I was worried how I would cope with the altitude and the unpredictable nature of it before I went. I took diamox with me with the intention of taking it from the start but decided not too as other travellers put me off with talk of side effects etc. By the second night I had a headache but it was treatable with paracetamol and ibuprofen (on and off I kept taking this for the rest of the trip and it always worked) - so take plenty and take both!! By camp on day 3 I felt dizzy and a bit sick (a bit like being travel sick) - I started diamox (which my GP had prescribed) then. Other than a recurring (but manageable) headache, I was fine for the rest of the trip.
I noticed the effects of altitude e.g. getting out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the loo then climbing back into the tent/ sleeping bag left me breathless like I'd been sprinting and that was walking slowly!
We all followed the guides' advice - walked pole, pole (slowly, slowly), drank loads of water (LOADS - hence up to loo at night!) ate the delicious food served and rested when advised. All but one of us was on diamox by summit night and 8 out of 12 of us made it to the summit (for some people they unfortunately didn't make the summit - in some cases because of pre-existing health problems). I had read loads about how hard it was, esp summit night. It was hard - but in my experience, it was do-able - just walking SO slowly behind Abraham, steadly picking our way up the mountain, crossing off the metres as he told us how high we were. I was lucky with the altitude - as were several of us - though we did all feel it in different ways (breathlessness when walking, heart racing, legs out of energy etc) but it wasn't (for me) nearly as difficult as I expected. As I say though, I was lucky and others in the group had a much much tougher time with the altitude.
If you are well prepared, follow the advice, pick a good company (like Exodus) where you will be well looked after and kept safe and pick a slow route to allow you to aclimatise - I think your chances of making the summit are good. Even if you don't though, the experience is amazing - views the whole way up are beautiful and chances are you'll be spending a week with like minded people - our group was fab - friendly, kind and supportive of one and other and also good fun. I went on my own which I've never done before and I felt completely part of the group the whole time - it just wasn't an issue.
Invaluable items -
- merino wool leggings and top (well several tops). We put these on when washing at camp in the evening - it gets very cold as soon as the sun goes down. I wore mine to sleep in from first camp - wouldnt bother with pjs
- earplugs - some camps are busy and can be a bit noisy
- Head torch - for getting about camp at night and summit night
- toilet roll - you need this for nipping behind rocks during the day
- vasaline and a good sun/ wind protector for lips
- platypus for water
- Camera and keep it handy for taking photos all the way. I got a spare battery for mine though didn't need it
I hired the down jacket - it was very big on me and had to borrow a waterproof jacket that would fit over the top of it (though in the end this wasn't needed). The jacket was SO cosy though - I wasn't cold at all on summit night (neither was the other girl in the group who had hired the down jacket) - I was even wearing one less layer than recommended.....which isn't like me - I'm usually too cold!
I didn't hire walking poles - they were marked as optional on the kit list - I've never used them and so decided not to bother. The guides in Africa were a bit concerned about this as they felt they are important for resting on on summit night/ and to help you on way back down the mountain. I was ok without them - but I got off lightly altitude wise I think - so it might be worth considering hiring these.
In terms of training - I went hillwalking once a week. I live in Scotland so have easy access to munros - built up to doing 3 in a day and on one day 5. I had meant to exercise through the week.....but with work pressures, never quite got round to it. Early on on the mountain the walking pole, pole felt easy and relaxing - time to admire the view and chat instead of rushing like at home - higher up we needed to go pole pole but my training felt sufficient. Fitness doesn't help with chances against altitude anyway (or so I've been told)....but it does help with climbing a mountain.
Finally - I took an old pair of leather walking boots which were leaking to give away - I gave them to Abraham at the start of the walk as thought no point in bringing them up the mountain. He produced them at the tipping ceremony at the end - the porter that got them looked delighted - possibly the most delighted I've ever seen anyone look (and the chances are my leaking boots that I would otherwise have just thrown away would be too small for him) - very humbling experience.
For me the trip was about Kilimanjaro but I'd never been to Africa before and I wanted to see the animals while I was there - how could you go that far and not. It makes a nice relaxing end to the trip and is well worth doing. Our guide was great at spotting animals and we saw everything I'd wanted to see - including a Rhino......in the distance.....if you squinted your eyes and used your imagination!
I decided to share a tent though was nervous about this - it was a great decision - my tent mate was lovely and because we got on it was really nice to have the company.....and share the odd bottle of wine on safari. She was also far braver than me when it came to dealing with the spiders in our tent on safari (don't panic - there were only 2 - it was a one off - but hope for a brave tent mate.....or bring one)!
Other than tips and few glasses of wine on safari/ few presents for niece and nephew I hardly spent any money.
Overall - it was an amazing experience - one of the best things I've ever done - I would highly recommend it.