Trip to Africa Part 2.2 – Climbing Kilimanjaro – Machame Route, Altitude Sickness, Preparation and General Notes and Hints for climbing Kilimanjaro

Machame Route
We chose this route for a number of reasons as follows:

  • It is the most scenic and you get to see far more of the mountain than on the standard “tourist” route and you come down a different route to the way you go up. This proved to be correct but, unfortunately for us, the weather was not that brilliant with a lot of cloud and rain most days in the afternoons so whilst we saw a lot of different flora etc. we hardly ever got to see the peak itself!
  • It was recommended to us by the trek organisers (Private Kilimanjaro) as the best chance of success especially if we took the 7 day option. Based on our experience (and bearing in mind we never saw the other routes) I would agree with this recommendation.
  • It is NOT the easiest route and, in fact, the Rucksack Guide (highly recommended that you get a copy of this) defines it as “hard” and it is not for the “faint hearted” as it does have some steep sections including the Great Barranco Wall.
  • However it does prepare you well for the final summit climb and if you take the 7 day option as opposed to the 6 day then I would recommend this route as long as you are ready for camping and some pretty rough toilet facilities (unless, like us, you had your own private portable loo – well worth the extra expense trust me!)

Altitude Sickness.
I was very lucky in that I did not suffer from this at all. Jim did have a couple of days when he had a headache but nothing too serious.
So I put this down to the following:

  •  Preparation and general fitness level. I did a fair bit of prep work with regular daily sessions on a cross trainer for at least 3 months before going and this included interval training to get my pulse rate up to max and my breathing working really hard.  I did have a medical before going and part of this was peak airflow and I also bought a peak airflow meter so that I could see how my breathing was improving and before I set off I was “scoring” at least 20 years younger than my actual age!!! So this, to me, is really important to be as fit as you can be before setting off – but see below for being too confident!
  • Not being over confident and listening to the guides. It does not matter how fit you are (or think you are) you MUST listen to the guides and follow their advice and speed irrespective of what you might think. Being of slightly more mature years (64 in April)  I was very careful about this and the guides were also very well tuned to me and so we went slowly but surely the whole way.
  • Taking Diamox. Our trek organisers recommended that I take Diamox so got my doctor to prescribe some for me and, again, took the guides advice to take 1 full pill (250mg.) the night before setting off then half a pill in the morning and half after lunch each day until summit day. It is impossible to say for sure what effect this had but as I did not suffer at all I can only assume a positive one. A word of warning though it is essential that you take at least one or two pills well in advance of you going to make sure you do not suffer any serious side effects and, yes, the known side effects are definitely there especially tingling fingers, carbonated drinks tasting awful and, especially when you are drinking 3 litres of water a day, needing to pee a lot! Note: Jim did not take Diamox.
  • Drinking lots of water. At least 3 litres of water a day is essential with the rule “little and often” and not waiting until you feel thirsty but sipping as often as you can. Some form of water bladder is essential – platypus or camelback style with drinking tube and then side bottles to top up when you stop. I made the mistake of not wrapping my side bottles properly on summit day inside my rucksack so they were almost frozen solid when I got to the top and I had finished my 2 litre bladder so was struggling for water a bit at the top.
  • Selecting the right route and spending the right number of days acclimatising. Since I have been back the number of people who have said to me “friend of mine failed to summit despite being fit etc. because of altitude sickness” and, in most cases, this is being too confident and choosing a short 4 or 5 day route and not acclimatising. If you want success take your time and spend time on the mountain acclimatising like we did.

Other hints and tips:

  • Visit your dentist in plenty of time before going to make sure that you have nothing untoward. I did and she took an Xray and found a faulty filling and fixed it before I went so was really glad I did.
  • Do get a medical check up for heart and lung function.
  • Athletes Foot. This might sound odd but I do suffer from this and the worst thing you want is sore toes etc. I used Lamisil Once about 2-3 months before going and again just before going – it does seem to work.
  • P-bottle. We were well advised to both take p bottles with us and even having our own private loo you still did not want to have to get out of the tent at night and, with all the water and the effects of Diamox (and a bit of age I suppose!) you “need to go” fairly regularly in the night. We used collapsible plastic bottles but, obviously, easier for us blokes.
  • Take a book or, in our case, Kindles because there is a fair amount of time to sit and relax especially on a 7 day trek so you need something to occupy the time!
  • Clothing and gear – see separate section I am going to write on this.
  • Will add any more here as I think of them!
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