Climbing Kilimanjaro Difficulty

How Hard is it to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
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25 August 2020

Sorry to disappoint you, but there isn’t a straight answer to this question. It actually depends on a lot of factors; age, fitness level, the route to climb, number of days of the trek, etc.

But don’t allow these factors to intimidate you, either!

Six-year-old Coalton Tanner successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2018, and holds the record for the youngest climber to summit Kilimanjaro.

And consider Anne Lorimor, a great-grandmother who climbed Kilimanjaro at aged 85. However, a few years later, the record of oldest person to summit was taken from her by Angela Vorobeva, who climbed with Altezza Travel. So, to win her title back she successfully climbed Kilimanjaro again! At 89 years old. How’s that for not letting age hold you back?

The point is to consider all the important factors and determine ways to appropriately manage them. You can train regularly to physically prepare, and book a trek during the dry season for the best chance at sunny weather. Buy or rent quality gear and hike with a seasoned guide.

Mount Kilimanjaro is an awesome feat, and should not be taken lightly -- you earn major bragging rights when you summit!

The better question is, ‘how can I best prepare to climb Kilimanjaro?’

Kilimanjaro Hiking Difficulty

Is Kilimanjaro a hike? A climb? Or a trek? The difference in these terms is based on the type of equipment needed and level of technical knowledge required.

A hike is the simplest and least complicated activity: basically, it is walking. You do not need any special equipment, and many people walk in basic running shoes or trainers. Just add a pack with a few snacks, a water bottle and call yourself a hiker!

The group of Kilimanjaro hikers
The guide showing the way to the hiker

Of course, there are more strenuous hikes, steep inclines and multi-day adventures. But hiking does not require special equipment or knowledge; you just need to be able to walk.

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the “Seven Summits”, or highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Trekking suggests more difficult terrain in a somewhat remote place, for a longer time. One should have appropriate shoes and some knowledge of equipment, such as trekking poles and a supportive pack, for trekking.

In technical terms, Kilimanjaro is a trek. It takes several days or a week to summit Kilimanjaro and adventurers cover various terrain and should be led by a guide to reach the top. While many trekkers complete the hike unaided, others use trekking poles or are aided with oxygen to reach the summit. Hence, reaching the roof of Africa is termed a trek.

Climbing or Mountain Climbing is the most difficult category and requires specialized equipment: ice picks, ability to walk across snow and ice, and special ropes skills such as rappelling and belaying. It is also important to focus on acclimatization for high altitudes on such climbs - think “Mount Everest” and “K2” for an idea of the requirement for special equipment. While acclimatization is important for Kilimanjaro, the intensity of it is not in the same category as mountains which are considered climbs.

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the “Seven Summits” - highest peaks on each of the seven continents - and the only one that does not require specialized equipment to reach the top. Because of its relationship to the other highest mountains in the world, it is often referred to as a ‘climb’.

The first days of your Kilimanjaro trek will start off as hikes and can be completed in regular sports training shoes. The following days will present more difficult terrain and higher altitudes, turning into a trek. Therefore, it is acceptable to use all three terms (hike, trek, climb) interchangeably for Kilimanjaro, but if you want to be precise; Kilimanjaro is a trek.

Can anyone climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Yes! Almost anyone can climb Mount Kilimanjaro, bearing in mind our recommendations. With determination and training, almost anyone can climb Kilimanjaro.

Having some doubts? Read about these inspirational climbers:

Angela Vorobeva from Russia, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for the oldest person to climb Kilimanjaro. This feat was achieved in early 2019 at the age of 86 years old, under the guidance of Altezza Travel.

Anne Lorimor, an American, challenged Angela Vorobeva for the title of oldest climber to summit Kilimanjaro and a few months later in 2019, at the age of 89 years old, she completed the climb and reclaimed her world-record title.

Robert Wheeler, from the United States, still holds the record for oldest man to climb Kilimanjaro, earned in 2014 at the age of 85.

