Blog 2 by guest blogger: Aimee Addington
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I just want you to know that everything covered here is based on my own experience as well as the information and advice I received in preparing for Kilimanjaro. A successful summit can never be guaranteed but there are ways to improve your chances.
There are three main factors that I believe will make or break your chances. We’ll call them the three A’s: Activity level, Altitude, and Attitude.
- Activity level
It’s not about how much training you do, but rather the type of training you do. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not about speed, but strength. Many people make the mistake of simply increasing their “active time” (which usually means running more) and not giving thought to the type of activity they do. Running alone will not help very much on Kilimanjaro.
Climbing stairs, squats and lunges, strengthening your core muscles, going on regular hikes with a decent elevation gain (including a few multi-day hikes if possible) and long-distance walks (ideally 15-20km with a backpack) are the types of exercise worth focusing on. I live in a coastal city that has a massive sand dune; walking up and down that 4-5 times on a regular basis was probably the best type of training for me.
Altitude sickness is unpredictable and no respecter of persons. There are simply no guarantees. Even the guides are affected differently each time they climb. I was very lucky not to experience any symptoms of altitude sickness, but there was a lot I did to avoid it. Here are the tips I would recommend:
Photo by: TeaCoraRooibos
Stop drinking coffee (and all other caffeinated beverages) about 2 weeks before the hike. Staying well-hydrated is one of the biggest keys to avoiding altitude sickness and because caffeine acts as a diuretic, it is counter-productive in this regard. It’s important to get well past the caffeine withdrawal phase before leaving for Kilimanjaro.
Aim to drink at least 3-4 liters of fluid during the course of each day. It carries the consequence of regular bladder-emptying, but it's a minor inconvenience in comparison to the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Eat while you can
This was the advice of the guides at every meal. you never know when nausea and loss of appetite associated with altitude sickness will set in, so eat well at every meal just in case. Ladies, this is not a time to worry about portion control!
Let the guides set the pace and be sure to obey their constant reminders to take it “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly). This isn’t always easy, but you have to give your body as much time to acclimatize as possible. Gaining too much altitude too quickly will only end in regret.
Climb high, sleep low
Photo by: Fabrizio Conti
Often, this principle is already built into your route for the day by taking you to a higher altitude than your camp for that night. Even so, it is still recommended that in the evenings, once you’ve rested a bit, you take a 15-20-minute walk to a higher point and chill there for a while before coming back down to camp for the night. This helps your body prepare for the elevation gain the following day.
I learned this principle through Pilates and made a concerted effort to practice it throughout my time on Kilimanjaro. While I can’t prove that it assisted with acclimatizing, I found it very helpful to find a breathing rhythm while I walked and to concentrate on fully expanding my lungs, especially as the air got thinner.
Ginger is well known to help alleviate nausea so, as part of the snacks I packed for each day, I included a few pieces of preserved ginger. Again, I can’t prove that this helped, but it certainly didn’t do any harm.
See your GP
It is advisable to consult with your GP as part of your preparations. There are medications you can take to avoid/treat altitude sickness, but they are not always effective and probably shouldn’t be taken without a doctor’s go-ahead. The main problem with them is that they usually have a diuretic effect, meaning that you have to drink even more fluids to stay well hydrated and then spend most of the day behind rocks or in bushes.
I mentioned in the first blog that climbing Kilimanjaro is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. Feeling over-confident or underestimating the challenge puts you in dangerous territory. You need to be prepared for some tough times… but that is, after all, the whole reason people do this kind of thing: to push their limits. For me, personally, it was a deeply spiritual experience and I could share countless stories of how I saw evidence of God’s presence with me. That, together with the many letters of encouragement given to me by friends and family, helped me win the mental battle and kept me going when I wanted to give up.
Feature image by: Hu Chen