Hey travelers and adventurers! Welcome to my article on climbing the incredible Mount Kilimanjaro. I’m Helen Farmer (@_helenfarmer_) and I’ve been living in the UAE for 15 years, but I’m originally from the UK. Dubai is fantastic as a travel hub. Over the years I’ve been able to visit Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Lebanon, the Maldives, Turkey and lots of countries in Europe.
These travels have become a little less frequent since having my daughters (now aged 4 and 6). But these days they’re getting older and COVID-19 restrictions are easing, so I’m excited to have some family adventures soon.
Last year I started going to The Training Room – and outside of the gym we started hiking, having weekends away and it planted a seed. Maybe we should be getting stronger with a goal in mind? We spoke to Gulf For Good, a well established organization in the UAE. They arrange expeditions and match trips to charities, with Kilimanjaro being a popular trip.
There were 20 of us and we were in Tanzania for 10 days. The bulk of the stay was spent on the mountain, but we had a couple of days at the end when some people went on safari and we could visit Enjoro Primary School – where we raised enough money to build two classrooms, which was epic.
My Experience Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
The trip was about a year in the planning and I had never even considered something like this! I recently lost 45kg and I couldn’t have imagined climbing the highest mountain in Africa a few years ago. It would have been impossible. But with a group of people of all different backgrounds and fitness levels, it came together and we inspired each other.
The trip was facilitated by Gulf For Good. They have been planning trips up Mount Kilimanjaro for years, working with Marangu Hotel where they put together teams of guides and porters – and have been since the 1930s.
Our group was amazing – we had such good energy, great food and they kept us (mostly) smiling the whole time. Our adventure was led by Caroline Leon who has summited Kilimanjaro before. She was amazing at answering our questions, checking our kit and sharing helpful advice.
We were on the mountain for six nights. What’s amazing about this climb is that you move through different zones, from rainforest to alpine desert, to glaciers on the summit. We took the Rongai Route and made our way to Kibo Hut where most groups summit from. Kibo is 4750m so people were already feeling altitude sickness and it was far colder than anticipated.
Reaching the Summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
Summit night is brutal! You are woken at 11pm, put on all of your gear, have a last cup of tea and briefing before heading up the mountain at midnight. Everyone has head torches, it’s -15 and the slope is incredibly steep. You zig-zag up, walking very slowly (the guides say “pole, pole”) through the night.
We reached the first summit at 8am, which felt amazing, and a few of us went onto Uhuru Peak at 10.30am, reaching 5895 metres. I was very, very emotional as I walked towards the sign – I will never forget this moment.
The ice, the cold and the views across Tanzania – everything was absolutely mind-blowing. And then you have to get back down! That took about four hours, then we had an hour to rest and eat, before hiking down to another camp to meet the group. So we had been on the go for about 18 hours.
Biggest Challenges and Highlights of the Climb
One of the biggest misconceptions about Kilimanjaro is that because it’s a popular, commercial climb it’s easy. It’s not! You can get injured or suffer from altitude sickness, and there is no telling who will be struck down. These things aren’t related to fitness, and this can be debilitating.
Seeing the sunrise on summit night was a real turning point. The worst of the cold was over and everyone in our group felt a renewed sense of hope that we could get through it. Overall though, we had a lot of fun – despite very dubious hygiene levels, sore feet and the cold.
How to Train & Prepare for Mount Kilimanjaro
You definitely need to have a decent level of fitness for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and I would definitely recommend some practical training out of the gym – stair climbing and actually getting up (and down) some hills.
It was challenging trying to get out in the UAE over the hot summer, so we did lots of hikes in Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope. I also recommend getting a health check, strengthening your quads, talking to your doctor about medications and vaccinations, and not skimping on good hiking boots.
Need to Know Before you Go
This was a life changing trip for me and I can’t thank the teams who got us there enough. We had great insights from elite mountaineers and people who had been up Mount Kilimanjaro before. So my big takeaways are:
- Pack Snacks: You burn a huge number of calories and a bit of sugar can really boost your mood on summit night.
- If you get Cold, be Prepared: I can’t sleep when it’s cold, so a hot water bottle and heat pads were invaluable.
- Leave your Dignity and Ego at the Hotel: You will be going to the toilet in front of people, you will most likely look terrible (altitude can do that) and there will be lots of crying. But just remember it’s worth it!
Now that I’m back from my Mount Kilimanjaro adventure I’m feeling really flat and restless, so maybe it’s time to start planning another trip?!