Packing for Kilimanjaro is no mean feat. You need enough stuff to span hot, humid temperatures all the way through to sub-zero, freeze your face off stuff, plus the possibility of a lot of rain. On top of this, you need to take a lot of miscellaneous stuff - what feels like a full medical cabinet and plenty of snacks. All of this adds to the weight. And the weight thing gets complicated. Your packing skills become a balance between how much things weigh versus their necessity.
So I have created this blog post and video to help you with your packing. I have done this before I have actually climbed Kilimanjaro, so there may be things I've packed that are completely superfluous and there may be other things I really should have more of. But this is my best guess as to what I will need. I hope you find it helpful. Let's start:
You need two bags: your backpack and your duffel bag. The porters will carry your duffel bag up the mountain for you and it mustn't weight more than 15kg. Your backpack will be your hand luggage for your flight/s, your duffel bag goes in the hold. If you are connecting from Nairobi Wilson Airport to Kilimanjaro Airport, you may be limited to just 15kg for all of your luggage combined for that flight. That is pretty tough going given how much stuff you need. In addition, you may have a third bag with spare clothes for the safari afterwards that you will leave behind at your hotel before you climb up. Weight for that needs to be factored in too. My stuff will be over the 15kg airline allowance by about 6kgs....
Some bag related considerations:
I've probably got too many socks (but I'm paranoid about keeping my feet dry and warm and comfortable) and my big worry is whether I will be warm enough on summit night, but I've gone for many layers rather than one big coat as I typically get too hot when I walk. Beneath the video, I have created a packing list including what I intend to wear on summit night.
What I plan on wearing on summit night
What I have packed
Note that everything has been packed into dry bags in the following groups:
I've put all of this into one bag so that when we arrive in camp, it's simple to set up my bed with everything I need for the night.
Hats & gloves sack
Separate mini medical kit for daypack
A year ago my good friend Rona sent me an email from the Thames Valley Air Ambulance with details of a fundraising challenge: to climb Kilimanjaro. 'Wanna do it?' she asked. 'Sure,' I said. It's easy to say yes to something when it's over a year away and you haven't really researched what is involved.
It was about 6 months after signing up that I thought perhaps I should look into what climbing Kilimanjaro involved. In my head it was a big hill. How hard could it be?
Apparently quite hard. Suddenly, to quote some American gangsta, 'Shit got real.' Turns out Kilimanjaro is actually 5,895 metres high. It's the world's highest freestanding mountain. In terms of altitude, its peak sits at the top end of the extreme altitude category and just below the 'Death Zone' category. So that was comforting.
I decided it was time to get a bit more organised about this expedition. I wrote a list of what I needed to get sorted or learn more about:
How do you train to climb up a very steep mountain when you live in one of the flattest places in the country? I had a session with a personal trainer who gave me exercises that focused on my butt, quads and calves. I sort of did those (a bit - probably should have done more of them). I went walking with increasing regularity and added weight to my pack. I borrowed an elevation training mask from a friend and climbed Sutton Bank (the one hill near me) in an attempt to recreate the lack of oxygen I'll have on Kilimanjaro. I joined a gym and spent time on the cross trainer. But not as much as I should have due to a miserable series of cold and flu. And I climbed the Yorkshire Three Peaks as a final bit of hill action. Do I feel as fit as I should be? No. Will I manage? I hope so.
This was what kept me awake at night. How do you pack for a walk that starts in 30C heat and ends in temperatures around -20C? And it needs to be waterproof and insulated and lightweight as you're only allowed a maximum of 15kg. Just when you think you have everything someone tells you not to forget spare batteries or a head torch or hand warmers or knee supports. I feel as though I have a permanent post-it pad being scribbled on in my brain. I have borrowed a huge amount of kit from a friend who did it last year, but have also spent a small fortune on new stuff. I will do a separate post on kit because there is so much to cover. Suffice to say, you will spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) in outdoor shops fondling goretex. As for packing, it takes serious skills and thought to pack everything you need into a small space that is still convenient. You will spend HOURS attempting different packing techniques and will eventually come to the conclusion that two pairs of knickers for a week is fine.
Passport and visas
I had to renew my passport as you need to have at least 6 months left on your passport to travel. Then you need a visa for Tanzania, which is simple enough to get by downloading the form off the Tanzanian's embassy's website and posting it off. It costs £40. But timing is critical. If you send it off too far in advance, it will be out of date. If you don't send it off early enough, you risk not getting it back in time. Aim for 6 weeks before departure date. We also need transit visas for Kenya as we are spending over 12 hours there. You can get these here online. You will need a transit visa for the way there and the way back. It costs $20 each way.
