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Midlife Adventure: How do you go about climbing Kilimanjaro?

Interview with Jo Bradshaw

It would seem we are an adventurous group of women! I have received lots of emails in response to the ‘fabwomen’ featured, from readers saying that they would like to have their own midlife adventure over 50. I have selected the most popular adventures and asked for tips on how to get started on an adventure holiday or charity challenge. Climbing Kilimanjaro seems to have captured a lot of imaginations, so we asked Jo Bradshaw who  is a freelance  Outdoor Instructor and Expedition Leader often working for Discover Adventure, she completed her 10th climb of Kilimanjaro earlier this year for her tips.

What are the options in respect to ways to join a group to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?

The easiest way is to join a group from a UK tour operator, such as Discover Adventure! This way you will know that all of the details are taken care of and that you are signing up with like minded people. You can raise funds for charity or pay for yourself and do it as a personal challenge, which it certainly is! The other option is to sign up with a local tour agent but you would then need to sort out your own flights and transfers.

How long does a typical climb take?

There are 6 routes on Kilimanjaro and the most popular – Machame and Rongai take between 6 or 7 days. All routes up the mountain take you through great acclimatisation and through all of the climatic zones from jungle to alpine desert and back again!

What questions should you ask to make sure you are selecting the right provider?

Their safety record is all important. Do they take UK leaders and Doctors, all important for good communication and peace of mind. What back up is there from the UK whilst you are on the mountain. What is the maximum group size and what is their leader/participant ratio?

What issues should you be aware of ahead of time?

Kilimanjaro is a tough but achievable climb and you should go with a positive attitude. Although it is a fantastic adventure, you will not love every minute. Be prepared to feel sick for about half of the climb, it is normal not feel well at altitude but there are many things that you can do to alleviate these feelings. Staying well hydrated, eating well even if you don’t feel like it and getting as much sleep as you can will aid your acclimatisation.

Preparing for high altitude climb

What can you do to prepare yourself for dealing with the high altitude?

Just by being as fit as you can be and preparing yourself for a long slow walk! You cannot ‘train’ for altitude but by going with the right attitude and listening to your leaders and Doctor, you give yourself a much greater chance of summitting.

How far ahead should you start your physical preparation?

4 – 6 months ahead of your climb would give you sufficient time to prepare. Make sure the company you go with gives you a good solid training plan and follow it! Walking on the flat will not give you the right fitness for climbing this great mountain so get out there, up big hills, walking slowly (speed is not important but endurance is) with your rucksack on containing 3 ltrs of water and all of the kit you will need each day.

Should you seek medical clearance before you go?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition then yes. The company you sign up with will ask you to fill out a medical form and if you answer yes to any of the questions then you will need to get the form signed by your doctor. You should also go to your GP surgery if you are thinking about taking Diamox as it is a prescription drug along with anti malarials.

Is there any particular clothing/equipment you need to buy ahead of time?

The company you sign up with should send you a comprehensive kit list so make sure you take everything on there, it is there for a good reason! You cannot hire equipment out there although the local agent may have bits and bobs if you forget anything. Being prepared with warm clothes, high factor suncream, good walking boots and a warm sleeping bag are the most essential. You don’t need to spend a fortune, eBay is a great place to buy kit but do go and get your boots fitted properly.

Tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro

Walking pace

  • Pole-Pole – slowly slowly – You will want to walk at your natural pace at the start of      this trek, especially at lower altitude, however it is really important that you take your time and walk at a slower pace. It is really important that you take your time and do not rush as there are no prizes for getting  into camp first and you will be grateful of the slower speed when you gain altitude. We cannot stress this enough!


  • It is extremely cold during the night at altitude and your batteries will wear out very quickly. Pack all items that contain batteries and stuff them in your sleeping bag at night. This will help to prolong their life.
  • There are no opportunities to charge electrical items whilst you are camping so do make  sure that if your camera has a lithium battery that you take spares.

Trek clothing

  • The warmest  place in your tent at night is your sleeping bag so we recommend that you also stuff your next day’s trek clothing into your sleeping bag over night      for a warm change in the morning, unless they are wet!
  • Layering is the key so avoid bulky fleeces. You won’t need to spend much on a few good layers but you’ll reap the benefits when the temperature starts to drop.

Contact lenses and sunglasses

  • If you can, take glasses instead. There is a large amount of volcanic dust and getting  clean dust free fingers to change lenses can be a challenge in itself. If  you have daily lenses and wish to wear them, then do take a few extra  pairs.
  • Do make sure you a good pair of sunglasses which are at least a Cat 3 rating. UV light is much stronger the higher you go and you’ll need to protect your eyes as      much as you can.

Pee bottles

  • As odd as it may sound, it may be worth taking a pee bottle with you. Drinking a greater  amount of water at altitude will result in many more trips to the loo,      especially at night. Having a pee bottle will save you all the hassle of  having to put all your layers on just to leave the tent to use the loo. The tents have double porches so plenty of room to make use of at night.

Snacks/energy drinks

  • You are fed  extremely well during your trek but it is always nice to have a treat of  your own for the evenings so do take along a few snacks from home. If you  are taking snack bars for the summit night, anything containing chocolate  or a high fat content is likely to freeze so choose your snack wisely!
  • Water, being such an essential element of your trek, is plentiful on the challenge. However, drinking plain water for 6 days in a row can be a little boring  so again take along the odd day’s supply of energy and electrolyte  powders. Do make sure they fit in with your 12kg worth of weight.

The trek itself….enjoy it!

The trek is designed to acclimatize you slowly to altitude but it does affect people in different ways and on a random basis. Keeping yourself healthy and very well hydrated will give you a better chance of making it to the summit. Don’t forget to take each day as it comes and enjoy the different terrain and scenery, making the most of your time there as it’s unlikely that you’ll do it again!

Summitnight is all about a positive mental attitude and taking your time. It’s a long trek up but worth all of the effort!

  • This is an extremely tough trek, even without the summit night, so be proud of  yourself in getting to your summit, whether it isUhuruPeak, Stella Point or somewhere a little lower. The fact that you’ve trekked in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and had experiences that will  last you a lifetime.

More information on climbing Mt Kilimanjaro , ‘charity climbs’ and other ‘adventures’ can be found at www.discoveradventure.com



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  1. Rebecca Jelley

    May 22, 2012

    I would be happy to organize and lead a tour to Tanzania. Climbing Kili is only ONE adventure there and not always as great as it sounds actually…remember Zanzibar and Pemba Islands too! I lived and worked in this country for 10 years with the locals. I know everyone!!!!

    Kwa heri warafiki angu!
    Bibi Becca!

  2. Jo Carroll

    May 24, 2012

    I climbed Kili the year I was 50 – and was defeated by the altitude with the summit in sight. I agree with all this advice – but there’s nothing you can do if you are one of those who just can’t manage to function at that height. (In my group a marathon runner didn’t get up, nor did the PE teachers, so there’s plenty of luck involved.)

    The lesson for me – it was a wonderful experience, but maybe there are some mountains I just can’t climb.

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