Lessons from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (part 1 of 3)

Lessons from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro abound to any hiker who climbs this mountain. It offers immeasurable value to anyone who wants to strengthen the human spirit, yours and of those who climb along with you. I begin with two lessons in this three-part post series.


Madaraka Nyerere is the Coordinator of the Butiama Cultural Tourism Enterprise and has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro nine times. Standing at 5,895m, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Africa’s highest peak, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.


On my December 2011 climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of several, I failed to reach the summit and reflected on the causes. They are valuable lessons for those who intend to climb Kilimanjaro, whether for the first time or as repeat climbers.

Failure to devote enough time  to training prior to the climb is one of the best ways of ensuring failure to reach the summit. I cannot overstate the importance of training. I did not commit enough time to training and when the testing times confronted us on the climb I did not have the capacity to meet the challenge.






One of the best preparations for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is riding a bicycle. It strengthens leg and thigh muscles.

Most guides on Kilimanjaro will tell you they have successfully led the most ill-trained climbers to the summit. Prior to the December 2011 climb I managed to reach the summit with hardly any training, and I overrated my willpower as the deciding factor. It is true, even with the absence of training, if you summon your will power against Kilimanjaro, you will reach the top. But it is also true that if you add some training to a will made of steel then the climb becomes much easier.


Here’s another perspective on the challenge of reaching Kilimanjaro’s summit:



I normally maintain a daily log of the observations I make during each climb, but for some reason during the December 2011 climb I recorded only the first 3 days of the climb. However, by the third day, the recipe for what I consider my failure to reach the summit had already been cast.

The climb, dubbed the Mt. Kilimanjaro Uhuru Climb, was jointly organized by the Tanzania Tourist Board and Zara Tanzania Adventures to mark 50 years of Tanzania’s independence. I was chosen to lead the climb by the Tanzania Tourist Board.

4 December 2011

During a short ceremony to flag off the climbers, the Moshi district commissioner referred to me as the “gwiji” (expert) of the climb. He said he was pleased to hear that I was the group leader of the Mt. Kilimanjaro Uhuru Climb.

Here’s the first of five lessons from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: Mt. Kilimanjaro does not care how impressive is your record; it will decide whether or not you reach the summit.

We had an interesting mix of 24 climbers: a presenter from Clouds TV and his cameraman; two young women, one from Tanzania Association of Tour Operators’ Tantravel Magazine; a long distance runner; a German film crew filming a documentary during the climb with my participation; and others who I came to know along the way.

Among my previous climbs, this would likely rank as the worst start of any I had experienced. The rains made part of the route to the drop-off point impassable by car. Consequently, after registration at Londrossi gate we were dropped off and began walking while still a long distance from the normal drop-off location. It added more than an hour to the day’s hike.

The November-December rainy season had damaged the road so much that even the off-road truck we boarded was unable to reach the drop-off point. We began a late trek at 1800hrs.







The trek began on a rain-soaked muddy road.

Here’s the second of five lessons from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: If possible, avoid the rainy season. It can introduce the most unpleasant surprises to the climbing experience. Although weather patterns have become unpredictable, the short rains on Mt. Kilimanjaro fall between mid-November to December while the long rainy period lasts between April and mid-June.

A continuous light shower continued to fall throughout our trek to the first camp, Mti Mkubwa, and the forest floor was drenched and slippery. These conditions took their toll on the porters. When we reached Mti Mkubwa camp, well after 2200hrs, a significant number of porters were still behind. Consequently, some of the climber’s bags were missing and we ate late.

It is rare for an experienced mountain guide to falter at any stage of the Kilimanjaro climb, but I witnessed Yahoo, our experienced guide, regularly slipping on the trail and at one time I offered him one of my walking poles which he gladly accepted.

More lessons from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro follow in the next posts.

Next post: It gets worse

More lessons from others of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro: