Intro | Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb | Moshi | Safari | Ethiopia

Preparing For Our African Adventure

 

Preparing For Our African Adventure

Traveling to Africa from the U.S. is not as simple as pack your bags and go - especially if you have never been there or if it has been a long time since your last visit. There are a number of time-consuming tasks that need to be completed before your trip. In the two months leading up to our trip, preparing for Africa seemed to be the main topic of conversation between Traci and me. Therefore, I recommend doing research to construct your checklist at least three months in advance and begin executing the checklist at least two months in advance if possible. On this page, I will discuss the tasks we had to complete before traveling to Tanzania and Ethiopia. I have also included a Preparing to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro section in which I discuss the lessons learned and special preparations in regards to climbing the mountain.

Preparing For Tanzania and Ethiopia

Preparing to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro via the Marangu Route (6-day itinerary). Purchasing gear for the climb is not cheap - especially if you are like Traci and me who did not own any hiking or camping gear before this trip. You should peruse the gear checklist as soon as book your climb so that online shopping can be one of your options. This could save you money. We used the Kilimanjaro Gear Packing List as our guideline on what to purchase. Even though we did not always buy high-end items, we still spent several hundred dollars. We were able to cut the cost by buying items at Walmart or on Amazon.com instead of at sporting goods stores or specialty outdoor recreation stores. All of the equipment and clothing we bought worked fine for our trek. In this section, I provide my notes about some of the items on the checklist.

  • Sleeping Bag: Because the temperature can go below freezing in the upper elevations of the mountain, it is recommended that you use a sleeping bag rated for cold weather. We shopped for sleeping bags rated for 0° F. These cost several hundred dollars in the sporting goods and outdoor recreation stores. We briefly considered renting sleeping bags since we doubted we would ever use them again, but the idea of sleeping in a used sleeping bag and not knowing how thoroughly it had been cleaned was unappealing to us. Fortunately, we were able to purchase our 0-degree sleeping bags on Amazon for about $70 per bag. They worked well at keeping us warm.
  • Walking Poles: We rented ours for $15/pair for the week when we got to Tanzania.
  • Gaiters: These are useful for keeping sand and pebbles out of your boots. They are most useful on summit night. We did not go all-out with our gaiter purchases. We bought ours on Amazon for around $7/pair.
  • Hiking Boots: A salesperson tried to upsell us $300 hiking boots. This might have been fine if we were considering taking up hiking as a hobby, but this was not the case for us. I ended up buying a $120 pair of hiking boots and Traci went with a $200 pair. We were mainly walking on a rocky path after the first day. Neither of us had any issues with sore feet or blisters. We took the salesperson’s advice to buy the boots a size larger than our street shoes. Doing so, helped us avoid the situation where your toes are constantly banging and rubbing the front of your boots during your descent. We did three practice hikes (2.5 miles, 5 miles, and 11 miles) before going to Africa to break in our boots.
  • Water Bottle: In addition to carrying water in our 3-liter CamelBaks, Traci and I each carried an insulated stainless steel water bottle. I bought mine from Walmart and Traci got hers from Amazon. They held the temperature very well. Traci filled hers up with hot tea on Summit Night. The next day, the tea was still hot.
  • Toilet Paper: You should definitely bring a roll of toilet paper with you. Even if you do not want to keep the entire roll with you, make sure you have enough sheets in your pocket to get the job done if nature calls during your hike. The lavatories at Mandara Hut and Horombo Hut were cleaner than I expected. I saw someone cleaning them on more than one occasion. There are a few western toilets at Mandara and Horombo; however, most of the toilets are squat toilets. Regardless, you will still need to bring toilet paper with you.

    squat toilet

  • Plastic Bags: Bring a few plastic bags to use as trash bags while you are on the mountain. These do not need to be large. You can use the type you get at the grocery store.
  • Altitude Sickness Medicine: Traci and I both took Diamox to prevent altitude sickness. You will need to get a prescription for it. I still experienced mild symptoms of altitude sickness: nausea, lack of appetite, and mild headache. I experienced side-effects from the drug: food tasted strange, frequent urination. Traci, on the other hand, had trouble sleeping which could have been due to the altitude. She did not experience any side-effects.
  • Snacks: Bring a variety of snacks – not just candy and energy bars. My problem was that as the altitude caused me to lose my appetite, my tolerance for sweet stuff went out the window. I could have used some pretzels, chips, crackers, or even popcorn as a snack while trekking. In case your appetite is not affected by the altitude, you should consider bringing packets of instant oatmeal as an alternative to the daily porridge breakfast served on the mountain.
  • Hand Sanitizer: I liked to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket for times when I needed to clean my hands. It saved me from using up our body/baby wipes too quickly. We normally tried to save the wipes for cleaning our bodies each day.
  • Mobile Devices: If you decide to bring your mobile devices on the climb, consider bringing a solar charger that you can attach to your daypack. Traci used hers to charge our iPods as we hiked. We did not bring our phones; however, there is spotty cell phone service on the mountain. The guides knew where these spots were.

    Traci's solar charger charged our iPods as we hiked.

  • Fitness: Altitude sickness is what prevents many people from making it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Your fitness level does not determine how your body will adjust or not adjust to altitude. That said, you will need to be fit enough to walk uphill 5 to 8 hours per day. Fortunately, most of the inclines on the Marangu Route are gradual until summit night. Furthermore, you are encouraged to walk pole pole (slowly). Traci, like the rest of our group, is a marathoner and distance runner. I was the only non-runner of the group. Not everyone in our group made it to Uhuru Peak (19,341 feet) but most of them made it to Gilman's Point (18,652 feet) which earned them a certificate. I did not make it to Gilman's Point. In fact, 3 hours into Summit Night, our guides strongly advised that I return to Kibo Hut (15,485 feet) because of my deteriorating condition. I reluctantly abandoned my summit attempt. I do not know if it was because of my fitness level or the altitude or elements of both. Traci made it to Gilman's Point. I believe she could have made it to Uhuru Peak but she was nervous about the steep descent from Gilman's to Kibo. So when some guides offered to help her down, she abandoned her Uhuru trek to take advantage of the immediate help. As for our fitness levels, my normal routine for the last 13 years has been to work out 3 - 5 times per week in an effort to stay healthy. My workouts are mostly video exercise programs that focus on cardio, strength, and flexibility. I have never enjoyed working out and thus my workout sessions are rarely longer than 30 minutes. Two months before our trip, I replaced two of my video workout days per week with 30 minutes on the StairMaster or 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill at the maximum incline. By contrast, Traci loves to work out and she does it up to 6 times per week whether it's distance running or a video workout program. She did not do any special physical preparation for climbing the mountain. We both agreed climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was very difficult. Traci said that running a marathon is easier than climbing the mountain. Main Page...
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