Kyle Manard, who was born without arms or legs, climbed Kilimanjaro in 2012 without the aid of prosthetics.

Corrine Hutton, a quadruple amputee successfully climbed Kilimanjaro while wearing prosthetic limbs in 2018.

Montannah Kenney is the record holder for the world’s youngest female climber, who completed the trek in 2017 at the age of seven.

Almost anyone can climb Kilimanjaro

Please keep in mind some specific health conditions that are not recommended to attempt Kilimanjaro:

  • People with severe forms of cardiovascular disease
  • Children before 8. The actual required age by Tanzania law is 10 years old, children who have fought for the World Record have needed special permission from the government and presented evidence of their extraordinary climbing ability.

All other climbers are welcome to sign up! Asthma, diabetes or other disorders are not an impediment to this trip. Please consult with your doctor before beginning training and discuss your plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Train regularly to be physically fit for climbing Kilimanjaro

There are many steps you can take to address challenges for climbing Kilimanjaro. Weather cannot be controlled; instead, ensure to pack quality gear that is waterproof and book your climb during the dry season, January through March or August through September.

Train regularly, following our training schedule to be physically fit for the climb, but also plan to climb a route that suits your fitness level.

The Machame (7-day), Lemosho (7 and 8-day) and Northern Circuit routes are considered easier and recommended for beginner climbers. The Umbwe route, and shorer itineraries of Marangu and Machame (5 and 6 day respectively) while incredibly scenic, is one of the most difficult routes for summiting Kilimanjaro and should be considered only if you feel physically up for the challenge.

A group of Kilimanjaro trekkers
Kilimanjaro vibes

You also need to consider the number of days for a trek and the time of year. It is harder to climb Kilimanjaro in five days than it is to climb it in seven days (read more about acclimatization).

If you live at a low elevation, consider giving yourself more time to acclimatize to the altitude, or prepare with altitude simulation devices, which we discuss more in this article.

The quality of equipment and proficiency of your group’s guide are crucial factors in a Kilimanjaro climb. For your own safety, ensure you are investing in quality equipment and joining a team with a good reputation; do not skimp in this area.

Altezza Travel is fully outfitted with top-brand gear and rents a full Kilimanjaro kit for climbers. If you aren’t ready to invest in expensive gear that may only be used one time, feel confident in renting top-brand equipment that is ensured to be of the highest quality. Altezza Travel also only works with competent guides, with safety as the first priority.

Read more about the equipment needed for Kilimanjaro here.

How Many Days to Reach the Summit?

For some climbers (so-called sky-runners) it is a matter of several hours to get to the top and back. Karl Egloff ran up Kilimanjaro in 6 hours and 42 minutes and is the world record holder for speed. Not only is Karl a professional athlete, but he also spent time acclimatizing to the high altitude before starting his speedy ascent.

The average person should consider trips with 7 and longer days to acclimate better. 5 and 6-day programs should be normally avoided (unless a climber has a very good fitness level), with the exception of Marangu and Lemosho 6-day programs for the time-constrained climbers.

What is the Kili Average Success Rate?

Again there is no direct answer for this question.

While some companies publish their own success rates - which can be based on a member of a group successfully summiting, not necessarily all members - the official statistics from the government of Tanzania are much outdated.

There are no official, reliable statistics on the average success rate available at this time.

The last official statistics were published by the Kilimanjaro National Park in 2006 and it says exactly the following:

  • All climbers, all routes ---------- 45%
  • All climbers, all 5-day routes - 27%
  • All climbers, all 6-day routes - 44%
  • All climbers, all 7-day routes - 64%
  • All climbers, all 8-day routes - 85%

Please keep in mind, the standards for trekking back in 2006 are also not on par with the current requirements. This is good news for prospective climbers!

Companies now use much better equipment and employ qualified guides. Therefore, presumably, the success rate for climbing Kilimanjaro should be higher than the outdated statistics.

More days on Kilimanjaro allows for better acclimatization and increases the chances of a successful summit.

