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Planning and Preparing for Kilimanjaro

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As mentioned in my previous post, The Road To Kilimanjaro, I had decided to do the Kili trek on my own. Although I’ll be traveling to Africa on my own, I’m not really alone in the mountain as I have a mountain guide. The park authorities require to have one.

There are several advantages about the planning the trek on your own. You can choose which trail to take, when to go and for how long. Basically, you make the decisions according to your needs and wants and not have to worry about someone else.

On the downside, trekking on your own is more expensive as compared if your trekking in a group. It also feels more safer and secured when you’re with a group.

With all of these in my mind, I know it was very important to carefully plan the Kilimanjaro trek to get the most value for my money without compromising my safety. At the same time, increase my chances of getting to the summit.

I would just like to share how I planned and prepared for the trek based on my research and actual experience. I have received questions from some of my friends after I posted photos of my Kili trek in Facebook regarding the budget to climb Kili. I find it hard to give a direct answer or an exact figure as it would depend on a number of things and the choices one makes.

My intention of writing this post is to provide the reader with some information how to go about planning a trek in Kilimanjaro and from there work out an estimated budget to climb Kili based on one’s needs and choices.

Mt. Kilimanjaro as seen from Barranco campsite

Mt. Kilimanjaro as seen from Barranco campsite

Selecting a licensed travel agency:

Park authorities require all trekkers to arrange their climb through a licensed travel agency or operator. They are the ones responsible for arranging the transportation, mountain guide and porters, food, accommodation and other logistics. Selecting a travel agency/operator is a very crucial decision which can make your Kili experience a pleasant or an unpleasant one. It may also affect the success of your summit bid.

I checked and inquired on the different itineraries and packages offered by various travel agencies/operators. Prices vary based on the route selected, the number of days included in the package, the number of people doing the trek, the type of accommodation (budget or deluxe) provided before/after the trek.

It’s best to check what’s included and what’s excluded in the package so you can find out what additional costs you still need to pay on top of the trekking package.

Usually the price includes the park fees (park entry fees, rescue fee, hut/camping fees), guide, cook and porter salaries (this is different from the mandatory tips),  transport to and from the mountain, meals while on the mountain, tent/dining/kitchen equipment and accommodation before and after the trek in Moshi or Arusha. Some may include free airport transfer while others charge an extra for this. The mandatory tips to guides and porters are usually not included in the package however, there was one operator I encountered whereby it was included in the package.

Booking directly with a trekking agency in Tanzania would be cheaper as compared to booking with a trekking agency outside as you’re cutting the middleman however, I was not comfortable waiting until I arrive in Tanzania before booking the trek. I prefer that everything is all settled before I arrived in Tanzania so I can just focus and prepare on the trek proper itself.

Another option is booking directly through the Internet however, some of the big operators are not exactly cheap as well. There are other travel agencies but it’s not easy to tell if they really are what they claim to be.

For my peace of mind, I decided to book through a travel agent in Singapore where I was based that time. There are a few operators in Singapore organizing a trek in Kilimanjaro however, most of them have fixed departures and the cost of the trek depends on the number of trekkers signing up. Also, most of them you cannot select the route as everything is already planned and arranged. All you need to do is just to sign up and pay if you agree to the terms and conditions.

After a careful decision, I decided to sign up with Pac-West. I first stumbled upon their website way back in 2009 after doing a search in Google. I sent them an email in February 2010 to get more information about the cost and the minimum number of people required to do the trek and got a response on the same day. Five months later, I visited their office in Chinatown in Furama Shopping Centre and spoke with, Francis, who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro himself. He was very helpful and explained to me the itinerary and showed me photos of the climb. He never pressured me to sign up instead, he advised me to carefully think about it as climbing Kilimanjaro is expensive.

As my Kili dream had to take a backseat it wasn’t until in 2013 I went checking again with the different travel agencies and compared what each offered. What I liked about Pac-West is that they can customize the trek according to the needs of the client. You choose when to go, which route to take, for how long and they accommodate single traveler (have to pay a bit extra but even after paying the additional cost it was still cheaper as compared to joining a group which was leaving Singapore for Kili on a fixed date).

I visited their office several times last year as I had some worries about doing the trek on my own being a female traveler. Francis told me that they normally get the same guide for their clients and he personally knows the guide having done the climb himself. He told me that he will try to arrange with the trekking agency in Tanzania to get the same guide for me and if in case he’s not available to get his son instead as he is also a mountain guide.  This somehow alleviated my worries and I felt a bit more optimistic that things will be okay.

