My Next Challenge: Climbing Kilimanjaro with G Adventures

Climbing Kilimanjaro

About 4 years ago my friends and I wrote a bucket list of things we wanted to achieve before we were 30 – I even blogged about it here .

1. Run a marathon  Now changed to run all the Marathon Majors
2. Take a photography course
4. Go to Ibiza
5. Do a full moon party in Thailand (can I change this??)
7. Learn to drive 
8. Climb Kilimanjaro
10. Live abroad
I think if I were to re-write this list it would be rather different, and include more travel, a half ironman and more destination races, however this is the list I’m sticking with for now.
Well I am seriously excited to be ticking off a major bucket list item this Summer; climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with G Adventures.
I don’t know that many people who have climbed the highest mountain in Africa, but a couple of blogger friends attempted it last summer. I asked Laura Stewart (Life Laura London) and Jess Alberigo (part of the Twins in Trainers) about their own trips, pick their brains for advice and packing tips.
Climbing Kilimanjaro
Why did you decide to take on the challenge? 
Jess:I grew up watching my Dad travel the world as an expedition medic and knew that one day I wanted to do the same. When I qualified as a GP I felt like I had enough experience and wanted Kilimanjaro to be my first trek. It’s such an iconic trek in an amazing country. It really seemed like a challenge because not only do you have to hike for days over challenging terrain and camp overnight (with absolutely no luxuries!) you also have to deal with the altitude which is a huge challenge in itself. I knew it would push me to the limit both physically an mentally and would really be an experience of a lifetime- I was right!
Laura: To be honest we didn’t really think of it as a challenge, more of a holiday doing what we love! Hiking, walking, camping, and being on mountains! (Editors note – I definitely see this as a challenge!!)
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Climbing Kilimanjaro
What route did you take? 
I am taking on the Machame route, which is 8 days from start to finish, which includes the 2 days travelling. It has a 94% completion rate so I’m hoping that bodes well for me!
Jess:I took the Lemosho route which is the longest (it takes 7 days) and apparently is the most scenic. I was keen to do this route as the longer duration means there is more time for acclimatisation with much higher success rates of reaching the top.
Laura: We took the Marangu Route which is the quickest route up that has huts along the way. You can camp on this route too and most trips use it as the descent route as it’s most direct. We chose it because of our time constraints of holiday and my husband thought it would be more comfortable in the huts, but that’s not true. We now realise that camping is a much better option!
 
