How to train to climb Kilimanjaro


Kilimanjaro has been called “Everyman’s Everest” because it is not a technical climb.  It can be done by mere mortals without ropes and crampons and special climbing skills.  But do not let that lull you into the idea that you don’t have to be prepared.  

Glacier_at_summit_of_Mt_Kilimanjaro_003Kilimanjaro is also known as “The Roof of Africa” for a good reason!  The route we are hiking, called “Lemosho Route,” is a 45-mile hike that starts in rainforest at about 7800 feet above sea level, ascends to a glacier at 19341 feet and descends back to about 10000 feet – all over the course of 8 days.

No good way to train for the altitude

The extreme altitude is an equal-opportunity thing.  Nearly everyone that hikes Kilimanjaro experiences varying degrees of Acute Mountain Sickness, whether they are a couch potato or an ultra-marathon athlete.  So, there is not much that you can do to prepare for the altitude beyond being generally healthy and asking your physician about aspirin and acetazolamide.

Finding out how you will respond to the extreme altitude is mostly a crap shoot.

But you’d better train for the actual hike

The rigors of an eight-day, 45-mile hike in extremely rough terrain – that is something that you can, and that you had better prepare for!  Kilimanjaro is a hike, therefore the best preparation for Kili is hiking.  The Roaming Parkers’ plan involves –

  • Treadmill incline walking and/or elliptical walking every day starting low and slow and progressing weekly with emphasis on progressing incline up to about 10% and duration up to 60-90 minutes at a time.  Progression of speed is largely inconsequential because on Kili your guide enforces a pace of pole pole, which is Swahili for “slow, slow” – roughly 1 to 1.5 miles per hour.
  • This preparation should peak about 1 month ahead of the climb and then taper off to avoid training injuries.
  • Weekend hikes wherever we have the opportunity to get 5-10 miles with some elevation.  In Southwest Mississippi, there are some good hilly hikes, including Mount Zion, Richardson Creek, Clark Creek, Red Hills, and LeFleur’s Bluff.

That’s about all the fitness preparation we can fit in.  Hopefully, it’ll be enough. We’ll see in January!