One thing that all guides unanimously agree upon is that to maximise the chances of reaching the top one must be in a good state of physical fitness. Whilst completing a recent questionnaire for my annual medical I had to tick the box for the lowest level of physical activity, unfortunately my short walk between the train station and the office is about as active as I get these days. Given the horrible chesty cold that I’ve been suffering from since boxing day I had decided to wait until the New Year to start my training programme but faced with the prospect of having to complete my annual self appraisal, exercise seemed like the least painful option. I ventured into the back garden armed with a 16kg kettle-bell. The plan was to perform 12 kettle-bell swings then 12 burpees, pyramiding down 11 of each, 10 of each etc. The kettle-bell swings felt good, straight back, strong breathing all going well…. The Burpee was a different matter a squat press followed by a star jump the sort of no-equipment exercised loved by school gym teachers. After the 10th Burpee my heart was pounding and my lungs were busting. I had to stop. Maybe I had been too ambitious? Perhaps a short jog would be a better start? After about a mile of slow jogging I felt equally unwell and headed for home. Well, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, there’s plenty of work to do over the coming months. It’s going to be an uphill struggle!
It seems like the very first decision to make is to choose a route up the mountain. Not all the agencies offer all the routes so it makes sense to choose the route first.
There appears to be five approved routes up Kilimanjaro; Marangu, Machame, Umbwe, Rongai and Lemosho with one route, Mweka being reserved for descending.
There are two main reasons cited why climbers fail to reach the summit. Firstly exhaustion from lack of fitness and secondly the development of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or altitude sickness. The choice of route seems critical in minimising the the chances of developing AMS with the shorter trails leaving the body less time to aclimatise to the altitude.
The Marangu “Coca-Cola trail” is the oldest and probably the most popular trail, it’s also the only trail to offer sleeping huts as accommodation and has a reputation for being one of the easiest climbs. However, it’s also the shortest route with many agencies offering a five day (four night) climb.
The Machame “Whisky trail” is regarded as the most enjoyable route it typically takes six to eight days and whilst being a more challenging climb has higher success rates than the Merangu route possibly as the longer time taken on this trail allows climbers to acclimatise better.
The Umbwe trail takes five to six days but has the reputation of being the hardest of all the climbs and is also the least popular of the routes. Maybe not a good trail to start with?
The Rongai trail approaches from the North (near the Kenyan border) this trail takes five to six days and typically has a third of the traffic of the Merangu or Machame routes.
The Lemosho trail approaches from the west of the mountain and typically takes six to eight days to complete fewer agencies cover this route but the longer time taken on this trail gives climbers one of the best chances of success.
It’s the 27th of December 2012, I’ve just finished a fantastic meal of cold turkey with bubble and squeak and waved goodbye to my parents, the last of our Christmas visitors. Thoughts now turn to the New Year and the crazy conversation I had with my good friend David Klein in a London pub several weeks ago. David is keen to climb mount Kilimanjaro next year, the last time he asked whether I was interested was the day before my annual medical was due. I was going to seek a qualified medical opinion as to whether I was (or could be) fit and healthy enough to take on such a mountain. I have gone as far as purchasing a book describing the particulars of planning a Kilimanjaro trip. Whilst many people assume that climbing Kilimanjaro is a simple feat (almost everyone seems to know someone who has recently achieved success) the book suggests that on average 10 people a year loose their lives whilst attempting the climb.