Written by Brad Newton
On the 25th of December 2017, myself and almost all of my team, after 8 days on the Lemosho route, made it to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro! It was one of the most emotional, fun, physically challenging and adventurous activities I have ever done.
(Pictured above: I am wearing the Christmas hat!)
In this write-up, I want to share all of my tips to help make your own Kilimanjaro experience simply the best! :) I am also a video blogger and filmed every thing from the struggles to what we ate every night in the mess tent. If you want raw details of an 8-day Kilimanjaro climb from every angle, head over to my YouTube channel or watch 60 second clips on my Instagram account @bradnewtonofficial
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Altitude Training for Kilimanjaro
It’s not necessary. All 12 people in my group did no altitude-specific training, except me! I paid $250 AUD for unlimited altitude chamber sessions, had a motorcycle accident 2 weeks before my climb and only did 3 sessions!
All of us experienced varying degrees of headaches that were mostly mild. It all subsided after an hour or so. One guy threw up a few times at base camp and another guy had “toilet” (stomach issues!)
For me, the only symptoms I had was a mild headache the entire 8 days which lasted no longer than about 30 minutes or so! I usually experienced these headaches from the moment I woke up in my tent. If you ever do experience altitude sickness, it will most likely be during your sleep (restlessness) and any time when your breathing rate slows down.
Our group of 12 shared what each of our doctors had to say about taking Diamox.
By the way, I had way too much Diamox prescribed to me (tub of 100 tablets!) so I was slinging it out to anyone in my group that wanted it :)
One person in my group was denied Diamox because their travel doctor said “the moment you need it is the moment you need to get off the mountain!”
Another person was prescribed 6 tablets for the entire trek! Only enough for 3 days of climbing!! That is not enough for an 8-day expedition.
Everybody else was taking between 125 to 250 mg per dose twice per day. Once in the morning before we start hiking and once again at around 5–6 pm. I was taking a single 250 mg tablet twice daily. And everyone started taking Diamox the day before the trek started.
We all had what we jokingly referred to as “taking a Diamox piss” 😂… one of the most common side effects of taking Diamox is excessive urination! It’s why I was taking Diamox several hours before bed so I could sleep throughout the night without waking up in my tent in the middle of a snowy blizzard.
Don’t Stop At Stella Point
This tip didn’t make any sense to me when several guides told me: “don’t stop at Stella Point for too long, you’ll never make it to summit!” After experiencing this for myself, I completely see why.
After climbing for 8 hours in the middle of the freezing cold night during Summit Day, you’ll eventually reach Stella Point (pictured above.) You are extremely fatigued. You are out of breath. All you think about during this intense climb is returning home. When you finally see the sign for Stella Point, you’ll want to sit down and rest.
This is the worst thing you can do! Once you sit down and rest, your muscles will seize up and you won’t have the energy to continue for another 40–60 minutes to reach the summit (Uhuru peak.)
When we arrived at Stella Point, I spent no longer than 5 minutes taking photos and video before moving on for the summit. One guy in our group turned around at Stella Point.
The climb from Stella Point to the summit is a shallow gradient climb but it does require digging deep for 40 minutes, one foot in front of the other.
Keep A Rhythm (Summit Night)
I can’t stress this enough! One of the reasons why I almost froze to death on the climb during summit night was the constant stop-start-stop-start-stop-start! Every 5 to 10 minutes we stopped, lost our rhythm, and slowly froze in the bone-chilling hypothermic arctic high altitude winds.
We stopped because some people in our group needed help. Do your best to keep a steady pace, even if it is extremely slow! Momentum is the key. Maybe ask the guides the day before summit night if they can split your group into “slow” versus “slower” so that everyone is teamed up at the same pace!
This saved my fingers from freezing off! You don’t have to buy hand warmers but, if you are planning on filming or shooting the entire experience, I wouldn’t climb without them!
Whenever I pulled my hand out of my glove, I literally exposed my bare hand to the arctic winds for a maximum of 3 to 5 minutes! It was impossible to expose my hand longer because I couldn’t tolerate the bone-chilling sensation in my fingers. Most of my summit day video clips are 1 to 3 minutes in length for that reason!
I didn’t think to pack hand warmers. I reached a point where my hands were so cold that I couldn’t warm them up and I started to freak out. The guide gave me some hand warmers and it literally saved me! I am forever grateful to my guide.
A small tip for anyone wanting to capture photos and video on a touch screen smartphone. Cut a small hole out of your glove’s index finger so that you can still wear your inner glove while taking photos, without having to take your inner glove off! I never did this but in hindsight, it would have helped me alot.
Jelly Beans (or Mars Bars!) for Summit Night
Don’t underestimate this tip! There was an older guy in my group that was able to keep moving forward during summit night because I gave him sugary lollies (from someone else.)
