What Is It Like Climbing Kilimanjaro?

Oliver Browne, True Summit Adventures' CEO, answers the questions on our expeditions to the highest freestanding mountain in the world


Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world as well as being one of the world's famed 'Seven Summits'. It's located in northeastern Tanzania, close to the border with Kenya.

TSA Founder and CEO, Oliver Browne has been to the summit 6 times and answers the questions about what it is like to climb Kilimanjaro.

How do you get to Kilimanjaro? 

International visitors reach Kilimanjaro through Kilimanjaro International Airport. There are no direct flights from the UK. One World customers can fly with Qatar Airways via Doha or a combination of British Airways and AirKenya Express via Nairobi. Otherwise, KLM via Amsterdam is a great option, especially for people flying from the north of the UK or Scotland as you do not need to travel down to London. Return airfares are between £900 and £1300 for economy tickets, while business class tickets can be anywhere from £2000 to £4000 for a return flight.

The staging point for Kilimanjaro expeditions with True Summit Adventures is the town of Moshi, a 40 minute drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Who can climb Kilimanjaro?

Everyone! Well, anyone who has the inclination. Kilimanjaro is an achievable goal for most people with the right amount of preparation. You certainly don't need to be a gym bunny or have years of experience in the mountains. In my opinion, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the best things you can do in your lifetime and one of the best adventures out there. 

What is the best way to prepare to trek Kilimanjaro?

To climb Kilimanjaro you'll want to get as fit as you can. Run, walk, or go to HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes. Many gyms now run them. Walk for 3 hours in the middle of the night, commute to work on foot, take long hikes whenever you can. Go camping, go wild camping, do winter hill walking. There’s no right or wrong way. Just try and get as fit as you can and as resilient as you can. If you can walk or run 22km on a Sunday and then do it again on Monday then you are probably ready! But we'll help you with all this once you've booked with us.

Who is the oldest person you have taken to the summit of Kilimanjaro?

We have no upper age limit so long as you're fit enough. Our oldest expedition member to date has been a 64 year old called Paul who worked in finance in London. He hadn’t done much climbing before but is a fit guy and was all about trying new things and challenging himself. He and I went from the high camp to the summit and back in 14 hours. It was a long old morning but we made it and the feeling afterwards was amazing. When we got back to the camp the whole team came out to welcome us back and broke into song, lifting his hand in the air like he’d won the World Cup. It was magical, perhaps the most amazing scene I have seen in the mountains. There’s a video of it on our Instagram @truesummitadventures

How old do expedition members need to be to climb Kilimanjaro? Is it a suitable adventure for children?

We've had a few 19 year olds join our expeditions, including Paul's son, who climbed with his father. Generally speaking, I think the physicality of climbing Kilimanjaro means it's not recommended for anyone under the age of 14-16 depending on development.

Why does True Summit Adventures use the Machame route to the summit of Kilimanjaro?

There are lots of reasons. I think the Machame route suits a seven day ascent and naturally gives a good acclimatisation programme, meaning people have a really great chance of summit success. But mostly, I like the route itself and its features, such as the Lava Tower and Baranco Wall. These sections add some complexity which you don’t get on other routes, and makes it more interesting for expedition members. In addition, the views as you come up from Machame Camp are insane, with Mount Meru forming a backdrop. I think most people agree the Machame route is the best route on Kili. 

Can you describe the first couple of days of the Machame Route?

We start at the Machame Gate into Kilimanjaro National Park. When you arrive, it’s best to be patient. Everyone is very keen to get going, but it sometimes takes time to get all the permitting and paperwork completed.

The rest of the first day is very relaxed. The guides set a very steady pace as we pass through the rainforest on the mountain's lower slopes. We stop on route for a packed lunch. My chef always sends us chicken which is really tasty.

Day 2 gets us out of the tree canopy and we start to get some amazing views of the mountain ahead and Mt Meru behind. Expedition members adjust to the pace, the routine of hiking, and to camping overnight. Some have never camped before, which is exciting for them. We try to make them as comfy as possible, which is why many people choose us over the alternatives.

