Fitness training for climbing Kilimanjaro

How fit do you need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?

Signboard on Kilimanjaro on fitness preparationMost people will embark on some sort of fitness training for Kilimanjaro. That’s just sensible. After all, it’s certainly true that the more exercise you do down here, the more you’ll enjoy it up there.

But there are certain questions that need to be answered:

Firstly: How fit do you need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?

Well, there is no need to go overboard with your fitness preparation for climbing the mountain.

Last year, three people who had booked climbs with Kili Experts had to postpone their trips after hurting themselves following an exercise regime before they had even arrived in Tanzania!

That said, the fitter you are, the more enjoyable your trek up Kilimanjaro. And It’s true that some do, indeed, fail through sheer lack of fitness, strength and stamina.

After all, on the final push to the summit you will be walking at very high altitude for about 16 hours! So a certain degree of fitness is necessary. So anything you can do in the way of training can only help.

So what sort of exercises are the best fitness training for Kilimanjaro?

Aerobic exercises are the best sort of training. Swimming, cycling, jogging, walking, etc etc – these are all good. 

But the best preparation for a long walk in Africa, is a long walk at home

If that walk can include some uphill stretches, so much the better. A walk probably won’t improve your fitness to a great degree. But it will at least confirm that you can walk for more than a few hours at a time, and for more than one day.

Wear the clothes you plan to bring to Kilimanjaro with you – particularly your boots and socks – and carry the daypack that you hope to be carrying all the way to the top of Kibo too.

If you can actually go for a multi-day walk, and camp out overnight on the way, then that’s really useful. Why? Because, of course, it mimics the experience you’ll have on Kilimanjaro.

And if you have any mountains near you, and you can get to altitude (above 2000-3000m), then that’s just about the best preparation you can have.

(This is why savvy climbers book a trek up Mount Meru, Kili’s neighbour, immediately before climbing Kilimanjaro. That’s a great idea, and not just because it provides ideal preparation for Kili. Because it’s a great trek too! 

Prepare yourself mentally too

Don’t forget to prepare yourself mentally, as well as physically. A lot of the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro is mental. It’s cold up there, and you may at times feel terrible too (headaches, nausea and loss of appetite are just three of the symptoms most climbers will suffer at some point during their trek).

Being in good physical shape will help you feel better and more confident about the challenges you face, but do prepare yourself, too, for some tough hours when you may want to give up; overcome those and, as long as you’ve acclimatised properly, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get to the top of Africa’s Highest Mountain.

Whatever the fitness regime you decide to follow, a few days of walking at some point would be a good thing to do;

Oh, and maybe try taking drugs too

One more thing: if you’re planning on relying on it on Kilimanjaro, try Diamox before you go to make sure it has no severe adverse reaction on you. (See the section on Diamox if you have no idea what we’re talking about here!)

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The mental challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro

Just as important as preparing your body for climbing Kilimanjaro, is preparing your mind. You already know that altitude sickness is the number one reason why people fail to get to the top of the Roof of Africa. But in my experience the second most common reason for failure is a lack of resolve.

In other words, it’s not altitude sickness that’s stopping them from getting to the summit – it’s attitude sickness.

So be warned that a lot of the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro is mental. It’s cold up there, and you may at times feel terrible too. Headaches, nausea and loss of appetite are all very common on the mountain. It may be hammering down with rain for days on end too. And it’s no fun being soaked through and miles from camp. It’s at time like this that there’s only one thing you can do….

Dig deep!

When you’re feeling flat on the mountain, you need to dig deep. Remind yourself why you’re doing this and what made you decide to climb in the first place. Remember, too, just how much money you’ve spent in getting this far, and how you’ll feel if you do give up now. Bear in mind, too, that the weather does change quickly on Kilimanjaro. And that while it may be tough now, things will get better.

You just need to be patient, and keep going.

So prepare yourself for some tough hours when you may want to give up. Overcome those and, as long as you’ve acclimatised properly, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get to the top of Africa’s Highest Mountain too.

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