The main principle, still remains that more days on Kilimanjaro allows for better acclimatization to the high altitude and increases the chances of a successful summit.

Mt. Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes - Difficulty Levels

1. Lemosho Route This route is incredibly scenic and considered one of the easier routes because the terrain to reach Barranco Camp is rather flat, making the first day easy. The Lemosho Route has been used by many record-holders for age, including the youngest and oldest record holders.

This route usually is attempted over 7 to 8 days.

2. Machame Route - Sought after because of the beautiful trek through a rainforest on the first day, this trek is one of the most beautiful approaches up Kilimanjaro. However, its six-day itinerary is one of the most difficult one, and we recommend a much simpler 7-day itinerary to help reach Uhuru Peak. One of the benefits to climbing the Machame route is that this trek is more cost-effective than others, and acclimatization is very good.

3. Marangu Route This tough route has one of the lowest success rates, especially for climbers on the 5-day itinerary. A 6-day trek is much better overall, even better than it’s friend, the 6-day Machame Route (but not the 7-day). A draw-back is that his route can be quite crowded during high season. Also, the same trail is used both for ascent and descent.

4. Rongai Route - This is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, near the Kenyan border. The 7-day trek poses some challenges but is overall a great climb for acclimatization. It is not recommended to attempt this route in under 7 days.

5. Northern Circuit Route poses an incredible adventure, including crater camping and hiking along a less traveled route. While offering the longest itinerary (8 or 9 days), the scenery around the circuit is incredible and well worth the added days. Also, the longer route provides for excellent acclimatization.

6. Umbwe Route is a very steep ascent and is only suggested for the most experienced climbers. Karl Egloff and other ‘sky runners’ summited Kilimanjaro via this route.

How Hard is it to Climb Kilimanjaro on the Last Stage of the Trek?

The final day of the trek is the most challenging. However, some climbers who trained and prepared in advance find it surprisingly easier than expected.

Keep in mind some highlights of the summit night:

  • A midnight start. Your team will be walking in the dark.
  • The uphill trek is steep, but completely walkable.
  • You will walk 5-7 hours to meet the sunrise at Uhuru Peak.
  • You will be provided snacks along the way (tea, biscuits) to help boost your energy and stamina.
  • Your guide will be with you and your team the entire way, encouraging you and giving support as needed.
Mt Kilimanjaro summit camp
Mt Kilimanjaro camp panorama

Of those who are able to reach the summit camp, on a 7-day itinerary, 90% of climbers reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Others usually reach Stella Point, which is only a 40-minute trek from Uhuru Peak, the highest point of Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro Skill Level - How Easy is it to Climb Comparing to 7 Highest Summits?

The Seven Summits, or the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, is an amazing bucket-list challenge. Many choose to start off climbing Mount Kilimanjaro because it is considered one of the easiest to summit. Only Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 m (7,310 ft) in Australia, which has a lower altitude, is easier.

Kilimanjaro is a great climb to test acclimatization before attempting more taxing peaks such as Aconcagua, Elbrus, and Monte Blanc. It also provides trekkers confirmation if they want to try for all seven summits and invest their time and energy (and money in climbing equipment!) in this challenge.

How Long Should I Train?

You should train as much as you can to prepare for Kilimanjaro. Ideally, begin 4 months prior to your trip. However, there are many adventurous travelers that book a Kilimanjaro Climb and have no preparation training at all! These successful climbers summit due to Altezza’s great guides and quality gear.

For those hikers who have time to train, you will find all the answers in our article about Kilimanjaro training.

Altitude Acclimatization

Altitude directly impacts the saturation of oxygen in the air. While the air we breathe at sea level is not pure oxygen, it is usually a combination of nitrogen, oxygen, a bit of carbon dioxide and traces of other gases. This air has enough saturation of oxygen to suit our needs, and our body has adapted to this.

At higher elevations, the air is ‘thinner’ or is less saturated with oxygen. The effects of lower oxygen can be fatigue or feeling out of breath. It requires more breaths to obtain the same amount of oxygen, especially noticeable during physical exercise.