What kind of food can expedition members expect on Kilimanjaro?

There's lots of it, that’s for sure! Our chefs team is really good. No one goes hungry or has to politely decline an extra helping. As expedition leader, I try to encourage everyone to eat a lot. The more you can eat, the easier you will find the expedition in my opinion. As examples of the types of food we eat on the mountain, we have lots of freshly made soups, chicken with rice, pasta, and fried chicken and chips. Vegetarian options are available too. For breakfast, it’s porridge, toast and fruits. Lunch is also included as part of the overall expedition price, and all depends on what our chefs think will suit the team best.

Is there anything you can tell us which we might not have heard before?

Expect rain in any season. It's maybe not the most popular thing an operator can tell you, but it’s best to know in advance. On any 7 day ascent I'd be surprised if you didn’t get some rain at some point. Hopefully it won’t be torrential and it won’t be on consecutive days, but expect some and plan accordingly. You should invest in good waterproofs and a poncho, which you wear over the waterproofs. There’s always a temptation to wear gloves, however I prefer to keep my gloves dry and have slightly cold and wet hands until the rain stops.

Speaking of kit, can you talk us through the packing list for Kilimanjaro?

If you're new to climbing then you don't need to buy everything on the kit list we provide from new. Lots of things you already have can be recycled for sure. If you have decent ski gloves, for example, these can be used with a pair or 2 pairs of inner gloves for warmth. Similarly, lots of gym kit you already have, like T-shirts and long sleeve shirts can be used. Where I would invest is in good foot wear and good waterproofs. A warm down jacket is a good purchase as well if you plan to climb more, but you can get around this by layering with lighter jackets and mid layers. 

Most people’s main apprehension around tackling Kilimanjaro is around altitude sickness. What would you say to them?

Talk to a doctor about taking Diamox if you're worried - I have definitely seen it help some people. I think the main thing to know about our Kilimanjaro expedition is that we have a good acclimatisation programme to help stop people getting altitude sickness. This isn't to say you won’t feel some nausea or headaches. This can undoubtedly feel unpleasant, but it's perfectly normal and there's no need to worry. Drink plenty of water and don't feel like you have to rush. The slower we creep up the mountain the less likely expedition members are to have problems. 

Back to the Machame route. Can you describe the Lava Tower and Baranco Wall you mentioned?

These are amazing days! The Lava Tower is as it sounds! A giant  column which rises out of alpine desert. It’s the first time we hit some proper altitude - 4600m.

We stop here for a hot lunch before descending again to the Baranco Camp.

The Baranco Wall is an epic day too. It's a really exciting scramble up some pretty steep terrain, and you do have to concentrate in places. It feels high in consequence, but isn’t, and we have lots of people in the right places to help you along.

The summit day looks tough! Can you explain the early start?

Like all big climbs we start in the early hours. It's quite a long way to the summit from Barafu Camp, typically taking 6-7hrs. We leave camp just after midnight to try and hit Stelar Point at dawn. The views as the sun rises are unreal. It's then another 45 minutes to the main summit where we take the photos and high five each other! 

We then have the rest of the day to get back down to Barafu and on to Millennium Camp following lunch.

Is it true you have 50 support staff per group?

Yes! 40-50 depending on how many expedition members we have in total. It’s quite an entourage and amazing to see in one place. When they sing the Kilimanjaro song it's one of the most brilliant things you can imagine! We need this number of people beause there's the camp team who move the tents, porters for the luggage, the kitchen team, guides, and the climbers themselves!

Sounds incredible. And on the last night of the expedition?

We have a big celebration dinner and hand out summit certificates back at our Moshi hotel. Usually we say a few words about each guest and their contribution. But really it's an internal process for each expedition member, and you can see the change in people as they realise they've achieved this incredible feat.

Finally, when is the next True Summit Adventures Kilimanjaro expedition?

We have Kilimanjaro ascents regularly. Our next open expedition will be in October, followed by New Year and Easter Kilimanjaro climbs, which make these already special times of year all the more exceptional.