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Just after Christmas in 2016, I set out on the adventure of a lifetime —climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trip and climb was a huge success, but there were still some things I wish I'd done to be better prepared for my climb. Here's some of the things I wish I'd known while I was getting ready to climb Kili.
1. Hiking Boots
I was lucky, I was the one out of our group of nine climbers who didn't have major issues with my boots. Everyone says to break them in well in advance — that's a no brainer — but they don't say to test them in all weather types too. Out of nine climbers, I was the only one whose boots were relatively waterproof. The other eight people on my trip had their feet soaked on day two of the climb, and had to wear ziplock baggies on their feet inside their shoes for the next five days. You go through all types of weather and climates on the mountain, so make sure your boots can handle everything. Test them in snow, mud, rain, sand, and anything else you can think of, to make sure you wont have any unpleasant surprises like wet feet on your climb. One thing I did to break mine in during my training was wear them on the Stairmaster, which doubled as a workout, as well as wear them to work where I was on my feet for eight hours at a time. Boots are the most important gear you'll have when you climb, make sure they're good ones.
You want to do two things to make sure you're physically prepared for your trek. The first is hike frequently to build up those muscles you'll be using on the climb. Climbing up and down stairs and getting used to hiking on uneven or different terrain will build those muscles you didn't even know you needed for hiking (and a better butt!). The second is improve your cardio. There's no way to tell if you'll be affected by AMS (acute mountain sickness) from the altitude until you're there, but having your cardio in it's best shape will help you keep up on those long days of gruelling hiking. Running is an easy way to build cardio, and adding stairs to your daily run and routine is even better.
3. Mental Strength
On our summit night (day five of the hike) we started the eight-hour trek from base camp to the top at midnight after only a few hours of sleep, in the freezing cold, crazy wind, pitch black darkness, and high-altitude. No amount of physical training can get you to the summit unless you're also mentally prepared. If you're climbing as a group, having a strong group support system is essential. You need to encourage each other when you're struggling, as well as keep an eye out for someone on your team who may be struggling or experiencing AMS. As an individual, you need to be strong enough to push yourself beyond your limits. Summit night is all about putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how much you want to quit. One way to prepare for this is by pushing your limits during your training. If you're running, run until you're ready to quit, and then run another five minutes, and do this every run. Any situation where you're ready to give up, push yourself beyond your limit. Eventually you'll get used to pushing yourself to the limit, while also learning what keeps you going and motivated, which is what you'll need on the mind-numbingly difficult summit night.
4. Get Your Gear in Order ASAP
There are plenty of lists around that will tell you what you need, and the tour company should provide you with a detailed list of what kind of gear you'll need. What they don't tell you is to get it all together as soon as you can, and test it all out. You don't want to be waiting on an Amazon shipment near Christmas hoping the last-minute purchase you made will make it to you in time for your trip (speaking from experience). You also want to have time to make sure everything works. My Camelbak (which I had only used once before the trip) started leaking about halfway through the climb. It was a fairly easy fix - just put it in a plastic bag so it doesn't leak all over your daypack - but it was a nuisance, and could have been easily prevented if I'd tested it out beforehand. Headlamps, hiking poles, daypack, camera...you want to make sure everything works and that you've used it multiple times before you head up the mountain.
5. Tell Everyone about Your Trek
You're probably already sharing the exciting news about your climb with everyone you know, but here's a reminder in case you need another reason. On summit night, one of the many things that kept me from quitting (mentally) was what I would say to people back home if I didn't make it. When you're freezing, out of breath, and so mentally and physically exhausted on summit night, the thought of "how will I tell people I couldn't do it? How will I tell them I quit?" was a thought that kept me moving. You can't tell everyone about this crazy adventure you're planning, and then come home to say you almost made it to the top. When they ask what happened do you really want to tell them it was just too hard? We had nine people on our trek, and everyone we spoke to was surprised we all made it to the top. I believe part of that was because we were accountable to so many people. Part of our trek was a volunteer project we started, so not only were we accountable to ourselves, friends, and family, but those who supported our volunteer project as well. The more people you tell about your climb, the more reasons you have to keep you motivated on summit night.
Obviously there are many more things you need to get in order before you set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is just a list of five things that no one had told me while I was preparing for my climb, but I wish I knew. Hopefully this will help others who are considering the climb. For those of you who are, it's the experience of a lifetime, so enjoy it while you're there. Good luck and happy climbing!