an average summit success rate of 60% (and historically less than 50%) suggests that it's not just a walk in a park either. What makes Kilimanjaro difficult to climb is its altitude. Its summit at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) above sea level is in the so-called extreme altitude zone.

From as low as 1,500 meters (4,921 feet), climbers may start to feel the effects of high altitude. Altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS) becomes a serious risk at higher altitudes, typically above 3,500 meters (11,482 feet).

Altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the side effect caused by exposure to high altitudes. As a person reaches higher altitudes, the air contains less oxygen which begins to negatively affect the human body. Symptoms usually develop from around 2,500 meters of altitude.

First signs of altitude sickness include headache, nausea or shortness of breath. More severe symptoms include dry cough, fever, vomiting or retinal haemorrhage. Extreme cases can include fluid build up in the brain characterized by loss of coordination, confusion, inability to walk and even coma. If left untreated, AMS can be lethal.

How to mitigate the impact of altitude sickness?

The so-called 3 golden rules of altitude acclimatization will help you acclimatize naturally in order to reduce the discomforts and risks associated with altitude sickness. The golden rules are:

  1. Take your time: Choose a route that allows you to ascend slowly over multiple days, and walk slowly during the day.
  2. Stay hydrated: Drink at least 2-3 liters of water every day, or more if in combination with dehydrating substances such as diamox or caffeine.
  3. Walk high, sleep low: Sleep at a lower altitude at night than you've climbed during the day. Some routes offers such a beneficial altitude profile.

How long will it take to acclimatize to the high altitude?

Budget and time permitting, we recommend that you take 8 days or more to climb Kilimanjaro. This is in the interest of your safety and summit success chance.

Taking your time helps you to acclimatize naturally to the high altitude and therefore reduces discomforts and the risks of altitude sickness. The better you acclimatize, the more likely you will reach the summit (and safely so).

There is statistical evidence that 7 or 8 days lead to a higher summit success rate than 5 or 6 days. The local helicopter evacuation service also sees a significantly higher need for evacuations on routes of 7 days or less compared to 8 days or more.

Is Mount Kilimanjaro a climb or trek?

Another common question that often pops up when discussing the ease or difficulty of climbing Kilimanjaro, is whether it should be considered a climb, hike or a trek.

To answer this question, let’s look at the differences between the three.

A hike is generally a short walk on charted trails. A hike’s length is variable and can be a day trip or an overnight stay. Minimal supplies are needed.

However, a climb can vary in length but is typically more demanding than a hike. A climb has steep terrain and may involve using climbing equipment to scale the face of the mountain.

On the other hand, a trek is the longest type of journey on foot. It involves walking through challenging terrain for multiple days. Because of the length of treks, you need to bring supplies and food.

Scaling Mount Kilimanjaro is generally called a climb. This may lead to the misperception that it might be technically demanding and out of reach for most people—it isn't.

As most trips are 6-8 days in length, it may be more accurately described as a trek, meaning that one needs to carry a substantial amount of supplies. Then again, however, the burden of carrying your gear is handed off to your porters so it ends up being more like a hike for the majority of tourists.

However, calling it a hike might not do justice to the fact that the climb reaches high elevations and could lead climbers to underestimate the difficulty and dangers of high altitude.

In other words, it is a little bit of a grey area, but when all factors are taken into consideration, it is more commonly referred to as a climb.

How fit do you need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?

If you dislike working out at the gym, or you are not an athlete or mountaineer, then fear not. While you do have to be in reasonably good health to climb Kilimanjaro, the type of fitness you have is more important than working out. You could be walking for anywhere up to 10 kilometres for hours on end at high altitudes, so it is important that you are able to do this.

Altitude sickness can strike anyone randomly, regardless of their fitness level. The key to reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is to give yourself more days to climb the mountain, so that you can acclimatise better.

Are there any exercises to help me prepare for my climb?

To maximize your chance of making it to the summit and improve your physical fitness, we recommend doing targeted exercises to help prepare for your climb.

The best training you can do to prepare for your mount Kilimanjaro climb is hiking. Running, swimming and cycling are all very good exercises but what you will be doing on Kilimanjaro is hiking.

You will need to condition your body to walk in ascension, over uneven terrain for long periods. Ideally, go hiking in the highest mountains in your area to experience the effect of increased altitudes.

If you live in a city or somewhere flat, taking stairs instead of elevators and targeted muscle exercises are excellent practice that can also help you prepare.

Is climbing Kilimanjaro dangerous?

climbing mount kilimanjaro, travel insurance

While any mountain can be dangerous to climb, Kilimanjaro is a lot less dangerous than most as the risk of rockfall or falling to death is mostly avoidable. However, climbing Kilimanjaro can be very dangerous due to the risk of altitude sickness which is the main cause of tourist deaths on the mountain. While the risks of altitude sickness can be mitigated to a large extent, they cannot be fully avoided.

If you are in good health, ascend slowly on a safe path under the guidance of one of our experienced and well-trained mountain guides, are honest about your physical condition with your guide and follow his safety instructions, you are not likely to suffer injury or death on your climb. But you must understand that you are always taking a risk when climbing Kilimanjaro.

Is there an age limit to climb Kilimanjaro?

There is no maximum age limit to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but it is important that every hiker is in good health. With increasing age, especially over the age of 60, health considerations become more serious, and climbers should undergo a thorough medical check prior to attempting to climb Kilimanjaro.

The minimum age to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is 10 years.

Conclusion

So the great news is that anyone who is in good health with a reasonable level of fitness can climb Kilimanjaro.

The key to maximizing your chance of summit success is ensuring that you acclimatize properly. Altitude sickness is one of the main barriers to successfully climbing Kilimanjaro, so by taking steps to reduce the impact of the high elevation, you will increase your chances of making it to the top.

This is the reason why you should choose a route that allows you to hike high during the day and sleep low at night, and climbing between 7-8 days.

For more information on altitude acclimatization, make sure to also read our article on avoiding the dangers of altitude sickness when climbing Kilimanjaro.

It’s also a good idea to prepare for your climb, by hiking and conditioning your body to walk in ascension, over uneven terrain for long periods. In addition, practising targeted muscle exercises is excellent practice.

Although climbing Kilimanjaro is not technically difficult because you don’t need to be an experienced mountaineer to summit the mountain, the more you do to prepare for your climb and pre-acclimatize to the high elevation, the more likely you are to succeed.

About the author

Janine is a travel content writer and blogger, with a background in marketing and journalism. She loves travelling and uses her writing to share her passion for responsible travel with others.