Kit Up Kili – What to Pack

One of my major problems when I was planning my trek up Kilimanjaro was what to take.  I’d search website after website after website, but it all gave specifics and no generals, and I headed into it feeling incredibly unprepared, equipment-wise.

Which leads me to this post.  What should you take up Kili?  What did I need, what didn’t I need, what should the company offer me, etc. etc. etc.  Feel free to ask questions – I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.

Under-wear
Not just underwear, but the clothes that will be the base layer for your trek.

– long johns, long sleeve shirt, preferably wicking material – a must.  One set will probably be enough
– several pairs of liner socks (3 or 4) – recommended, but not a necessity.
– underwear – I went with four pairs for 7 days.  (For women – I brought two sports bras)

I had a pair of Helly Hanson base layer pants, as well as a long sleeve top.  A base layer of something is going to be beneficial.  You want to layer to create pockets for air to become trapped, and help keep you warm.  Additionally, you’re going to get hot as you walk, and you’re going to want to take layers off.  And one last thing (because this happened to me) – if it rains, and you’re not wearing your rain gear (and it can whip up in a hot second), if you’re wearing a base layer you can at least take off your wet gear, and pull on the rain gear, and you’ll be warm again in no time.

Cold, wet, weather from Karanga to Barafu

The other thing is that the first few days you’re in lower altitudes, and you won’t be wearing your base layers.  Well, maybe at night, but you won’t need it during the day.  You’ll be wearing these the closer you get to summit – I was on the Machame Route, and I think I started wearing them leaving Barranco camp.

I loved my liner socks.  I wear them whenever I climb anything – i.e. the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks – and they help prevent blisters, keep my feet warm in cold temperatures, and keep my warm, thick socks fresh for a) sleeping in and b) climbing in the next day.  (Plus, they dry quicker)  Any wicking material, or cotton, sock should do fine.  Your rule of thumb should be:  do they hurt my feet when I walk for 12 hours in them?  If no – good to go.

Over The Under-Wear

Lower altitudes:
– zipper pants (unzip for shorts)
-yoga pants
– t-shirts
– light-weight fleece sweater
– long sleeved shirt (zip up)
– running shoes (didn’t need in the end)

Upper altitudes:
– Fleece pants
-heavy fleece sweater (of some kind)
– wool hiking socks
– stretchy gloves

So I brought a pair of fleece pants that I bought at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on sale.  I think they were the MEC brand – so nothing fancy.  But my, were they great the higher we got.  I slept in them, half the time.  They were warm, fuzzy, and kept my legs toasty.  I can’t remember what sweater I brought with me (I have a ton – I’m Canadian.  Sweaters are a dime a dozen) but it was warm, it was fleece, and most of the time it was my pillow.

For the lower altitudes, honestly – I bought two pairs of zipper pants from Walmart.  I have no idea what they’re really called, but they have a zipper half-way up so if it’s cold, you attach the lower legs and you have pants, and when it’s warm you unzip them.   That’s what I brought for Kili and for my safari.  I wore them for at least 4 days out of the 7. My yoga pants are from Joe Fresh (the Loblaws brand of clothing – nothing fancy, and about $20 a pair, very cheap) but they’re long (full pants, not capris), and they were great to sleep in, and climb in after we left the rainforst, and started in on the heather and moorlands.

Starting out in shorts and a tshirt

I also got three wicking t-shirts, from Walmart.  Don’t spend a bazillion dollars on wicking tshirts.  I got mine at Walmart for about $12 and they worked fantastically.  I think I took three up Kili – maybe only 2.  (Remember, everyone smells, no one has showered, no one can tell).  I also brought a light-weight fleece top – I got it on sale from Sports Experts, again nothing fancy, no brand name.  I wore the light weight one a lot at lower altitudes – at night, and in the morning.  During the day, I would tie it to my daypack to air it out/dry it.

For the socks – I bought wool hiking socks, but I think you could use any heavy duty sock, especially if you have liners to protect your feet. I brought a pair of running shoes, (just a pair of cheap Payless sneakers, really), to wear in camp at night, to give my feet a rest from the hiking boots.  I didn’t really wear them – I think I put them on once, and that was it.  I was fine in the hiking boots. 

I bought a pair of $3 stretchy “magic” gloves – you know the ones that look so small that they couldn’t possibly fit on your hands, but they do?  They were great for the mornings (and nights) were it was a little brisk, and you wanted something on your hands.

High Altitude Outer Gear
– I rented a down jacket from my trekking company (Tro-Peaks – excellent company.  I recommend them)
– Heavy-duty corduroy hiking pants from MEC.  (didn’t need in the end)
– Toque (wool cap that you wear in winter, over your ears, to keep your head warm)
– waterproof mitts

I probably didn’t need the jacket, and definitely didn’t need the pants, but the toque was welcome most days, especially when the wind got blowing.  I also wore it at night to keep my head warm!