Your trekking over the successive days will be passed the “High AltiThe peak of Kilimanjaro is within the “Extreme” category of elevation, however much of tude” marker, 8,000 ft, where most individuals begin to be affected by altitude sickness.

The body will begin to adapt to a higher altitude, first with an increased heart rate and respiratory rate, and later - perhaps a few days later - an increase in red blood cells. More red cells means more oxygen delivered throughout the body, and is a sign of acclimatization.

Making acclimatization a priority is one of the most important factors for a successful summit.

Altitude sickness is a real danger, and one all Altezza guides are trained and prepared to handle. Guides are equipped with Diamox, a brand name for the medication Acetazolamide, which helps to combat the symptoms many experience at high altitudes. This is to ensure your comfort, but it is not a quick fix to acclimatization. It is merely helping your body with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and headaches, you still need to advance up the highest point in Africa at a steady, safe pace.

The reason for the higher success rate for longer climbs on Kilimanjaro is due to allowance for trekkers to properly acclimatize. Making acclimatization a priority, and booking a trek of 6 or more days, is one of the most important factors for a successful summit.

Preparing for Altitude Sickness

The undisputed main cause of altitude sickness is ascending to a high altitude too rapidly. Your safety remains the top priority and altitude sickness is often preventable. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness include; difficulty sleeping, nausea, severe headaches, lack of appetite, dizziness. It is important to share with your guide any symptoms you are having, especially if you have trouble sleeping or your appetite is reduced.ess.

The focus on acclimatization is two-fold: helps climbers successfully summit and also helps prevent altitude sickness. The same principles for proper acclimatization are followed to combat altitude sickness:

  • Choosing longer routes
  • Walking slowly
  • Listening to the guide
  • Drinking plenty of water

Also, taking Diamox pills is advisable to minimize the symptoms of high-altitude transition.

Signs and Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Normal
Some of the symptoms associated with altitude are normal, including:
Increased breathing, shortness of breath, irregular breathing patterns while sleeping, awake often during the night, increased urination
Caution
If a headache is present in combination with any of the following symptoms:
Dehydration, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, difficulty sleeping
Caution
If any of these symptoms are peresent, descent immediatly to a lower elevation to acclimatize further before re-ascending. Pushing past these symptoms can result in death.
Confused thoughts, loss of coordination (ataxia), difficulty understanding or speaking, vision disturbances, extreme fatigue, breathlessness at rest, fast, shallow breathing, cough, pink frothy sputum, gurgling, chest tightness, blue lips / fingernail beds

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

While nearly every climber experiences some form of Acute Mountains Sickness, the ‘climb high, sleep low’ approach usually treats the symptoms. However, it is not advisable to continue climbing with the symptoms of AMS.

Left untreated, AMS can develop into HACE or HAPE; serious conditions that could be life-threatening.

HACE, or High Altitude Cerebral Edema, results from increased pressure on the cerebral membrane and leads to swelling of the brain.

HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema is a build-up of fluid in the lungs due to the pressure and stress of the high altitude on one’s respiratory system.

While both conditions require medical treatment, the majority of patients quickly improve upon descent with no further complications, and both conditions are directly related to the body’s response to high altitude.

High Altitude Seriousness

AMS
Headache, diziness, fatigue, breathlessness, nausea, feeling vomitish, lassitude, loss of appetite
Give mild analgesic or ibubrufen for headeche. Hydrate the patient, give him rest. Expect the symptoms to resolve on its own. If not, restrict further ascent. Diamox can be given (250-500 mg) per day. If no healing , DESCENT.
HACE
Loss of coordination (ataxia), week ability to think, change in one’s behavior, agressiveness, irritated behavior, memory loss, confusion, coma
High altitudeis not the place to treat HACE. Descent is the only solution, Dexamethasone (4-8 mg) can be given, sometimes along with Acetazolomide to buy more time
HAPE
Breathlessness at rest, fast and shallow breathing, extreme fatigue, cough, sometimes blood in cough, gurgling breaths and dizziness
High altitude is not the place to treat HAPE. Provide supplementary Oxygen. Administer Nifidipie (4-8mg) sometimes along with Acetazolomide. Keep warm. Descent.