I can never forget looking at his pale face and his inability to put one more foot in front of the other. He couldn’t even speak a single word. My instincts told me he needed help but was unable to communicate the words.
I reached for lollies provided by someone else in my group and gave them to him. Within a few minutes, he started moving again. I will never forget his face and how a little bit of sugar got this man going again… he eventually made the summit :)
Gatorade or Staminade Powder
I packed Staminade powder to mix with my water. I believe this is important to pack and use during the entire expedition.
There was only one other guy that packed Gatorade (Ironman Brett.)
One of the biggest pieces of advice that everyone that has climbed Kilimanjaro will tell you is… drink plenty of water!
I couldn’t agree more. Drinking more water than your body is demanding will help you acclimatise! And drinking alot of water also means keeping your electrolytes balanced by adding Staminade or Gatorade powder.
In the 24 hours leading up to Summit Day, we all made an extra effort to drink more water! Ironman Brett had about 8 litres of water and I had about 4 litres of water.
I should point out that it is very hard to drink freezing cold water! Especially if your body does not “feel” thirsty. You have to force yourself to drink more and I found the flavour of Staminade made it easier to drink the volume of water I was drinking. If you are drinking plain water, you might struggle to drink water unless you flavour it somehow (or add flavoured electrolyte powder of some sort.)
This night is by far the most challenging. You will most likely sleep in the afternoon and wake up at 10 pm for an 11.30 pm departure from Base camp.
Most of us were a bit nervous because none of us knew what to expect. We all layered up and within 2 hours of the climb, felt “too warm” and had to unzip our layers. It is likely that we were fearful of the extreme cold of summit night, and overcompensated by over-layering! By 3 am in the morning, we used every single one of those layers!
The summit night climb is a constant gradient climb! It will feel like your calves are catching on fire. Luckily for me, I did not experience this like almost everyone else did. In the 4–5 months leading up to Kilimanjaro, I spent alot of time training my calves in the gym, 2–3 times per week! Usually 4 sets of seated calf raises (12–15 reps per set) and 4 sets of standing calf raises (12–15 reps per set.)
Also think about a pose for the summit. There is a queue of people all wanting to take photos next to the summit post. So be prepared to hit a pose as you will only get 1 minute next to the post.
Advice for Video Bloggers & Photographers
I am a video blogger so it was essential that I filmed every angle of the expedition. I knew my biggest challenge would be my batteries losing their charge due to the extreme arctic conditions.
I had taken 6 GoPro batteries and 3 power packs (25,000 mAh total.) I slept with all of them inside my sleeping bag at night to keep them warm. If you don’t do this, will be lose a significant amount of power!
I also suggest that you keep 1 full battery exclusively for summit night to catch the sunrise and summit shot. There were a few people from other groups that complained their cameras were about to die and worried they wouldn’t have any battery for the summit.
I also changed over my memory sticks to ensure I had 64 GB for each camera! Unfortunately, the memory stick for one camera was completely corrupted!!! I had taken all of my summit footage and photos on that memory stick.
And then I spent 2 days in Zanzibar using professional memory card recovery software and was able to successfully recover all of those filming assets. You can image how much I freaked out and lost sleep over it.
This is never talked about and it needs to be. Descending is almost as hard, if not harder, than climbing!
You’ll be descending after sunrise with the sun on your face, in scree, which is very hard on your knees (picture above of the scree path.) Trek poles are essential! Personally, I never used trek poles but if I had used them, I wouldn’t have had blisters on my toes and would have flown down the mountain. I also neglected adjusting my boot laces to lock my heel into the back of the boot. This could have prevented the blisters on my toes.
And after 8 hours of climbing and hitting the summit, you are so depleted. Remember that you are also at over 5,800 metres! So everything is 100 times harder because your getting 40% less oxygen in every breath. Make sure you have energy bars or gels for the descent and don’t sit down!
Keep descending and don’t stop otherwise it will take hours longer and your muscles will begin to seize. Even if your descent is slow, just keep moving and focus on the step in front of you.
Climbing Kilimanjaro and reaching the top will be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life.
I walked into this adventure knowing none of the 11 other people in my group. By the end of 8-days, I had made friends for life with all of them. The memories, banter, excruciating pain, and triumphs shared, will live with us forever.
All of us were touched in some way by this mountain. I had never cried on a mountain before I climbed Kilimanjaro. Watching a sunrise from the beaches of Hawaii versus from over 5,500 metres on Kilimanjaro, above the clouds, is a different level of experience.
Watching how hard the porters work to carry water from the streams in the lower reaches of the mountain so we can have warm water to wash our hands is just awe-inspiring. Your appreciation-factor will hit all time highs when you see the grit on their faces and their glowing white smiles at the end of a hard day of climbing… wow!
Share your experience with me, please!
Originally published at www.bradnewtonfitness.com on August 3, 2019.