Selecting a route:

There are a few ascent routes to choose from when trekking in Kili. These are namely: Rongai, Marangu, Machame, Shira, Lemosho and Umbwe. The descent routes are Marangu and Mweka. Those taking the Rongai and Marangu ascent routes will take the Marangu descent route while those taking the Machame, Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe ascent routes will take the Mweka descent route.

Among the routes only Marangu will be sleeping in huts while the rest of the routes will be camping in tents.

I decided to do the Machame/Mweka route as it offers scenic views and because this is a longer route, it provides a better acclimatization schedule.

Although the Machame/Mweka route can be done in 6D5N, I opted to sign up for 7D6N to allow my body to acclimatize and increase my chances of summiting Uhuru Peak.

The difference between the 7D6N itinerary from the 6D5N itinerary is that the trek from Barranco camp to Barafu camp is broken up into two days. On the 4th day, the trekker hikes from Barranco camp to Karanga camp and on the 5th day, hikes from Karanga camp to Barafu camp. This allows the trekker more time to rest before the summit climb which starts at midnight on the 6th day.

There is another variation to the Lemosho/Machame route. Instead of taking the Karanga-Barafu route en route to the summit, the trekker can take the more challenging Western Breach via the Arrow Glacier en route to the summit. Initially I wanted to do this trek but after thinking it over a few times, I dropped the plan due to safety and budget considerations. You have to pay a bit more if you take the Western Breach. If ever I have another chance to go back to Kili again I would like to take this route.

Before selecting a route, I would suggest to do a thorough research about the different routes. I cannot advise which is the best route because I have no point of comparison. I only tried the Machame/Mweka route via Barafu to the summit.

Deciding when to go and booking a flight:

There are two main trekking seasons in Kilimanjaro which are based on the mountain’s dry season. Although anyone who has climbed a mountain knows that weather in the mountain can be unpredictable.

The first season is from January to Mid-March while, the second season is from June to October which is also the peak season in the mountain as it coincides with the school holidays in Europe and the US.

As the first season was over, I  planned to do the trek in August. I searched for flights from different airlines and I was very happy to know that there were now direct flights from Singapore to Kilimanjaro Airport (the nearest airport). The last time I checked, my options were to fly to Dar es Salaam and then fly to Kilimanjaro airport or fly to Nairobi in Kenya then fly to Kilimanjaro Airport or travel overland to Tanzania.

Flights to Nairobi are cheaper but then I have to secure another visa in Kenya and another for Tanzania. For my safety and convenience, I decided to just fly directly to Kilimanjaro Airport from Singapore.

As it was still early I was fortunate to get an early bird promo from Qatar Airlines for a round trip Singapore-Kilimanjaro flight. It wasn’t cheap but I tried to console myself that this is a long haul flight.

The cost of the flight ticket was the second most expensive, next to the trekking package, that I had to spend.

Vaccinations and Antimalarials:

Yellow Fever vaccination is required to enter Tanzania. As soon as you land at the airport they will check on your Yellow Fever certificate.

After I made the decision to do the Kili trek, I visited Raffles Clinic and had my Yellow Fever vaccination which is good upto 10 years. I had to purchase the certificate of vaccination card separately with contains proof that I have done the Yellow Fever vaccination.

Yellow Fever Certificate

Yellow Fever Certificate

Other recommended vaccinations are the following:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Tetanus
  • Meningococcal meningitis
  • Polio
  • Rabies

Some of the vaccinations cannot be taken all together so it’s best to sort out the vaccinations a few months before your scheduled departure so you have sufficient time to complete the needed jabs.

Malaria is a big concern in Tanzania. It is best to consult  a doctor a few weeks before arriving in Tanzania as they may advise taking the antimalarials at least a week or two before arriving in Tanzania. In my case, the doctor initially advised me that I start taking the antimalarials two weeks before my scheduled arrival in Tanzania however, I was already past that time so I started my course a week before my arrival in Tanzania.

Trekking Gear and Equipment:

While tents, food, cooking and dining equipment are normally provided by the trekking outfitter/operator, personal gear and equipment are not.

Below is a list of trekking gear and equipment required or recommended for the climb and other optional items.

