5 things I wish I’d known before climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Thinking of tackling the highest free-standing mountain in the world? Heed these words of advice from Abhimanyu Bose, who summited on the Machame route...

3 mins

1. Vomit!

Altitude sickness affects people in strange, annoying and ridiculous ways. It sometimes feels like your fitness goes out of the window. In my group, some of the most athletic members fell ill first whilst the rest carried on normally. Most people will end up with a recurring headache that decides to spring up out of the blue, but this is bearable. However, some days you may feel so bad that all you want to do is vomit a chunder river that could be worthy of its own name. Best advice is to let it out: the headaches, stomach pains and nausea should loosen their grip, and your appetite and enthusiasm will creep back slowly.

2. Take wet wipes

Wet wipes hold that sacred position inside your backpack at all times.You'll want to wipe your hands to eat, remove the dirt, dust and grime off your face at the end of the day, and make sure you stay as hygienic as possible during the six days without a shower or running water. Without a doubt, Kilimanjaro’s long-drop loos have led to my most awkward bathroom moments – and that's coming from someone fairly comfortable using them in India. That nauseating smell, the precarious feet placement... I would prefer never to have to go through that again. 

3. Tip your porter

These guys literally pick you up when you are down. They carry the majority of your bags. They pack your tents, and leave after you. They arrive before you and have everything set up for you to crash because you will be so tired. In the meantime, they cook the most delicious food, ensure that you have clean plates and cutlery, and brew you the most refreshing ginger tea imaginable. Porters will bend over backwards to make sure you are safe. They rush you down the mountain if you have acute mountain sickness. All of this whilst still singing, dancing and jovially telling you stories to keep your mind off the climb. Your climb is made manageable and successful down to this village of porters and guides who get you to the top – so make sure you show your appreciation by tipping them handsomely. Before starting the climb, make sure you have enough cash with you. It probably won't be at the front of your mind, but it should be – especially as there are no shops or ATMs on Kilimanjaro.

4. Get to know your group

Make sure you either know your camping buddy, or at the very least know that you will be comfortable with them. Six days without showering and limited hygiene, very cold nights and confined floor space can lead to awkward moments. But all that mess, dirt and mud is all part and parcel of the experience. It gets very cold at night, so sleep in warm clothing and invest in a good sleeping bag. Keep the batteries of your gadgets, especially cameras, inside: this will keep them from freezing or losing power from the cold.

5. Nothing can prepare you for the final climb

Anyone who has climbed Kilimanjaro, or attempted to climb it, can bang on about their summit climb for centuries… The thing is, there is no point as everyone thinks you exaggerate the stories, the timings, the feelings the psychological turmoil and the physical exhaustion. Leaving base camp at midnight, after sleeping for barely 2-3 hours, you start your summit. Three hours go by, and you still are walking; six hours go by and you are still walking. Nine hours later (yes, nine!) you finally reach the top – but in those nine hours, everything that you have gone through is just so difficult to comprehend. So we turn the stories into jokes, or only tell the funny parts. That night you question why on earth you would put yourself through that much physical and psychological pain, up until you see the sun rise through the clouds, turning the frozen lunar landscape of Kilimanjaro into this heavenly experience of bliss and hope. Everywhere you look turns orange and the ice glistens in the sun, melting under your feet as you clamber up the final slope to Stella Point. You’ve made it to the crater, looking around at all the glaciers, seeing out for miles over the clouds makes the whole slightly distressing experience totally worthwhile. Looking around at all the glaciers makes the whole distressing experience totally worthwhile. The people on your left and right may break down, you may have a tear or two of either exhaustion or joy. I just wanted to lie down and sleep for eternity. You then walk up in hysteria to Uhuru Peak at 5895m and snap the worst yet most gratifying selfie of your life. After about 20 minutes when you feel the lack of oxygen taking effect, you realise you have to walk all the way back down… Now that’s a whole different story.

Abhimanyu climbed Kilimanjaro as part of a team of 29 students from universities of Brighton, Exeter and Keele, fundraising for charity Dig Deep. According to James Haughton, Assistant Director of Dig Deep, the money raised will provide clean water and sanitation to communities in Kenya. Water- and sanitation-related diseases are the largest preventable killer of children under five. Not having safe water and toilets traps people in cycles of disease, medical expenses and lost opportunities for education. Dig Deep works with communities to build taps and toilets and to teach simple life saving practices to prevent disease.

Follow Abhimanyu's adventures on Flickr, Twitter or Instagram – and take a look at his photography portfolio here.

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