You need to get to a travel health clinic to find out what vaccinations you need. You will get conflicting information. In short, if you are travelling to Tanzania via a Yellow Fever country (like Kenya) you need a Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate. Other jabs you should get are Hep B, not available on the NHS and cost £42 each, unless you get them combined with Hep A (but you won't be able to get that if you've already had the Hep A jab at some point in the past). I also got Typhoid and the combined Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio jab, which are given free on the NHS. Be sure to get these done well in advance.
You can climb Kilimanjaro without raising money for a cause. But many of the treks are arranged by charities. I am raising money for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance Service. You can donate here. This takes a good deal of effort. It's not fun asking friends and family for money. It's even harder to do it when the charity you're supporting isn't in the local area you live in. But it's worth doing and serves as a motivator to keep going. There are many ways you can raise funds - from holding events, raffles and holding collection buckets. Or you can just email all your friends and do shout outs on social media. All of this takes time and effort.
Itineraries, flights and money
Your tour operator will probably arrange your flights for you, but we opted to use airmiles and booked our own. If you're heading to Africa and gorgeous Tanzania, then you'd be mad not to add a safari to your trip. We had the option of using our expedition organiser's add on safari, but as we had inside contacts, we arranged our own. But you need to factor all of the travel time and logistics into your planning. You also need to account for the extra dosh this will cost you, including the tips for the porters on the hike and the safari guides. I will be taking $500 with me in the hope that this covers what I need. But my point is, when you're doing your sums, this is another financial thing to factor in and it has to be on your dime. It's entirely separate from any fundraising you do.
It's always comforting when you need to take out special insurance to cover you for hiking up to 6,000 metres with helicopter evacuation....But that's what you need. Luckily my travel insurance does cover me for that but it took many calls for me to confirm that I was DEFINITELY covered for this.
If, like me, you are a mother and have children who are going to need looking after while you're off having your Kilimanjaro adventure, you are going to need to arrange childcare. It's not easy if you don't have grandparents around to help or a partner who can adapt their work to fit around school hours and kids. But if you want to do it, you will make a plan. Just remember to factor in the additional costs for any additional childcare costs you have to pay for. Also, don't worry about the kids being heartbroken without you there. THEY WILL BE FINE. Please believe me. You are setting an example to them that life is about living and having adventures, so please don't beat yourself up about this.
Medication and health
Who would have thought that a 7 day hike up a hill could require quite so much thinking about health. You will need anti-malarials. You may want to get Diamox, a drug that helps with altitude sickness. You probably want to start taking probiotics to help your gut deal with unusual food and water. Vitamins and gingseng to give you a boost will help too. If you're a woman, you will want to give thought to how you manage your periods while you're up the mountain. Get a coil fitted many months in advance, take a tablet to stop the bleeding, work out which sanitary product is going to be least inconvenient to use should it happen. You will also need to consider what you do about having to pee countless times during the night. I suggest one of these.
I've listed this separately from the rest of health because it is the thing that will wake you up at night in a panic. The distances you cover every day in Kilimanjaro aren't long. And yes it is all up hill (or downhill at the end) and yes you are sleeping in a tent and using very basic toilet facilities. But all of that doesn't really register on the fear scale. It's the fact that we will be going somewhere that has far less oxygen than our bodies are used to that terrifies me. I've listened to plenty of advice: walk slowly, drink a lot, keep eating, take Diamox if you need it (but only in the morning otherwise you'll pee even more), take paracetamol. Expect to have a headache. Expect nausea. I now fully expect that I will at some point feel awful. I just really don't want to get the severe version of it - High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO) or High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO). You can read up more about it here. Bottom line: there is nothing you can do about it. If you're affected, you're affected. Walk slowly, drink and hopefully all will be fine.
So if you are thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro, just be aware that there is a lot of work to do before you even take your first step. I have been told that summit night is the most challenging thing - both physically and mentally - you will ever do. Getting to this point feels as though it has been a challenge in itself.
But that was never going to stop me. Life is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and doing things that may be uncomfortable at the time, but will be the memories you treasure most. So go for it.
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The Yorkshire Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside are notoriously done as a challenge in which you climb all three and walk the 25 mile route in under 12 hours. Perhaps it was this level of exertion that had stopped me from visiting the area. But in need of a final big stomp and taxing hills as pre-Kilimanjaro training, I thought it was time I tackled them ..... over two days. Given the lack of daylight hours in winter, I felt this to be the more sensible option instead of getting lost in the dark.
I'd walked in the Yorkshire Dales as part of the Coast to Coast. My impression was that of rolling green hills, bubbling rivers, lots of stone walls and derelict stone barns. It was pretty and gentle. The Three Peaks bit of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is nothing like that. It's dramatic, stark and vast, with pockets of picture-book prettiness like the Ribblehead viaduct in between. It's a place that absolutely should be on your bucket list to visit.