Equipment:

  • Duffel bag –  the bag that the porters carry for you. This contains equipment/gear that you don’t need while trekking during the day.
  • Daypack – a pack to carry the gear/equipment that you need during the day while trekking (including valuables) as you won’t be seeing the porters at least until lunch time, and sometimes not even until you arrive at the campsite at the end of the day. Get a comfortable and lightweight backpack as this is the pack you will be carrying yourself.
  • Backpack cover (optional) – waterproof to keep your backpack dry
  • Sleeping bag – four-season sleeping bag. If you don’t wanna buy one you can rent out a sleeping bag. You can check with your travel agency/operator how you can go about renting one. In my case, I was very lucky as Francis from Pac-West lent me his four-season, down sleeping bag.
  • Sleeping bag liner (optional) – for added warmth
  • Sleeping mat/earth pad – essential for those taking the camping routes but not for those taking the Marangu route. Sometimes travel agencies supply this so check if you need to get one.
  • Headlamp with spare batteries  for use at night at the campsite and during the summit assault to Uhuru Peak which usually starts at midnight
  • Water bottle/Hydration Bladder – It is important to keep oneself hydrated all throughout the trek. Bring enough for you to store water while trekking. It is easier to drink water from a hydration bladder while your walking but water stuck in the hose and/or mouthpiece may freeze while climbing to the summit. An insulated water bottle like the Hydro Flask is good as it can prevent water from freezing when going up the summit and it can also keep hot water for a few hours. The choice of bringing a water bottle or a hydration bladder depends on an individual. You can also bring both which is what I did.
  • Trekking poles (optional)

Footwear:

  • Hiking Shoes/Boots – waterproof, broken-in and comfortable
  • Socks – It is recommended to bring thick socks made of wool or synthetic and thin socks which are used as a socks liner.
  • Gaiters (recommended) – quite useful when you are walking in the dusty trail of Kili
  • Sandals/Flip-flops (optional) – for wearing at the campsite

Technical Clothing

  • Outer Shell jacket – waterproof, breathable with hood. Must fit on top all of your clothes (shirts/baselayers, fleece and insulated jacket).
  • Insulated jacket – synthetic or down. Must fit on top of all the shirts/baselayers and fleece jackets you will be wearing.
  • Fleece jacket – Make sure the first fleece fits on top of all the shirts/baselayer you will be wearing and the second fleece fits on top of all of these. For Kili, I brought 3 fleece jackets (2 lightweight and one midweight fleece) as I didn’t had any down jacket.
  • Long sleeve shirt/baselayer 
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Sports bra (women)
  • Trekking pants – take at least 2 pairs of trekking pants
  • Long underwear/Thermal underwear/long johns
  • Underwear
  • Shorts (optional)

Headwear:

  • Sunglasses
  • Brimmed hat or cap – for sun protection
  • Knit cap/beanie – provide warmth
  • Buff headwear (recommended) – multifunctional headgear which can be used as a neckerchief, scarf, headband, mask, bandana or wristband.
  • Balaclava (recommended) – to protect the face from wind and maintain warmth

Handwear:

  • Gloves – waterproof recommended
  • Gloves liner (optional) – synthetic, worn under gloves for added warmth

Safety and First-Aid Kit

  • Malaria Prophylaxis
  • Purifying Tablets
  • Diamox
  • Sunscreen/Sunblock
  • Lip balm
  • Insect repellant with DEET
  • Emergency Blanket
  • Whistle
  • Plasters
  • Bandages
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Paracetamol/Ibuprofen
  • Loperamide

Others:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Toilet paper
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pee bottle (recommended) – to avoid leaving the tent at night
  • Female Urination Device or FUD (for women, recommended) – quite useful for women so they can pee at night without leaving the tent. Some examples of FUD are GoGirl and Shewee.
  • Towel (optional)- lightweight, quick-dry
  • Poncho (optional)
  • Watch (optional)
  • Mobile phone (optional)
  • Camera with spare batteries (optional)

Insurance:

While nobody wishes to have an accident or illness while traveling, we cannot predict what’s gonna happen, so a travel insurance is essential especially that the Kili climb involves trekking at an altitude upto 5,895m which puts an individual at risk of getting AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness).

Before signing up for an insurance policy, there were number of things I had to consider.

