Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It culminates at almost 20,000 feet or 5,895m. When you look at all the preparation that’s needed and the costs, you may ask yourself ‘Is Kilimanjaro worth it?”.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it for the landscapes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I loved what we saw during the hike. The landscapes changed, we had a good connexion with our guides and great opportunities to learn more about Tanzania. But what I will remember the most are the challenges that we faced, and the life lessons I learnt on my way to the summit.
If your aim is to enjoy beautiful landscapes, I wouldn’t pick Mount Kilimanjaro. There are probably other hikes that are less strenuous and require less preparation but offer surroundings as lovely as Kilimanjaro. However, you won’t get the experience of reaching the roof of Africa, at almost 6,000m high. Planes fly at this altitude and it’s incredible to reach it on foot. And the sensation of achievement when you reach the summit after all the efforts is unreal.
If you’re trying to tick something off the bucket list, it may not be the best reason to climb Kilimanjaro.
Make sure you realise what climbing Kilimanjaro means before you decide if the adventure is worth it for you. It’s about walking a lot. It’s about putting yourself at risk. It’s often about suffering and pushing your limits mentally and physically, and sometimes painfully. If you’re only interested in reaching the top and not on the journey that will get you there, you may face even more challenges.
So to the question “Is Kilimanjaro worth it?”, I’ll answer a big YES if you’d like to test yourself. And maybe your relationship with your buddies.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it if you cannot afford the right operators.
Mount Kilimanjaro is not an adventure that you can do at a reduced price. Many people are involved in your success, and mostly your guide and your porters. When you try to reduce your costs for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, you likely reduce your chances to have a beautiful adventure and reach the summit.
A cheap trip to the top of Kilimanjaro is not worth it. It would likely mean your porters are not treated right. They are desperate for jobs and accept bad conditions. And we’re not even only talking about their low pay here but also about food and sleeping conditions. You may be putting their lives at risk. I hope no tourist does that on purpose. But I cannot imagine the feeling when you start realising during your hike that you are exploiting people. A Tanzanian non-profit organisation, Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), shares crucial information online that will help you make the right decisions to plan your Kilimanjaro expedition responsibly. I wished I had read their guidelines for tipping before my trip, it would have made the entire thing a lot easier.
Is Mount Kilimanjaro worth it if you have to turn around?
Mount Kilimanjaro is only worth it if you are ready to turn around. If you are in the mindset that you will reach the top no matter what, Mount Kilimanjaro is not worth it. You could be risking your life thinking like that.
If you have to turn around, like I almost did, the adventure of climbing Kilimanjaro is still worth it. Mount Kilimanjaro will teach you a few things about yourself and the people you are climbing with. It’s an experience you will keep with you for the rest of your life.
Mount Kilimanjaro is worth it for the experience
The success rate for reaching the summit is around 66%. Do you know who has the lowest success rate? The ones we all think would do the best. I have read in a guide that it is young males between 20 and 30. There are many wise lessons to learn from the experience whether you make it to the summit or not.
I did reach the summit, and here are the lessons I learnt:
1. Patience leads to success
At the early stage of the project of climbing Kilimanjaro, you have to select a route and the number of days to spend on the mountain. There are seven routes to choose from, as well as many criteria to take into consideration: budget, overall trip plan, difficulty, scenery, comfort, and popularity of the trail.
My first thought was to go for the cheapest, easiest and quickest option to my goal. Here, it would have been the Marangu route. With a smooth and gentle gradient, it is an economical way that can be done in only five days. We’d sleep in hut shelters – more comfortable than the other route options (camping).
As good as it looks on paper, this could have been a big mistake. Success for climbing Kilimanjaro is highly linked to the effects of altitude on your body. Altitude sickness has to be taken seriously. It is the main reason why people would not make it to the top, along with the weather. The best way to limit the risks of failing because of the body not reacting well to the altitude is to take our time. They recommend spending time on the mountain at a reasonably high altitude so the body can adapt to it. It is also necessary to limit the efforts, as well as allowing time to rest and to walk slowly. Hence, the 5-day trip, as attractive as it can be, is not at all the best option to better the odds at reaching the summit.
From readings and friends’ recommendations, we opted for the Machame route. And we added to it an extra day to acclimatise. This way, we had enough time to go “Pole Pole” as they say in Swahili, which means “slow”, and limit our efforts.
I am so glad we made that choice. From the 2nd day of the ascension, my body strongly reacted from the altitude. I believe I could not have safely climbed Kilimanjaro quicker.
2. You need to trust others to succeed
As we reached our campsite on day two at the Shira Plateau, we had a perfect view on the summit of Kilimanjaro breaking up the bright blue sky. On the other side, there was a magic sea of clouds stabbed by the top of Mount Meru.
The group was excited in front of this overwhelming scenery. I had a much more different feeling. It was when I had my first big migraine because of the altitude. I have had intense headaches before, but this pain was incredibly stronger – and different – than what I had ever experienced. And as Paracetamol and rest had no effect, I was losing hope on getting any better.
Our doctor back in Australia warned us: at the first symptoms of altitude sickness (headaches, nausea), we must consider going down. From our guide’s point of view: we must be careful and monitor the symptoms, but it is usual to have headaches and to vomit at some time during the climb.
Here I was, watching the summit that looked so close to us, and thinking my body will not let me reach it. I had tears running down my cheeks as I figured it was already over, on the second day, so early in the adventure. It was when our guide came to talk to me. I cannot clearly remember his speech, but he believed in me, in my courage to fight the pain and to carry on to the top. I knew I could carry on with the pain. It was a pain I had chosen to go through, and that will go away as soon as we would go down. But I was afraid to take risks for my health considering the altitude sickness. That’s when I opened to him, shared my fears and understood we both had the same objectives. Reaching the summit safely. I chose to trust him and his experience to carry on the adventure. From that moment, he was the one deciding if I needed to stop the climb and go down.
I was way out of my zone of comfort, as I never rely on others to make decisions for me. Not to mention that this was a major decision for my health! But to succeed and have a chance to reach the top, I needed to trust him.
3. Getting help and slowing down can, in the end, take you further
I was the only one of our group of five to be affected that much by the altitude, and that early in the climb. The slow rhythm dictated by our guides was frustrating for my friends who could have run in the first days. My point of view was much different. I was struggling with pain, as every single step was an effort resonating in my aching head.
I am fit, and I like to perform. I target to be amongst the leaders of these types of activities. That may have been the first time I was the one falling behind the group. At some point, I had to accept that our guide would carry my bag, in addition to his own pack. Mentally, even though the entire team showed support and even some admiration for the perseverance, this situation was hard to accept. But help and slow pace were necessary to manage my efforts to acclimatise better to the altitude.
4. Admitting that not reaching your final goal is not a failure but part of the experience
When planning Kilimanjaro, reaching the summit is the ultimate goal. At first, I had never imagined not trying everything to succeed. But a few weeks before our climb, a young and experienced French guy died on Kilimanjaro. He reached the summit by pushing his body too hard. So he never reached back the base as he died of a pulmonary embolism on the way back.
That’s when I took the altitude sickness issue more into consideration. While reading about it, I realised we might not all reach the top. From my migraine at Shira Plateau, I understood I might be the one that will not reach the top. If it has to happen, no one should consider this as a fail. The fail here would be not to recognise the signs that the body is sending. The fail would be not to listen to the advice given by people with the knowledge of the mountain and the body.
It taught me that stopping before the end when the risks are judged too high is a noble decision for yourself, for your team and people counting on you.
And even if you don’t reach the summit, attempting to climb Kilimanjaro is worth it. You’ll live an extraordinary experience that you couldn’t have anywhere else.
There are risks associated with climbing Kilimanjaro. Most travel insurance won’t cover you for such an experience. Make sure you double-check if you are covered at an altitude of 5,895m! WorldNomads* may have the solution for you.
5. Preparation and a positive attitude are the keys to succeeding. So can be luck.
I often hear I am lucky, but I am a firm believer that luck does not come from scratch. You have to create good opportunities to get lucky. I know that proper preparation coupled with a positive attitude leads to success, as much as hard work. Kilimanjaro taught me that there is a luck factor that can’t be ignored. And this luck can dramatically impact the success rate.
Indeed, we had perfect weather during our trip. We could see the summit every day, and it was highly motivating. We were never too cold, nor too wet. Before starting the climb, our guide warned us we would not be able to spend more than 15 min at the top because of the temperature. On the summit day, he actually had to ask us to go down after 20 min wandering near the glacier.
Of course, preparation helped. We had the right equipment to protect us from the wind and the cold (check out my packing list here for more info about Kilimanjaro equipment). We also took a longer route to adapt as much as possible to the altitude. But this equipment would not allow us to fight a snowstorm at 5,895m. And there is not much we could have done if serious altitude sickness hit one of us.
So yes, I agree: we have been lucky, and it impacted a lot our success.
6. Difficulties along the path can make success easier in the end
As mentioned, I was the one who suffered early in the trip compared to the rest of my group. Luckily, it finally never went worse on the summit climb. That night, I was leading the team just after my guide. We had a decent pace as we were passing many groups who started earlier than us. We walked in the night for hours, lacking oxygen more and more. But my migraines were gone, and it was such a relief that I think I could have done it without a break. It was easier than the previous days when I was fighting pain.
On the contrary, for two people in my group, the climb had been smooth until that night. They were jumping for the photos, doing yoga or gym for fun at the camps… Too easy! But on the final ascent, they started to suffer physically and mentally. One of them described it as the hardest day of his life. And we had to stop a couple of times for the second who requested some rest. Such a big difference from the day before when I was the one going through difficulties and hoping for rest!
We all happily made it together to the top, but for sure we did not have the same experience during this adventure!
What about you? Did you learn any life lesson? Do you think Kilimanjaro is worth it? Leave a comment below!
Are you planning to climb Kilimanjaro? You’ll be interested in this post: How to prepare for Mount Kilimanjaro: my 5 big tips for the climb
Where is Mount Kilimanjaro?
Mount Kilimanjaro is in the northeast of Tanzania, very close to the border with Kenya.
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