I usually feel the cold (that should be:  I always feel the cold) but even then – I only wore the down jacket for about a half hour, as I started towards the summit.  Granted, I started later than most climbers.  Most people start at midnight and make a push to the summit.  I started at 5 a.m., which could be why I didn’t need the jacket.  I would say, be safe rather than sorry – rent the jacket, for the few dollars it will set you back.

Chilly lunch at Lava Tower

Something I really wish I had had was waterproof mitts.  Or at least water repellent.  Mine just soaked up the moisture, and was I ever grumpy, wet, cold and unhappy when I got to camp.  Get something that will not only keep your hands warm, but also somewhat dry.

Low Altitude Outer Gear
– waterproof jacket
– waterproof pants
– lightweight fleece
– brimmed hat

Besides the fleece clothing that I brought, I also brought waterproof pants and jacket.  Again, I went with the standard MEC brand, however the key things you want are breathability (jacket), and waterproof.  You could be wearing the jacket for several hours, and it gets warm as you hike up the mountain (body temperature-wise)  make sure you go for a jacket that has vents, or some other feature for breathability.  Don’t go for a standard rain jacket – you’ll be uncomfortable and unhappy.  We hit rain/sleet/snow between Karanga camp and Barafu camp, and I definitely needed the waterproof jacket and pants, I was really glad to have them.  We had some rain getting to Machame camp (about 20 minutes worth) and, once we were at Shira camp it started to rain (after the tents had been set up).  This was in early August of 2012, so plan to have a little rain.

A hat with a brim (I brought one with a brim all the way around – I used it on my safari as well) is good for the lower altitudes, when you’re still in with the trees.  It shades your eyes, but still allows you to see in the sahde, unlike sunglasses.

Relaxing on som rocks, close to Machame camp

Miscellaneous

– face cloth
– camelbak
– large-ish backpack
– sleeping bag (rated 0C at least)
– fleece lining for sleeping bag
– headlamp
– waterpurification tablets (I brought Aquatabs)
– first aid kit
– headbands (to keep the hair out of my eyes)

The face cloth is more to use as a towel.  For that matter, you could even bring a towel, I’m just thinking weight.  I didn’t, and I regretted it.  You’ll be given a bowl of water to wash your hands in, and you’re going to want to dry your hands.  Or, your camelbak could spill in your tent, and you’ll want to mop it up.  This won’t be a bad choice, trust me.

Camelbak – you can certainly go for bottles, but the recommended amount of water to carry is 3L per day.  I had a 2L camelbak plus a 1L bottle (ordinary water bottle that I picked up once in Moshi).  When my camelbak was empty, I’d open up the pocket containing it and fill it with the bottle. (My backpack had a separate compartment for the camelbak, which made refilling it easy.)

Here’s the thing for the backpack:  It should be a pretty good size.  Mine, a daypack, was slightly too small.  You should be able to fit:  waterproof pants and jacket, lunchbox (cardboard), brimmed hat, camera, sunglasses, mitts + toque – basically, anything you’re going to need during the day.

The headlamp – if you need to go to the bathroom during the night (pray you don’t – they’re nasty beyond nasty), you’re going to want the headlamp to find your way around the tents pitched willy-nilly.

Liners for the sleeping bag:  I packed a silk liner, on the premise it would keep me warm.  I don’t think it did a whole lot.  The fleece liner I brought was much better.  I’d recommend a fleece liner if your sleeping bag is like mine, and not made for cold weather.  If yours is, and is rated to -15C, you could probably skip the liner.

Headbands – I have ones that are actually a long-ish tube – you can use them as a scarf (which I did at higher altitudes), as a hat (which I did, under my toque, at higher altitudes), as a headband, over your nose and mouth to protect against dust.  I mostly used them to keep my hair out of my eyes.  Definitely a good thing if you have long bangs/fringe.

three days with no shower, and wearing a headband.

The water purification tablets are a good bet.  The chef/porters boil the water, and the water on Kilimanjaro is said to be quite pure, however….better safe than sorry.  Up a mountain is not where you want to get sick, over something you could have prevented with a few small tablets.

My first aid kit contained:  allergy pills (I tend to get stuffy at the oddest times, so it’s easier to just pack them), Advil (good for helping prevent altitude sickness, and also headaches), bandaids (varying sizes), second skin (moist pads to put over blisters), diamox (I didn’t need it, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than not have it and need it!), spare laces for my boots, chap stick.

Sunhat vs sunglasses:  I found it easier to see with my sunhat on, over the sunglasses, especially at the lower altitudes.  Sometimes, it was in and out shady, and I found it took too long for my eyes to adjust.  Sunglasses are good at higher altitudes, definitely – especially as the vegetation thins out.  On that subject:  bring something to fix your sunglasses if they break – medical tape, masking tape, something.  Mine did, and thankfully my guide had medical tape that he used to tape them back up!

a little tape, and good as new!