Our climbing teams perform two obligatory medical check-ups per day to diagnose these forms of AMS and monitor the clients’ wellbeing in general.

On the Trek

Booking with Altezza Travel means that you are climbing with a supportive team, ready to help you have an amazing adventure.

You can be sure that camp will be prepared for you in advance, your tents and dining areas already set up when you arrive. Your heavier bags will be carried by porters, and healthy, nourishing food will be provided by our trained cooks. Your task will be to trek, carry your day pack and enjoy beautiful Kilimanjaro.

Mountain Rescue

Altezza Travel cares about your safety and we put every precaution to ensuring you are in good hands; from our trained guides, top gear and slow acclimatization we hope to prevent any emergency. We require insurance for our climbers in case of a serious emergency. With insurance, you and your team are covered from the unexpected, including a helicopter rescue, if necessary.

All clients who require advanced medical attention, or have been rescued from Kilimanjaro will be attended at the respected KCMC hospital in Moshi, for further examination and treatment.

We have rescue plans and strategies in place for emergencies, feel free to ask about them in more detail or learn about them during our pre-climb briefing.

Guides and Porters will Help

Our guides will be with you at all times, encouraging you along the trek or keeping you laughing with light jokes. They will set the proper pace, giving attention to all members of the climbing party. During rest times they will monitor your health, and may even assist in carrying your daypack if needed.

Porters saluting Valery Rozov

On the summit night, a team of special summit porters will join them to ensure a one-to-one ratio of climbers to staff members for optimum safety.

A trip with Altezza means you are climbing with professionals who will help you reach the top.

Spots and Huts on the Route to Camp and Rest

Every day, you will make several regular rest stops during the trek, to have something to eat or catch your breath. You will arrive early to your overnight stays at the camps, which gives time to have a break, change out of your hiking boots and freshen up.

Altezza pitching a tent

What is the Minimum Age to Climb Kilimanjaro

Under the Kilimanjaro National Park rules, the minimum age for reaching the summit is 10 years. We are cautious about climbing with youth under 15 years, because they can find the long hikes boring and the last days may be dangerous for them. Contact us if you feel your child under the age of 15 is up to the challenge of Kilimanjaro so that we can prepare for your child’s individual needs.

How Difficult is it to Climb Kilimanjaro on Your Own?

It is impossible!
Kilimanjaro National Park Regulations do not allow treks without a licensed guide. This is for your safety. You will not be permitted to enter Kilimanjaro without a guide.

Technically it is possible to climb Kilimanjaro with a guide only - no porters, no camp team, and no cooks - but that would be incredibly difficult and stressful for you. Most climbers want to have a great experience climbing Kilimanjaro, which is what we prepare with our climbing team. Also, it would be a much longer trek if you carry all the necessary equipment yourself!

Conclusion - Is it really difficult to climb Kilimanjaro

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro presents several challenges, but all of them are manageable. Summiting the Roof of Africa requires planning, setting aside enough time to appropriately acclimatize to the altitude and physical training.

While the highest mountain in Africa is difficult, it is not out of reach.

Whether you aim to climb all of the Seven Summits or are chasing the best ‘selfie’ at Uhuru Peak, start planning today!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dima is a Tanzania-based travel expert with multiple Kilimanjaro hikes under his belt. He contributed his knowledge and skills to many notable expeditions, including Wings of Kilimanjaro 2019, BASE-jump trip with Red Bull, National Geographic trips and many other adventures.

At Altezza Travel Dima is the Kilimanjaro Expeditions Coordinator. Every year he supervises the departure of over 1500 Kilimanjaro trekkers, appoints the guides and makes sure that everything goes as planned before, during and after the expedition.
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