What do you wish you’d know before Kili? 
Jess: I wish I’d known about the rain! I had packed waterproofs but for some reason I hadn’t thought rain was that likely (I was probably thinking of how hot and sunny Africa is- obviously it’s slightly different when you’re half way up the biggest mountain on the continent!) I think the people I’d spoken to about the trek had had dry weather so obviously they hadn’t mentioned rain. I had no idea how heavy the rain could be and wasn’t prepared for how much harder this would make it.
Laura: Stay on the mountain for as long as possible! This allows for more acclimatisation, but also, just more amazing time on the mountain! I would have stayed there if they let me. Most people don’t come back to Kili so get all the time on the mountain you can!
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Climbing Kilimanjaro
What was the best bit advice you were given about the climb? 
Jess: Pole Pole! This is swahili for slowly slowly, and is what guides are constantly saying to you. The slower you go, the better, as it gives you more time to acclimatise to the change in altitude, and more chance of reaching the top. 
Laura: Go. So. Slow. Like slower than slow. Take your slowest walking pace and then go 50% slower. There is more than enough time in the day to get from camp to camp so only fools hurry. Going slow gives you more time to acclimatise, talk to the people on your trek, and meet the amazing other people on the trail. You hear this advice so much before the trek you start to think, “OK I get it” but seriously. GO SLOW!
Best piece of kit? 
Jess: This is tricky as everything had a purpose- if you’re given a kit list from your tour provider, take everything on it! It’s tempting to think you won’t need certain things, especially as it can get quite pricey if you need to buy or rent lots of items, but if you’re missing something essential it’ll make the trek so much harder. I think my best bit of kit was my walking poles. These had actually been listed as optional on my kit list but I absolutely couldn’t have done without them. The descent especially would have been impossible as your legs are exhausted and it can be quite steep and slippy.
 Laura: I loved these hiking trousers because they came in a long length (don’t get me started on being a tall active woman) and have some stretch in them so are actually flattering and comfortable to be in all day. My friend Polly gave me great advice to not wear running leggings as the zips and pockets around the waist will dig in when you are wearing a backpack all day. Plus, they’re not warm enough – get some proper thermal leggings for the summit day and the cold nights to sleep in. Bring a wide brimmed hat or something that covers the back of your neck. It’s not super hot but the sun is intense and you’re out all day. Oh, and my best advice from my friend Katie was to bring a metal water bottle that you can fill up with hot water before you go to bed to act as a little hot water bottle in your sleeping bag!
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Thing you wish you’d brought but didn’t? 
Jess:I decided to rent a sleeping bag from the tour company rather than bringing one of my own which was a mistake Even though it was 5 tog, I was freezing at night time and basically ended up sleeping in multiple layers of clothing and a down jacket. It was obviously just really old and maybe not that good quality. Other members of my group who had brought their own sleeping bags (or hired them from a UK company) were toasty warm at night -some of them sleeping in their underwear as they were too hot otherwise! 
Laura: I pretty much wore everything I brought as I only brought 1 set of layers. Wear it all at night and just the light stuff during the day. It worked great (if started to smell a bit). Here’s my kit list with details. 
climbing kilimanjaro
climbing Kilimanjaro
What was your best moment on the mountain? 
Jess: Without a doubt reaching the summit. You leave camp in the middle of the night and trek for hours in the darkness. You reach the summit just as the sun rises over the clouds. I hadn’t realised how beautiful the summit would be, and also hadn’t realised there were massive glaciers at the top which were absolutely stunning. The views took my breath away and it really was one of the most amazing moments of my life.You build really strong friendships with your team and after days of struggling together it’s amazing to all reach the summit. 
It’s also worth saying that there were so many other highs on the trek! Not everyone will reach the top which is obviously hugely disappointing, but there are so many other great moments that make it an unforgettable experience.
Laura: All of them. It is 100% about the entire trip and not one moment or the other. Take time to enjoy the golden hours after you arrive in camp and have a bit of time to wander around before dinner. Eating popcorn with our guides and learning about their awesome lives leading 100s of expeditions.  Taking a few detours to explore lesser paths during the day. Bundling up after dinner and standing outside in the freezing cold to see the stars that look close enough to touch. Having an ice cold Kilimanjaro beer and tube of Pringles as you sign out of the park on your last day too! EVERYTHING! 
What was a low point? 
Jess: There was one day where it rained really heavily. I was absolutely soaking, freezing cold and exhausted. I arrived at a cold, damp camp and just felt so low. I just wanted to cry but knew I had to be strong. I was the trek doctor and was conscious of the fact that I was there for other people and needed to support them rather than having a break down myself! I took myself away to my tent for a little while to get myself together. Luckily I had signal, so text my sister Bex, to tell her how I was feeling. Fortunately she replied straight away with a motivational message, telling me how well I was doing and how proud she was. Obviously this made me want to cry even more but it was just what I needed!
Laura: Dropping my glove into a puddle of *something* in a long drop toilet at 4,400m wasn’t quite my low point, but having to put it back on while already having the classic AMS symptom of a dodgy stomach was. Everyone will have their own difficult moments on Kilimanjaro but it’s just about working with your group and guides to get through them. Everyone is always looking after everyone else!
climbing Kilimanjaro
Any tips you’d give to someone taking on Kili this summer? 
Jess: 
– Listen when you are told to go slowly. It can be really frustrating when you have to walk at snails pace,  and I think if you’re competitive it makes it even harder, but just remember there is a reason for it! If you want to reach the summit, you’re more likely to get there if you’re the slowest person in the group! Just relax into it and take time to enjoy the experience.
– Be honest with how you’re feeling. It’s really good to be honest with the other members of your team- many of them will be feeling the same so support each other through it and it will be so much easier
– Don’t ignore symptoms of altitude sickness; if there is a medic on your trek, discuss it with them sooner rather than later. 
– Take snacks! The food  on the trek was actually really good but sometimes you just need a Mars bar!
– take an exfoliating face wash. After day 2-3 I gave up on hygiene and just kept adding layers of clothing, but it was really nice to be able to wash my face each morning.
 Thanks Jess and Laura – I can’t wait to tackle Kili in a few weeks, and share my trip here and on social! What’s on your bucket list? Would you/have you climbed Kilimanjaro? 

14 Comments

  1. 21st July 2016 / 8:00 am

    Wow, this will be an amazing experience girl…cheers! I’ve heard only awesome stories about the climbing experience. You definitely are up to the challenge! Who are you climbing with? Friends? Fiancee? Family? Either way…it will be awesome. Guess you’ll be back at The Altitude Centre now eh? 🙂
    x

    • charlotte
      22nd July 2016 / 8:01 am

      Just booked in 🙂 Just doing it with the group at G Adventures (none of my friends had any holiday left at short notice!) but think it will be incredible!

