What is the weather like on Kilimanjaro?
The main weather conditions that can cause concerns while climbing Kilimanjaro relate to cold temperature and precipitation. Though the average temperatures on the lowlands of Tanzania are relatively warm and stable throughout the year, the temperature on Kilimanjaro varies widely depending primarily on the altitude. It is recommended to climb Kilimanjaro during the dry seasons – which are mid June through end of October and beginning of December through mid March. But even during the “dry” seasons, climbers may still experience heavy rains. The mountain’s weather is unpredictable and climbers should be ready for wet and cold conditions no matter when they come.
There are distinct climatic zones on different altitudes with changing vegetation. We will pass through five major ecological zones on the way to the summit. The climb begins in the lush rainforests at the base of the mountain, then proceed through heath, moorland, and alpine desert, before finally entering into the arctic zone. As we gain altitude, the temperatures drop as does precipitation levels and vegetation. While the temperatures in the rainforest are generally very mild, averaging 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperatures during the night ascent to the summit are frequently below zero. Therefore, climbers need to have the appropriate extreme cold weather gear to endure harsh winter weather for many hours.
That being said, most of the hiking can be done wearing just one or two layers on top (baselayer plus soft shell jacket) and hiking pants. After arriving at camp, typically people will be comfortable putting on a warm, insulating layer such as a fleece or down jacket and a knit hat.
What do I need to do on the mountain?
All of our climbs are fully supported. Our staff will do everything they can to make your trip as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. You will have the services of a lead guide, assistant guides, a cook and a number of porters. They will take down and set up camp, prepare hot meals, boil water, carry all of the equipment as well as most of your personal gear.
You will be required to carry a medium sized daypack (about 30L) containing items needed while hiking. Typically, this means extra layers of clothing, snacks, and personal usage items such as sunscreen. The daypack will normally weigh 10 to 20 pounds. Your porters will carry all of your other gear in a duffel bag, limited to 33 pounds, between campsites. You will be responsible for packing your daypack and duffel bag every day.
Our climbs are limited to a maximum of 12 clients, and on average, there will be three staff members per client on a trip (i.e., a group of 12 clients will have the support of 36-40 staff). This high ratio of staff to clients ensures that you will be well cared for. Therefore you can enjoy the hikes while we do the hard work to make your experience as pleasant as possible.
What is the Daily Schedule on the Mountain?
The day begins with a friendly wake up “call” from your waiter at about 6:30 AM. A pan of warm water with soap is provided for washing your hands and face. Hot drinks are available inside the dining tent or delivered to you inside your tent. Shortly thereafter, breakfast is served. You should assemble your gear and get dressed for the hike before you eat breakfast because the porters will break down your tent while you are eating. At this time you also fill up your water bottles and bladers. Our guides will take conduct health checks before you begin hiking, around 8:00 AM.
You will notice that the guides set a deliberately slow pace (“pole pole”, or “slowly, slowly”) in order to give clients adequate time to adapt to the thinning air. Approximately every hour, we will take a rest break to eat some snacks, drink water and adjust your clothing if necessary. Our guides will continuously monitor your performance to assess the affect of the altitude, energy expended and everything else that may affect you. Normally, you are on the trail until midafternoon, including a longer lunch stop.
The daily hikes are not very strenuous. For the most part, the trails are very steady and safe. We walk on established routes at an easy pace and take several breaks. This light schedule is intentional, as it is the best way to gradually adapt to the altitude. Note that no technical skills are required at any point. There are only very short sections that have exposure (drop-offs), but the risk of falling during the entire journey is almost zero. Our guides will help you pick the best path if and when difficult sections are encountered. There is no chance of getting lost or left behind as the guides will accompany you the entire way.
While you are hiking, the porters move ahead of the trekking party in order to set up camp, prepare food and collect water so that everything is ready when the group arrives. Snacks are served shortly after you reach camp. Then, before dinner, a pan of water is again provided for clean up. After dinner, our guides will enter the dining tent to conduct another round of health checks. It is important to communicate any symptoms of altitude sickness if you have them so that the guides can decide how to best treat you. To end the evening, the lead guide will explain the itinerary for the following day. Most people retire at about 9:00 PM.
What is the schedule on Summit Day?
The summit “day” climb actually starts the night before. After an early dinner and bedtime, the climbers are woken up before midnight. This is where you will likely be dressed with four layers on top and two or three layers on the bottom, as conditions are typically very cold at this altitude and hour. Your day pack will be the lightest it has been during the trip – carrying only the bare essentials. The ascent takes between 6-8 hours. We will take breaks along the way to allow climbers to get much needed rest while at the same time being cognizant not to sit too long because it is cold. Our guides will be especially observant as this extreme altitude can be problematic for some people. If necessary, our guides will separate the group into smaller groups based on their walking speed. If anyone cannot continue climbing, he or she will be taken down by one of the guides to the campsite to rest and recover. Because we have a 1:2 guide ratio, you will never be required to turn around because another climber has to stop climbing.
After several hours, you will reach Stella Point. There is a sign visible from several meters away, you’ll want to focus on it despite your burning legs and light-headedness. Don’t worry, it is easier after this push. Once you reach Stella Point. you can take a break and take in the stunning views. You are standing on the edge of the crater and have 360° views of the mountain, Mt. Mawenzi, Mt. Meru and the rainforest clouds below you. From here you only have 40-60 minutes left to the summit. The trail is much more gradual from this point on. You will pass by the majestic Southern Icefields and will have amazing views of the glaciers.
A wooden signboard marking the top stands at Uhuru Point. On most days there is a short line of people waiting to take photos. Once the sun rises, the temperature becomes much warmer and you will likely remove some layers and apply sunscreen for the descent. At high camp, we spend some time resting and eating before packing up our belongings and continuing our hike off the mountain. This long descent is the hardest part of the climb.