Ian Taylor is highly respected for his organisation of treks and expeditions to all corners of the world. He has climbed Mount Everest to the top, Kilimanjaro +35 times, Island peak over 17 times, 6 of the 7 summits and led over 35 treks to Everest Base Camp. I am thrilled to share the lessons he has learnt on Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro is a well-known mountain and one that novices often want to summit. Although this is possible, it should not be underestimated. Preparation and training before the expedition, along with using a top-quality company will greatly increase your chances of success. Ian passionately shares with us below his knowledge from past experiences of climbing Kilimanjaro.
Lessons Learned on Kilimanjaro
Each time I step foot on Kilimanjaro, a new lesson is learned, and I have been up there 35+ times, so I have learnt a lot of lessons! Every time I am out on any multi-day trip, there are lessons to be learned, because each trip is different. Sometimes on Kilimanjaro, we get hit with unexpected rain, high cold winds on the summit night, cyclones, slippery trails, different effects of altitude, issues with sleeping and eating at altitude, slow-moving park entrances, vehicles breaking down and some people coming without enough training and preparation. All of these things can happen and can affect a group.
These all affect the group you are with and you need to come with a relaxed attitude. Remember it is all part of the adventure! I have a good understanding of climbing in a range of weather conditions and how to pick the right acclimatization program. The Lemosho route is the best route over 8 days.
The biggest issue I have seen over the years and which people need to understand is that going to altitude and standing at 19,341ft above sea level is very difficult. You cannot fully prepare for this type of altitude. People cannot survive long term above 18,000ft, so once you climb above this height it’s always going to be difficult. From years of experience, the best way to make the journey is on an 8 day trip. This gives you the best chance to acclimatize, enjoy the climb up Kilimanjaro and come down safely.
Also putting in the conditioning training prior to the trip is essential. You will be walking with 6kg+/ 12lbs on your back for 8 days in a row. The ideal preparation is multi-day hiking at home, building up to carrying double the amount of weight you will carry on the mountain. If you can pair this with strength and endurance training in the gym, carrying your weighted pack on a stair master or inclined treadmill, 4-5 days a week, we consider this the best preparation for your Kilimanjaro climb.
You should always consult your doctor/fitness instructor before you start a more intense training program. You need to be careful to not overstress your body if it’s not used to this type of training. If you are signed up for one of our trips then CONTACT US to discuss the training needed.
Movement of Oxygen in the Body
Once you go above 10,000ft your body will be producing more red blood cells to move oxygen efficiently around the body to your muscles. If you condition your body to carry more weight prior to the trip then your body becomes used to being under pressure. The muscles adapt to the hard work of walking uphill with weight on your back and will help in your preparation and vital physical conditioning at high altitude. High heart rates and interval training help, but only after months of base training and an improved endurance capacity.
Another thing to consider, is your comfort while camping. For the entire time you are on the mountain, you will be sleeping in tents. If this is not something you have done before, it can add to your discomfort on the trip. We suggest camping before the trip to get comfortable with your sleeping bag, mattress and pillow because getting the rest you need on the mountain is extremely important! Learning how to keep clean and organized whilst sleeping in a tent will help you to enjoy the trek a lot more.
Climb High Sleep Low
After arriving at Kilimanjaro airport and one night in Arusha at 1,400m/4,593ft we will get straight into the acclimatization process. As you will see in our Itinerary we have an excellent but challenging schedule. Climbing high each day and sleeping lower that night is critical for the body to acclimatize. This process will help you adapt better to the lack of oxygen so you can enjoy the hiking. The 8 Day Lemosho Route up the mountain is the best route to naturally give you this critical acclimatization.
Ian’s First Experience of climbing Kilimanjaro
From my experience climbing Kilimanjaro 35+ times I have learned a lot about why people are not making the summit. I remember my first climb up Kilimanjaro. I was physically fit but lacked knowledge about low oxygen environments and how my body reacts to lack of oxygen.
On my first climb, I signed up for a five-day trek not knowing that this was a big mistake. On day two I was very fatigued coming up to the Lava Tower at 4,600m/15,000ft and struggled to arrive at Barranco camp, 3,900m/12,795ft. I was vomiting and fell into my tent tired, dehydrated and feeling there was no way I could make the summit. My first and biggest mistake was that I did NOT pick the right itinerary and acclimatization.
Pace and Hydration
As I said, I was very fit and couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much. And now I know, with all the experience I have gained, not only did I have a poor acclimatization schedule, but I also knew very little about how to pace myself and stay well hydrated at altitude.
Trying to Sleep at Altitude
The next day I struggled but made it to Barafu 4,650m/15,255ft the high camp, where we would spend two nights. I remember the guides trying to get us to go for the summit that night. We had only spent 3 nights sleeping (or lack of sleeping) on the mountain. I was continually shattered, didn’t want to be there and felt horrible. My experience was demoralizing as I had ambitions to climb Mt Everest. Well, we learn from our mistakes and failures and they make us stronger and more discerning.
I was not sure I could make it and struggled to the summit. We had to go from 19,341 feet back to the gate at 6,500 feet that same day. Going up 4,000 feet and down 12,840 feet in one day is very demanding. Yes we made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro and back to the gate in one day. This was stupid, dangerous and the reason only 42% of people make the summit. You think Kilimanjaro is hard…. Yes it is if you try 4, 5 or 6 day treks.
What I have Learned
After climbing Kilimanjaro now 35+ times you really need 8 days on the mountain for a safe and successful ascent.
The main reason people do not make the summit of Kilimanjaro is they are not spending the time to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. Above 18,000ft is where the body can no longer fully adjust to the lack of oxygen, your body is slowly deteriorating and you are pushing the limit of what the body can take. This is a dangerous place and should not be underestimated. I want to make sure our clients have all the information they need so they are fully informed before making a decision about going to extreme altitude.
The Key to Success for climbing Kilimanjaro
The key to success on Kilimanjaro is coming with excellent physical conditioning and the right acclimatization schedule. I now realize that the only way to climb Kilimanjaro is to spend a minimum of 8 days on the mountain. The goal is to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and enjoy the entire journey there, not just endure it! This is the only way to approach this climb.
Ian Taylor Trekking has a 95% success rate on our 8 day Kilimanjaro climbs and 85% success rate on our 7 day treks. We don’t run 5 or 6 day treks anymore. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a challenge, but why make it harder than it needs to be.
We fully prepare you with training plans, 40 page dossier and available 5 days a week to answer any question you may have if you join one of our treks. Get in touch and we can help you make your adventure on Kilimanjaro a safe and successful experience.
If you would like to know more, read this blog post on all you need to know about climbing Kilimanjaro. Or just email us or call us. We are happy to help you get the information you need for your Kilimanjaro climb.
About the author
Ian Taylor lives in Vail Colorado, where his award-winning company is based. If he is not in America, then you will find him based in Ireland, or out on expedition. He is a motivational speaker and adventurer, holding the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (now the winter mountaineering and climbing instructor) and the International Mountain Leader award. On May 23, 2008, Ian became the youngest Irishman to stand on top of the world. Go to https://iantaylortrekking.com/ to find out more about the tips that he runs.
Interested about other hikes abroad, but maybe at a lower altitude, then check out a selection of Switzerland walks. If you would like to read about a research expedition to Everest then check out this article.