The challenge route typically starts in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, goes up Pen-y-ghent first (694m), then onto Whernside (736m) and ends with Ingleborough (723m) to wipe you out. It can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise and you can also be started in Horton, Chapel le Dale or Ribblehead, all of which have accommodation.
We decided to base ourselves in Horton, arriving on the Friday night so we could head off bright and early on Saturday. Our plan was to go in reverse, taking in Ingleborough and Whernside, catching the train from Ribblehead back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the evening, and then climbing Pen-y-Ghent directly from Horton the next morning, skipping the long trudge between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. This would give us time to get back and collect kids from long suffering friends.
But in hindsight, we could have done this a lot better. At just over an hour and a half from York, we could have got there for 9.30 and saved ourselves the cost of accommodation for the first night (and the breakfast disaster the following morning - more below). We could have parked our car in Horton and climbed Ingleborough and Whernside, staying at the Station Inn at Ribblehead overnight. It offers B&B rooms, plus it has bunk barns and camping as options. The staff we met were friendly, the food is hearty and it is right on the Three Peaks route meaning you don't have to divert and add extra miles. On day two, we could have walked to Pen-y-ghent, climbed it and returned to our car. You can also catch a train from Horton as it's on the Settle Carlisle line.
In Horton-in-Ribblesdale there are two pubs - The Golden Lion and the Crown. Choose the Crown. We made the mistake of choosing the Golden Lion. The staff could not have been less friendly. The 'continental breakfast' (which is all you can get if you want an early start) was four plastic tupperware boxes of stale cereal, a jug of milk and some artificial orange juice. No tea, coffee or toast. The second morning we were there, we'd arranged for the Full English for 8.30, the earliest they will serve it. Except they didn't. No-one turned up. So I would avoid it and choose somewhere else to stay. There is a pub in Chapel le Dale - The Old Hill Inn - which gets good reviews. And the Station Inn mentioned above is another option depending on where on the route you want to break.
Each of the peaks has one side that is steeper than the other. If you're going anti-clockwise starting with Pen-y-Ghent, you hit the steep bit on the way up with a more gentle descent. Whernside has the gentler ascent and a very steep down, while Ingleborough has a very steep ascent and more gentle descent. Obviously these are all reversed if you do them in a clockwise direction. Whichever way you do it, you are going to have at least one very steep ascent and one very steep descent. There are also plenty of flat bits and more gradual inclines and declines in between.
The route is signposted but I would strongly recommend taking an OS map (you will need Ordnance Survey map OL 2) and a compass too. When we walked, we were hit with a blizzard and we could easily have got lost without our map and compass as visibility was non-existent. In fact the trig point on top of Ingleborough was just 4 metres from us when it finally became visible through the snow.
Should the clouds clear, the views from the top are breath taking (as is the climb to get there), and it makes all the huffing and puffing worth it.
There were a few challenging bits. The climb up Pen-y-ghent going up the steep way from Brackenbottom, was particularly tough because the snow the day before had iced over. There is a section where you need to scramble up boulders, which when icy, didn't give a very firm grip. Similarly, the steep descent down Ingleborough (bearing in mind we did it clockwise so we had the steep bit going down) was tough on the knees, while the slog up to Whernside was particularly unrelenting with a climb that never seemed to end.
Pen-y-Ghent was the busiest of the three peaks, Ingleborough the least busy but that may have been due to the weather which hit at the time we climbed.
Ingleborough and Whernside above. Pen-y-ghent below
What to take
You will need proper waterproof walking boots for this walk and I'd strongly advise gaiters too. I used walking poles and found they helped both on the ascents and descents, as well as keeping balance in the icy patches. Definitely take layers, including warm stuff, hats, gloves and snood, plus waterproofs. The weather at the top of the peaks can be pretty fierce so it's best to have everything you might need.
Take plenty of water and a thermos of hot tea is very welcome on a cold winter's day. You will need a packed lunch as you are out for a fairly long time with few (any?) places to get a bite. The Station Inn serves food all day, but most other pubs seemed to only open after 5 or 6pm in winter.
Don't forget a camera for the incredible views!
I wouldn't recommend walking this on your own in winter. It gets properly fierce up there, so for safety, I'd go with others and at least someone who can read a map. You will need a reasonable level of fitness to get up the hills. For a girly weekend, it would be great, starting in Horton, staying in Ribblehead or Chapel le Dale, and returning to Horton the next day. Don't expect luxury accommodation. The pub rooms will be very basic and the food more filling than gastronomic. But you just need a place to lay your head, a hot shower, a warm meal to refuel and a glass of wine or beer after a big walk. And you'll certainly feel as though you've been away for a lot longer than a weekend.
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