WHAT TO ASK Find out whether you’ll be climbing the Western Breach, and if so, what precautions (helmets, time of day to climb) will be taken against falling rock. Ask how medical evacuation of climbers is handled, and what kind of accreditation the trip leader has for dealing with medical issues, especially acute mountain sickness, as well as how many times he has summitted with clients. Find out the outfitter’s success rate for reaching the top.
Training and Getting There
READY! SET! TRAIN!
You don’t have to be an athlete to climb Kilimanjaro, but you do have to be fit. Brook and I counted on regular cardio workouts at the gym and weekend hikes to get us in shape. If you have a chance to do some hiking at altitude, that’s a plus. And even if, like us, you’re only carrying day packs, you’ll want to test-drive your backpack before the trip to make sure it’s comfortable — and that goes double for your boots.
The most direct route from the U.S. is via Amsterdam where you can pick up a KLM nonstop to Kilimanjaro International. The airfare is steep; an outfitter’s group rate is usually better than anything you’ll find on your own, unless you’re willing to take a more circuitous route, say, through Nairobi.
What to Bring
Your outfitter will send you a dismayingly long list of essentials for the trip. We followed it to the letter, and wore every stitch of clothing we brought. Summer by day, winter by night is the Kili weather cliche, so you’ll need everything from shorts to expedition-weight fleece. Think layering. There’s a fair amount of downtime on the mountain, so pack playing cards or other small-scale entertainment — but remember, your porter has to carry whatever you bring.
You’ll be above the mosquito zone, so anti-malarials aren’t needed unless you combine a climb with a trip to the coast or a safari but you will want to consider diamox to combat altitude sickness. Your travel doctor can advise on inoculations and other drugs to bring, but be sure to have ibuprofin, immodium and Pepto-Bismol at hand. We found eyedrops a godsend at dust-ridden camps. For up-to-the-minute health information, consult the Centers for Disease Control Web site.
Check with the State Department to see if there is a warning on travel to East Africa; one was in effect when we traveled there in October 2003. We didn’t feel at risk, but you’ll have to weigh this issue for yourself.
The IMAX film, Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa is available on video and DVD. While much drama is lost in downsizing to a small screen, there’s excellent footage of the Western Breach. The lavishly photographed book of the same name by Audrey Salkeld, which chronicles the IMAX team’s ascent via the Western Breach, is filled with mountain history, botany and lore.