Packing

Here’s what I brought, what I wouldn’t take again I’ll strike through, things that I wish I had I’ll highlight

– 1 pair of base layer pants
– 1 pair zipper pants/shorts
– 1 pair thick fleece pants
– I pair of yoga pants
1 pair “hiking” pants (heavy fabric, corduroy – didn’t need)
– 1 pair waterproof pants
gaiters (didn’t wear them in the end)

– 1 base layer long sleeved shirt
– 2 wicking tops, short sleeve (maybe 3)
– 1 heavy-fleece sweater
– 1 light-fleece sweater
1 light-weight long sleeved shirt
– 1 water proof jacket
1 down jacket (rented)

-3 pairs liner socks
– 2 pairs wool hiking socks
1 pair of running shoes (not needed)
– 2 pair of mitts – 1 stretchy pair, 1 heaver pair (Thinsulate brand) – waterproof receommended
– two headbands 
– 1 toque
– 1 sunhat
– 1 pair of sunglasses

– 1 fleece lining
1 silk lining
– 1 sleeping bag

– 1 pair of hiking poles (rented)
– 1 sleeping mat (rented, I think)

– water purification tablets
– small first aid kit
gatorade powder (in case you get tired of drinking water all the time.  I drink a lot of water anyway, so I was ok with just that, but some people like to mix it up)
– energy chews (I brought Honey Stingers)
– energy bars (I brought Clif bars)
trail mix (ok, I brought too much food and didn’t eat half of it)
facecloth/towel

Company Should Provide

The company should provide your tent, a tent for the porters, guide, and chef, all cooking and eating utensils, the food, water (after the first day, when you should have a full 3L on starting out), and a larger first aid kit.  I think most companies give the choice of renting sleeping bags, down jackets, sleeping mats, and hiking poles.

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Staggering up Kilimanjaro

I booked a 7 day Kilimanjaro climb back in April. 5 and a half days up, one and a half days down.  I figured I’d need the 5 days for acclimatization – Ottawa isn’t exactly at a staggering altitude, you know.  Turns out – I was wrong.

I started the climb back on August 7 from Machame Gate (I was taking the Machame route).  It turned out that I was the only trekker – so it was just me, and 6 support crew (1 guide, 1 chef, 4 porters.  That’s a lot of people for one person to summit a mountain!)

The first leg took me from Machame Gate to Machame Gate, and from there the next day to Shira Camp, where we get our first taste of “high” altitude (i.e. over 3000 metres).  I had just spent 4 days in Addis Ababa, which sits around 2500 metres, so the first two days were easy.  Which probably explains why I was the first tourist to arrive in Shira Camp.

The day after we hit Shira Camp, we hiked to Barranco, via Lava Tower.  The side trip to Lava Tower is important for acclimatization – you hit over 4600 metres, before descending back down to just under 4000 metres at Barranco.

The next day, our fourth, saw me tackle the Barranco wall (aka the Breakfast Wall, because you do it right after breakfast).  I have to say – I loved this part.  I loved scrambling over the rocks, hugging them as I swung a leg out to land on the next “step”.

From Barranco, our goal was Karanga Camp (which in my mind will always be Kangaroo Camp).  Being the speedy trekker than I am, my guide and crew decided that we should push on for Barafu camp – the camp before the summit.

Did I mention that my guide thought I could summit a day early?

So on day 5, at 5 am, I made the push for Uhuru Peak – the highest peak in Africa.  After what seemed an interminable age of zig-zags up the cliff face, we finally (and I mean finally – there were six or seven false summits!) came up to….Stella Point.  The second highest point in Africa.  Another hour of staggering found me at Uhuru Peak.  Where I promptly fell against the sign while my guide too my photo.  5895 metres is nothing to sneeze at.

We quickly descended, and I found a mild-to-moderate case of altitude sickness come on.  No headache, which is normal for me in high altitudes, but nausea.  And back at Barafu, where I gratefully fell upon my sleeping bag for a quick nap, I actually vomited upon waking.  Classy as always.

We pushed on from Barafu that day, to Millennium Camp – a new campsite that was installed in 2000 as a relief measure for all the people wanting to celebrate the New Years on Kilimanjaro, but who couldn’t take the altitude.  Needless to say, I was in my sleeping bag early, exhausting after the 7 hour hike to the summit, and 3 hours descent.

The next morning we pushed on down to Mweka Gate – a leisurely 4 and a half hour hike down slippery, rocky paths.  I seriously started to consider that they should award certificates for getting down the path safely, rather than for making the summit!

Oh, and the certificate for making the summit?  I have one of those!

