Training for Kilimanjaro
One of the most frequently asked questions that we get asked. ‘What is the best training advice for Kilimanjaro?’ I have spent the last 20 years on all kinds of mountains around the world including many summits of not only the highest mountain in Africa but also the world. I have been through it all. I have experienced the physical and mental challenges of climbing high altitude mountains. There is a saying that it is not how many mountains you climb but how many people you with you. I’m sure there is a deep philosophical meaning in there somewhere but in this context of training for Kilimanjaro, I have been blessed in that I have been in involved in hundreds of climber’s journeys to summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Is it possible to summit Kilimanjaro without training?
Yes it is. Kilimanjaro is not a technically difficult mountain to climb. In fact, the gradient is so gradual that hiking it at sea level would take half of the time to climb. Yes there are the effects of altitude that will definitely influence your chances of a successful summit. (Refer to our advice on trekking at altitude section). As mentioned, you do not have to be super fit to scramble up the ancient slopes of the highest mountain in Africa. But without a certain degree of training and conditioning, your hike is going to mostly pain and suffering. In my opinion, training for Kilimanjaro is crucial. You need to remember that you are going to be hiking for about 7 hours a day for 7 days. With that comes fatigue. And just like the theory of compound interest, so does you’re the fatigue compound every day. The last thing you want is to have low levels of energy reserves for the most challenging part of the climb the grueling 15 hour summit day.
The key success factors to our high summit success rate on Kilimanjaro?
Cardio Like crazy
Your heart rate on Kilimanjaro is going to be at least 20% higher than normal. This is due to the fact that the oxygen levels drop significantly as you climb higher. This forces your heart to pump faster and makes your lungs feel like they are auditioning for a bellows competition. This is where the importance of cardio training comes into your training regime. Get used to running, cycling, and hiking at least 3 times a week. Closer to the time, you would also want to get your body used to consecutive days of training. On Kilimanjaro, you are going to have to push yourself for 7 consecutive days. You don’t want your body to freak out when it doesn’t get a rest. So closer to your climb, your training should involve multi-days of cardio so your body can get used to it. And remember, you are going to be hiking for up to 7 hours a day on Kilimanjaro. So you want to set yourself a target of maybe 1 hour a day with a few longer 4-5 hour training sessions. Maybe even a multi-day hike where you do 7 hours a day would also be beneficial. It will definitely help not only physically, but mentally too.
Adversity introduces a man to himself
Besides the physical demands that on-going to be out on your body on the mountain, your Kilimanjaro training preparation should also involve some mental training. Mountaineering is 80% in your head. A bit like life I guess. You need to constantly take yourself out of your comfort zones. Do something that scares you. Do something different. Run 20 miles just to see if you can. Go rock climbing and feel that beautiful primal fear of survival. The more points of reference to pain and suffering you can create, the better your mental stamina on Kilimanjaro will be. When the going gets tough, you will have ammunition to throw at yourself to keep on fighting.
Rather bleed on the training field than the battle-field
You have paid a lot of money to get to the summit of Kilimanjaro. You want to not only increase your chances of a successful climb but enjoying it would also be a bonus. Put in the hard yards 6 months before your climb. Let the hours of physical and mental training you committed to compound into a feeling of ‘readiness’ when you stare up in awe at the highest mountain in Africa. Push yourself. Feel the pain. Join running clubs, let the spirit of competition, ego or whatever else drives you to push beyond what you think is your physical limits. And one thing is for sure, once out of those comfort zones, you are definitely going to be introduced to yourself. And that is a good thing. Rather discover how you react to adverse situations in a controlled environment so you know what to expect and most importantly, how to handle an adverse situation on Kilimanjaro. You see, mountains are good teachers.
You cannot out train a diet. So be vigilant of you eat. Your training for Kilimanjaro program must include a good diet. Cut out processed carbs. Cut out sugar. Is it just another mental challenge to consider? Yes it is going to hard breaking the habit, but not only will it benefit you on the mountain but will improve your current life significantly. Use Kilimanjaro as a scape goat. Use it as a goal to make that change.
State of mind-Relax
We get it. Most of you are living stressed and hectic lives. Modern day living has increased peoples anxiety, cortisol and adrenalin levels through the roof. One of your training for Kilimanjaro goals should be to learn to relax. Remember, you are going to be climbing on a high altitude mountain. Your body is going to react differently at 4500m than it will at sea level. When you get stressed, your breathing becomes shallow. Not exactly the ideal thing to happen in a hypoxic environment. Learn to take deep breaths. On Kilimanjaro, you want to be able to use your maximum lung capacity to efficiently use the limited oxygen available. Training should involve learning to breathe deeply. And we all know the effects of stress on the human body. Increased cortisol, high blood pressure, increased heart rate. These are symptoms you want to avoid on the mountain. Learn to relax. Easier said than done I know. Trust me. I’m still trying to figure it out. Exercise and eating right will definitely help.
What is one of the best activities to include in your training for Kilimanjaro plan? Get outdoors. Go hiking. Not only is it good for stress levels, it also gets you training in an environment where the ground is not level. Good for the ankles. And try find a steep gradient so you can used to going uphill. And carry heavy backpacks. Remember-rather bleed on the training field than the battle-field. Remember that training for Kilimanjaro adds to your safety on Kilimanjaro.