Everything you should know before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Yes, we love adventure and yes we love testing our limits but for many of us climbing Kilimanjaro might be a tad bit outside our comfort zone. After all, it is one of the world’s highest peaks and the world’s highest freestanding mountain. But despite its massive size, the lack of oxygen and freezing temperatures, every year around 40,000 people seek to climb this incredible summit, and we had to find out why.

We got the incredible opportunity to speak to Maureen Ackerman – a recent conqueror of Mount Kilimanjaro and asked her a bit about her Kilimanjaro adventure and why she wants to do it AGAIN!

Adventure Lifestyle Show (ALS): Has climbing Kilimanjaro always been a dream of yours?

Maureen Ackerman (M): Yes definitely, the idea of hiking for the week, being outside, sleeping in tents and then above all reaching the roof of Africa, there’s that feeling of euphoria when you get to the top, knowing that you achieved all this by yourself.  

ALS: When did you decide 2018 was the year for you to make your dream a reality and how long did you train for this adventure?

M: I decided in September 2016 to do it but it’s not the cheapest of trips, so we gave ourselves 2 years to pay for it. I’m a strength coach by profession so did a lot of strength training and conditioning but what I found the most helpful was going hiking every weekend. I started hiking about 4 months before the hike and did between 10-20 km every weekend.

ALS: For this type of adventure both the body and mind need training, how did you prepare your mind?

M: Yes, the mind is very important! I did a breathing course with Wim Hoff, the Iceman. That helped me with breathing for sure but it also helped me to meditate and focus more. Whilst training I did some of the hikes at ridiculous paces so I could teach myself what discomfort on the mountain would feel like and to push through. I knew the summit day would probably be the hardest thing I’ll ever experience in my life so I needed to work towards that moment.

ALS: What are the essential items to pack? list from the most important to the least.

M: 1. Snacks –Chocolates are great because you lose your appetite and then you need something that you really like, or you will struggle to replenish your fuel to carry on. Especially on the summit day. Don’t go eat the lekker stuff at the beginning of the trip, you will need it at the end.

  1. Roll up (foam) mattress – They give you a mattress but it’s not enough.
  2. Phone – For photos, it’s just easier. There are plenty selfie worthy moments.
  3. Big power bank – At least a 20000 cause you need to charge your phone for taking photos.
  4. Baby powder – You do sweat a lot and will chafe and believe me it will get uncomfortable.
  5. Lip ice – Your lips get very dry from liking them all the time.

ALS: What kind of gear, shoes, clothing etc do you need?

M: Here are a few items that you cannot reach the summit without:

  • Shoes – Hiking boots. They need to be waterproof but breathable. You don’t want your feet sweating too much because that causes blisters and sore feet. I also used Solomon’s jogging trainers. I only used the hiking boots for summit day.
  • Socks – Normal hiking socks for the whole week but for summit day proper summit socks. I wore 2 pairs and my feet still froze!
  • Thermals – At least 2 pairs
  • Fleece pants – For summit day
  • Down jacket – 800 and up. It is light and that is what I used for summit day and it was fine.
  • Gloves – My glove of choice is a mutton with fleece liners, make sure it is suitable for -20 deg.
  • Shorts and T’s- A pair of hiking shorts and 2 pairs of long hiking pants and 4 t-shirts.

ALS: How does one sign up, plan and book to climb Kilimanjaro?

M: We booked our trip through Climbing Kilimanjaro who were absolutely great. They offer one of the most comprehensive guides on climbing Kilimanjaro and have successfully led several large groups to the summit, giving them first-hand knowledge of all the major hiking routes. They were very professional and provided us with excellent service.

ALS:  Tell us more about the cultural experience – food, the people, accommodation and experiences?

M: It wasn’t really much of a cultural experience because it’s all about getting to and up the mountain. The food was amazing, they served stews and soup. They made sure we finished all our food, sometimes we had absolutely no appetite but they made sure we were all getting the nutrients our body needed to climb the mountain. They were also very helpful and accommodating with vegan and vegetarian climbers, they always made sure everyone ate a good meal according to their dietary requirements.

The whole experience was incredible and we were well taken care of by our “mountain family”. They set up camp to be ready for us on arrival with chairs facing the summit so you could sit and picture yourself reaching the summit. Without them, this journey would not have been possible. They give us the motivation we needed and they carried all our luggage, you only take your snacks and water for the day. Overall the service was well above 5 Star.

ALS: Was there a time you doubted yourself and wanted to give up? What kind of support did you have?

M: The thought of quitting never crossed my mind, it’s not in my nature to give up. Some of the other people in our group wanted to stop but our guide was very supportive and quite stern with people at the end, telling them he will not have any failures in his group. We were a group of 7 and we all reached the summit. They kept singing us songs and slowing us down, they made sure no-one rushed. They created an incredible experience for us and the singing  was a beautiful way to keep people motivated.

ALS: Would you do it again?

M: YES I will definitely do it again. I made the “mistake” of telling my girlfriend that I will do it with her – this will be her first time. But I am happy to do it again because the experience was so phenomenal. It’s an incredible achievement to get to the top. It taught me a lot about myself, it humbled me and I learnt that if you put your mind on something and you believe you can do it, NOTHING can stop you from achieving it. So yes I will do it again, even if it’s just to see that beautiful sunrise from the top.

ALS: Last question, what’s your next ADVENTURE?

M: I am always doing new adventures but my next big adventure will definitely be another summit, maybe in the next two years. We are planning on going to the summit in Peru.

What an amazing adventure you had Maureen. Thank you for sharing this with us, and we look forward to seeing you at the Adventure Lifestyle Show.

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