Climbing Kilimanjaro (part 1)

I’m off in less than a hour to climb Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa.  Sitting at over 5800 metres (5895 metres to be exact), Kilimanjaro towers overs the plains below.

I’m sitting in a hotel in Moshi, a small town near the base of Kilimanjaro, waiting for my trek company, Tro-Peaks to pick me up.  I spent last night re-packing bags – putting everything I would need for Kili (fleece sweaters and pants, sneakers for the campsites, wool socks, mitts and a toque, base layers and gaiters) into a bag that porters will carry for me.  In another, smaller, day-pack, I’ve got my day-to-day items – camera, bandaids, binoculars and water that I’ll carry.  I think I’m ready.

I think I’m ready.

The company told me to take it one day at a time – don’t try to climb the peak before you get there.  Just look to what you’re doing now, go slowly, stay hydrated, rest and eat.  Those are the keys to reaching the summit. 

I’ve got four days of hiking upwards before I try to tackle the summit, leaving the last camp at midnight, to see the sunrise over the peak on the fifth day.  After that, it’s all downhill, as we push ourselves to be back in Moshi by the seventh day.  (But as they say, downhill is always so much easier.)

I’ve prepared by hiking in the Adirondacks with a friend, and by walking as much as possible.  Here’s hoping it’s been enough!

See you in a week, after I’ve conquered the snows of Kilimanjaro!

Kit Up!

So here am I with a plane ticket to Africa, and a plan to climb a mountain.  (Edit #1:And do a safari, which I still need to research, but that’s something else entirely.) (Edit #2: And go gorilla tracking in Rwanda)

You don’t just walk up a mountain.  Especially not the highest peak in Africa.  Sitting at 5895 metres (for everyone else, that’s 19, 341 feet) above sea level, you pass through four different climates on your way to Uhuru peak.  The one thing going for Kili, is that it doesn’t require any actual mountain climbing.  It really is just a hike up a mountain.  But you still need some serious gear, and you do need to be in good physical shape.

I went down to my local Mountain Equipement Co-Op store the other night to pick up the beginnings of my kit.  Previously, I got a pair of base-layers (long-sleeve top, and bottoms) and hand warmers at Sport Chek. Base-layers are pretty important – they help to wick away the sweat and keep you dry, and therefore warm.

But you also need boots.  Not real heavy-duty mountaineering boots, but good trail boots that have ankle support, and somewhat water-proof.  I ended up getting a pair of Vasque Breeze hiking boots.  The reviews on the website sound promising, and one woman even used them on Kili a few years ago.  They’re large enough to fit two pairs of socks – liners (to wick away the sweat, again) and a pair of thicker thermal ones to keep your feet warm.  The two pairs also help to avoid blisters, not something you want happening halfway up a mountain.

I also picked up a wide-brimed oilskin hat.  I’ll need something to protect the back of my head (both on Kili and on the safari)  And sunglasses.  I read in one guide that it is not uncommon for contact lenses to dry out on the windy summit of Kili, and pop right out.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’ll probably need to bring 2 extra pairs of contacts – one in case something happens, and one in case something happens to the pair that I had in case something happens!

Edit #3:  This trip is moving so quickly, that in the time it took me to compose this post (which, granted, took me a few days) I found out some interesting information regarding Ethiopia, and booked a gorilla tracking expedition in Rwanda.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’m going gorilla tracking in Rwanda.  Not to hunt, but to look at.  So expect another two posts in the very near future!

Let me catch you up…

So about a week ago, I found an excellent deal for a flight to Kilimanjaro airport, near Moshi, on the Travel Cuts website. $1619, taxes in.  Now, most flights to Africa cost somewhere over $2000.  To Dar Es Salaam, it’s generally $2300-2500, somewhere in that price range.  So this price?  Unheard of.

Of coruse, there’s always a catch.  The earlier I could leave would be July 31, and I would have layovers in Washington D.C. (overnight), and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before landing in Moshi two days after leaving Ottawa.  (To be fair, part of that two days is crossing so many time zones)  As for leaving…the two dates I tried didn’t affect the price.  August 31 or September 4, both were valid.

I ended up going into the travel agency, rather than book online.  I have booked online, and had no problems, but I wanted to see about staying in Addis for a few days.  I’ve never been to Ethiopia, and I figured if I was going to be there anyway….just do it.  It added about $100 to the total price – an extra $30 to stay in Addis for three days, and then another $70 for dealing with a real human.  For me, it’s totally worth it to pay that money to see a new city. 

So here I am, with a ticket to Tanzania, leaving July 31 and returning September 4.  I decided a few days extra would be a good thing – that way I’m not rushing to climb Kili, do a safari, get to Zanzibar…I can take my time to see Moshi, Dar, maybe fly to Kilgala, Rwanda for a few days. 

So I’ve got a ticket, and it’s now a reality.  I’m going to Africa, I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro.