So having made the leap of faith to actually do this thing (what have I let myself in for? No, it is really too early to have doubts – they will all come a lot later and I am sure very strongly), there are apparently an incredible number of things to decide. I have checked out probably twenty websites to date, and the one which impresses me most so far is http://www.climbmountkilimanjaro.com, which is written/produced etc by Henry Stedman, the guy whose book I bought yesterday. The book is called “Kilimanjaro: The trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain” (ISBN is 978-1-873756-91-1), and is riveting.
I didn’t expect booking up to be easy, but there are lots of things that you need to know before you decide to take the plunge for a certain date.
Amongst the things you should decide upon are firstly when to go, on account of the weather. This it seems can be a bit of an obstacle. Apparently there are distinct wet and dry seasons, and Kilimanjaro apparently has its own weather systems! It is however on a massif stetching 60km long by 80km wide and is about 6km high, so this is not surprising! Apparently there are two sort of ‘monsoon’ (or very wet anyway) seasons, being October to December and March to May. This therefore influences when you might want to go, assuming that like me, you want to see as much as you can of the mountain and also not get (if you can help it) wet as hell every single day. Apparently January and February, and then June and July are the favourite (and most popular) times to climb.
This came slightly out of left field in my research I have to say. Not being terribly astrologically minded, I stumbled upon most websites giving out dates of full moons, and thought “WTF?”, but then it dawned upon me – it transpires that (without exception I think?) the final (1200m or so) ascent takes place at night (you start out at midnight), and so the clearer and better lit the night sky, the more you can see the path ahead of you in the darkness. Then I began wondering “why do they do the last bit at night?” – “is it because if you could see what you were actually facing you would turn back?”, and thought that maybe I should choose to do it whenever there is the opposite of a full moon – is that a new moon?
OK, so having thought about when and then when in the month, you have to choose which route you want to take up the mountain. Yep, it’s not just a case of turning up with your $1,000 (or thereabouts) climb fee, and then trotting off towards your goal. No, there are (as far as I can tell) at least six different options, all with various names, being the Rongai, Machame, Shira, Umbwe, Lemosho and Marangu. They all appear to start from about the same height (all around 6,000ft or so), and all end up at Uhuru Peak (the pinnacle of the crater, at about 19,400 feet, or 5,985m). They are all fairly different too it seems (other than the Shira and Lemosho, which seem very similar indeed). They all have different characteristics too – whether by steepness, ruggedness, variety of eco-systems en route, busy-ness etc. Oh, and they are in different locations alotogether – like if you go from Rongai the gate is effectively in Kenya, so you want to fly to Naorobi in the first place. Which one to take? Oh, and when you have chosen your route it seems that you can have a six day route, a seven day route or more. How much time do I need to acclimatise?
Which travel company to go with?
This seems hard to decide also. The choice is split into broadly two categories – you can choose a local operator in Tanzania, or one in your country of departure (England in my case). You will (almost certainly) have more to fall back on if things go wrong by choosing an operator in your local country, but they are going to be considerably more expensive. For your climb fees, it seems that you are broadly speaking talking about roughly $1,000 (it seems that the dollar rules in Tanzania) if you book with a local guide, or (a minimum of) $2,000+ if you book in the UK. I have seen some companies charging $5,000 or so. Am I going to get a better trip up the mountain if I book here before I go? No idea! Then when you have chosen from which country you want your company to come from then there are seemingly hundreds to choose from!
So the above need to be decided upon even before you can tell someone “I am going to Kilimanjaro”, or otherwise you aren’t going anywhere at all. And all of the above are before you decide which airline to take to get you to Tanzania (there are no international flights travelling very close by it seems, so transfers are in order and some of them get there very late). Should you then take a day to acclimatise when you get there? Should you go and stay in Moshi or Arusha first? Should you book into a cheap hotel or a more expensive one when you arrive? (They seem to range literally from $5 a night to $1,000 a night).
The above are all very much before you have to make a whole lot more decisions – I have just looked at the kit lists, which are split into “essential”, “recommended”, “useful” etc., and realised that I have nothing at all of the items that I need (what the heck is a Thermarest for pity’s sake? How will I decide what boots to buy? How do I decide how many camera batteries to take to strap to my legs to stop them freezing? Then there are the vaccinations, then there is the fitness regime (“when to start”, “how extensive”), then do I take a camera and a separate video camera (if so, what sort works at -25?) etc etc.
My head, as is probably yours reading this, is simply spinning. I used to be indecisive, now I’m not so sure! The thing is, if these things weren’t all seemingly fairly critical to whether you make it up there in one piece or not, it wouldn’t be half as difficult, but the fact is, they are – they matter. This is going to be a “once in a lifetime experience”, and I don’t want to get things wrong now, or they can never be made right again. Am I worrying too much? Probably. Can I make a decision yet on any of the above? Not at all – need help!