  2. 21st July 2016 / 8:15 am

    Sounds amazing! Hope you have a brilliant time.
    I don’t have a written bucket list as such but have ticked off a few things that I had always wanted to do:
    Take snowboarding lessons (I did a 1 day intensive course)
    Take ballet lessons (I did a 6 week adult course)
    Go stand up paddleboarding (I did this in Lanzarote last year and now race in the UK this year).
    Visit a few places in Italy (went to Venice this year).
    I did the ride London 100 miles bike ride.
    Completed a half marathon and a triathlon.

    I still have loads of things that I’d love to do:
    I would love to do a big hike, possibly the Inca trail and Machu Picu
    We are hopefully going to Rome this year.
    Maybe I need to write them down, there’s something really satisfying about ticking things off!

    Good luck with your climb, can’t wait to read about it! The advice in this post sounds really great and I’m sure it will be helpful for anyone else thinking of a similar challenge.

  3. 21st July 2016 / 11:47 am

    Hi! We have a lot in common and our bucket lists look oddly similar 🙂 I actually climbed Kilimanjaro last June and blogged about it here. I also posted a day by day journal if you want to take a look. And of course, happy to answer any questions you might have before your big adventure! It was incredible. You will love it. https://thoughtsandpavement.com/2015/07/04/recap-mount-kilimanjaro/

    • charlotte
      22nd July 2016 / 7:57 am

      Thanks so much, this is really helpful! Love the idea of a day by day blog – perhaps I’ll try to do that too and take a journal with me!

  4. 21st July 2016 / 12:48 pm

    This sounds like such an amazing adventure! I too have a long bucket list that I wrote a blog post about, only mine is 40 things before age 40 😉 #1 on my list is the Everest Marathon. I don’t want to summit Everest, but I truly want to see the mountain with my own eyes. And hike to basecamp…then run 26.2 miles down!

    • charlotte
      22nd July 2016 / 7:56 am

      Wow that would be incredible!! What a different way to see base camp! Good luck to you!!

  5. 22nd July 2016 / 7:30 am

    My memories of Kili are basically having really cold hands, being sick and having to scrub dirt out of my pores with a nail brush at the end of the 7 days…! (this sounds mildly negative.,..but I don’t think I don’t know if I had the mental strength to do it justice given it was on a school trip at 17, and to be fair, when you can’t walk 5 steps without having to sit down and vom, giving up is actually a quite an enjoyable option)

    I don’t know if I would go back to try it again..but it’s an incredible place. I initially thought that not getting to the top would really disappoint me, but when you are in that situation, you know what you can and can’t do..and I definitely was not going any higher. But yes, pole pole and slightly funny tasting African Snickers are your best friends! Plus, the first time you emerge from the lower paths and spot the summit, it is absolutely breathtaking.

    • charlotte
      22nd July 2016 / 7:46 am

      Oh gosh, it doesn’t sound great! I’m hoping that some pretty low points during marathon training and races will help my mental strength on the mountain! Definitely just put another pair of gloves into my pile though!

  6. 22nd July 2016 / 5:55 pm

    G Adventures is an amazing company, they are going to treat you right!!! Can’t wait to hear all about it in person in September!!!!

  7. 24th July 2016 / 3:49 am

    How exciting! I would love to climb Kilimanjaro some day. I remember reading Laura’s review at the time and thinking how much I would enjoy something like that. For the time being I think I will just have to live the adventures through the blogs of others, but this is definitely on my bucket list for one day for sure.

  8. Sander
    25th July 2016 / 5:34 pm

    I did the Machame 6 day route last year with gadventures. Some recommendations:

    – go slow, even if you feel like you can go faster. take it real easy. One of our group members got really sick by ascending the mountain way too fast. Besides it’s a lot more fun to socialize with the rest of your group who do go slow. (and the whole point of going on a group adventure) 🙂
    – summit night, you’ll keep a steady slow pace and only take short minor breaks (1-2 minutes), so make sure anything you need is easily accessible (sunscreen,sunglasses, snacks). I’d recommend mittens with liner gloves.
    – sunscreen, on summit night we all forgot to put on sunscreen and paid for it dearly. Just because it’s dark, windy and snowing, put it on when you leave the tent.
    – sunglasses, don’t forget to wear them on top of the mountain, or you will be snow blinded. Keep them easily accessible, once the sun gets up you want to put them on.

    • charlotte
      27th July 2016 / 7:16 am

      Such great tips – thank you so much!!

  9. 26th July 2016 / 11:27 pm

    omg dude this is AMAZING!!!! What an experience you’re about to have! I *really* wanna climb Kili, after looking after social media for Africa’s biggest low cost airline at my previous job I wrote about it all the time and it’s been on my bucket list ever since! Also featured (and yet to complete) is: do a skydive, run an ultra marathon, visit New Zealand, skate a vert ramp, cycle JOGLEND, and to cycle the Great Tour (64 day cycle around the whole of Britain’s coastline).