  • Does it cover the country I will be going to and the type of activity I will be doing?
  • Does it cover hiking/trekking upto 5,895m?
  • If I am unfortunate to meet an accident and hurt myself or become seriously ill (e.g suffer from severe AMS) while trekking, does it cover evacuation, medical expenses for treatment at a hospital or local medical center and/or repatriation home if needed?
  • Can the insurer pay for my hospital bills while I am still in Tanzania or do I have to cover the expenses myself first and then wait until I get home to make a claim?
  • Does it cover flight delays and baggage delays?
  • How much is deductible if I have to make a claim?

There may be additional things you may want to check and clarify with the insurer depending on your needs before signing up. It’s important to be clear what you’re covered.

Visa

Being a Filipino citizen, I needed a visa to enter in Tanzania. Visa on Arrival is available at the Kilimanjaro Airport for USD50.

To see if you need a visa please check the link below:
Countries eligible for Visas and Fee rates

Tips for guide, cook and porters:

Tipping is mandatory. Set aside money for tipping the mountain guide, cook and the porters.

Once you are there you will realize that the life of a porter is not easy. It’s a lot of hardwork carrying upto 25kg in the mountain. They do not only carry your personal gear but they also carry food supplies, cooking and camping equipment for the whole team as well as their own gear. Once they arrive at the camp site they setup your tent and help prepare your food.

Some of the guides and porters don’t even have the appropriate shoes and gear for the trek. They too can also get sick in the mountain which I have witnessed myself.

Before flying to Kilimanjaro, I consulted with my travel agency about the recommended tips for the mountain guide, cook and porters per day. The Kilimanjaro Porters Association Project has a website that offers tipping recommendations which I also used a guide. This website also provides information about proper porter treatment.

I also discussed with my travel agency how many porters I will be having and the total number of people in my crew so I can prepare the budget for the tips. Although I was aware that this number may change when I’m finally in Kili but at least I have a rough idea how much money I needed to set aside for the tips.

From my own experience, my mountain guide discussed with me about the crew tips on my last night in the mountain. He did not exactly tell me how much tip to give each individual however, he stressed to me about giving more tips to the summit porter as compared to the other porters as he went up all the way up to the summit which definitely was not easy.

Just to add as well, it is recommended that you meet your crew at the start of the climb so you can confirm how many people are in your team. At the end of the trek, it is recommended to give the tips individually to ensure each person gets his own fair share. I prepared small dollar notes and placed the individual tips in an envelope.

 

*This post is part of my Kilimanjaro Diary:
En Route to Kilimanjaro
The Road To Kilimanjaro

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The Road To Kilimanjaro

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On November 2006 I went on my first overseas trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to climb Mt. Kinabalu. It was a life-changing trip as it opened my eyes to many things and possibilities.

South Peak in Mt Kinabalu

South Peak in Mt Kinabalu.

More Mt. Kinabalu trek photos can be found here.

On my way down from the summit of Mt. Kinabalu, I met a middle-aged Malaysian climber. We chit-chat and he mentioned to me about his plans of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after Mt. Kinabalu. He told me that it was something doable as it doesn’t require any technical climbing skills.

After I came back from the Kinabalu climb, I researched more about Mt. Kilimanjaro and became more interested with it. Aside from being the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895m, one of the things that really fascinated me about Mt. Kilimanjaro is its unique vegetation. There are 5 main vegetation zones from the lowest point to the highest point namely: farmland, forest, heather and moorland, highland dessert and the snow-capped summit. Looking at the landscape photos made my heart skip a beat and excited. From thereon, I dreamed of trekking Kili someday.

One of the biggest challenges in trekking Kilimanjaro for me was the cost of the whole trip. The airfare getting to Tanzania and the cost of the trekking package was already quite very expensive for me. It’s not possible to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro independently without a mountain guide as the park authorities had made it compulsory for all trekkers to arrange their walk through a licensed agency.

Aside from this, there’s the cost of buying gear/equipment for the trek, vaccinations and the mandatory tips for the guide, cook and porters.  Add this all up and I needed a considerable amount of money if I wanted to fulfill this dream.

In 2008 I decided to leave my home country in search of better of opportunities abroad so I can fund my Kilimanjaro trek as well as my other travel plans. I remember my former manager asking me why I have to quit my job and go overseas to fund this trek. I explained to him how expensive the trek was going to be. Then, he asked me further why I just can’t find someone to sponsor my trek. I can no longer remember my exact reply to him but I remembered what was going on in my mind that time. I’m not an elite athlete or a high profile mountaineer. That time the only high altitude mountains I’ve climbed so far were Mt. Apo (2,954m) and Mt. Kinabalu (4,095m). There are certainly more strong and fit mountaineers in my country who deserve the sponsorship much more than myself. So off I went to work overseas to save money for my Kili dream.

Hiking to the summit of Mt Apo with Lake Venado in the background

Hiking to the summit of Mt Apo with Lake Venado in the background

My 2nd summit of Mt Apo in October 2007

My 2nd summit of Mt Apo on October 2007

More Mt. Apo trekking photos can be found here.

While overseas, I didn’t had much opportunity to do any major trek except for the Mt. Rinjani trek in Lombok, Indonesia on July 2009. I did however kept myself fit by running which also became a separate obsession. I had this mindset that if I keep myself fit I will be ready to go to Kili anytime once I have the money.

Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru (crater volcano) and Segara Anak (crater lake)

Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru (crater volcano) and Segara Anak (crater lake)

Me with Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru and Segara Anak in the background.

Me with Mt Rinjani, Mt Baru and Segara Anak in the background.

More Mt Rinjani trekking photos can be found here.

Running which has also become a separate passion and obession. Photo by shutterunning.com during Columbia Trail Masters Thailand

Running which has also become a separate passion and obsession. Photo by shutterunning.com during Columbia Trail Masters Thailand

On May 2010 I purchased 3 books from Amazon all about trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro. My favorite is Henry Stedman’s “Kilimanjaro: The trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain“. The book provided lots of information about how I was going to plan my Kili trek from budgeting, selecting a route, deciding when to go, selecting a trekking agency, gear/equipment needed for the trek, climbing preparations, dealing with AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) and many others.

I inquired about the prices of the trekking package provided by the different trekking agencies so I have a rough idea about the budget. Booking directly through a travel agent in Tanzania would definitely be cheaper as basically I’m cutting the middleman however, I had some concerns. If I select a travel agency in Singapore where I was based, I can be sure that they’re not going to run away with my hard-earned money and if I had any questions or issues about the climb it would be easier to contact and ask them.

I didn’t really told anyone about my plans except for a few close friends as I wanted to keep a low profile. I know that not all people share the same passion and dream with me. Some expressed interest in climbing Kili but they told me they have no budget for it as it’s too expensive. One friend expressed real interest but initial planning already indicated differences about certain choices.

There were plenty of important decisions to be made. Choosing a travel agency and trekking companion or going on my own can make or break the success of the trek. One thing I was already decided was the route I was going to take in Kili. Pretty much I was decided in taking the Machame route (also known as the “Whiskey Route”) as I have read this route is quite scenic and offers good acclimatization which will increase my chances of summiting.

Initially I was targeting to do the trek end of 2011 or early 2012 however, it was a very challenging and tumultuous year for me. I got laid off plus I had to deal with personal issues. I found a new job in 2012 and there was no way to squeeze in the Kili trek.

I kept wondering how long I must wait more to fulfill this dream. There came to a point each time I was on the bus on my way to work I kept thinking about the purpose of my life. If my life is just all about earning more money to have a more secure future. I was getting frustrated that I have become a coward and have become afraid to take risks. Then, I started to think again how I risked everything a few years ago to take my first step in accomplishing my Kili dream. I made a vow to myself that I was going to do the Kili trek before the year ends in 2013 no matter what happens. No more excuses.

In September 2012 I received a message in Facebook from one of my Malaysian friends.

“I remember a few years back you told me that you wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I have a team here who will be going in February 2013. The cost is about SGD7,000. Let me know if you are interested. If you are, you are still subjected to “approval” from the team leader AND the rest of the team. Let me know soon, ok?”

My heart was pounding with excitement however, it was only short-lived. It was not possible for me to do the trek on February 2013 due to vacation leave constraints. I also thought based on my research I can get a cheaper price than this.

At the start of the second quarter of 2013 I made a life-changing decision. I quit my job and committed myself to pursue my Kili dream. By then I was decided to do trek on my own as I didn’t want to wait any longer who will go with me. I have done solo backpacking many times before but it was all in Southeast Asia. The thought of going to Africa and climbing Kili on my own was quite scary but I tried to keep positive thoughts and motivated myself that it’s all part of the adventure.

 

*This post is part of my Kilimanjaro Diary:
En Route to Kilimanjaro
Planning and Preparing for Kilimanjaro

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